Everything That Falls

The day he'd brushed by Jack in the Lost City that wasn't the Lost City but only the city where Daniel was still lost, when the back of Jack's hand had brushed along the rustling folds of his blue robe, connected briefly with the jutting rise of a hip as Daniel walked away, dismissing him, that day Jack had felt an ache in his fingers like frostbite right to the bone. He'd curled his hands into fists to keep them from shattering. Daniel's body took up space, smelled like grass and smoke, but was made shapeless in the robes that hung from his shoulders, swept the dust, billowed out a little behind him as he walked away. The smell of Daniel's body stayed in Jack's mind for a long time, and with it, Jack could imagine the contours, the rising and falling.

The day Daniel came back from the city where he'd been found, Frasier had stripped him naked and examined every inch of his skin, peered into him, pierced him with electronic eyes, sliced him into thin, colour-coded wafers and layered him back together again on the computer screen. She'd parsed his DNA and traced the whorles and lines of his fingerprints. Jack watched her turn Daniel's hand palm-up in hers, watched her bend close, her middle finger following the patterns there like she could read his past and his future in the broken life-line, confirming what the machines and the tests had already told her in duplicate and triplicate, in graphs and tables. And Daniel watched all this, too, with slightly reluctant detachment, as though he were a witness at an autopsy.

And while Daniel sat on the infirmary bed and blinked behind his glasses, he swung his legs back and forth, nervous energy displaced into clocklike motion--he didn't know yet how to make use of Daniel's hands and left them hanging, fingers laced, between his knees. Finally, he hooked his heels on the lowered safety rail and listened to Jack tell him some things, and leave other things unsaid. He smelled of delousing powder and new fabric and the metallic cement-dampness of the mountain. The BDU jacket was a little tight. The lamp above the bed turned the olive drab to a pale butter-yellow on the curve right at the tip of the shoulder where the flat edge of bone would be, underneath muscle and supple, new-made skin.

Jack kept his hands in his pockets.

Once, when Jack turned the corner into Daniel's lab, he found him hunched over his desk, his hands open on the blotter, pressed down hard enough that the fingertips were white. Without looking up, Daniel turned the hands over and began talking. His fingers made small, intricate motions that cast shadows on the desk, a rapid, confusing semaphore. Jack watched him and realized finally that he was unfolding the words that Jack wasn't even hearing anymore. He was unfolding himself into familiar dexterity. Jack closed his eyes and when he opened them, Daniel's hands were still and he was waiting, his eyes on Jack's mouth.

And when the world was safe again--for the time being--and his team left his house, Jack put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher and started on the pots, his reflection moving on the dark mirror of the kitchen window. The knock on the door made him look up, meet his own shadowy eyes for an instant too long before he went to the hall and pulled open the door. Daniel stood on the steps. He made no move to come in or to turn away. His hands were in the pockets of his jacket so that his shoulders were rounded a little, hunched against the wind, and he looked up at Jack through the very top edge of his glasses, ready to flinch. Leaves hissed across the walkway behind him, smelling dry and broken.

Jack said, suddenly, "I never dreamed of you. Not once."

What he meant was that Daniel had saturated everything. Jack had found him once in the folding of fabric in a lieutenant's sleeve, once in the glint of light from the rim of a glass, too often in the curve of a handrail on the stairs up to the control room, making him lay his palm flat on the cool metal, curl fingers around it, one foot on the bottom step, knees brittle, breath bottled up, eyes closing against all of it. What he meant was that his mind had accepted the loss, but his hands wouldn't forget. He'd never been so lucky as to be merely haunted in dreams. Daniel was a condition of flesh, the way space is a condition of shape. There was no escaping from that. There was no waking up from that.

When Daniel stepped over the threshold into Jack's house, his hair smelled like the dust of crumbled leaves. His mouth was bitter with the memory of red wine. The tips of his fingers tasted of leather from his gloves and of the wax he'd peeled from the candles on the dinner table. The skin at the base of his throat tasted of soap.

When Daniel lay still in the slant of streetlight through the window, he watched Jack's hands moving across his skin, and Daniel was all hollows and shadows and arcs of light, rounded muscle over angled bone. And when Jack finally rested his forehead on Daniel's hip, having mapped all the contours of rising and falling, Daniel moved his fingers through his hair.


Notes: This was written for Brighid E. Stone's birthday. The title is from her poem, "A Memory of Falling."

Feedback welcomed at troyswann@yahoo.ca.

Return To Outside The Box