Frankie kept the splinters of the time she’d spent with me in a wooden box she got when she turned three. She said,
Jim, I feel as if we’re on to something big out here,
wait an hour more before you leave.
Frankie kept a list of lovers tucked beneath her pillow, and she put little dots next to their names to mark the times she’d dreamed of them. I asked her why my name was the only lonely bunch of letters in the starlit sky of nights she’d slept alone. Frankie smiled. Said,
Jim, can’t you tell,
you’re the one who’s got a dot on the i
you’re a dream to me in your own right
When we sleep together I don’t want to dream of you,
I might need to.
Frankie, can’t you tell we’re wasting time? – I asked as whiskey bled the truth out of my mouth, and I could tell she was disappointed but I thought, well, girls can get that way.
They try for impossible things like searching for a needle in the hay or for love in a man like me. She was a girl then still, like that birthday she’d turned three, and her grandma told her:
Frankie, this box is magic.
It will hold the memories that you don’t want to fade,
but best of all
it can make them come alive, too.
My pretty girl believed it to be true. So she wept above that keepsake every night, she thought her tears held the best of who she was. Through the years, the wood rotted. When I saw it: I caught a whiff of the sea. You’re one sad chick, said I, and Frankie smiled.
The night I lost my faith in magic, I left her tragic empire to start anew. She’d already torn her list of dreams in two.
Please Jim, stay, don’t make me dream of you.
But no dreams came that night to the custodian of all the bits I never thought would matter to another soul. I tried to be a man for Frankie, but that wasn’t who she wanted. She wanted me. I was always afraid she’d see my face in a nightmare one day and say:
You no longer dot my i,
and so I, so I, I…I left.
When a friend I hadn’t seen for years called with condolences, I asked him what he meant. Has something happened to my brother, or my sister Jo?
I thought you’d know, he stammered in a genuine confusion. As I heard him tell the story of Frankie’s death, I shed the illusion of thinking her eccentric and had to admit that her obsession with time and dreams was nothing more than depression, which goes hand in hand with suicide.
I asked my friend about when and why she died,
found out the gory details of how she bled herself dry
and it was odd because they found some of the blood in a box.
When I heard about the strange notebooks they had also found, every page filled with dotted i’s, it still wasn’t enough to resent myself for leaving without saying goodbye. Instead, I remembered the last thing Frankie said to me – she’d cried,
Tears no longer do.
Frankie. No box could ever hold the memories I have of you.
Instead I go to the sea where you live in the air and scent of a childish hope that time can never die.
Even though I am a man (no longer me), I take it upon myself to test your theory that tears might not suffice, so I cry.
Nothing comes alive.
Not you, who are dead and bound in the unconsecrated ground of some old town cemetery.
Not the time when we laughed in your garden and I smuggled a smile through the small hallway where your mother was shouting insults at your dad, and you said – this will be a good memory,
Frankie, the past cannot come alive.
You knew that when you traced the blade over your forearm, didn’t you?
Now so do I.