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The man in the wine shop gives me half a glass
of sweet French red, tells me it's been popular
at weddings. He blithely calls it port, but I can't
help but think: It's madeira in a stained pink dress.
I carry one slim bottle beneath my arm just as far
as the spirits section at the back. I confess
it's a share of Guyana rum that I'm really after.
Fifteen-year aged in an oak cask is the stuff
on which my dreams are made and broken,
unless you count the time, five vodka shots
and several tons of knife-edged heartbreak later,
I locked myself in Brian and Jody's loo and shouted
at an imaginary dead boy for half an hour. It's true
that I'm built for heartbreak, and so I raise
this toast to friends loved, lost, and about
to be lost. Death has always wanted me closer
than those she steals from my arms. It's you
that I can never hope to save, and so I'll tell
this story before I forget: as a child, I drowned
off North Carolina. I remember the crush of water
in my lungs and the vicious sting of salt
all the sun-shot way down. I remember the calm
that stole over me less than half a minute before
I hit the sand and choked up her gifts to me, grief
before glory. You're the ferryman now, she said.

And, fool that I am, I believed it.




AJ's first full-length poetry collection, The Sting of It, was published by Tolsun Books in 2019 and won Best LGBT Book in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards.  Their first novel, The Pursued and the Pursuing, was published by DartFrog Blue in 2021 and won 2nd place in the Adult Historical Fiction category of the Reads Rainbow Awards.  AJ holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University and is a full-time English Faculty member at San Juan College.  AJ has been on staff at Strange Horizons since 2012.  You can find them on Twitter and visit their website.
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Beatriz Nogueira is fifteen years old when her life ends.
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