Photo: Oliver Johnson on Unsplash
When You Say His Name
by Megan Pillow
When you say his name for the first time, you say it to yourself. You’ll see it written beneath his profile picture, which you like the looks of, and you’ll practice it a few times before moving on. But his face won’t leave you. Instead, it persists, floating at the edge of your vision, always on the periphery. It’s his eyes, his eyes. Even though they aren’t even looking at you, it’s as if they see you already. Every time he works his way back into your timeline with some joke, some kindness, it reminds your mouth to smile, even if your eyes never do.
When you say his name for the second time, you say it in a whisper. You’ll look at the image he shared of his calendar and your name, the reminder he set for something that you thought only mattered to you. No one has ever put you on their calendar before. Not like this. You can feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, almost as if he’s already put his hand there. You say his name in a whisper, because you don’t want your soon-to-be-ex husband to overhear. You want to relish this little bit of care from this beautiful man. You want it to be your secret. But the whisper isn’t just about protecting him. It’s protecting you, too. You’re afraid that if you say the beautiful man’s name too loud, the act of doing so will inscribe his name on your heart, but even thinking it is a warning: too late, too late.
When you say his name for the third time, you say it into his cupped hand. You are lying in the hotel bed with him, sweaty and wrung out from hours of sex, and his body is behind you, cradling yours, his hand cupping your breast. He is sleeping for now, but you know it won’t last long, because already, you can feel him getting hard again against you, already you are nearly delirious with want for him again. You lift his hand from your breast and you speak his name into his palm, as if to remind yourself that he isn’t really yours, but you know it isn’t true. When you feel his skin against yours, you know that he belongs to you already. You speak his name quietly, because you do not want to interrupt his sleep, to disrupt the beautiful spell of this day, because whatever magic is happening cannot end, not yet (please, not yet, not yet).
When you say his name for the fourth time, you say it casually over the phone to him, and you butcher it. You get it so wrong that he stops you, gently, and asks you to say it again. With the hiss and tick and whoosh of the car around you, you say it, and he corrects you. You have fumbled the name of the incredible man who serenades you with your name every day. For a moment, this is worse than the end of the magic. You know how precious his name is to him, and it is a needle straight to the center of your heart that you wrecked it. This is you, clumsy, your wretched tongue overwriting him. Your meaning doesn’t matter. Only the thing you did does. You apologize, and he is so kind, so forgiving, so lovely with you that it makes you hate what you did even more. You are ashamed. But your shame doesn’t matter either. What matters is him. Stop talking, you tell yourself. Listen. And so you do. And he says his name, again, again. You close your eyes and listen, until his voice becomes an echo, a refrain, the sound that lulls you to sleep at night and awakens you in the morning.
You practice saying his name in the shower. You say it in line at the bank. You say it over and over again in your sleep. You say his name as you’re walking the dog at night and feeling the wind at the hollow of your neck, the place where he first touched you. You say his name in the kitchen. You speak it to the sauces as you stir them. You say his name five times in a row to give homage to its five perfect parts. You say his name against the hair of your children while you hold them close, so that when they meet him for the first time, they will look at him and think, here is love. You say it (scream it) when you’re coming alone in your bed in the house where your marriage has died its slow, protracted death. You scream his name over the corpse of your marriage not like the grief of the graveside, but like the anguished, incredulous joy at birthing something new.
When you say his name for the hundredth time, it is a reminder: you are naming him each time you lift the curve of your smile, each time you lift your arms to the light. You know now that the magic is unending. There are no final words for this spell. You will see him soon, always soon, because every moment is one that moves you closer. And when you see him, you will say his name (scream it) for hours. You will make him write it between your legs with his tongue. You will say his name into the perfect curve of his ear while he is inside you, so that he knows that you belong to him and he belongs to you, so that you both understand that the naming is the promise, that the waiting is the ritual, that the resolution is the joining, always.
Megan Pillow is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared recently in, among other places, Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart and Paper Darts and is forthcoming in Atticus Review and Waxwing. She has received fellowships from Pen Parentis and the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and a residency from the Ragdale Foundation. She is currently writing her dissertation and a novel. You can find her on Twitter at @megpillow.
* Read the companion piece "when you write her name" by Joaquin Fernandez.