art by M.S. Corley
Pinned and Wriggling on the Wall
by Usman T Malik
Regardless of what they might preach now, they once allowed you to be in college and in love. They allowed love to be magical.
Beneath the deep midnight sky, Sara and I walked hand in hand, and one of the college guards followed. We led him around the prayer area, where a medical student I didn't know prostrated before a blank wall. The finals were tomorrow and the anguish on his face was palpable, contagious.
"I want to kiss you," Sara whispered. Her eyes were a swirl of imbricated colors, so deep, so full of the unknown I shuddered. We know when the best moments pass us by. I did not kiss her, and she turned her head away.
"Did you draw the pictures?" I sat down on the ledge near the praying student, my feet dangling above the lip of the ablution fountain. The fountain was dry as water-smoothed bone, and for some reason that made me sad.
"No," she said. But her hand gripped mine and caressed the base of my thumb. Yes.
"I love you," I said. "And I won't kiss you till you say it back."
Around us darkness thrummed, filled with possibility. When she said nothing, I rose. She pulled me back down, her fingernails biting into my flesh. "Sit with me. Oh, sit even if nothing good comes of us tonight."
I sat back down. The guard ambled by, his face carefully neutral, his eyes studying the streaming heavens. What does he see there? I wondered. What does he really see? A shuttle carrying its escaping cargo across the blackness between the stars, or the yellow face of an aged moon, full of dark wisdom?
"I drew for you," Sara said. She was holding a pocketsize notebook with a cross-eyed puppy drawn on it. "One for each stanza of the poem."
I took it from her hands and opened it.
It was a wonderbook. A brilliant flurry of chiaroscuric images that stirred in the graphite darkness surrounding them. A sulky-faced man tottered round the edges of the first page: J. Alfred Prufrock. The next page showed him skeletal and dying, his trembling limbs spread out against the sky as if etherized upon an ebony table. Perhaps sensing my gaze, he opened his eyes and grimaced.
"He's beautiful," I said. He was. I closed the notebook on his parted lips and took out a cigarette.
"I thought you were quitting," she said.
"I thought you were staying." When she fell silent, I replaced the smoke in my pocket and added, "When's the next shuttle?"