Thematic Cartography

by Chloe N. Clark

My lover first tells me that he is turning into a chart on a Tuesday. This is three weeks after the diagnosis, three weeks after we sit silently for an hour in the kitchen until the room is so dark that we can only see the outlines of one another. I don't hear him quite perfectly, think he is saying something about his heart. But he takes off his shirt, one of his hip bones jutting above the line of his pants—which makes me ache to touch him, caress that sharp line—and reveals that there is an x-axis running across his back.

I jump out of my chair, where I've been curled reading the news as it ticks across the scroll, and go to look closer. Downward dashes indicate that some data needs to be filled in; we don't yet know what is being analyzed.

"There's no Y-axis, so maybe it's not a chart," I tell him. I like things to be exact.

"But I can feel it in my soul," he says. "I had a dream last night about William Playfair!"

"Who?" I ask. No one ever has names in my dream and I never dream of people I know.

"He basically invented charts," he says.

"How do you even know that?" I ask. My lover has never been a keeper of facts, obscure data, snippets of poems once read years before. That is my area.

"Because I'm turning into a chart. I just woke up and I knew who he was," he says this like it is the sanest bit of logic that has ever been said.

That night, in bed, we have sex like it is not the first time, where our bodies didn't quite know yet what the other wanted, the way to match our rhythms to one another, but maybe like the third time. When everything was exciting, was new, but we had already began to map out the pleasure of the other.

In the morning, there are words and symbols. Under each dash: "sugar," "Oak," "fine," a picture of an eclipse, more and more words without context. I take pictures and we study them together.

"What does it mean?" he asks.

I shake my head, trying to understand, to fill in the data.

Later, he leans over the bathroom sink and I see swirls of red going down the drain. My heart beats faster. I can feel my pulse in every part of my body.

"I think I need to go to the hospital," he says. He tries to smile, always even in pain he will try to reassure me, but his teeth are stained red.

The doctors pace around me. There are charts and data and heart beat monitors that beep beep beep. I think: if I figure out the rhythm, if I can correlate the ups and downs of the line showing his heart's beats, then I will be able to save him. I think in patterns, in soothing lines of numbers.

The doctors come to me and say, "we told you he'd get worse. We told you this would happen. We told you to count in days, not plan for years." But they say it in kinder words, of course. No one ever thinks that every word is a weapon. I say, "he is turning into a chart." And the doctors think I'm babbling, think my voice is going too fast.

In the night, he wakes once. He grabs my hand, so tight that I will have bruises for days and it is the first time that he has ever hurt me, and I will cherish even this moment. Especially this moment. "It's easier to extract meaning from data when we see it visually," he gasps.

And in the end, the doctors will pull me from the room. My feet drag against the floor. I ask to see the body when I'm calm. His hip bones. Hands. I imagine the x-axis seeping into him, becoming part of his blood, his bones.

One morning, three months after the funeral, three months after I pushed my face so deep into his pillow while I slept, as if by inhaling the last hints of his scents I might dream of him, I feel my skin tingling. In the mirror, I see a line etching its way up my back. A y-axis.

Over the next few days, I watch as dashes appear. I dream of William Playfair and he says, "they all said I provided false data. Fake mathematics. Can you believe that?" And I can, I can believe so many things, but I tell him I can't. I play astonishment to make him feel better.

In the morning, I wake and find that the dashes are attached to dates. I take pictures and hold them up against the photos of my lover's back. Oak and May 19th—our first kiss on Oak Street. An eclipse and January 31st—the name of the bar where he told me that he liked my laugh because it reminded him of the ocean and he never explained that but it was still the best thing that anyone had ever told me.

Sometimes, still, I check the mirror in the morning. I imagine that new dates will appear. I imagine that this chart might never end.

BIO: Chloe N. Clark's work appears in Booth, Hobart, Midwestern Gothic, and more. She also writes for Luna Station Quarterly, Nerds of a Feather, and Ploughshares. She can be followed on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes