I arrived After The First, which notified me that something had gone wrong the first time around.
Something wasn’t quite perfect.
Enough was left un-perfect to try again anyway, and so I arrived in a tumble of mucky and afterbirth, screaming my displeasure into the world.
Hello, here I am.
I am the second, and this means some things:
I may one day rise up, overtake the first, and claim the things that were promised to them instead of me, only because they were a faster fish swimming through a fertile sea, which is not a very compelling reason, in my opinion.
I am extremely likely to be ugly, unlikeable, nasty, and forgotten. I will wear a magenta gown to the ball, with a hideous frill to cover up my below-average sized breast, and a dumpy bow to make up for my unfortunately flat rear. I will hardly catch a glimpse of the prince, and at midnight I will return home with only blisters to show for my labor, and a tea-stain on my left glove.
I will certainly have a height complex,
and I will more than once be left behind at a major railway station, or a bus terminal, or on Christmas Eve when my family is rushing out the door to catch a plane to Paris and everything has been derailed to a severe late night storm and power outages across the greater city of Chicago.
To make up for my inherent secondness, I will come first in everything.
I will score a minimum of 102 on all of my quizzes and examinations. The two extra points will invariably come from procuring all bonuses on offer, or catching a mistake that an errant tutor let slip by their drooping spectacled eyes.
Of all the boys in my year, I can jump the highest and of all the girls in my year, I can run the fastest, and of everyone, it is widely acknowledged that I am the best chess player in the county. I quickly ran through all of the semi-eligible opponents and now content myself with facing off against myself. The matches end in stalemates. Neither of us can slip anything past the other.
I came first in Science Olympiad, the Mathletics Cup, The Academic Quizbowl, The Geography Trials, and every Spelling Bee I’ve ever competed in. I was accepted into all of my unis early: first choice.
I have a hazy memory of one summer hols, driving in a car with my family on the way to the seaside. It is so long ago now that I was strapped into a carseat, wearing a humiliating striped bib and a sunhat with a crab on it. My legs were fat and one of my shoes had fallen off. It’s quite nice to have your tiny socked feet flailing out in the open air, I thought. And kicked my chubby legs harder. After some time, I grew bored and I looked around and saw you: there.
Just across the expanse of seating, old enough to be buckled in with a big kid belt.
Wearing a baseball cap, a pair of blue shorts, and a shirt reading “Sea You Later!” with a cartoon drawing of a sea lion waving on it. Sea lions are not native to European waters, I thought disdainfully. And then you looked at me, and we caught eyes.
And After The First.
You saw me. And I saw you.
Then a seagull flew past our car squawking and you broke the standoff to point and shout out “Duck!” and Mum said, “It’s a seagull, ducky. Not a duck.” And in that moment, I knew I was going to destroy you.
After all, Nothing comes After After the First. I arrived here complete.
I filled in the gaps that you left aching, wide, open, hungry.
I am hungry too.
I feed and I grow and I eat and I devour
And I come back
When I can’t sleep, I come down to the kitchen for a cup of tea.
It’s happening more and more often these days,
I stare up at the ceiling of my room while the clock tick tick ticks it’s way towards 1 AM.
2 AM. 3 AM.
It’s tea time.
This tea is supposed to “help me get my zzz’s the natural way” and “gently lull me towards blissful rest.”
It’s only Monday and the rest of the week looms large
And I suddenly remember Edinburgh, and the way the hills rolled out into the mist
And the only high tea I ever went to, which ended in disaster.
To avoid remembering those things, I ask myself questions:
How did you help this week? How did you hide this week? How did you hurt this week?
How many days are left til January 20th?
It’s only Monday, still. It’s only Monday.
Tea-minus 9 days.
Tea-minus 8 days.
Tea isn’t supposed to be drank alone, in your kitchen, at 3 am.
Tea time Is supposed to be: surrounded by people that you love,
even one person would be enough
With a pot the perfect size for sharing
And cookies for you to fight over and laugh about it
And crumbs tumbling into laps
And milk in little saucers
You don’t put milk in your tea at 3 AM.
To avoid remembering these things, I ask myself questions:
How are you going to help this week? How are you going to change? How are you going to be braver?
How many days are left til January 20th?
How’s the weather in Palm Beach?
How’s the weather in Mar-a-Lago?
Tea-minus 7 days.
