Night-Swimming

Fair Warning:

What I write, at its very best, is some illegitimate hybrid of South American magical realism and Southern Gothic I like to think of as Southern Fabulism. Here, I will be periodically posting a few short stories, as a little taste of my forthcoming novel, A Curious Matter of Men with Wings, which will be available through SFK Press in September 2018.   

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She can count the number of times she’s been kissed on only six fingers.

Seven, she thinks, is her lucky number.

Outside on the streets, other women too are in heat. Strays, she calls them. Night strays. Out there, other women are so hot for it the whole world feels cold. Inside, however, he wants only to make love to her, while she wants only to make a life.

And so they nestle in so close to love that it punctuates the finality of their sentence.

There was a time when the kinky texture of her hair was enough to fascinate him; tonight though, he has other things on his mind, and he makes love to her, the way he wants to. Rough, and sort of soft around the edges, like the faintest hints of passion and compassion still has a future there. When he is through, he collapses into the pillows, content as ever to think of himself physically as some metaphysical vandal.

He lets his silence echo through their barren house, then curls in on himself, like a newborn with a habit of the womb. He looks so small, as he dozes off beside her, that she finds she is holding her breath, for fear she might breathe in once and swallow him whole.

Her nightgown is so impossibly soaked through with sweat she feels pregnant with water. She smokes a cigarette in a declaration of crystal ringlets, ghosts with eyes that were made for the dark, in hopes of seeing herself through this point in her life.

Already, he is four-fifths asleep, riding off on a westbound train to California, where the golden skies of a golden coast make good on golden bodies.

“Honey?” she says.

Her voice is what wakes him.

“Honey?” she says, though she does not finish.

On the wall hangs a landscape as familiar to him as the water-colors of a faraway dream. He speaks of going back there, some day. She nods and sort of mentions a country home outside of Paris, where the paths are made for bikes. She wants a bike, even perhaps a bike with a basket. “Honey?” she says. “Won’t you buy me a bike?” All she ever really wanted was to find a man who would buy her a bike that she could ride. She does not think it wise to tell him this. “Forget the bike,” she says. “Ride the man.”

“Attaway, dear. That’s the spirit.”

She does not think it wise because he does not give her gifts, though he brought her a gift, the night they met. He had stolen a pink plastic flamingo from his neighbor’s yard and dragged it, beak-down, all the way across town to her house. He was drunk when he knocked on her door, and she could smell it. Still, it was the way he presented it to her, legs first, that made it seem like a confession of his love. That, or penance for some wrong he had yet to commit.

All five oceans might’ve poured from her eyes across all seven continents of her face, were she ever to consider the reasons for this. She wonders instead how many times a woman can lose herself before daybreak, while there’s still so much danger here in the dark. She thinks, if she dies, she’ll die on a Friday, while their kids are at school, so Saturday can be a day of forgetting and Sunday can come and bring them prayers. She thinks of her own death and whispers, “Take me.” She whispers, “Take me peacefully. Just take me.”

“What’s that, my dear? You say something?”

Merely by her silence, he knows what she is thinking.

Always, to him, she was an estuary, something watery and libidinal like a tidal pool, and that’s where he gets the idea to hold his breath and go under. “Look-a-here, my dear. Come on now. Jump on in. The water is fine.” He knows she loves the water, trusts it completely. He knows too, the very idea of water, she cannot resist. And he knows he is right.

She just pinches her nose and dives right in.

And that night, the two of them go swimming around in the sheets.

“So many fish,” she says. “See ‘em all?”

“What?” he mouths. “I can’t hear you. Sort of sounds like you’re talking underwater, dear. What? What was that? What did you say?”

He motions her up to the surface.

They come up gasping.

He asks her again. “What’s that you say?”

“Fish,” she says. “Fish! Can’t you see them?”

He suggests they go even deeper, this time. “Way, way deeper. Come on, dear, let’s troll the ocean floor. See what we find.” And with that, he takes her hand in his, takes a big deep breath, and together again, they dive down deep.

She is doing backstrokes, before long, while he plugs an ear with one finger and speaks into his thumb. “Submersible M-47 reporting to dry land. M-47 here,” he says, “Reporting from 10,000 feet below sea level. Roger that,” he says. “Yes, Captain Sara McCown here is doing just fine. Roger… Roger… Roger that. This is First-mate Richards, over and out.” He turns to her with a kind of boyish grin on his face, the kind schoolboys get accustomed to when they’re looking for trouble. “They said I should check your vitals, Captain.” And he takes her naked breasts in his hands. “Just following orders, Captain. Can’t fault a guy for following orders.”

She loves him for his playfulness, how good a father it means he will, some day, be.

“Vitals check out,” he says after a good firm squeeze. “Yessir, Captain, all vital signs are a go. Though I really should be thorough and listen for your heart.” And he does. He places his ear to her chest, and he listens. He thinks he can hear it thrumming and makes certain he is right, before radioing back the all-clear.

They come up for air, but only on occasion, only to plug their noses and dive back down, and each time they go, they go hand-in-hand. And in the depths of those covers, on that very night, they both get a sense for how love survives underwater, for how it must evolve to breathe without logic or lungs. Outside, the moon is hanging lopsided in the sky, and caught up in all its lopsided tides, they take up their oars and paddle their way across the wide and unruly seas of their bed, having discovered finally that, to go forward sometimes, you must learn to row back.

 

 

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