Sunday, June 2, 2019 • Short Stories
Once upon a time I met a woman who worked in a coffee shop. She made me an iced Americano in a plastic cup and slid a paper-wrapped straw across the counter, and I was nervous and quiet because she was pretty and kind and strong and I thought myself none of that.
When the first snow fell that winter, I lay with her in the bed and we stretched our ears to hear the snowflakes meet the window glass. She was tucked beneath a heavy quilt and wore nothing but my hands. The softness of that afternoon light upon her skin; she was the color of cotton blossoms blotted in cream. She lay her head against my chest so it was as if the entire world seemed to float down to stick upon my heart. I was trembling, knowing I’d really known nothing before. I wanted to tell her how I loved her but it remained too hard. And all the snowflakes pressed their faces against the windows, peeping in at us, envious of my arms, which held such a beauty.
The winds began to blow and I squeezed her tightly, too tightly. She rose her voice above the banging shutters and shouted, Careful! For she had been clung to in desperate ways by other men before me, and my squeezing had reminded her of the pain; and so we all can understand her shout, yes? She meant, Careful not to make me divine! But I had, I know, because her rebuke felt like a rebuttal from God. I felt hurt and wronged all over and shut my eyes tight, and she stared at the wall and wished she’d said nothing, and the winds roared and the snow blew as we lay in that little bed of mine.
There in those little awful moments lives the Traitor of Love, waiting to ruin our embraces. The Traitor lives in the grasp and in the wound, in the quiet and hesitant worry, in the approaching footfalls of desperate loneliness, in the blasting realization that my happiness comes not from you (but from where then, where?!), in that hardened wedge that scrapes open our scars and divides us. The Traitor, who not even my hero father has conquered, chortles like a mad harpy riding the splintered edges of all that we take personal. Damn the Traitor, who leaves you here with me yet takes you so far away; the gulf so wide we know not how to begin again. To think, all our fortunes and lifetimes as people spent at arms with the great big world, and yet all our doom originates from this awful sudden place the size of an unsaid I’m Sorry between you and me.
I do not know where Grace lives, she comes uncalled and underfoot. Perhaps she lives beneath the creaky floorboard in my kitchen, over which we sometimes sway and forget our worries, waiting for the tea kettle to sing. Yes, Grace must live beneath the creaky floorboard in my kitchen, waiting to come and unglue us from our sticky selves. I forget she lives there. But l pray for her and thank her when she comes.
I did not hear her come then–the wind was too loud–but she came. Grace came to the little bed and thumped me on the skull and it felt like when I was a child and my grandmother had balled her hand like an imaginary egg and softly broke it upon my head–her tongue made the sound, clokk!–opening her hand, sliding her fingers down like yolk running over my face. An eggshell breaking–so too cracks the thin shell of mind when Grace arrives. This is the reunion with heart and you know it. You know that great solution. You know that lightness and cheer. You know how limitless we become. You know how courage is mustered.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and sometimes that seems like the bravest thing I have ever done.
Taking her hand, I said, “This is the prettiest hand I’ve ever held.”
And she joined my laughing.
I opened her palm. Her hand was lined and creased with many fine wrinkles, the tread of her many lives. Her upright thumb was criss-crossed and slashed like a pale Aspen trunk.
“If I were a little miniature man, this would be where I’d take my naps,” I said. “I would sit here in your palm and lean back against your thumb and cross my legs. The skin here is wrinkled like sand on the seashore–the tiny wavy lines near the water–and just as soft as sand too.”
I made my fingertips like the miniature man sitting there in her pretty hand by the sea, and there was no longer a cold snow outside the window, and if the snowflakes were still watching, they were surely very envious.
“What else,” she asked.
“I’d steal a pillow from one of your nail beds and fall asleep, sending contented snores across the dunes, your knuckles.”
“I like that,” she said. “And what happens when you wake up?”
“I’d climb the long slopes of your arms to higher elevations and build a cabin under your armpits, warm and safe from all the winter blizzards.”
“Yes, and I’d throw ropes across your shoulders so that I could swing across and build beehives here.” I rested my fingertip, the miniature man, in the small hollow of her neck, the sweet dip within her clavicle. “And I’d call this Honey Hollow.”
And I kissed her until she squealed. Grace was probably smiling her damn head off under my kitchen floorboard, which sounds like something Holden Caulfield would say.
Not long after this snowy day, perhaps during the night as she nuzzled against my back, something so big arose inside my chest that I could no longer resist answering it. I turned and she was looking at me. I was scared, but she smiled, and then I told that beautiful woman that I loved her.
And then that became the bravest thing I had ever done.