The fountain that my own fingers recall, nothing like this: Drawn from a pond, a puddle. But, oh, how I felt an ocean of you crashing in. Ocean: warm saltiness of life, thick with potential, humming with energy barely contained, condensed of beating hearts and fluttering gills and lashing tails of a million, of a billion tiny creatures saying: Live, live. A warm seawater jell to nourish, to fulfil. As you pumped, pumped, pumped into me and I accepted, I felt a warm flood flowing throughme , flowering outward, along perhaps my arteries, my veins; along, perhaps, inner pathways I've never know. As I had felt the touch of your hands seem to reshape, to sculpt an outer shell, now I felt within I was reshaped, reformed.
Even now, later, hours later, past the midnight that makes another day, I am expanding from within, as if the touch of your hand, like the potter's on the spinning clay removed a heavy earthen excess. Shrinking from without, spun beneath your hands, as the same I am burgeoning from within, a bud opening, opening.
Shall I now disappear, now that I have surrendered?
No. I rested just a minute there. Rested on your shoulder. Drifted ...
Until: Opening my eyes, I see the arch of sky outside my window now is just barely washed with blue, the shadows that the new-risen sun cast are still lavender. Pale light in my room, where the muslin still billows in the fresh air of a new day.
Hair fans across my pillow, strands of hair touch my cheek, catch on my lips as my hair never had before. The distance that my hand now crosses, reaching for my glasses, seems an unfamiliar extra inch; the brushing of my fingers on my face seems lighter, My glasses don't seem to settle quite right.
Somehow I know what my touch will now find -- perhaps because I know that I surrendered, know that, whether in dreaming or in fact, I crossed a border I never dared before. Somehow I know my hand will cup a breast above my heart, a small breast, yes, but still a breast. Surely still a breast. I know that (sleepy as I am) I will feel breasts nestled in the hollows of my hands, that nipples will swell and stiffen into the center of my palms. That I will feel a shiver of delight, a gentle glow arise.
Somehow I know the curve my lightest touch will trace from waist to hip. Somehow, knowing that where my fingers will follow a smooth, soft swell along my inner thighs, I'll find only a simple flattened curve where my legs meet. An inward turn. Somehow, my heart does not thud as I lay a finger between those lips, feel how they will part, how they could open for another's desire. I wonder if I'll dare: for now, there's just the small weight of my finger, laid between my lips, barely easing them apart. My shiver in response is just enough.
I wonder if this is what I have really wanted.
I rise now from my bed, that extra inch or two I have to reachaking for a momentary awkwardness. I take the extra step I must now take to reach the closet, for now I need to look into the mirror on the inside of the door. A mirror I rarely bothered with before.
It's true, could it be true?
My breasts, as I touch, so small they might almost not be there. My hips curve, as I had never seen before, to frame that small triangle of hair and -- and surely not nothing else. Nothing else that I can see. My hair, tousled as ever, thicker somehow. My face, in the misty light of dawn, seems more delicate now, as if a curve of jaw and chin is sharper, as if faint shadows now frame a rounder forehead. But still it is my gray eyes that gaze back.
I wonder if, having flowered from within, contracted from without, I'll feel a frailer wall between me and the world, a thinner skin. Wondering, calm as if I were watching a dream unfold, calm as if knowing I will awaken.
What I see, what I think I see: Impossible. As if I've shed a layer or two -- or even a smaller change, a change like one I might imagine if, emerging from a long soak in the bath, I peer through the steam to see, faintly in the mirror, a reflection of a possibility.
What I see: Still me. Thin skin, pale through whatever now clouds vision; An edge of rib, a shadow of hipbone. Hair a halo framing face, as if each strand had drunk so deeply of the steam, as deeply as I drunk of you, that it had thickened, been infused with the electricity that jolts a finger on a doorknob, needing to fly from each neighbors' touch, so tender still from drinking.
Still me. And yet, beneath my arms, crossing my chest, below the smooth curve below my navel, where I will not look now -- and yet, I know I've changed.
