The first bird I left was gold. The paper was waxy and had a sheen to it. Like the sun. That’s why I used it.  Because it was bright and conspicuous. The shiny paper was recycled; a wrap from the store when I purchased my newest stone. Today it jostled in my pocket as I roamed the neighborhood. A reminder of resilience. Maybe more like magic and desire.  The stone itself more of a red sparkle than gold but very Hollywood which is what attracted me. I like ostentatiousness in affection. When I am interested, I will dye my hair blue, set a patch of grass on fire. I might wear all white in public. Set amongst the other pebbles and all black anything (obsidian, onyx, Tibetan smoky quartz, they begin to blend like that) I was used to rubbing my fingers over, it called to me first. This is back when I could touch everything.

“Goldstone,” I said out loud.

I have seen you before. Give me reciprocity: some shiny, shiny thing. I didn’t need the woman to wrap it but she offered thinking it a gift for someone else. I felt no remorse pocketing the tourmaline or the tiny garnet as I plucked the roundest black one first. Then, let my fingers feel over to the red ones to grab the smallest one. I always wore clothing with pockets. My bird looked slick sitting in the shop– almost perched for flight– on the longest branch of the potted wicker succulent.  Color on a chilly, gray day. Not brutal but I needed to wear a scarf which always told me how cold it really was outside. I always wore a hat, even today, even though I had a wig as extra protection. I was also wearing sunglasses even though it was overcast and drizzling. I spent $5.13 on Earl Gray tea and a vegan lavender cookie. I got a free cup of water. I sat in the back with my earbuds on and turned up. This one didn’t say anything. I just drew the triangle with my fingers over the gold paper, stuck it atop the center of the branches, where they all converged like a waiting basket, and walked away leaving my half drank tea on the table. My mouth was dry. I bit my tongue with my teeth to stop my jaw from bearing down on itself and began to count: five stones in my pocket, two pennies, eight straws, my keys, and seven more pieces of paper. Plus a receipt. Plus some dust or dirt. This was before we couldn’t touch anything. 

The second one I left was a purple frog in a pot outdoors and inside it, written neatly in pen, so neatly in fact it looked like someone else may have done it: Leap before you look. That was the very first one I made but the second one to go. 

When I began to plant the nightshade, I began to leave the origami animals with it so you would notice. Stare at it. Study it. Photograph it then rub your fingers over the shiny wax paper. People love touching wax paper. Pluck it from its hiding spot. Pick the white flowered plant next to it. She has no cats. You are not thinking about noxiousness but beauty. This started days ago: first the plastic butterfly, then the felt spider, then the paper crane, the paper bat, the brown dog. When I saw where she lived, I planted the queen anne’s lace along the way. I planted them both at the same time.  I planted the evenly cut red Valentine heart and I knew that you would pick them for her, pick the animals from her without revealing the secret.

The heart read The theme this year is homemade and hidden. It was so neat in presentation it was as if someone else wrote it. In my pocket that day were three stones, a lucky twig I picked next to a big orange cat, three quarters, eight crumbled straws, and a dirty handkerchief. This was when we could use handkerchiefs to blow our noses still. I hated waste. My finger nails had bits of dirt from the twig when I bent down to pet the cat and saw it was a wishbone. I licked my pointer in front of someone. It had chocolate on it. This was when we could touch our face.

When you arrive to her apartment door, you see the second heart,
My love please enjoy.
A basket full of muffins covered with a red checkered cloth.

I didn’t have to watch things to see them. Didn’t have to be near things. I knew you would bring the basket inside. I knew you would try one. I knew you would fall to the floor in little poked pieces.  I like to think you thought of me sometimes and the way I used to wear my face: unpainted but shaded by light play. My hair short and fine and auburn in the rose colored window. Glasses. This is before I wore wigs or eyeliner. This was with a budding causticity.  I was always finding the sun in my apartment to diminish mood. You’ll remember me as aimless and walking. How tan I got in the summer. My chokers. My short nails. The way you knew I’d be smug when the news first said “pandemic.” I like to think you tasted the muffin before you drank the wine, impressed. Such a stern rule follower you had found. It’s devout Catholicism.  Even grinding those cherry seeds with my mortar and pestle. A rhythm in my arthritic temper. Knuckles sore, knees sore, teeth clenched. I like to think of you there looking at the basket first, long, remembering the way I wore my innocence so hooked like a line. The way I looked down when unsure. Hid my teeth unless an accident. Such a tumult inside. The way I wore my fits in lines. I’ll remember you, even if I’m a little unsure of the final faint, always tasting the thumbtacks first. Then the juicy black berries. Then the seeds ground to a fine wine; thirty apple cores, plus the five ground cherry pits plus the dash of rose for the smell.  You’ve always called me flagrant. I would say I’m a perfectionist, being sure I’m never sure, I really do try. Sometimes you have to make sure. Cutely, you said, damn sure.

Deftly, I sit so in my mind I may maunder.

I like to think you picked the white swan off the open cork, the red wine in an open canister to aerate before you put anything in your mouth. Smelled like rose. I like to think you smelled it and said, must be rose, my favorite. The theme this year is handmade and hidden but the swan says,

Better safe than sorry. Drink up.

Even though I barbed the whole place, filled the cake with stones and ran a bath of oleander in case you are so tired. Such a hard worker. You deserve this. But I like to think you tasted the thumbtacks first. I like to think you remembered me: curt. The way I looked down then up.  The way I couldn’t hide it. That laugh. Big, in ballgown and sudden like you are just the funniest thing in the world. And you narrate me saying it with my slow southern drawl, imperfect in her vernacular but so pleasant to hear.

Well, you are just the funniest thing in the world. 

“Valentine’s Day”

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