The first time you called her pretty it didn’t occur to me to worry.
My nails are always chipped and my clothes are always black and
the scent of cigarettes buried in my hair wafts into every empty
space, filling in all the cracks, but you once told me that pretty isn’t
about lace dresses and clean hair and the smell of lilies on my wrists,
and I took that to heart, the way I do your every word. It didn’t
occur to me that maybe you wouldn’t always mean it, that just
because someone says something on a summer day doesn’t mean
they’ll still feel it when the ground is brown and wet and the leaves
can’t hold onto the drops that slide right past them. There is a nook
between your jaw and your shoulder that should be saved for
my chin, my cheekbone, for moments when I need to rest against
something true, but these days it smells like lilies, a perfume-laced
threat in my nostrils. We sit in silence more often now, trying not to
drum our fingers on scratched tabletops, or tap our feet out of sync.
Your hand in mine feels limp, different, strange. This morning I
thought about buying a white dress, holding it up against my skin.
I tried saying “pretty” out loud to my reflection, but my tongue felt
like it wasn’t my own. Maybe I should practice braiding my hair,
getting enough sleep. Quit smoking. Change my polish before it
breaks. Stop wearing my darkness to cover my body.