It woke him during the night, throwing him on to his back, and he knew it was time again for her to visit. They had not seen each other for almost a year. He did not own a picture of her, but that didn't matter. He saw her every day in the movies he kept of her in his mind: her laughter, her screams, her sweat that would pool in her navel, her nipples gliding along his chest.
It was not only this. Sometimes, dozing on the front porch of his farmhouse, the air thick and still and storm clouds forming in the west, he could feel her hair and breath on his face and he would wake with a start, only to find open fields and a few large oaks heavily bearded with spanish moss. Other times he devoted entire days to her, saying aloud: "Everything I do is for you." At the end of these days he would walk two miles to a large pond on his property, strip out of his crusty workshirt and handsewn jeans and burn them. After rinsing himself in the
warm, brown water, he would walk in the fading light naked back to his dark house and spend the night in his unlighted rooms unclothed.
They had met at a dark crossroads for them both. The fields lay exhausted. He had left enough food for the horses, chickens and cows to last them for a while and had said goodbye to each of them. Before this he had put the gun barrel in his mouth and with his right thumb pulled the trigger, surprised when it sounded like more of a snap than a click. Then he loaded a hollow point into the chamber and stuffed it into his belt. Pulling his coat tight and latching the gate, he walked down the red clay road under a cloudy gray sunset toward the river.
He left the road and wove along a narrow trail through woods thick with pine and scrub oak. The trail ended at clearing by the riverbank. Turning to his right, he saw her lying by the river. Walking closer, he saw her bare pale arms hanging partially submerged in the water,
each slashed lengthwise from the wrist, mouths pouring the soundless song of her life in to the current. His fingers on her throat felt a faint pulse and her breath was steady but shallow.
He took off his coat and shirt and ripped the shirt in to bandages to stem the bleeding and then picked her up. Her body was generous and hard, but not light, and he carried her without stopping back to his home, setting the girl down softly on a bed in a room he never used.
He stitched her together and nursed her back to health but left her alone most of the time. Three times a day, 7 a.m., 12 noon and 6 p.m., he brought a tray of food in for her. Always he found her asleep, and always he checked her breathing to make sure she was still alive, like he used to do with puppies and foals when he was
a boy. Attached to the room was a bathroom with a tiny shower, and when he heard her use it, he quickly left the house. Three weeks passed before she came out of the room.
They spoke briefly at first, names and small talk and thanks from her, but then he thanked her and she asked why and he nodded to the large wooden picnic table in the front room. On it waited a gun, unloaded but a reminder. She glanced at it, and when she looked to him again, he had disappeared out the back door.
They spent the next few weeks like this, each time more spoken until one time after talking in circles he mummbled something about the barn and she touched his hand and asked him not to leave and he didn't. He began to grow. She noticed it, and he stepped away from her, but she gripped his arm and would not let him go.
He remembered how she understood him and took him in, every bit, not judging, just being and caring. Wanting to please, as if her body was made for it. Caring for him, caring for it, something no one had ever in his life done. She did not treat him like a monster, a freak, some disgusting experiment. She held him and it with equal,
unending affection, and he drank her praise in huge, quenching gulps.
It jerked again, and the head of it landed with a slap against his bare sternum. Beads of sweat rose and the light wind from the fan on his dresser cooled him. He arched his back slightly and it tightened and lifted itself, darkening, toward the ceiling. His hands stayed
pressed against the bed. I'll save it for her, he thought. She's on her way.
"Sticking with it, huh?" her husband asked from the doorway.
She did yoga and lifted weights next to the Lexus and the Suburban in the garage. Her ample body was not made for jogging. Clean bicycles, two adults, two childrens, hung from hooks in the ceiling. A pegboard above a pristine workbench held handtools grouped according to use and then by size.
"Yep," she said with a grunt, lifting the bar off her shoulders, over her head, placing it on the floor after a set of squats and sitting on a folding chair. "Been three weeks now." She spoke with a slight lisp. "Every other morning."
"Thank you for being quiet," her husband kidded. "I'm making waffles for the boys and me. You have time for some?"
Waffles. Her favorite. "I've gotta pack and go."
