yesterday or tomorrow i will learn to love or hate

* This piece was awarded an honorable mention in our 2022 Writing Contest, judged by Anya Ow.

Content warnings: death

I can’t find my way back to the main road where the ground wears a pelt of ashes and runs over its own grave or buries itself in it. The path to the city is so far away I’ve forgotten the forest or mountains or rivers that lead to it. I’m driving to everywhere or nowhere.

I see a person standing under a street lamp, light flickering in and out of darkness just like it used to in the lab. They wave their arms, helpless like a deer awaiting impact, skin refracting light in all the ways I can’t remember from my eighth grade optics class. I hit the brakes lightly, letting the tires skid forward until the rubber brews smoke from the pavement. I open the passenger seat door of the car, the one I bought in ‘08 during the stock market crash or the housing crisis—a Toyota RAV4 from a car pound a few miles out west. The people there didn’t believe I could fix it, so I did, until gasoline and crude oil glazed my skin like a pale donut. How sweet my darkness was then.

On our way to the highway we see a deer that has skinned itself against another car, Honda logo imprinted into its fur. It’s somewhere late at night in the middle of June, and heatwaves are rebounding from the deer hide that has peeled and unfurled itself onto the asphalt. They tell me to stop the car, so I do. Red still spills from its stomach, tainting the pavement, so they get out and check its heartbeat. I ask them why they know how to do medical check ups on deer, and they tell me they grew up in the middle of rural Ohio where roadkill was more common than stop signs and traffic cones. They conclude the deer is dead or dead and I remember how my mother used to tell me the same thing—in the kitchen when we portioned grandma’s pills from the bottles that overflowed from the counter or under the fluorescent white glow of surgery waiting rooms, sometimes death is inevitable—the way love always has an end or hate has a beginning, nothing lasts longer than it’s meant to. Neither does this road, but we keep driving on it anyway, letting the pines guide us somewhere.

We pull the car over to the side of the road near a soybean field and sit in the grass that smells vaguely of bonfires and s’mores and little children. The sun is setting behind the line of trees in front of us, leaking like maple syrup between the branches. I tell them about sunsets and sunrises and why I hate the sun. The sunrise and sunset have become indistinguishable, like the houses and picket fences that stretch beyond the forest horizon. They tell me we’re somewhere in Maine or New Brunswick. But there’s no lobster shacks or rock formations in sight, so I open our GPS and find out we’re in neither Maine nor New Brunswick but Indiana. We laugh in between the soybeans and braid flower crowns into our hair, dreaming about fawns and farms and fire.

It’s yesterday or tomorrow when we kiss. We’re swimming in the Great Lakes or the Atlantic where the wavelengths vary from everything to nothing. The beach is lined with broken beer bottles and plastic bags so we hide it all with blankets and ignore it. The air carries the scent of Palm Bay and herds of sweaty college freshmen, so we run further down the beach until we can no longer see our tires melting into the parking lot pavement. We barbeque burgers made of doubt or dough or doe, hiding under willow branches from the sky’s brightness, darkness, and in-betweens. Here, barnacle covered rocks make up the beach and our hands are bleeding because of them. The saltwater burning our skin until blood rejoins and births a wound worth healing.

Last month or next month they will say they love me for the first time. They wait until we stop sleeping at Walmart parking lots with the seats reclined and have something that’s somewhat of a home—an abandoned cottage where the gutters and electricity systems are so old not even the kitchen lamp will turn on. We spend our days living by the sun’s itinerary, nights surviving by candlelight. They raise chickens in the backyard, go to Sunday farmer’s markets and sell them to all the soccer moms on keto diets. In the mornings between sunset and sunrise, we steal berries from hedges that encircle the farm down the road. A deer tumbles out of the hedges, body draining rivers of something like blood or smeared berries. They tell me they can’t live without me over deer steaks and blueberry pie. In this house the breeze is warm or cold or sweltering or frigid all at once.

Last or next month they start sneaking clothes into the trunk of our car, but it’s hard to hide them when heat amplifies odour and the car starts smelling like a bittersweet jam mix of sweat and fresh picked berries. We try to talk that night, but we’re both not that good at talking. They explain they’re packing because they need to return to the family business in Seattle or LA or Portland and trade stocks or fish. For good measure, they tell me they still love me when they leave. This time, I’m wondering when the borders between love and hate split open into valleys of longing. How it would be so much easier to hate.

And today or this hour or this minute, I’m watching the waters. How the seaplane kicks the river when it lands as if there’s no yesterday or tomorrow. I’m standing next to my bike—still watching, waiting for you or nothing, arms burning a fire truck red.

Ange Yeung (they/them) is a writer from BC. They edit at The Plumbago and Surging Tide Magazine. You can find their other work in X-R-A-Y Lit Mag and the Flat Ink. They love water and Mitski.