When Metaphors Fail

It’s late, and you’re tired and he’s tired, but you’re putting as much into this as you can, hoping he’ll do the same. You get on top, playing dominant for a few. Then you descend, lingering for a few moments before continuing…


Last night, the blue-gold streaks in his eyes held your attention. They always do. The reflection of your face curved right in a semi-arc. A fun house mirror quality. His off-kilter smile, a tell. He was about to say something terrible.

“It’s really one of those forks in the road. You know this, right?”

You saw the background dissolve from apartment to playground; the circle he was tracing with his left foot wasn’t on cheap carpet but dusty earth.

“I’m not limiting my job hunt based on where you’re applying to grad school,” he explained, as rational as a recent law school graduate should be. “You shouldn’t, either. I’d hate to think you’d go somewhere you didn’t really want to go, for some program you didn’t really want to study, all because you wanted us to be together.”

“I was doing—am doing that,” you said, “because want to.”

“I guess that’s sweet, but you need to subtract us from that equation. Do what’s best for you. That’s why I was shocked, the other night,” his foot was circling slower, “we hadn’t even talked about it, and just the …  I mean, I couldn’t—”

“Again,” you interrupted calmly, “I did that because I wanted to. Don’t beat yourself up over something I chose to do. Not to mention something that’s moot, right?


He lifts your face to his, kisses you, then playfully slaps his hips. You smile and balance on the balls of your feet. You gyrate your hips; he matches you with his pelvis. When you feel the slick of his pre-come, your spine shivers. An undulation you wish you could graph.

“It isn’t working,” you mumble, looking at the shadows the blinds have stippled across the plastered ceiling. You close your eyes.

“Got some lube,” he suggests, “the nightstand.”

Before you nod, you hear him rifling through the drawer. Next, you hear the squishy sound of the lube shooting into his palm, then you feel its ever-cold ease.

“How’s that?”

Even with less friction, the stretching still burns. “Don’t know,” you whisper.

“Just move up and down,” he smiles, gripping your thighs. “Like a bike.”

“That’s not how you ride a bike,” your laughter is caught between annoyance and anger. But you breathe. Your body remembers…


Always, your mind goes first to what you feel will be the inevitable dissolution. So clearly can you see him telling you that this is what he needs. That your lives aren’t traveling along parallel paths anymore. That this is what’s necessary. That this is what’s best.

But you still can’t imagine your response. Could you walk away with his apparent ease? Could you write off so much history for the potential of your future? Odds are you couldn’t. And that riles you beyond words.

This is the point in the extrapolation of an ending, which will more than likely be reached through an as-of-yet envisioned plot, when your mind freezes.


He likes to think that he’s taking you by surprise, that he’s overwhelming you. He withdraws just before friction’s grip would fail, then thrusts, vainly attempting to pin your shoulders to the ceiling. You’re glad that this moment, like his eyes, follows the well-established pattern. This is what you want: to know that you should stop but keep going.

He synchronizes you with his right hand, speeds up. His pace is always too fast.

When you waste yourself across his chest, he begins jackhammering. Your eyes close. Your body buckles. You lay your head upon his chest. As his pace peaks, you hug him around the neck and bite his right shoulder. Your mark for his. Even if we, your thoughts are winded like your body, yet they find strength enough as you quit biting him, “least I’ll have––”

His body spasms, then freezes in place, his pelvis raised high above the bed. Several long moments pass before he lowers to the mattress with the physical equivalent of a stutter. Tensed and empty, he’s connected to you, tenuously, by a bridge and moat. All that’s left now is a moment that––because of anatomy, because of gravity––cannot last, a moment that, no matter how long you stay still, is already gone.

Between his breathing and yours, you remember seventh grade science class, peering through the microscope at what, paramecia? Yes, but no, you correct yourself. Not those. Listening to his arrhythmic heartbeat, you remember: Those move with cilia. Little-whipsThen what? The ones that reminded you of the blob, that move with pseudopodia. Fake-feetfor surebut what’s their actual name?

You sit up. He makes an expression: What’d we just do? He gnaws on a thumb. He turns his head toward the nightstand, then the door, but you can’t see if his eyes are open.

“At least you’ll have what?” he asks, looking at you, finishing his question with his eyebrows.

You’re still catching your breath.

“You’re alright, right?” he pushes himself up on his palms, his ropy arms angled behind him. He falls out of you, the slip a swift retreat. He touches the deep and damp bite mark.

You raise your right knee and pivot on your left. When you do, what’s left drips onto his thighs, the sheets. The bridge’s gone, you think, no foothold to be had. Not even the moat’s left

Why does that word still escape you?

He’s done examining your bite, apparently still waiting for your answer.

You say, “Sure,” as you lie back and close your eyes.


This was originally published in the August 2012 issue of A & U Magazine, but the link doesn’t seem to be active any longer: https://aumag.org/2012/08/23/when-metaphors-fail/