At first, thinking about him was like eating a piece of chocolate in the dark. She didn’t even want to admit she was doing it. She didn’t want to see herself in the act of thinking of him. She often wished she could fall instantly unconscious when he crept into her brain because then she could blame random neurons, or at least it would be out of her control. But then he came up to her one day and told her she shouldn’t sink into her chair like that and asked why her arms were crossed so tightly.
He told her she was different people all at once, and that he tried very hard to be just one person at all times and shouldn’t she be much more aware of all those faces she wore? Shouldn’t she turn them into one face? Shouldn’t she try everyday to will all her faces into one very distinct face? This excited her, and she agreed to try, for her own sake, but mostly embarked on this task because he asked it of her.
He watched her slumping over in the English graduate program orientation. The way she crossed, and uncrossed her legs, and crossed and uncrossed her arms interested him. He’d tell her later that this made her seem hyper aware, like she was tuned into the same radio signal as him even though she was much younger. The sun lit a small sliver of her face. The whiteness reflected off her face blotted out her features. When he finally reached out to touch her, he noticed his own brown skin as his arm wavered closer. But, she had come up to him first. She had started it.
She asked him questions about himself while they stood on the steps of the English Department. She noticed he kept switching from one step to another, up and down out of nervousness, when he finally walked away from her army of interest she realized her feet had straddled both steps firmly, the very ones he couldn’t decide on.
He darted into her office like he was late for a train. The door was open, and she was grading papers. He couldn’t bring himself to look her in the eyes, but he did tell her about the couple he saw feeding one another fruit in the student union. She asked him why he mentioned this, giving him an electric eel stare. He liked it when she demanded answers from him because her nostrils flared with excitement, and he found this physical reaction to him, flattering. She already knew the answers, it was never about the answers, it was always about asking. His pulse pulled to his groin, but he felt he could play this game for a long time, this asking and telling. So he asked her to come see him in Santa Fe, and she told him she would.
She pretended not to know what was happening, this non-verbal energy passing between them as they drove further away from familiar places. When they got out of his car things were just beginning. They had driven in silence up the winding dirt roads up to the house his grandfather built. There were the occasional informative statements from his lips, his history. They didn’t know each other. They hadn’t even touched. She hadn’t yet sat on his bed sprawling out like she owned it or felt his hand on the small of her back creating some sacred spark that he called “waking up.”
He told her about his grandfather’s house where deer meat was hung in the attic and goats’ throats were slit in the basement. Stories crowded around his mouth to be told, but he only those two pushed out. The rest lay in the stones, or were stuck in the concrete between them. She stood so close to him that day, and he never reached for her. A man came out of the house, insisting they come in, insisting they say something about the house, give it more meaning, accept him as the new owner, give him reassurance of some kind. But he didn’t want to oblige the man, instead, he whispered in her ear that he wanted to go.
She took photographs of the house, only one or two, from the bottom of the steps before he ushered her away and into the car. She never sent them. Later, after they stopped speaking she looked at them every so often, wondering about the man that lived in that house now. Could he tell they wouldn’t make it? As they drove down the mountain he had shifted around uncomfortably before telling her that it was only seventy-five dollars a month to live in the branches of his family tree.
He only liked certain parts of her body. Try as he might to rouse her interest, or focus her self-esteem to her feet, she insisted that the rest of her deserved just as much worship. How could he explain to her that everything he cared about was expressed in the very curve of her foot? He touched them whenever he could; he looked at them, stole glances when she would put her feet on the rug first thing in the morning. She was beautiful, he pleaded, all of her, but the articulation of it was in the feet.
She tried things his way. Synecdoche meant paying close attention to what he preferred. She understood this as her own inability to love her physical self in its entirety. Besides, the parts he loved, he worshipped, making her feel like a queen, or making him seem a dutiful robed religious man, bowing down to his god manifest. Sometimes, when he kissed and licked every inch of her feet, she imagined him a sun baked peasant assuring a titled woman that he deserved to only touch this one part of her. But there were vital parts of her; important parts, that were routinely ignored, and she grew scornful.
This was the point they circled around like a shaky finger tracing a nipple.
For months, she felt as tight as a piece of rope.
For months, He felt like child waiting for a slap.
He got off on it, and she didn’t.
