by Aurelius Raines II
It wasn't like I wasn't involved. The stories were true. The last time I'd even written a poem, story or even a song I'd only thought about growing a beard. I was hungry then, and our lovemaking had sometimes been a distraction from the window where we could see the grocery store across the street. Those times, in hindsight, had been our best. At those times it wasn't about the love as much as about the feeling of bears and wolverines tussling in our bellies. The sound of flesh communicating with flesh. Thoughts as absent as urban peace.
Now my beard was the illusion of aged wisdom and those times were turning sepia in my memory. They were slowly becoming something that had happened to someone else. The last memory was starting to curl at the edges. Even the woman that I'd known then was fading. She was a cheetah then. Her hands a knitted quilt across my temples. Her rear had inspired James Brown hollas and sweet, sweet agony. She had lioness eyes with a mouth to match. Just by boarding the bus she was an Alvin Alee wet dream. She was the beauty of genius.
Now some of that grace was gone. Finding no place to go, all of the activity of her younger days started to settle in her belly and exaggerate her perfect pot. Her eyes had become drowsy with uneventful days and too much sleep. And, lately, the night that had been formerly filled with lovemaking was only filled with pacing.
This was the state of things when I came in on the ugly side of midnight. My clothes were damp with the sweat of the last eight hours. I was tired, grumpy, and I wanted to eat and go to bed. I did not want to talk. I did not want to fight. And so, of course?Ǫ
"Where have you been?" She sat in the kitchen with its ancient stove, formica table, mismatched chairs, and bug-filled light fixture; icons of poor youth.
I looked at her and reserved my answer. I hoped that I'd communicated enough for her to understand that I was not going to go 'round with her. I was tired and going to bed and there would not be a conversation that would degrade into shouting and then a language made of the purest curses. "Where were you? I've been waiting. I was ready early. I was real ready. And I called you. You didn't answer. So I thought I'd sit here'"
"Look. Just hold it. I'm not in the mood." I was resigned to the combat. My tongue put up the dukes.
"How ugly," She frowned; her lips a perfect brown rainbow above her chin.
"You just talk ugly now. Have you listened to yourself? 'Hold it. I'm not in the mood,' That sentence sounded like a polyester suit and probably cost you as much!" Now, she'd brought me there. The need to eat and rest evaporated; water on a hot griddle. All I wanted to do was put her in her place. Make her understand that there were some things that weren't her business anymore. I wanted her to understand that her place in my life had changed. All the while, I convinced myself not to leave her completely.
"Now I don't talk good enough for you?" I challenged.
"There was a time when you didn't 'talk good enough' for you."
"I talk how I want to talk. Know why?"
"No. Why?" as she said this, she stood up and crossed her arms. They had begun to loose their definition and the triceps were slowly becoming brown flags.
"Because I'm a grown man?"
"Grown man still comin' in the house under time's armpit."
"But I have a reason to be out."
"What's that? What's out there for you?"
"I don't know, but I do know there's nothin' for me here."
"Nothin' for you'" she choked on her own anger. Bile too acidic to vomit,
"Nothin' for you here? I remember a time you loved what was 'here'. You would rub yourself all over 'here' like oils. Said you just needed the smell of 'here' so you would feel close to me."
"That was then."
"Then you would call me in the middle of your day. You weren't even having a day unless I was there. Whispering to you. Making you remember what you wanted. You'd call me up: 'Hey, It's stuffy in here. I need a window.'
And I would tell you. I would fill your mind with such sweet things your folks thought you were a junky when you were only free basin' on my phoincs."
"'Free basin' on your''God! Now who's talkin' 'ugly'? You would be the one calling me. Middle of my day you would tell me the most basic stuff. Useless. Talking about concrete 'n dogs. Here I am trying to survive and you talkin' about concrete 'n dogs."
"You are forgettin'. That wasn't concrete. Those were dreams. There was a time you knew the difference."
"Oh, I know the difference. Too well. I learned better. I learned work gets you so much more than dreams. Work gets you food, some place to rest your head, peace from the landlord. Oh, God how I love peace from the landlord!"
"Was a time you loved me."
"You were too much about dreams and you didn't want me to work."
"Should make your dreams your work."
"I did, remember?" I got the milk out of the refrigerator and fooled with the carton top.
"Too well, Slick. All too well."
"And what did it get me?"
"The love, Baby, the love."
