by Suzannah V Evans

You will meet a man coming towards you in the snow. He will pass you a playing card, his hand icy as it slips out from his jacket. His lips will be like rosebuds; his eyes will be like the mist over dark lakes in winter; his jaw will be like a sharp turn in the road; his ears will be like conch shells; his fingers will be like the stems of lilies; he will be carrying a flask of whiskey in his pocket. Do not speak to this man. Take the card, glance at the rosebud lips, turn on your heels, fling your coat over your shoulder, inhale quick, cold air, blink, and pace briskly away over the compacted-snow path.

Once home, pour hot water over the juice of one lemon. Stir in honey. Remove your clothes and walk up the stairs one by one. Regard your toes as they slip over the carpet. Open the bathroom door. Run a bath. Sit by the side of the bath as the water plunges from the taps; test it with your toes. Once the bath is full, ease yourself in, feeling the water as it makes contact with your feet, buttocks, hands, wrists, hips, elbows, waist, chest. Take a long sip from your lemon drink. Take a long sip from the bath water. Cause undulations by moving your legs in the water; imagine that you are a finned creature. Drink more lemon.

Now, now, perhaps now. The playing card that you carried up with your naked fingers, your starfish fingers, is on the side. Can you reach it? Take the card between your toes, hover it above the bath water. Should you let it sink? Think of the rosebud lips, the conch ears. Arch your back while you breathe in bathroom steam. Pass the card from toes to fingers, from fingers to eyes. Look at the card.

There are dolphins. There are five stars. There is a strange moon with a lunar smile on its face. There are white flecks that could be salt, that could be eroded cliff, that could be snowflakes, that could be white tears, that could be rocks. What would you like them to be? What do the dolphins mean to you? Do you have a special connection with the number five? Inhale. Think of the rosebud lips.

Outside the moon shivers beneath its blanket of cloud. The sun is a memory. The snow is falling quickly, like salt, like a cliff eroding, like white tears, like rocks. Inside, you shiver and breathe deeply of the bathroom steam. You look at the card. You imagine yourself as a dolphin, as one of many dolphins. You make what you think is a dolphin noise. You undulate. You tip the remaining lemon drink into your bath. You meditate on the number five. Five. Sounds like: alive, strive, thrive, dive, survive. You stretch your fingers in the water. Strive, thrive, survive. You imagine yourself as a citizen of the moon. You imagine yourself as a dolphin on the moon. You imagine yourself as the moon. The moon, sensing your thoughts, withdraws.

Your starfish fingers are becoming wrinkled. Are you a dolphin? Are you the moon? You inspect your body for smooth dolphin skin, for craters. Your fingers skate over the water like dragonflies. You submerge the card under water; the blue ink of the dolphins blurs, pearls off the card in blue droplets. Your bath is crying blue tears. You whicker. You reach for the tub beside the bath, pour in rosebuds, lie back, delighting in the warmth, the fragrance.

Suzannah V. Evans is a poet, editor, and critic. Her writing has appeared in the TLS, New Welsh Review, EborakonThe NorthCoast to Coast to Coast, Tears in the Fence, and elsewhere. She is Reviews Editor for The Compass and an AHRC Northern Bridge doctoral researcher at Durham University.