"Already did it for you. I figured you were running late."
She smiled at him. "Then I have time. Thank you."
" My pleasure." He shut the door.
I owe him, she thought. He found a destroyed life. I couldn't even kill myself the right way. A train wreck of years. Something no human would love. He taught me how to be a person again. If he had not found me and led me back to my soul, I would have none of this. Not that fabulous man for my husband, my wonderful children, my job, this
home, not any of it, not even my life. I owe it all to him. The lie is worth it.
She remembered those weeks in bed, drifting in and out of sleep and nightmares, wrung dry from exhaustion and abuse. He must have changed her dressings while she slept. Trays loaded with pancakes or sandwiches or steak and potatoes or cake appeared at a small table by
her bed. Sometimes a blue porcelain pitcher of whole milk. Always a sweating green glass one of ice cold water.
She took her water bottle, slick with moisture, in both hands. In a few hours she knew she would be holding him like that.
Once while he slept that first night she measured him. Sitting up, untangling herself from the twisted sheets and sweat in which they'd collapsed, she lined it up against her leg and found it to be the length of her shin from ankle to knee and nearly as big around. Still sore and aching from earlier but not caring, she nudged it with her knee, then leaned forward to run both her hands lightly along its length. It woke him and he smiled, and he grew, and she pulled the sheet over them.
She amazed herself, yet also felt proud for taking all of him, even if it took a few tries. It had forced her to seek new passages to rooms holding treasures, to explore control and surrender and discover forgotten cavities within her. It showed her that at least to this man she was wanted and trusted and beautiful, like swimming in the ocean for the first time and being welcomed by a dolphin. From this she could build a strong ship of self and sail to other oceans, other
She felt herself become wet and parted her knees and reached between her legs. Stopping and gripping her knees, she waited for a few moments and then lifted the barbell over her head and did more squats until her legs became butter, imagining him below her. Soon, she thought, soon.
She drove up the gravel path to his home close to sunset, her windows down and the air thick with the scent of straining chlorophyl and dripping orange blossoms. On the way there she had called her husband and told him she was tired and would call him tomorrow after her all-day onsite meeting. Then she spoke to each of her boys and
told them she loved them and have a good sleep and then to her husband again and told him she loved him more than anything in the world.
He had been sitting at the picnic table looking out the window, a book going unread at his side.
Through the thinly curtained windows the farmhouse glowed with a spare yellow light.
They met at the door. He opened it as she raised her hand to knock.
It didn't matter that he wasn't what you'd call handsome, she thought, in a clean denim shirt and the hand-sewn jeans, graying more now, his face a dry dirt road
traversing years of hard work and bad weather, his body a misshapen boulder.
Seeing her peeled a murky film from his eyes. From the V of skin formed by her open blouse he felt waves of heat coming off her.
" You can go," he said. "You know that."
"I've always known it."
She reached both arms up and around his shoulders and rested her fingers softly on the nape of his neck. As she pulled him in to a kiss, he wrapped his arms around her and drew her closer, then tighter. Her tongue pushed and searched for familiar places and his sucks guided her. Then she felt it pressing against her knee. He
shut the door.
"Let's go," she said.
With a slight limp, he led her by the hand to his bedroom. It was as she remembered it, dark and clean and clutter-free, spare with everything in its place, just like the rest of his house, a testament to an unexpected monastic
life. She felt her knees soften and anticipation somersault in her belly when she saw above the queen-sized bed the handles he had bolted in the ceiling, this year wrapped in new pink padding.
They undressed each other hurriedly, their minds leapfrogging, fingers fumbling but persistent. He kicked off his shoes and sat on the bed. She slipped out of her bra and pushed down her skirt and plain white underwear with one quick sweep. His body
twisted at an odd angle, left leg straight. Seeing his strained mask of concentration, she quickly unbuttoned his pants and with three hard tugs set it free.
His sharp, quick inhalation through his teeth tore the silent room like paper. He squeezed his eyes tightly and white-knuckle gripped the bed as it flexed above him, purple and yearning. She watched his chest heave with several quick breaths, then slow, then calm, the late light
through the window washing shadows across his torso. Standing at last, he winked at her.
