In Which No One Falls in or out of Love
Meghan Nesmith

Sam once told Lin that he fell in love with Lily because she used to colour the tips of her red hair green, with a marker that smelled of artificial limes. It was, Lin supposed, as good a reason as any to fall in love. He used to bury his face in Lily's hair and imagine he was in Florida. The most exotic place he knew. This sounded simple and efficient, and Lin ached because of it, as she had recently realized how much more difficult it becomes to fall in love as you grow older, the reasoning behind the love demanding more and more consideration. It seemed to her to be counter-intuitive, the way a body weakens and moults just as soon as you learn how to use it.

Lin had been in love once, and was struck dumb when it suddenly ended, her boyfriend mumbling at her over a bowl of miso, the heel of his hand pressing so deeply into his eye socket she worried he might burst a blood vessel. The breakup was not the reason Lin left home, although she would admit that the physical exhaustion that came on after had contributed in some way. "We should get you one of those cones they put on dogs after they chop their balls off," her friend told her one afternoon as Lin's head lolled against the car window. Lin's wrists grew stiff with bone spurs from the weight of her head against her hand in class.

"Qiānjīn, up straight," her mother had said, clucking her in the small of her back. Her parents hadn't liked her boyfriend, mostly because he was white, mostly because he was taking art classes, mostly because he was too thin. He worked part-time at a preschool, and had once told Lin that he was going to write a symphony for recorders and xylophones, a sonata called "Lin" that his 4-year-olds would play, joyfully, every morning. He was very difficult not to love, which turned out to be his greatest flaw. "I deserve to be seen," he said as he walked away.

"I see you," Lin had said, gesturing wildly at her face. "I see you!"

He sighed. "That's not what I meant."

The morning she'd left home was dark in the way of Vancouver mornings, the day opening only momentarily before closing again, a clotted-dark mussel. It was the time she'd learned to live for, growing up with winters that stretched on, not cold but dark, dark, and wet. She didn't mind. She threw herself into the sliver of the morning before the sky closed in again; she would make whole eggs for her parents, boiling them four minutes each in a small pot of lightly-salted water. She could list the bad things she had done on one hand: the thumb, the time she went to a rave when she was 16 and took a white pill sketched with a Christmas tree; the pointer finger, losing her virginity at 17 in the lower bunk, where her boyfriend slept below his older brother; middle, beer cans on the beach; the ring, not telling her father that his mother had called, and later the discovery that she had died that same day; pinkie, wanting it. That was the worst: the wanting it. There were some people, it seemed, who didn't want it. They were the ones who could keep their heads upright.

So when Lily was kissing her, Lin was trying to see if she could catch the scent of limes, something that would make her want this moment, because she had realized suddenly, just that morning, that she hadn't wanted anything since she left home, not one thing, not at all.

Sam's mom was still at church when the three of them got to his house. The TV was on—some documentary about black bears, muted. Lily giggled and rubbed her cheeks, pinched her nose to stop it from dripping. When she moved to kiss her, Lin wasn't surprised. She could tell that Lily was bored. Lin didn't smell limes, but rather something like straw or forest or coal, unsettling but not displeasing.

Sam, watching them, rolled his shirt up over his head, and when he saw his younger brother standing in the arch that separated the kitchen from the den he said, "Go fuck yourself," and then Lily placed Lin's hand carefully against Sam's chest. Sam noticed she was crying before Lin realized it herself. She saw her fingers tremble against Sam's pale chest, white as cod-belly, his skin raised and trembling back at her. This wasn't what any of them had wanted, was it? Sam, his shirt still balled in his hands, turned and walked to the kitchen.

Lily sighed and stretched out on the couch, lightly running her fingers against Lin's thigh.

For a moment, Lin couldn't even remember how she got here. She had woken up in the morning, made her oatmeal, gone to the diner, and then Lily's tongue was in her mouth, no limes, and Sam, his chest under her hands. "I should go." Lin roughed her hair back under her toque. She should be smoking a cigarette in a movie somewhere. The whole thing was ridiculous. She left Lily on the couch, her attention fixed to the TV.

"You leaving?" In the kitchen, Sam kept his back to her, staring out the window. He held a glass of water in one hand. He used the other to pet the cat, bearing down hard. Lin followed his gaze out the window. The cat, noticing Lin, went full-force at her gloved hands, enjoying the tingle of electricity that passed between the wool and her fur.

"I dunno." In the yard, Sam's brother clawed hard with his small hands at a dirty ice bank, the sky fleece-grey, everything still frozen, even in March.

Meghan Nesmith lives and works in Brooklyn. She has had work in Big Lucks, Geist and others.

Detail of photo art on main page courtesy of Thiago Fonseca.

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