“Can u talk?”
I thought of her at her desk in the dingy back room of the tool hire shop. A thousand Ks away in the dusty, end-of-the-world town. She’ll get on her bike soon and ride through the same sunset. Only she’ll be heading toward the mountains and I’ll be breathing fumes at every robot between school and home.
I know she’s sent the old guy who works for her home, she does all the lifting, has the bad back to show for it. Her husband home for years now, on disability, dreaming of being a writer while she works seven days a week humping equipment to job sites, cleaning cement mixers, taking inventory, chasing bills and accounts payable but unreceived. I know she’s thinking of the mountains she rides towards but never reaches even as she tallies columns and rows in the accounts knowing the answer is not yet and never enough.
I met her because of her eyes. I had never seen a sparkle like that. Her profile picture was just her eyes and the hint of the smile below. Black and white but the light shone through. I wrote knowing she was too young, knowing she’d never answer, knowing all the reasons why not. But she did. Casual hi and how are you became stories shared. From messages and quick replies to emails until, finally, she attached a longer telling. Shared more deeply. Secrets she didn’t want to keep anymore. Something about the conversation this way is like the long rides through night and empty spaces. Like we are close, right beside each other, but looking away, so the telling becomes easy, we are free to continue beyond the bounds and borders we usually observe so carefully. Stories across the gulf of years and miles.
“How’s your love life?” she likes to ask. And so, the chat about job and jokes and who’s done what, shifts south. She likes to call it that. The territory of desire, need and want, flirty, fun, no drama, nothing heavy, but never skirting life, diving straight in. So easy to follow her. South, to where it’s warm and where we shed inhibitions and promise in husky whispers to only tell the truth.
“u can call me,” she wrote. “i’m just here in the shop. if u have time. i know ur busy.”
It’s end of the day, the school is quiet, I’m alone. The sun hangs red on the horizon, sky full of smoke and winter dust, like light through a richly red and velvet curtain.
“I have time,” I say. “For you. I’ll call. Give me a few minutes to get out of the office.”
I sit against the sun-warm wall above the football field and call her. I hear her voice for the first time. I know she’s young, though she’s lived life already, knows the scores of many games, feels the press of years, the weight of responsibility. I know she worries about her weight, I don’t know what you’d say if you saw me, she’s said many times. I’ve seen your eyes, I tell her. That’s enough. Tell me what you see, she likes to ask and I do. I tell her what I see. How it makes me feel. Holding nothing back.
“Tell me a story,” she says in the pause as as we watch our days slip toward dusk. “One of the ones you’ve written.”
“I can read the one I’m working on,” I tell her.
“It’s a holiday in a castle tower. The view is of the mountains across the valley where the river winds through stands of yellow poplar. There are gardens around, lush in this dry place and bright with fall flowers. The sitting room is at the bottom and the stairs wind round to a kitchen on the second floor and on to the bedroom at the top. The windows are tall and hung with red velvet curtains. French doors open onto a stone flagged terrace. They are open and the room is full of fresh air and light. The bed is a four-poster, custom wide, hung with a canopy. To the side there is a round, red-stone bath with brass faucets. There are rose petals strewn upon the bed.
The trip was long and hot. I run a bath and the sound of running water is like music in the cool stone room. I add the bubble bath the owners have provided and the scent of lemon and lavender is like a song. You are shy and turn away to undress. I love the strength in your shoulders, the power of your hips, the slightly awkward way you walk across the room holding a towel and preserving modesty but so obviously eager for the bath and the bubbles. You trail your fingers in the water and bring up a handful of bubbles. I love the smile in your eyes, the shine is like a glory, a desert flower unfolding in the morning. You drop the towel and spread bubbles across your breasts; for a moment you pose, impossibly beautiful and exotic, bright with fantasy and delight, then you laugh and step into the tub.
I hear her as I read, the soft rustle, the uneven pause and rush of breath, the gasp. I hear her rhythm as I tell the story. It seems I can feel the movement of her hips. That my words caress her breasts, her thighs, build her higher, quicken the force within. Until I know she can bear it no longer and I let her find release. I know the clench, the tightness, the moan she cannot hold back. The soft and piercing cry, in some part anguish, a song of acquiescence and of conquest. A passion play with nothing gained and nothing lost. The final sigh seems timed with the sun’s final fall, the quiet after.
“I am such a mess,” she whispers, her voice shaky, the tremble still there but some note of deep and abiding satisfaction as well; something I know we will both carry away with us when we go our separate ways into the coming night.