She took a picture of some tree bark the day of the excursion to his grandfather’s house. They ate cured meats and smoked cigarettes by a stream, and when the light fell just so, a family of deer appeared. After she snapped the photo she heard his voice from over her shoulder. You like that bark babe? He asked. Then that word hung there, klutzy in the air, next to all the other pet names men before him had uttered to her. That’s when there was no turning back, when he hung her up on that wall with all the other “babes.”
He needed to fill up his tank the day they went to his grandfather’s house. They stopped at a gas station, and she insisted he stay in the car while she paid, so he did. He watched her in the rearview mirror as she chose which card from her wallet to swipe. It reminded him of the time he went to the bugarium display at the Albuquerque botanical gardens. This spider kept crawling over one rock, back and forth, each leg moving expressively, searching, before it disappeared altogether out of view.
Two months after his grandfather’s house, he told her not to find comfort in him, because he couldn’t even find it inside himself.
Two months after his grandfather’s house, she told him to try and find comfort in her, but it turned out she was not a giving person.
It wasn’t that he didn’t believe her, he just couldn’t imagine this dispassionate feeling she complained about, when she told him she thought her parents didn’t love her at all. When he was her age he had studied to be a priest because he loved his parents so much. He flew to the Vatican and interviewed. When they asked him how he knew God existed, he told them proof of God was in the face of his mother and the hands of his father.
Her best friend crossed her legs at the ankle and breathed into her coffee cup Mijo syndrome. My brother is the same. Total fuck up, but can do no wrong. She didn’t think her friend was correct, until suddenly she did. He told her his parents punished him with unconditional love. After this conversation, she sat at his parent’s house on the reservation eating in dead silence, because all his words had vanished in a long grim pout and flew into the fissures of meat his mother carved and fanned on her plate. It was not supposed to be like this. The biscuits she brought didn’t even rise properly.
He made decisions she didn’t like making, but when it came down to it, he told her stay or go, as she pleased, because things with him were gonna stay the same and the door was open, or she could crawl out the window if she wanted. Either way, he was going to the kitchen to make some coffee, and if he came back in the room to find her gone, that was just fine, he’d drink her coffee as well as his own.
He watched her make him eggs in the morning and that was profound. The dramatic tension was all right there in the moments right before the liquids in the pan became solid, and the way her breasts threatened exposure through her robe as she worked the pan. Liquids always became solid in her hands. Her breasts were never bared at the stove, they stayed safely tucked away. But he watched every time just to ensure the outcome was the same.
She liked to listen to him shower in the morning, the heavy sound of the water hitting his body unevenly. It had a comforting rhythm to it that helped her wake up. She would lie on her side with her eyes open and try to guess the moment before he shut the water off. She imagined they were so in tune, so connected, that if she focused hard enough he would somehow communicate the moment she was looking for, but she never got it right.
And sometimes she looked at him and he looked so old, like a statue, like an ancestor in a text book that exampled a way of life long-gone. And sometimes she looked at him and he was young, bucking her off, telling her there are always other girls, and that there had been, and that there will be. And sometimes he was just that man who shuffled in sneakers down hallways and he already felt like a stranger.
And sometimes he looked at her, and she looked like a suburban housewife in tight jeans, like a depressed debutante. And sometimes he looked at her and she was a well-trained black and white movie starlet, whose pointy voice split flesh in the most wonderful excruciating way. And sometimes she was just a twenty something girl far away from home no concept of how precious and tragic she actually was.
The trip to his grandfather’s house was before he told her she had so many cultures dripping off of her, but she never felt whiter than when she was with him. She kept saying she was just a liberal white girl from down south. Maybe they both saw she glowed a bit whiter when she stood next to him, or maybe it was that he made her feel more like the white girl when he asked her for money, or wanted to drive her car. Maybe she gave him what he asked for because if she denied him he’d call her a little white girl, or she’d no longer be able to deny that she was one. But that was his thing, white girls who hated themselves. What if she told him she found herself bearable? What if she had told him she liked herself? If he wanted to know how many people died so she could live the answer is a lot. Did he want her say that she deserved to live? She couldn’t. If he wanted to know how many white people with their white skin had to lay on their white bed sheets, to get her in that big white house down south, she could draw him a map, a chart of all the people who fucked her into existence. But maybe she found comfort in never having to be anything other than white. For someone who colonizes she asked very little. For someone who is colonized he asked for a lot. But that was a new model; her ancestors took and said a lot. His ancestors were taken from, and were never heard. She wanted to tell him to shut up and just penetrate her already, make all of this worth it. Make it so she was no longer light and he was no longer dark, because fucking isn’t political, it’s animal, it’s important, not some kind of statement. What she meant to say was when she sees the veins in her mother’s face because the skin is white it comforts her.
