originally published in Potted Purple.
It’s when my words aren’t on paper that they don’t come out right. This gets tricky when falling in love. I’ve been infatuated three and a half times, and three and a half times only, and of those three and one half times I only fell twice. The names of these women are a different story, but the third infatuation (and second love) is what I’d like to tell you about now, and it came on the only Summer day that year.
It was the last afternoon of July in a year of partition. We met in a graveyard on Mother’s Day and before August cooled her freckles buried themselves. That day she brought a camera which she pointed at a window where our dark shapes reflected; you could barely see our faces. Beyond our silhouettes was a white dress on a mannequin holding flowers in it’s fibreglass hands. She saw the shot long before I did. She held the camera at her collar.
We left town and hiked to the reservoir encased by rocky mountains. They weren’t the tallest hills in the range but when you’re around a body of water that size, even shallow peaks imply a Zion.
It was late when we got there but warm enough to swim. She brought a bathing suit which she changed into by the shore. It was pink and orange and made her skin look nice as it quickly tanned, or rather as it adapted. I went in light grey underwear because I’m never prepared. I felt thin and sickly and my skin was so pale that it washed out——I wished I’d been lifting weights and getting more sun that Summer.
The water wasn’t cold but I eased in, she dove at knee deep. My insecurities always flared with her, that’s part of the reason I kept after her. There was enough to scare me away early on, but something about the crescent of her eyes held on to me loosely, only tugging if I strayed. There was as much pain as lust with her, and I was unsure of what was going to happen other than hitting a brick wall at the end of summer. There was no normal life ahead, no brunches or signing leases or adopting a dog. She was leaving at the end of the month to work overseas.
We floated. Everything around glimmered and only our heads were above the water.
“Should I get the dress?” she asked.
I told her to give me a few years.
We swam on our backs then she got out. I followed. We laid on towels to dry and pulled out books, I was reading a large one that took all summer. On her stomach, she opened a small collection of poems but didn’t look at the page.
A swimmer bobbed across the water past us, a man breast stroking across the reservoir with his boy rowing butterflies a few meters behind. A woman paddled on a board at their stern.
She told me weddings didn’t matter to her, that she was just scared of taking someone for granted. Hearing her say someone hurt worse than hearing my name——the fear of being an anyone; of being settled for.
We were quiet together and the silence went too long.
“Remember when I waved at that older couple yesterday?” I asked.
Without interest, she shook her head no.
“Those were Mariama’s parents. They told her I was with a blonde because your hair’s so light. She texted me to ask who I was with.”
She laughed but it died away quickly. “How often do you two still talk?” she asked.
I picked up her camera. While she wasn’t looking I took several photos in the late day lighting. It really was her eyes, as I’ve mentioned, their confidence made me finish quickly when we made love. They were never excited or impressed, but once in a while they’d tilt outwards and I could see that she liked me too, maybe even something more; but it wasn’t often.
I’d known the moment I saw her under a neon cotton sunset with her shaggy dog who peed on headstones, but she was leaving and so I lived with concealed agony as if nothing were wrong. The only way in and out of the country was with a passport that wasn’t American which I didn’t have, and it was a hell of a time coming to terms with my heart waking after a decade of dormancy——a period of infatuation, but no love.
The insecurity she brought out in me revealed itself as distrust, manifesting in my mind as all of the men she’d meet overseas more interesting than I: astrophysicists, poets, accented lovers. This is about the time that I should say the wrong words, rather than write down the correct ones.
“I don’t know, twice a week?” I said.
She finally looked into her book.
I sat in front of mine cross-legged and was reminded how skinny and white my legs were.
“I want every day to be like this,” I said to redress, to calm the rug burn between chest and gut. But her face fell into a pile of clothes and buried itself. Her book was open above her head. The mountains encasing the reservoir felt like a holiday far away; a place she’d be heading to without me.
The family swam back in the opposite direction, the father doing the butterfly on the return and his son racing after with a breaststroke. The mother was still gliding on the water behind them with no effort, her eyes on the treeline where the rays shoved through.
I turned the camera on to look at the photos and came to the shot of our reflection in the windowpane which enclosed the white dress——I couldn’t make our faces out at all.
In those last few minutes of blinding sun, right before the pinks and oranges of her bathing suit spread across the sky, I reached over to touch her head gently, pushing her hair in the direction it belonged as she hid the eyes that held grip so lightly, but didn’t. Instead, I wished that I had a pen and paper there to fix all the things I could never say out loud, not with the right words.