Those were the last brilliant and bitter days, leaves still filthy from drought, unadorned by color or definition, and even the dampest of mosses had become brittle sashes weaved into the bark. We woke each morning to an odorless breeze that seemed to chant to the trees with a hollow catch in its throat.
This used to be our Advent season, more self-serving than celebratory, when we drank Burgundy from heavy goblets and you fed me artful pastries. You once knew a chef from Paris, you claimed, perhaps a former lover, you hinted, whom you called Nina, but I think your truest recollection was of Gowan from the Gondola Restaurant on West Lebanon Street. I remember the way he looked at you then, like a shaggy boy who discovered you in a forest, a halo of sunlight adorning your crown. You were always kittenish that way, telling tales of lovemaking in your younger years, narrating with such startling clarity in your Ocracoke brogue, shattering me like old pottery, reassembling me with new poetry. I was such a boy, wasn’t I, feeding from a banquet that starved me?
The fragrant oils you drizzled on my arms, lavender and frankincense, bore weight on my skin. You washed me with a soft cloth soaking in clean hot water, steam still rising from the bowl, and you kissed me directly on the mouth. I shall always remember that kiss. You lathered my meager beard with scentless shaving soap and gently stropped the blade so I would notice the cleverness of your fingers. It felt curious, this luxury you bestowed upon me, but I did not move. I could not. You did not linger, and you whispered words into my ear a song I did not recognize.
“How does one bury a boy?” you asked, and I, of course, could not answer. The question had not been directed to me.