I put the carton of milk to my mouth. My nose had already smelled the bad news but not before the sour milk penetrated my lips and coated my tongue. I spit like a dragon spewing white fire.
"The milk is bad," She said with a smart smirk.
"Yeah, I can tell."
Something broke and we laughed. I hadn't had time to eat much. I'd bought the milk a while ago. It's spoiled before I'd gotten around to it.
She sighed and sat back in the chair. She splayed her knees like east/west and dropped her clasped hands between her thighs so that they hung near the floor like a pendulum. I had done a good job forgetting she was beautiful. That made her easy to forget. But seeing her as she was now. Indelible.
"Remember the last time."
"'Last time'-- what?"
"Last time we were together. Back when we were on that mattress under that little window that faced the back porch."
"Yeah, No light all day except for 20 minutes in the evening. Perfect sunset."
"Perfect sunset and perfect us. Remember perfect us?"
My tongue was thick around the memory but I painted it anyway.
"Hours with each other. So close to each other the daylight was a shock. Time climaxing."
"Yes. So long without food. We let it all out. Put all of ourselves into each other. Until we were both empty of ourselves."
"And full of each other."
"There, on the floor, beneath the window. We held each other. And we both felt it."
"I know. It was like--" I searched the empty air for the memory.
"It was like we were smoke," she completed, "Perfect spirits of light. The basic and best of us. And I thought when the sunlight hit us, that orange late day light, I thought it would touch our skin and we would just evaporate. No more skin. No more bone. Just us, being what we were."
"But do you know what that was?" I asked, my eyes focusing on her perfect fingers.
"Yeah, I know."
"That was hunger."
"It was huger, alright. The good kind."
"There ain't no good kind."
"Tell that to the fat man. The fat man who wants for nothing. The fat man who has the world at his finger tips. In the thick funk of his midnight he dreams about hunger."
I'd almost forgotten.
"Sometimes wanting is better than having," I said this like I was quoting someone else. But I'd written that after stuffing my self with fried bird meat to celebrate a sold story.
"And I would promise that the hungry days would be few."
"You were leading me on."
"That was a promise. As sure as the light-side of my hand, that was a promise and you gave up on it."
"I had to. Holding that was killing me!"
"And you are sooo happy now, right? You found so much happiness and love with that 'Job Broad'."
"I'm eating and that's the same as being happy,"
"Humph," She stood up and came to where I was sitting. She glided, as slow as a sleepy eyelid. I felt her hands touch my temples. Her hands were warm. The hairs on my mind stood to attention.
"Why did you stop, hmm?" She asked. Her voice was becoming more and more like a deep feline mew, "Why did you stop loving me?"
"I wanted to be happy. I got tired of struggling."
"Not like I struggled. Not like me. Does an accountant have to come home and balance the books in his free time? Do aspiring architects have to satisfy themselves with sketching high-rises on toilet paper? No, they find their way easy enough in this world, while I'"
"While you wait around praying for rain."
"Praying for rain makes your throat dry."
"Praying for rain helps you appreciate the monsoon."
I tried to ignore her hands. They were massaging my temples and loosening the things that had been stuck there. The stone in my temples had become quick again and flowing, seeping like quicksilver into my mind.
Her talking was deep. Sensual rumble. A baritone jazz trumpet in a key of kind. I wanted to tell her to stop. I wanted to shake my head and shake away her hands. It was this touch I was sure was the center of all of my suffering. I wanted to end that quick.
"I have to go to sleep. I have to get up tomorrow."
"You don't have to do anything but stay black and die," Her hands spidered down my neck and were kneading my shoulders, "just stay up with me a bit longer. It's so quiet 'round here thru the day and I have sooo much to say."
Even though I recognized the seduction I did not stop it. I had to admit that she was right. Those things I had been telling myself no longer held against the humiliation of just being. With her I was something more. With her I wasn't tired anymore. I felt strong and capable and those parts of me that weren't, wanted to be.
By two-thirty a.m. she had worked her hands down to my hands, rolling my fingers in between her own, enjoying the calluses as if they were fine fabric. Somehow she's slipped one of my notebooks on the table. She gave me a pen, a smooth one that glided over page like slicked vocabulary.
And there on the table I slipped into her. Naked beneath the words she spoke to me of her day. She spoke of concrete and dogs, and dreams turned sepia and curled around the edges.