Change. What we want-- what we say we want -- whether or not it is this particular change I see, I think I see, now in my mirror. But it is change that makes us tremble when it comes. Makes us shake and fear because change inists that we manage, that we cope, even if we're sure we have no idea how to. To fit the change into the interlocking tiny pieces of our daily lives. To discover how to continue when, looking within, there are no memories to help, no guidebooks to be found. When looking within I see: I am still me. If I am changed, I still am me. How now will I learn to sit just so, to walk this way, not that; to put this on, and that. Know this will be alright but that will never do at all. I do not know. The list of what I need to know if I am change races through my mind as quickly as spilled water flashes across the floor, and all I can do is gape.
If I have changed, nothing else has: The book I read last night still on the floor beside me, the trees, the wall, the corner of street that I can see through my window just the same. Inside my closet, there are still only the jeans, the khaki trousers, long-sleeve shirts, the dark suits I have always worn. In my dresser, only the boxers, socks and sweaters that were there before.
I need -- well do I need? What do I need? I pull a shirt down from a hanger, slip on the trousers I had let drop to the floor last night -- but now it feels as if I cannot clinch the belt tight enough, cannot kick free the cuffs so I can walk. The shirt falls to my hips. I'm swimming in these clothes. I cannot go outside like this. Cannot be out and seem to be, be seen to be who I have been. I can no longer hide. As I had hidden?
I let the trousers fall, step free.
Padding into my living room, feeling as unexpected swing of hips, a sense of being rooted to the ground a little differently, more heavily. The weight of breasts, small as they are. Real feelings, real as -- more real than -- a reflection in the mirror. Real as the extra inch I think stretched to reach my glasses, to swing myself from the bed. Or did I; perhaps I still am dreaming. Perhaps this change -- let's say that I have changed -- cannot last: how can it, after all? The blue of the sky deepens, shadows move, their color darkens. I pace.
Hours pass, blankly. I cannot think. I dare not.
The feeling that my center's shifted downward, to newly-heavy thighs and rounder rear, that shift of weight that makes hips sway, begins to fade as I pace on and on around my place. So, too, the tug of breasts, less noticed now, as the midday sun beams in, less noticed as the shadows of the afternoon lengthen, crossing the window's sill.
Perhaps whatever'd changed is now collapsing back. Perhaps I will return to normal. Perhaps in just an hour or two. Perhaps tonight .I cannot stay within my walls forever.
The door swings open to an empty street, always empty this time of day, on a weekend like this.
The shadows of the trees stretch all the way across the payment, green lawns glow in late afternoon light.
No one to see.
Down the walkway, step by step.
Pause at the sidewalk. Should I need to, it would take just a second or two to dash back to safety.
The park is two blocks to the left; by now, the children's soccer games are done, families encumbered by their folding chairs and picnic baskets have all straggled back to their vans. In the lake, the ducks will still be on their patrol for crumbs, full as they are. The couples will finish their last strolling rounds; perhaps one or two will eye the little stands of oak and maple, the swaying loblolly pines, that dot the sweep of grass, hoping for one more private moment before parting until tomorrow.
Familiar walk, familiar time. The easy amble comforting, reassuring. The bench down by the farthest curve of the lake, as ever, empty for me to sit and watch. The sun reddens as it sinks, as I saw yesterday, the day before, the day before; the clouds overhead blush pink and purple as the blue light of the arch of sky turns steely and violet and then a deeper, deeper blue.
Beneath the darkening sky, there's you again.
You, in the corner of my eye. Your shadow, maybe seen, maybe just the slight shiver as you block the last rays of the sun. Perhaps it is the sheer weight of you, I feel; effect of gravity, demanding, unrelenting.
We watch the sinking sun together.
I hear the low rumble of your voice in the dusk before I hear your words.
"Comfortable?" you ask
Comfortable enough. I think. Comfortable enough for now. It's good to feel the familiar warmth of sun, the ease of the end of day. To feel the world regroup. Return.
"Ah," you say. "Return. You felt, perhaps, as the hours passed today, your return. What you wanted this afternoon was not so far a reach; the steps easier to take, the weight you sensed where you'd not felt weight before began eventually to lighten."
"Yes. You know?"
