The Front Line

You lead me down the stairs gently, like a shy dancer. “This is it,” you whisper. I
nod back and shuck off my coat and drape it over the handlebars of the old exercise
bike. The air is cold and still. Boxes are stacked across an air hockey table and
shelves burst with books and movies. Things are shoved underneath surfaces. I try
to observe without appearing to look for anything.

“Everything’s ready to go. I’d need a week tops and I could clear right out of here,”
you say.

“I like it,” I say.

You shrug and smile a little. Here are pieces of your life packed in cardboard, sorted
like silverware. Part of me wants to sink to my knees on your basement carpet and
sift through those boxes for tiny precious things you might have forgotten are

“Can I see your room?” I ask.

“You can see whatever you want,” you whisper.

I put my hand on your cheek. “Why are you whispering?”

“Habit.” You kiss my open palm.

“But no one’s home.”

“Doesn’t matter,” you tell me. “I’ve learned to make as little noise as possible.”

The first thing I notice about your bedroom is the burnt sienna carpeting. I know
that plush color in my gut. Jedis stare wisely down from shelves and storm troopers
look uncomfortable about their pants. Caped superheroes stand proudly with
determinedly pointed elbows. Comic characters and dusty action figures I don’t
recognize fill in like anonymous soldiers. “It’s a shrine to my childhood,” you say.
These are the faces of your life. Scanning them, I feel like a spy, as though I’ve
crept in the window to watch you sleep.

You spread the Star Wars blanket over the carpet and we sink slowly onto it, taking
our clothes off on the way, racing our own gravity. Your hair becomes the burnt
sienna carpet. Your hands unfold across my stomach. On this blanket on the floor
of your underground room you have the authority of a boy who knows the way to
something secret. In the dark your face rises like an apparition and my hold tightens
across your back. As we move against the orange field of your carpet, Spiderman
and Yoda and all the rest backlit in red look down upon us, neither in judgment nor
joy. When we begin to move faster I close my eyes and can still feel them watching.

Afterwards we lie on our backs, sweating on the Star Wars blanket. I tuck my head
in near your shoulder. You contemplate a shelf of action figures. “The unhappier I
felt, the more I bought,” you say. “You were building an army,” I say. I tighten my
arm and leg around you and start counting your heroes. I reach seventy before my
eyes get tired. The Justice League stands guard over you. Batman and Superman
cross their arms over their chests, biceps bulging with confidence. They’ve kept you
safe, and now they have reinforcements.



Joelle Renstrom is currently in the MFA program for creative writing at the University of
British Columbia, with a focus in short fiction, poetry and a combination of the two. Her
work has been published in the Allegheny Review, Sycamore Review, Adirondack
Review and Friction Magazine. A chapbook of her poetry was published by the
University of Arkansas press. Her interests include the color orange, cheese, chapstick,
electronica, beer, dysfunction, patterns and freaks.