On the corner three little girls play little girl games in the dew-soaked grass while they wait for the bus that takes them to school, their bright backpacks and lunch sacks piled on the dry concrete. How strange a pair we might seem to them, wandering humid morning somewhere between sober and not-so, wearing yesterday’s clothes seeking sleep instead of coming fresh from it.
She leaves me standing alone on the sidewalk and crosses the street towards them stopping only to pick dandelions by the curb. She leaves her sandals on the sidewalk and kneels amongst them barefoot. Behind a cupped hand she whispers something secret that makes them giggle in a manner so foreign to me that I blush, all while hidden morning birds sing the same song they were at dawn. The same song they sing every morning.
Screeching brakes bring a school bus to a halt at the stop sign blocking my view. I see the tops of their heads bob through the bus windows until they find seats. The bus lurches forward and starts to rumble off. I watched it until it disappears down a side street and takes them off to daydreams or droning teachers. I suppose both. They have some years before they’ll learn about what down-sides look like, where men aren’t kind and flowers bloom only to rot.
I hope never. Let their dreams stay sweet. Please.
I cross the street and go to her, still standing in the grass with damp circles on the knees of her jeans. “Are you still coming? We haven’t much farther,” she asks without anxiousness.
Now to decide, it’s a long walk home and there’s Xanax there, the big ones, the bears and they’ll surely turn off chirping birds and send me to sleep. But Loneliness is contagious, especially in the morning, and she swore she loves books and Atmosphere. I never knew punk rock could be so pretty.
Conversation stands still or maybe we’d said all there was to say so I followed in silence as she leads me to the only house on the block with a chain-link fence in front of it. I lived there before. Years before, with a kid named Aesop who sold grass and listened to Trance. It was his real name. I read it on the front of credit card bills and bank statements and that’s all he ever seemed to get in the mail. The latch on the gate is rusty and makes the same squeak I remember it always making. I smile and take one last look at morning before crossing the threshold from humid into air-conditioned coolness. “I think I have a bottle of something,” she says.
I already know where the kitchen is.
The cork pops from a fresh bottle of wine, a red wine with the silhouette of a crane printed on a black label. She fills two glasses and I run my finger around the rim for no reason. She doesn’t notice. Behind her is a photograph of a sunset or a sunrise stuck to the refrigerator behind a magnet.
I point. “Where is that from?”
“Cali huh?” I ask, and take a sip from my glass, wincing because the wine is sweet, too sweet.
She finishes hers and asks, “Have you ever been there?” I’m leaning against the counter and after pulling the picture from behind the magnet she backs into me so I’m looking at the picture from over her shoulder. “I have family out there. My mom used to take us, me and my sisters, out there every summer.” I imagine her there, as a child, splashing around in the froth of breaking waves for a moment. But only a moment before I bring myself back into the moment. We all need our moments. I wrap my free arm around her waist. It feels natural.
“I’ve never been west.” She comes back from Big Sur and fills my glass.
“That’s a shame.” She clasps my hand in hers and I notice she has rings on all of her fingers, save one. She turns and we’re facing each other. “I’ve something to show you.” There is something in her tone I find both starving and reckless and am reminded how often my own confusions manifest in missed calls and in stained sheets. But I follow her anyways, up stairs into a bathroom, still painted the same blue that I remember.
She reaches behind a shower curtain with a Monopoly board printed on it and turns the knob.
I wonder where Baltic Avenue is.
While water spurts from the spout I turn into an automatic man and my hands start to grab. She takes a step back and I stop at stop signs so now I’m just standing still, silent, because words have weight. I’ll just wait.
I see nothing coy in the way she’s looking at me. And me her, I suppose. Scapegoats, the pair of us, susceptible to fuck-me-faces and red wine, swimming in them both, she steps forward and whispers, “I’m glad you’re here,” followed by a kiss, soft but not sweet. And then another. And another.
Rapunzel lets her hair fall. Longer than it looks pinned up, blonde waves completely cover her face. I follow with my shirt. The mirror is completely fogged over as the last articles fall.
My anxious eyes take a trip over her soft lines starting on her neck. Then down, down, down, down farther until a pink scar on her stomach derails them. I know, or at least can guess, what put it there. I was brought into the world the same way.
Shame, shame, shame is what my own mother would say if she saw me now.
I’m staring and she knows it, but still lets my eyes linger a moment longer before stepping into the steaming shower leaving me alone and naked. Another blasphemous masturbator and I hope the steam is thick enough where god can’t see in.
I’m not a good man and my punishment will most certainly be daughters.
It’s time to pass go.
The steam and water feels good on my face. We stand, for a while, between kisses and wash nightime from our skin. I know there is little depth in a drop of water and I watch one after another stream down her cheek. Not tears, I know that, but I brush them away anyway.
There aren’t birds here. There isn’t even names, only faces and when hers starts to blur I shut my eyes. She takes my hand and extends one finger. She holds it to her lips and pulls it down her chest until she stops on the scar. She traces it with my finger from tip to tip three times.
I imagine a man showing interest. I imagine a man saying he’d show up for first cries….steps….words…at least until she starts to show. She’d show him. And does it only hurt the first time, letting strangers see scars worn on the inside and out?
I’m sorry. I already read my future and it’s all sweating shotgun shells, my hands trembling from tremens, captive to illusions, to my own delirium without escape and I’m never going to see Big Sur. Come love, lets live lives of substence and not abuse it. HOLD ME, TRUST ME, FUCK ME, SCOLD ME, say something and to give me a reason to be. Or a reason to laugh. Or reason to cry.
It’s in her silence that I’m certain the righteous are vultures and perfect is just one more curse word. When, if ever, is passion perfect? This is confusing like The Wasteland, hurry up please it’s time.
Warm waters gone cold when she shuts it off. Yesterday’s dirty clothes are left disregarded in separate piles on the tile floor; we walk to her bedroom wrapped in towels. The curtains are drawn and only dull light is allowed in. On a bookshelf I see a series I remember having read to me. A hundred acres, honey pots, and Heffalumps to save you Pooh Bear, but I can’t change what’s chosen. Is that a sin? And like I could wash anything away with mere shower gel, even if it is scented after an ocean breeze.
My unlikely hands trace nude symmetry and it starts, softly, the logic of hips and lullabies hummed underneath heavy breaths. I am the sea, crashing into conclusion, and I hear birds. I always hear birds.
Ryan Holmes grew up in Michigan and lives in Oakland.