"I know. I know what you think is happening, what you think now is ebbing away. I know the yearning for the familiar that brought you here, to this spot that you like so well, this time of day."
"I feel that I am coming back."
Beyond the trees, the first star sparkles. Lights of the city flicker on.
"You do?" I hear the smugness in your tone. "Tell me."
Easier now as the light fades, as I know I fade into shadows, as I sense you staring ahead, not at me Easier to say, something impossible seemed to have happened, a change I thought I made, so sure, I felt it in my very bones, so sure, I saw in a mirror, I glimpsed it, glancing down, at my hands, my legs, my ...
"Yes?" you murmur, "Yes?"
But now the strangeness fades, slowly, more slowly than the pins and needles of a long-cramped leg; slowly as when you realize you're breathing easily again after than flu, that that ache in your neck from where you'd slept so oddly still so long is now a bit less sore than yesterday, as yesterday was from the day before. I am getting back to normal, I can tell.
"Or perhaps -- perhaps you are merely becoming more accustomed?" you say.
Accustomed, I wonder, wanting to ask: accustomed to what?
"To yourself," you say.
The evening breeze catches my hair, I feel a strand dancing along my cheek now; feel ends of my hair begin to float. Unsettled, I try to shift myself an inch or two away, along the bench; I feel the tee-shirt brush a breast.
I want to argue back, want to demand; now, after all this time, to scream the scream I should have when I first looked into the mirror: No, no. You're wrong. I can't. What have you done?
"Shh," you cut me off. "Someone is coming."
And, as if on cue, your cue, I see him, rounding the bend of path that leads beyond the trees, white shirt gleaming in the dusk. I wonder how you knew he comes, when he has only now come into view; I wonder why we wait as he strolls along, a minute, 30 seconds, 10, from crossing right in front of where we sit.
He ambles on, so casually. As if the world is his, as if, for a man like him, the world would have no choice to be, as if, just as the white shirt hugs broad shoulders, the curve of bicep, so too the very air, the light, the glances of the passers-by must so caress. His hair, bleached by the sun, his mouth not quite a smirk -- a smile, perhaps, or perhaps just a warning.
And now, he passes before me. Nods.
I see his eyes glow. As if, when glances meet and bounce apart, a spark is struck. Or maybe, as if a hunger inside, flares, the way the flames of a fire do when you blow. Glances meet and break; my eyes sink, his linger, I can feel, the way his hands might, trailing down along breasts, and down, and down, as that fire within burns as his one question remains unasked, hangs between us, if I were only to glance up again.
He paces on, a step, another; glancing back at me, again his eyes gleam for an instant before he turns his head and steps into the twilight.
"You see?" you ask.
I shake my head.
"No?" you continue. "No? You've never seen that look? Never looked that way at the girl across the way, the woman in the line down at the store, or her, walking oblivious to your glance, along a downtown street? What do you think he saw as he walked past you here? What do you think that almost-smile almost asked?"
Now, you lean towards me, your fingers capture a strand of hair still dancing in the breeze, you comb it gently back, tuck it away behind my ear. Now your hand drops to my shoulder, lightly strokes down an arm.
If I had felt myself growing, solidifying once again to what I remembered from the time before your touch, the brushing of your hand now tells me I was wrong. The mirror I'd avoided through the afternoon perhaps might say the same, just as the mirror of your eyes tells me right now. Just as I'd see, were you to cup your hands around a small mirror, mirror one might find in a purse, hinged to a small round case of pressed and fragrant powder, mirror that you hold before me as I turn to you and try to make your features out in this deepening dusk.In this mirror, fogged by my breath, I see my eyes. My grey eyes, inward windows into my mystery, as ever impossible to read. I see my brown hair floating -- is it longer than I remember? -- caught in the moving air of evening. I see my face, familiar but changed: a curve of jaw, an arch of brows, a delicacy of features always there beneath the surface now exposed.
You do not need to say that I am changed. You don't need to now, I need you to tell me something else, many things else. I need you to help me with the tide that's crashing in, racing in, as if to smash me on the rocks I sense but cannot see approaching me. I don't know what is to become of me; like a frenzied printer spilling paper onto the floor, questions racing: what about this, how will I that, what will he say, and she, how can I do....
