the twenty-first

Things You Can Only See From West Virginia


He misses her most in the dead of night when his bladder wakes him or the dog barks at the wind or he’s startled awake from something he can’t quite place.


He always feels for her first, even though he knows she isn’t lying next to him. It’s a reflex, one that sends a sigh through his body when he remembers her side of the bed is empty. It’s most difficult when she’s gone so long the pillow stops smelling like her.


When she returns he cooks for her, slicing tomatoes from the garden with mozzarella from the neighboring farm and balsamic vinegar from her favorite place in the city to start and then baking fish and simmering risotto and letting her smile and her laugh settle in his stomach amongst the oils and spices.


They enjoy every moment they can together, staying up late into the night wrapped up in each other and their favorite music and the constellations they can only seem to find from West Virginia. She writes while he paints and bakes bread and occasionally he tries to teach her how to play the piano (though she can’t read music) and no matter how long they’ve been together, on the last night before she returns to the city they make a list of all the things they’ll do when she makes it back to him again.


When she leaves he watches her drive away, having to call the dog back from chasing her down the gravel road. He reads the books she brought for him and tends to the garden and takes the dog running and sketches the way her hand clutches at his. He fills his days with whatever he can and they fall asleep talking on the phone at night, her soft sighs soothing him to sleep when he can’t hold her close to him.


It’s around day seven that he starts missing her in his sleep and begins counting down until he can see her again, starts planning what he’ll cook and which books they’ll trade and how many nights he’ll get to fall asleep holding her once she returns.


He memorized her long ago, and it’s the late nights when he’s so grateful he did, that he can remember how her body presses into his when she sleeps, how her hair curls when she lets it air dry after a hot shower, how her calves mold when she’s running. He’s never loved anyone the way he loves her.


He knows they’ll grow old together, that one day soon she’ll sell her loft in the city and move to the farm, placing her books amongst his on the built-in shelves and splitting the cooking with him and planting things she loves in the garden. She’ll read aloud to him under the cool West Virginia skies and teach him how to do yoga in the yard and maybe one day he’ll finally get her to play the piano.


He just has to hold on until they get there.


Melissa Boles is a writer, storyteller, and impatient optimist from the Pacific Northwest who recently relocated to Tennessee. Her writing focuses on art, mental health, love, and the human connection. Melissa has been published in The Daily Drunk, Emerge Literary Journal, Stone of Madness Press, and at Fanfare and Sexology on Medium. Her debut chapbook, We Love in Small Places, will be released via ELJ Publications in May 2021. You can find her at or at @melloftheball.  

© 2021 by Elizabeth Bates. Proudly created with

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