My Future Self is Smoking a Spliff on my Balcony and I Wish I Were in a Different Body at God-Knows-When PM

by Salem st. Wellings

            Lamplight, raw oranges, skin tags from split knuckles caught in wool-lined pockets. Coins clatter against the kitchen table, cracked book spines, fresh wood perched for another fire. Mahoganies, umbers, the clunk of old boots against the floor.

            From the quiet of my bedroom, I watch myself turn a lighter through my fingers, one, two, again, again. A spliff catches itself between my teeth and puffs idly, smoke reaching through the crack in my window and twirling itself through the air. I breathe it in and repeat until it becomes enough of me to understand my place in its narrative.

            That self, the one with the spliff, stares back at me through the glass: All jutted shoulders and bent elbows and a pointed sort of expression that suggest I, the bedroom self, am out of place. I asked them something about the time, but they didn’t seem to understand me. Slowly their mouth moved, each syllable chosen in careful succession. Still, I couldn’t understand.

            They moved gingerly towards me, fingers hooking under the window, opening it wide. Their palms bore fresh scrapes, reds smearing against the white paint, all signs of boyhood wiped at the expense of clean hands. They, or I, open their mouth to speak again, something caught in the back of their throat. Smells of sweetgrass and pine oil stain their clothes; linen and soot stain mine.

            Something curdles at the pit of my stomach. I’m unable to tell what it is – all I know is a bitter, unripe sense of… what? I’m not sure, still. That other self continues to stare, just as confused as I. At the edge of my bed, I tug at a loose string from my blanket.

            What am I if not that, if not them? I’ve found myself before in fleeting abstractions: cracked skulls, vintage trinket trays, the smell of a one-hundred-year-old hallway; the scratch of pen against paper, the crook of a newly hung picture frame, the satisfying snap of a pinecone against the sidewalk. They brought in a notion of longing, a sense of home; easily, easily, I became lost in them. Here, frozen at the expense of my other, I felt an intensity I had not yet felt before. Were we truly the same? Were they truly anything, or am I the nothing? Still, I try to become all at once, swallowing a new version of myself at every opportunity, through every human being I study, I become, I become.

            My head peered down to my clothes, to my hands – bitten fingernails and slouched shoulders and my late uncle’s blazer I promised to one day fill. How right the clothes fit the other, something sculpted for the curve of their throat down to the scuffs of their boots. In my mind, a flood of false scenarios played out: them in the back of their class, feet kicked up on the desk in front of them, sporting a carefree grin; a large cup of coffee in one hand, phone in the other, shoulders broad and something solid to lean against. It is what I wanted, who I wanted, a sketch in the back of my notebook torn out and pasted back in. I held the longing in my hands, felt its weight. Oh, to be their spine.

            Smoke whipped across my face. I waved my hand to clear it, coughing a bit from its suddenness. There, still, I was opposite myself, proudly bearing a cheeky grin as I stamped the spliff out on the windowsill.

            ‘S’alright, I know it’s not great – the tobacco in it, ‘nd all.

            I blink, slowly.

            ‘S’my first one, too. Cross my heart,’ I continue to think to myself, to the other. ‘I like the word more than what it actually is – “spliff”. Sounds fancy.’

            Inside, I shift uncomfortably in my seat; outside, I casually glance over my shoulder. Overhead, a bird caws.

            I tap my finger against the windowpane – one, two. The glass wobbles, unsteady in its casing.

            ‘Almost as if you can break it, huh?’

            I guess.

            ‘Go on.

            I press my palm against the glass, wide eyes in watching myself.

            ‘Just a shove. C’mon,’ I urge. ‘That’s it.’

            There’s barely any movement. I push harder, wondering if this is a sort of trick. The other me waits patiently, yet grows disinterested with every passing beat.

            I cannot do it. It’s glass.

            ‘No, not now.’ I produce another spliff from behind my ear, offering it to myself. I was holding it out but I was looking at my hand. At me.

            Sweetgrass and pine oil.

About the Author

Salem St Wellings is a disabled, nonbinary writer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their work is published in Peregrine Magazine, Mirabilia Magazine: Cabinet of Wonders, Solebury Literary Magazine, and In Regards to Ascending the Stairs.