It's dark now, so dark. Even were I to turn, I couldn't see you.
How true to type. You come, you want, you take. A presence I cannot, that we cannot, ignore; like a Sun insisting that we revolve round you, that we turn our faces towards you, drink you in, expand perhaps in your warm light before, indifferent in your power, you move on.
And for me: the gauzy curtain dances, dances still. Billowing in a warm evening breeze, beckoning waves, inviting, inviting.
What is it about a thread of pale white, loosely bordering emptiness, that makes a fabric meant for girls: Start here.
Start with a memory of breezes though a bedroom window years ago, breezes carrying the sound of laughing voices in a summer night, beyond the dancing gauze of a curtain by an open window -- for memories from long ago are where it always starts.
Silver in the velvet dark, an echo of my cousins' sparkling, shimmering delight just a few hours before. I had been hiding from my father, impatient that this summer at in-laws' place by the lake I would at last learn how to swim, shed my fear of the icy water, that tamer version of the oceans where he made his living. Sneaking back to the house, I'd paused to peer into the sitting room, surprised by delight as my mother swept an ivory band of lace from deep inside a cedar chest, so that it swirled through the sunlight air and then floated down like a mist onto her lap. Caught by the fluttering of white, I'd stepped in from the hallway, unconscious that I had, just watching, just needing to watch. I saw my smiling aunt trace the patterns of arabesques and flowers for my cousins; heard my mother tell of how their mother and their mother's mother patiently knotted and tugged and wove the airy fantasies of thread. Saw a smile I'd never seen for, heard a tone of voice never murmured to me. How wonderful it will look, my aunt had said, a trim for that dress, veil for that. And my cousins laughed like tiny silver bells.
Laughed again, with a hint of some other feeling, when my aunt turned to the faint sound of my unthinking step. Were they embarrassed at their joy? Or were they merely mocking me?
Laughed when my aunt turned, and asked what I was doing there; what I thought of the dress, if it might fit?
Their laughter drove me off.
But later, the silver bells of their voices in the night, echoes from a world I did not know, invited me, invited. And invited, I lay there listening to their laughter as the muslin curtain in that room floated in that breeze, like a last remnant of evening fog on the ocean's edge.
When do we understand there is a difference? That for some, a plain edge, a clear boundary, is what is proper. That for some, what suits is thread-trapped spaces patterning a band of lace, a mist of cloth obscuring borders, like drifting fog. When do we understand that some must brave the icy water's grip and not complain, that some need never know the breath-seizing panic of a lap between the buoys that you are too tired to make; that it is fine if she reads on a summer afternoon but there's a ballgame in the park and they need a ninth so badly that even you will suffice.
Or, from another time: When do we understand the meaning of the playground chanting of a mispronounced girl's name and why that makes you redden. The odd smile when the girl in French class shakes her head and says she'd already seen the movie that you've asked her to come see with you. The way she took my hand, straightened a wrist that I had, unthinkingly, held limply bent. Murmuring that sometimes I seemed a bit -- well, anyway.
Perhaps we all are true to type -- or perhaps not.
My type perhaps you know, without of course quite knowing me. Or would it matter, to know this: I am a Navy brat, as rootless as a myth, disconnected as cool dispassion that I have lied to you about, that neutrality with which I dance around the issue at the center here. I tell you I am sure that I did, in fact, change in a way we cannot, not really. But am I sure? Did I change? Or not really? I was, no question here, hammered under the unrelenting fact of you, as if you were an oblivious, gleaming giant machine battering my metal into a new form, as if I were half-melted metal to be reshaped, as if I were that malleable -- or even more so.
So I will tell you: I am, in my own way, a child of salt water, fog and rolling waves -- you can check my certificate of birth from the Naval Hospital, the photos of my blue-suited father in the album in my mother's house. My father, so much older than she, Navy man set quite firmly in his ways: our Old Man of the Sea, if you will. My mother, slight and shy, following patiently as he bounced from this coast to that, this ship to that. Patient as he stewed, anxious to be away, when shorebound in between cruises. Oceanus and his Niaid had a child, their Proteus, mutable, flexible. Changeable.
