Friday, February 09, 2007

I'd wait a million years


He was three hours into the four hour drive home when he called her.

“Hey,” she answered.

She always answered with that initial "Hey," and whenever he heard her say it he was drawn to a territory that felt warm, familiar. In that space distance held sway, but the distance bordered a tract of heart that had known her voice long before he'd heard the sound of it.

“I almost called to tell you to turn around.” She spoke with a natural air.

“I will, you know.” He did not need to think.

“Don’t,” she said when he told her how far he’d already driven.

After they were done talking he recalled her face, her hair. He replayed her voice, “Hey,” and took the next exit, looking for a turn around. “Crazy,” he said.

To turn around then would make a four hour trip into another seven hour drive. Only the day before he’d driven from North Carolina to spend the night with her in Virginia. Now he was back in Jersey--and suddenly heading south.

His back and his legs had stiffened by the time he pulled the car along the curb. She’d left the door open and he let himself in. Drumming music and the hum of a treadmill flowed up out of the basement. So he dropped his bag near the door and went for a walk. The January air felt sharp when he breathed it in and the evening turned to dark. He was happy looking at the houses, recording the names of streets he passed.

In less than an hour he was back and watching television when she emerged from the basement dabbing her brow with a towel. They talked a little and she left to go shower. When she returned in slippers and a T-shirt they called out for Chinese food. She stood at the sink rinsing a plate. He leaned down and kissed her shoulder. She smiled.

After dinner, he stretched out on the sofa and watched her sink cross-legged into an overstuffed chair. The day had ended. Neither of them said very much. A toned thigh stretched out from under her shirt. It was the shirt he’d bought her, the shirt that sported the Chinese character for “Strength.”

He’d been staring at her. “What?” she asked.

He wanted to tell her about what was going on inside his body. “You’re beautiful,” he said instead, and made a less than heartfelt effort to ignore the perfect length of leg stretched over the opposite knee.

She looked back at the television, and he succumbed to a swell of desire so strong that he had to close his eyes to hide it from her. “Strength.”

What he was feeling then was something he hadn’t felt for a long time, a longer time than he’d like to admit. He wondered what the Chinese character for "Craving" looked like.

Soon after, the television went off. They both agreed it had grown very late. She made sure he had enough blankets in his room and said goodnight. She looked up as she turned, half over her delicate shoulder. The full smile of her mouth blossomed and he almost wanted to cry. “Good night,” he said instead.

He turned out the light. Desire tore him into a thousand tiny shreds. His ex-wife never moved him so deeply. Nor had other women, women he thought he’d loved. This was something else, something beautiful and mysterious and full. He surrendered to it's resonance, released his heart and soul and body to its airs. Sleep finally overtook his rigid body, his lips pursing together, a final note holding, a last breath full of her name, the name he turned around on his tongue and blew back out into the night.

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