His touch is shy, but the more it lingers, the more she sees how for the first time in his life, it makes him feel good to be alive and less shameful to exist within his curious skin. His lips are wet, and the kiss is clumsy, but then again, so is hers. The belt of stars on her face illuminates them both, and despite his deformities, there’s beauty in what she sees because what she sees is not flesh but soul. Flesh is mostly useless. From how it behaves in real life to its function in dreams, the squishy cage that contains us, while pretty to look at, is mostly superfluous. Hypnotised by this unlikely flight of fancy, her mind wanders from embracing the long since deceased Joseph Merrick to her first memories of glimpsing snowfall in the garden of her grandparents’ house. They too are long dead, yet in the mist that swirls about her, she feels their embrace and the warmth of their love as if it were only yesterday that she last saw them. Lord knows what they’d make of their little Gretchen now, sticking her tongue between the bricks of some piss-stained building, hungover and delirious to the point that she’s fantasising about making out with The Elephant Man. They’d surely be forgiven for thinking she hadn’t aged at all in the time since their untimely demise, for her actions are the same as those as when she was a toddler. It’s not lost on her, either. Nor is it that she’s lost none of the sense of adventure that made her the light her grandparents’ eyes. As she breathes in the cold, wet scent of concrete, it seems to her that while others grew up, she decided, consciously or otherwise, to pursue the ways of magic that most outgrew when they hadn’t even left school.