Shall I be true to type; or perhaps shall I be no type at all? Or maybe simply play with types. Maybe I'll say its just a game, to try this playing true to types -- as you might play with a type, with your grunt, perhaps, as you set that just-emptied bottle of beer down by your side, so like the grunt of yours as one last thrust of hip impels your seed into your lover. As she plays with types too, not with brute grunts of course but let's say with those lowered eyes, that palm-out backwards comb of fingers through her hair.
Ah yes: I see now how that would work, why my hand rises so to the way a stray strand tickles at a cheek, and dances so beyond my reach, impossible to glimpse. See why a hand would turn that move, move thus, and why the little flourish tucking hair securely -- not so securely, really -- must happen. Not so securely, for in a moment, in a hour, I will comb my hand backwards to catch a dancing strand again.
I see why, as you watch me, my eyes should seem to look away and down; should need to, all the better to see you with. And see how, when I lift my head again, I'd find that you -- ah yes, so true to type -- have slipped off into the dark.
Here, at this end of the park, when it is as still as it is now in the dark of evening, you can hear -- you could hear, were you here -- the wavelets of the inlet lapping the shore, smell the wet salt air, the rich fishy scent of the edge where worlds of water and of land meet. On the smooth silt, packed firm and cool by the waves, I see bubbled dots from where the clams sucked in the sea, see nervous, pale crabs scurry away. Were it light, the swooping birds, black cormorants, diving pelicans and the ever-screeching gulls would claim this place. Here, by the ocean's edge, is where, of course, I have washed up. And washed up, now move up.
At the far end of the park, a low bridge carries the street across the inlet's mouth, the street leads on into the center of the town, quiet and empty now of all but the most strange. A good time now to see, to try at least to begin to see, the way the land lies.
Quiet, except for, every few minutes, the sound, like cloth tearing, of the passing cars. Dark, except when a pool of harsh fluorescent light spills from an empty store. Walking.
Mainly dark at first. Then more light. And in the rising, ebbing shushing whisper of the tires of the passing cars, a momentary pause. A glance, perhaps, out of a window to the night. A muttering. snatched away as the car moves on. A whistle in the dark.
At the stoplight, a car waits, trembling at the red, ready to race on: Where? Two young men; the passenger glances out, sees me.
And I see him. Young man, a kid. His close-clipped hair, like the bright Hawaiian shirt he wears, the sunglasses dangling from the cord around his neck, the rumbling of a muffler deliberately modified all spell: Swabbie, weekend leave, pent-up need, a frenzy waiting for release and soon to find it.
Our eyes meet for a moment. Lock for moment.
Then, the light clicking green, he's gone.
In his eyes, in that moment, I see. The hunger, switched on in an instant, the way your knuckle flicks a light-switch and the room's illuminated in a flash. Hunger: a glowing in his eye, the flush reddening his skin, engorging his ...
It must be almost automatic; for in an instant I flush too, for an instant I feel a glow of warmth, a shivering of brief, perhaps, desire. Shiver, perhaps, of fear. That it could be so easy, so beyond control. And then, flush of resentment that it is so automatic, that he, with just a glance, sees -- well, maybe the swell of breast pressing my shirt, a strand of hair blowing free, a curve as I step forward. Resentment that that tiniest of sights might be enough to make him slaver, that I might be reduced to that.
To think a glance might make me shiver.
There is a thrill in having hungry eyes read you, of course. There is a thrill in being so desired, even if in the merest, hungry glance, the most casual, licking-of-lips lusting of callow sailor boys roaring along the boulevard from base to town. Resent being reduced this way as you might want to do, but understand this: That to be reduced to the prey in his hunt tonight touches a need in you, as well.
Another car tears down the fabric of the night, another dopplering rise and falling swoosh of tires on wet pavement. Hungry eyes glance my way; glance and return, glance and linger. Another car, another.What must I look like? -- swimming in too-large shirt and pants, caught here halfway between all that I know, all that I've learned and all that I am still to learn. What I must know? -- knowledge demanded by a new form, only sometimes visible to them when a small gust of breeze or twist of arm presses cloth tightly to my skin.
