This is Definitely Not Real

A ternion of life’s necessities, and the sentiments they invoke…

by Allie Burke

Summer smells like a new pair of Nikes. Like wine and good sex and iced coffee, in that order.

He looks at me like I’m crazy. Only he—who is unlike everyone else and also exactly like everyone else—would do such a thing. Only he would look at me like I’m crazy when I tell him I’m crazy so that he could insist that I’m not crazy. Like he doesn’t know. Everyone knows.

“You don’t believe me?” I sip red wine from the bottle with the bicycle on the label. I grab the white pearl box from the table and click the button on the side five times. The screen lights up and the words bloop bloop bounce around my skull. I smile and hit the mod. It tastes like peanut butter and jelly, like that low budget jar with the peanut butter and jelly together. Gaston says he can’t taste anything but the peanut butter, but that fool is trippin. This gorgeous man sitting beside me yanks it from me and hits it. He releases a cloud and says he never said that.

“I know paranoid schizophrenics. You do not have schizophrenia.”

“Look, I’ve been through some shit,” I say, and he interrupts me like he does, even though he knows I hate it. Especially because he knows I hate it.

“I know, but that doesn’t mean you’re schizophrenic.”

“No, but the shit I’ve been through has prepped me to not be as insane as the insane.”

“Bullshit, E. You are not crazy.”

I laugh, wiping dust off my new infrareds. The street looks like it always does from the curb at this time of night: just dark enough to offer the promise of broken dreams.

“I was,” I whisper, tipping the bottle against my lips. “Especially with you.”

He looks at me and the night is replaced by a San Diego boardwalk and a white wedding in the distance, followed by an infinity of memories at his side. Wine, sex, and coffee. That girl who asked me if he was my boyfriend and that time I laughed and told her, “no, fuck no.” The night he promised he would never leave, and the night he left. The night he came back. His hugs. The look on his face when he told that random guy to never touch me. The night he left. The night he came back.

“I didn’t know,” he breathes next to me, and I remember the fourth of July in this very spot last year.

The night he left. The night he came back.

I don’t know how to control the filter my existence puts up. It should never come up with him but it always does, so I shrug my shoulders like it’s whatever. It is, right? “Nobody cares; it doesn’t even matte—”

“I care,” he says, and time doesn’t even make sense. My eyes burn out of my frozen soul, which, I have come to realize, is indiscernible from my brain. 

He is close. He smells of all three items on my list, in that order.

“Are you going to make me tell you again?”

I am in his arms and he breathes me inside him. I feel that this is a moment that the heroine who plays my life in that book should cry, her tears staining his shirt with their heartbreak, but anti-psychotic medications don’t allow you to care that much, so the reality is that tears always die before they are freed, like a firefly in a mason jar. Capturing its beauty for that short period of time still isn’t worth it. 

“I love you, E,” he says, and for the first time in ever I say it back, because he said he cares, and that shouldn’t even be possible, so this entire thing is probably just a hallucination.


Coffee after wine and before sex. This is definitely not real.


Header art is by the incredibly talented Nashville-based artist Alex Hall, as part of a series of work entitled Relativity.

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