The trip to his grandfather’s house was before she demanded to see that history of New Mexico book, with his last name in it with a date beside it. When she prattled on about this or that, he wanted to push her onto an old ship, and force her to sail around the world for a few years, while he braided beads into his hair and waited for her to come back, with her own answers to her own questions. He was moved by her curiosity about him, but remained indignant about the number of sweaters she had. He wanted to tell her, it does matter to him how white she is, but he doesn’t think about it in those terms. Sometimes just walking next to her down the street was a compromise, a compromising of identity, of sanity, of everything he thought he understood about himself up until the moment they walked down the street. He wanted to tell her he knows he asked for too much, but at the same time he deserved it. Couldn’t she see that he needed everything much more than she did? He was sick of explaining the lineage that brought his face into being, she would ask over and over who was his father’s father and where that hawkish look on his face came from. What would these answers reveal about him? What would it tell her? What he meant to say was: I’m not something to study; I’m someone to love. He wanted to tell her, fucking is political, often detrimental, and penetration is sometimes a promise. But her face was a ripe fruit, so he stayed silent. Unmoving. He couldn’t be the one to tell her these things.
The last place he took her was Shidoni, the foundry up in Santa Fe past the Mennonite’s church on Bishop’s Lodge road. She felt slightly sick on the way, like something had gotten down her throat, or up her nose, but he reassured her it was worth the motion sickness. He took her hand firmly, and dominated her for that hour. For once he didn’t let her dawdle as she pleased, dragging her feet. In the December cold he led her through the maze of sculptures to the studio at the back of the property. The heat from the liquid metal hit them when he opened the door for her.
She watched three men stand over the vat of boiling bronze. All gloved, masked and suited like astronauts, they pulled a bucket on wires towards that burning hole. Transferring the bright hot fluid from place to place required controlled pours. These men crowded around to tip the buckets just so. Knowing what was full, and what was empty was their job. The sculpture mold stood patiently on the studio floor, hot from the kiln waiting to be filled. He was still holding her hand softly, as they stood in the heat of the bronze. She was like that mold she thought, waiting for him to fill her.
He tried to loosen his hand from her grip but she wouldn’t let him. She was like that bronze he thought, hot and luminescent and dangerous. How dare she pour herself into him like this.
If you ask her what happened she wouldn’t answer because according to her he’s mummified. According to her he’s a dried creek bed. According to her he’s a slumpy sock. According to her he’s a firm handshake. According to her he’s worth the books on Buddhism he leant her. According to her he’s a beautiful bitter weed. According to her he’s a daddy long legs. According to her he’s crumpled paper that didn’t make it into the wastebasket.
If you ask him what happened he wouldn’t speak about it because according to him, she’s larva. According to him she’s a ‘watch for falling rocks’ sign. According to him she’s a wet season. According to him she’s the pistil and the stamen. According to him she’s a good cut of meat ill prepared. According to him she’s a dial tone. According to him she’s worth the drive. According to him she’s a cloud of warm breath in the cold. According to him she’s frozen water in his pipes.
Suzanne Richardson was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, where she received an alternative education at Carolina Friends School K-12. She then graduated from Bard College in 2005 with a degree in English and Creative Writing. Suzanne earned her MFA in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the University of New Mexico. She currently lives in Utica, New York where she is an Assistant Professor of Creative Nonfiction at Utica College where she teaches English and creative writing. Suzanne was editor-in-chief of Blue Mesa Review from 2010-2012. Her nonfiction has appeared in New Ohio Review, issue 11 and is forthcoming in New Haven Review. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Blood Orange Review, The Smoking Poet, andPANK Magazine. Her fiction is forthcoming in Front Porch, and has appeared in MAYDAY Magazine.
You can find more of her work at: http://www-suzannerichardsonwrites.tumblr.com/