Once, I Had Said “I Love You”

One night when the nightmares get too bad and I am tired of weeping for the dead one, the living man tells me come over, and I do, show up at his door past midnight still in my penguin pajamas, and he gives me a pillow and half his bed, and I sleep a finally dreamless sleep. And a few hours later, when I wake, he does too, puts a hand to my back to ask me what’s wrong. I tell him nothing, and mean it, for the first time in weeks.

What I want to tell him is that his back against mine is a gift and I am grateful for it, but it’s 3 a.m., and he would not understand. He does not have more than a decade of sharing someone’s bed in his history, the way I still give that phantom body its space, hug the right side, some muscle memory not yet unlearned after death, the way I can try sleeping on the left or even in the middle, still, always wake along that one edge, having made myself small, his ghost, so large.

If I had never said I love you, would I have understood this, dust or shadows settling into corners or how light leans against a window, even air entering a room—all the ways that things, weightless, like the ghost of his body in that bed, can take up so much space?

I will leave when it is barely light, the living man wrapped in sheets and breathing softly, will tiptoe past the stretched out sleeping dog, will, silent, slide the chain from the front door and pull it shut behind me. Will leave the way I wished my own phantom might, quietly, and with sun.

Except, once I had said I love you.

And it still takes up all the room.