Perhaps they see only a halfway person. See only what I have always feared they'd think. Perhaps as their cars race down the road so fast away from me, there is a echo of my cousin's laughter, the words the girl from French class wouldn't say.
Ahead, at the next light, there is a pool of light spilling from stores, a glow from the traffic on the avenue that's to be crossed or turned onto to, six lanes to the Beach and to the Interstate. A long light, there is a line of cars here waiting. The cars that passed, whose drivers and whose passengers had glanced and -- well had glanced and turned again indifferently, had glanced and glowed with momentary hunger, had glanced and raced off laughing into the night. I step into the pool of light.
A step, two steps. I sense, not seeing, glances darting my way again, and turn.
Behind me now: a click, the light now green, the cars move on.
A voice. A voice so soft I barely jump. So soft, he must be just a step or two away, for me to have heard, if I heard. So close, I have to turn. Even to flee now means at least the briefest engagement here, a meeting of eyes, a mumbled something.
Turning, ready to run if need be, turning because when we might need to run we know the first thing to be sensed is where and how large and how the other is postured. But when I turn, who I see is just the smiling man from the bar the night before, the one whose liquid eyes seemed to invite me to join him and the man whom he was chatting to, to take a step. And with that step perhaps begin a waltz of words that likely turns to courting. Or maybe let the waltz and he and the other danced become instead a less demanding gathering of three men in a bar, three men who are only chatting. Only.
Before, of course, that hand upon my shoulder.
Turning, the first thing that I sense is he is just a inch or two taller than I, standing easy on the sidewalk, hands in pockets, shoulders unbunched. I see the smile, inviting as it invited before. In his eyes, not the glow, only, well let us say, the possibility.
"We met ... " And then the soft singsong of his voice halts.
"I thought we met," he says, staring now. "I thought, though the light was so dim; I thought we met the other night."
Caught halfway here; me -- but changed, feeling so changed, in the way that we all know is impossible, that maybe he sees now as his eyes dart up and down my body. Not just a lifetime of my memories and thoughts and hopes and fears in a body that's not right for them. Caught halfway, for it is me, and my face is mine, even if changed; enough of me in my eyes, line of my nose, set of my lips. Though it must be a woman's face he looks into, surely it is, he knows beyond a doubt the face he sees now is the face that he saw in the bar last night. He knows I am the one that he invited to his rescue with that glance.
Perhaps he thought he knew why I looked different, perhaps he thought: Pointless to ask how come, what happened? Perhaps he's silent because he doesn't see something has happened, had to have happened, I know must have had happened even if he will not see. The point, instead, is we are here. In this place, at this moment, in a pool of light spilling from the window of the store, backs turned to the cars of eager sailor boys lining up at the stoplight. We are here, feeling the soft breeze of this moment, the scent of saltwater in the night air insisting it is this place. Beyond us is the darkness of the night, the dark into which we could disappear if I turn, if he does, if those are the steps we are to take.
His hand barely grazing the small of my back, a tiny pressing.
"Come," he says.
Behind us, a sailor shouts.
And with a touch to the small of my back, like a waltzer gingerly turning a newly-met partner around the ballroom floor, he guides me around the corner
For just an instant, I think I feel the fleeting touch of a hem upon my thighs, the brush of the air on my bare upper arms as I spin -- like nothing ever felt before, remind me with each turn I take of a vulnerable exposure to world that now could be my lot, part of my lot. And yet, that imagined touch of cloth also a sensuous invitation to immerse myself, engage myself in this world. To swim in this rich sea, in these warm waters humming with this life. The touch of cloth, the thrill of air -- and later, the feel of his hand centered on the small of my back as we walk into the night, not caught halfway now, not either of us. Call us disguised, as we walk side by side, the shush of passing cars tires, the shadows that the moonlight casts from the rows of trees briefly obscuring us as we progress, the silver light briefly illuminating as we take another step. And another.
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