But None Came
That night, twelve girls huddled in a tight ring on the floor of Sherwood lodge, the rain falling loud enough on the roof that we sometimes had to shout to be heard. I told them it was time; their beds waited just a dozen yards away. “But that would be like daring the storm to hit us,” Nicole said. Her bunkmates nodded. Jody’s eyes teared up, afraid—as they all were— that the tempest now roiling Surprise Lake Camp would strike more accurately than last week’s storm, which had missed their bunk by a young tree’s width.
I don’t remember what I said to get them moving, but fear tightened their steps to inches as mud sucked like horror movie slime at our feet. Once inside, they clung to me, and to each other, convinced that closing their eyes would leave them not defenseless—they knew they had no defense, that if lightning was going to strike, it was going to strike. They just didn’t want to be asleep if it did.
Later, taking my last walk around their unit before going in search of my own slumber, I checked in on them. Hovering in their doorway, I watched them sleep, not yet the women they would grow up to be, yet starting to become precisely those women. Then a fresh round of thunder rattled their windows, sending me—grown heavy with what I knew I could not ask them to hold— stumbling back onto the path.
I turned off my flashlight, stood still as a rod beneath the falling water, each drop hitting my skin like a small stone. Heaven itself, I thought, was stoning me.
I waited for the light another strike would bring but none came, so I trudged downhill through the dark to my own narrow bed, pulled the shade to block whomever might be watching, and slept, rising in the morning, alone and guilt-ridden from dreams I could not remember.
The night before she flew to France, as the last of the roasted lamb she’d cooked cooled between us, Danielle told me— and I swear this was how she said it— that fucking would free a self in her she could no longer name, a woman cringing, chained and starving beneath the ruined city her life had become. “I wish you would be that man for me,” she said, handing me, as farewell gift, The Encyclopedia of Erotic Art.
I won’t repeat the inscription here, but a woman’s genitals sketched in pencil filled the inside cover. Danielle had drawn the clitoral hood as the hood of a cloak, the labia minora as the cloak’s flowing fabric, which the wearer held open, arms spread wide, head and torso caught in mid-turn back towards the genital vestibule, inviting me to follow her in. The woman inside a woman, I thought, almost changing my mind. That night, I dreamed I held Danielle’s pierced tongue between my lips, and when I reached as she lay cradled in my lap for the spot in her where she was still lying in the roadside ditch the man whose love she’d taken for a life she’d feel alive living had said would be her grave, she traced the edge of my ear with her finger. “You can’t feel them,” she said.
“Feel what?” I asked.
“The scars where is knife sliced into me. I was, he kept saying, raw meat on his plate.”
Today, Danielle wrote that suicide was stalking her again: and when he was done fucking me, he pulled my head back by the hair, hissed through clenched teeth that he was going to shoot in my mouth, and if I let a single drop of him spill, whore that I was, he’d slit my throat, and who would miss me anyway? He was right. No one’s going to miss me.
Three hours I’ve been calling and she still hasn’t answered, and to show up tomorrow at her door in Bordeaux would take a plane ticket I can’t afford, so here I am, placing these syllables one after the other, leaving a trail towards what I hope is hope, because she is still the woman who risked spitting that bastard out as he looked off into wherever his ejaculation had taken him; because I want to tell her I will miss her, and as long as I keep writing, I can believe she is alive and listening.
Two weeks ago, Danielle writes, a visiting poetry impresario— someone we both know— read words she fit to a page like this one because of what that man did to her and arranged for her to read them in a local cafe. “When I finished your poems,” he whispered afterwards, hand cupping her elbow, lips almost touching her ear, breath—the email on my screen repeats this each time I look at it— breath wrapping around her neck the smell of that rapist’s favorite scotch, “When I finished, I was hard all night.”
If I tell this story face to face, I say his name. Here, you’ll understand, it’s wiser if I don’t.
In Honor Of The Line We Never Crossed
Sitting here at this table so like the ones in the cafes and diners we’ve spent these decades meeting in, the cheesecake yours, the apple pie mine, the words we’ve shared leaving us more naked on either side of the plank of wood between us than if we were whispering across each other’s bare and trembling thighs,
sitting here, where I’ve stopped for a drink after the opening you couldn’t come to because your lover’s parents are in town, as I watch the skirts and loosened ties of Manhattan’s night life saunter by, my breath fogging the window of this bar in the Roger Smith Hotel, the half pint in front of me still half full of a beer you might actually like,
here, where you and I have never been, as I place in my mouth a sliver of Spanish cheese I know you’d love, its flavor, sharp smoke and salted cream, melting into my tongue, there is nothing left but to let you go.
The woman hanging on that wall tonight did not have her knees tucked in tight against her breasts, and her face was not turned away from whoever came to look at her, but everything else, even the camera flash caught by the mirror above her right shoulder echoed the image you handed me that night in the Mark Twain Diner.
“This,” you said, “is what I’ve been up to all summer.” I wanted then to tell you how beautiful you were simply because you were, but I couldn’t. It doesn’t matter why. I just couldn’t. Instead, I took a thoughtful sip of tea. “Who shot this?” I asked.
The steam rose like vines from the Earl Grey in our cups.
“Me,” you answered, gaze averted.
I did not hesitate. I gave you back to yourself as if I’d never touched you.
Like We Did Back Then
The bird was a dove; the gun, a blowgun Joey ordered through the mail. We took it wrapped in a green cloth out back by the tracks. Joey placed the weapon in my hands, holding up once he’d done so a dart, toothpick-thin, blunt end buried in a marble-sized plastic orange sphere. “Don’t inhale once it’s in the tube,” he warned. “You’ll break your teeth.”
I crouched down behind the bush blocking the view from Albert’s house, slid the long metal barrel through the fence, and put the dart in the blow hole. I don’t remember Joey urging me on, or if he tried to stop me, but the moment the breath that killed the bird left my lungs, I wanted nothing but to inhale it back.
The summer Joey murdered himself the news found me too late for the funeral, and so I see him now the last time I saw him whole, sitting next to me on the wooden fence he climbed out of his room to smoke on one last time before he left for the army. The beers I used my early beard to buy were gone—we were sixteen— the friends we drank them with as well, and Joey held out a joint he said he didn’t want to share with anyone else. “My father, he chewed the words, “can be a real asshole sometimes.”
Then he’s home on leave and we’re walking, his right arm conducting a slow four-four march he tells me he can’t stop, not even after three years of no acid. “I feel like a fucking drum major,” he jokes, so we start marching for real, feet perfectly in step, hands out in front of our chests, the way we held our horns when we were in drum corps, and we’re about to raise our imaginary bugles to our lips when Joey grabs my wrist, pulls me behind him, holds his finger up for silence. “The hole,” he whispers, pointing, not taking his eyes from where our next steps would have landed. “You can’t see it. It isn’t after you”
—and I still don’t know where he’s buried, have not, till this moment, told him goodbye, or that I miss him, or that I’ve carried in me since I heard how he died the certainty that if I’d been there, we would’ve talked, and he’d be alive.