Tea-minus 6 days.
Tea-minus 5 days.
If you can’t sleep, come on down to the kitchen for a cup of tea.
If you’re like me, it may be happening more and more these days.
I’ve got extra mugs, and the kettle’s already on
And this tea is supposed to “help us breathe a sigh of sweet relief.”
We can have tea together, and I’ll keep watch, while you rest.
It’s only Sunday, still. It’s only Sunday.
Tea-minus 4 days.
i’m sitting at a rough table except it’s at the bottom of the sea. there’s a man or a woman, it’s hard to say, with claws for hands and a wooden peg leg, cooking up some soup on the stove. it smells delicious. i say “how can there be fire at the bottom of the ocean” they say “do you like crab bisque” i do. i do. they ladle me up a bowl and it is delicious. and warm. “you’re looking for your soul, are you” i am. i am. “how did you know?” they laugh but it sounds like a wet fart coming through their noise. “that’s the only time i ever get visitors. if they’ve lost something. it’s kind of sad, but i don’t let it get to me” i try to nod in a sympathetic way. i don’t know if i pull it off. they clank their way up from the table and suddenly there’s a magnificent collection of lobster pots hanging from hooks in the ceiling. i blink. they scuttle about looking in this one and that and muttering and then “ah. here. this is you?” it’s a small round pot. it doesn’t look like it could hold a lobster at all. “would a lobster fit in that” i ask. they squint at it suspiciously. “ah, no. it looks like a sugar bowl, doesn’t it?” it does, it does. i reach out to touch it, but they pull it away. “sorry i can’t just give it to you” i’m confused. “why not? then why am i here?” they look confused too. “i don’t know. you’re not drowned, are you? you’re not dead? how did you get all the way down here?” a current begins to build beneath me. i try to respond but the waves are rushing me back towards the surface and i’m spat out, into the warmth of my nighttime bed. dripping dripping dripping. my sheets are wet and there’s a puddle on the floor and my chest feels so so cold.
i open the sugar bowl. there’s one sugar cube inside. should it be salt? i wonder. that would make more sense. the bottom of the sea. and i don’t think that i am sweet. i don’t think my soul would take this shape. it does make sense that it’s food. i love food. and i’m so hungry. i take the sugar cube out and let it dissolve on my tongue before i’ve fully considered if that’s the right course of action. as it melts to nothing i wish that i could slow it down, make it stop. what if i’ve done the wrong thing? then i swallow and it’s gone and all that’s left is the sweet aftertaste coating my tongue. and i still feel cold. i look into the empty sugar bowl and touch the bottom. empty. a voice whispers into my ear, unasked, “well? did you find what you were looking for?”
Ask her to dance, gently.
She’s been waiting all night for someone to ask her
Standing there in her pink tulle gown
That sweeps the floor and tangles in her brittle tail.
The tail - straw-like - flicks from side to side in time with the waltz
An oom-pah-pah of swishing tulle
May I have this dance?
It’s a good moment to ask
The orchestra has crescendo-ed, and reaches a tentative hush
And you speak it out into the quiet
“May I have this dance?” and hold out your hand.
Gently she takes it, and lets you lead her out into the center of the dance floor.
The lights are dim, and the sequins on the bodice of her dress sparkle softly
As she gets into position
And you put your hand on her waist.
It’s lovely to dance with an elephant
Because she is sturdy and solid
And has a perfect understanding of rhythm
Yes, she’s got two left feet
But she’s also got two right feet
Four perfect feet perfectly trampling in time to the
So you let her take the lead
And it’s good to let go sometimes, isn’t it?
While she whirls you around the dance floor
And lifts you with her trunk.
It wasn’t always like this.
Once upon a time, she arrived at the waltz club
Eager and expectant in somber black silk
Her puff of straw tail done up in a bow
And she waited all night for someone to ask her
Standing there in her somber black gown
Gently, so gently.
And she swayed in the lamplight
And flickered her tail
And nobody asked her, or saw her, or cared.
And as the orchestra crescendo-ed, and drew to a sudden hush
She heard it like a slap, like a scoff, like cut
“What do you do with an Elephant”
Well I say: it’s simple.
You ask her to dance.
You reach for her hand.
After all, opportunity knocks seldom, then rarely, then not.
And it’s lovely, so lovely, unbearably lovely
To dance with an elephant.