Denver gives me the sensation of walking downhill.

Sometimes we are, of course–stepping into those shadowy underpasses, entrances lined with pigeon shit and burst trash bags, fast stepping past abandoned encampments and piles of clothing with the sick realization that there might be a human under there.

But mostly the streets are level, just the ice giving the illusion of sliding downward. It’s the tricky kind, hardened and hidden under a skim of powder. The drifts look safer but my boots are already busted at the seams, filling with snow whenever I step too deep.

That penguin walk comes back to me so easily, keeping the weight underneath with just a little more work from the hips. We make good time. We walk for miles.

I am thinking of you.
I am not thinking of you.
I am fervently thinking I am not thinking of you.

He says we’ll get drunker faster. It’s the altitude, the lack of oxygen. This isn’t a warning, just a fact.

We drink flights and half pours and whole pours. We take shots when they are offered. He always introduces himself and I’m always just a beat behind, unsure if we should shake on it or just nod. We are from Massachusetts and Kentucky, in that order.

There’s so much art everywhere. Murals and graffiti and the rhino signs proclaiming Art. We steady ourselves on crackling patches of ice to photograph bursts of color against the night sky. It’s socioeconomic voyeurism, he says, documenting the decay.

I wake up at two, at four, at nine thirty. Nothing is spinning but my heart races. I’ve kicked off the comforter, sweating through my shirt, the texture of the sheets all wrong. Trying to sleep with arms empty.

I am thinking of you.
I am not thinking of you.
I am pressing hard against the spot where you aren’t, like tonguing the raw edge of a split lip.

We wake up hungover or not quite. We say yes a lot, and thank you. When we order a cinnamon roll the waitress at the Butcher Block lowers her voice to ask Should we warm it up with butter? as if nothing would please her more, as if we’re about to get away with something naughty together.

Denver is mustaches and Patagonia vests. It is the mountains peeking over the dirty skyline. Search breweries. Search breakfast. Sort by open now. Decide to start drinking at eleven in the morning. Resolve to stop poisoning yourself. Tuck into a bibb lettuce salad with gusto and realize it’s the first green you’ve seen in days.

It’s warmer here than we thought it would be. He brings base layers he never wears. I keep taking the scarf, leaving it, taking it again. The laces of his boots tangle in the straps of his backpack. My jacket pockets are full of tampons and Magic cards and a twenty sided die.

I am thinking of you.
I am not thinking of you.
I am touching this not-you gingerly like a fresh bruise.

We make ourselves regulars. I’m not interested in the bartender but I like the way she looks over at us, like she might be talking about me. I buy them drinks they don’t need. Her friend is staring at the persistent drip from the ceiling. Someone stole our ladder, she says. I have to clear the snow from the roof.

Somehow we keep ourselves upright. My stomach drops when I feel my whole foot losing purchase but somehow I’m still standing. I press the feeling back into my fingertips. I watch my breath cloud the air in front of my face. I am walking ever so slightly downhill, using all the oxygen I can find.

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