He helped her step between it and him, as if getting on a bicycle. She enjoyed the way her cheeks fit around it. She leaned back slightly as if it were a chair and hugged his legs with hers. He did likewise against her weight, each holding up the other. Outside, western trees swallowed the sun, and fireflies blinked
toward an anticipated group rhythm. Lifting her chin, she closed her eyes as his thumbs traced circles across her nipples.
He heard music with her, distant and thundering performed on instruments yet to be invented. His skin learned to feel again, and his hands and tongue and lips with memories of their own returned to her favorite places.
Her exhalations told him her position in her journey. Small clouds of sound escaped from her, but only at the end was she vocal. It pressed against her back and she reached behind her with one hand while pulling him closer with the other. She licked his ear then whispered something in to it. Shaking his head,
he fell backwards with her on to the bed.
The fall made her giggle, and he smiled, the first one since her last visit. They parted and she spun and held it. She ran her fingertips across it, and her lips left a shining trail down its length. Her tongue wrote the alphabet up the shaft. As his breathing became quicker and his grip on her hair tighter, she stopped and gazed up at the head, its tightness, the spiralling pencil-thick veins. Standing, she left a long kiss at the top of its head, sticking her tongue in it to taste him and grabbed the handles.
Her grip squeaked the padding. He wanted her around him, but first he dipped his head between her legs, carving her name in soft butter. Her legs began to quiver and tense; her breathing became erratic. Quietly he lay on his back and guided himself up to her. When he touched her lips with it, she shivered and held her breath.
Relax on to it, she told herself. Melt over it, she visualized. Become warm chocolate. Bit by bit she reacquainted her body with his mass. Slowly her muscles relented and allowed him to pass and then embraced him. Her legs bent more, and her arms straightened. With each passage on to him she now permitted a soft cry to escape. Sweat beaded on her and pooled inside her elbows and at her hips, trickling. Blonde hair matted, darkening between her shoulder blades. He began to twitch inside her. Though her eyes remained shut, she knew she had almost all of him. Only her fingers remained on the handles. When she felt his hands cup her breasts, she opened her eyes.
Her eyes held the clearness of a newborn, searching and amazed. He had driven his heels in to the mattress and gripped her ankles and calves during his journey in to her. Pulling up his legs and bracing himself, he lowered her. She frantically locked her arms behind him and pressed her face to his chest, her sweat cooling him. Her hips began to rock. Now, he thought.
Slightly at first, almost timidly, she began. Against her he matched her shy grinding. Their sounds grew louder as they became stronger. He clutched her, and they violently forged themselves together. Great prehistoric machines exploded in his head. Bristling towers of lightning crashed along her spine. All movements raced toward release. A primodrial groan ripped from him and he stiffened. She answered with a high formless cry, legs flailing, seeking a lost ground. Creamy rapturous jolts flowed between them.
Two days later he walked her to the front door. Time had only been measured in urges and rest. They had unwrapped themselves earlier that morning, before dawn, and showered. While she dressed he made breakfast and packed a sandwich for her. Little was said.
"You can say it," he said. "If this is it, I'll understand."
"Don't be a fool."
"Good." He looked down at his feet like an embarrassed schoolboy. She held his stubbled chin and lifted it.
"You OK? You know, I can stay longer if you want."
"No. No, thank you. You have to get back to your family."
"It's because of you that I have them."
"Don't let that get out."
A male and female cardinal braided the air above the lawn and lighted on a nearby tree, the male's song golden pebbles falling on crystal.
"Yes. Are you?"
"Yes, yes. Of course. Terrific. Thank you."
From the front porch he watched her get in to her car, back out on to the road and drive off.
She composed herself by the time she reached the highway. No one answered the phone at the house, which she thought was just as well, and she left a message for her husband to let him know she was on her way home.
He shut the door to his bedroom and placed the gun on the picnic table. Then he went to the barn and then to the fields. It pulsed against his leg, aching and heavy. He spoke the words of devotion, sliding a Zippo in to his pocket. The sun had not yet climbed too high, and he did not expect to return until dark.