The Man of Water and Fire This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

June 9, 2017
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Amber picked up another one of the neatly folded towels to wrap her body in. The white terrycloth looked like it was praying. Bent knees. Bent spine. Bent everything to make itself smaller, to fit in smaller spaces. Her blonde hair slid down her back like ironed tree branches. She walked into her bedroom and was embraced by her husband. She felt nothing with him – with anyone really. She didn’t even mind that Idris was in the next room folding more towels. Or that the windows were as naked as she was. She rarely felt close to him, and when she did it was like crawling inside his body and lying on the various tubes and organs.
She clicked down the stairs in her heels, her body constricted by the tightness of her dress. She felt a contraction around her heart, as though her ribs until were squeezing every vessel. Her hair no longer slid down her back, but was a stiff bouffant that glided up before it fell, like water frozen in motion. As she turned the corner, she saw him. Everywhere she went she saw glowing silhouettes of a man she wanted to run away with. They seemed to float everywhere. Amber kicked off both heels and bolted toward him, screaming his name. This is it, she thought. But she hit the ground sobbing, a replay of the first time he left. Christopher didn’t come downstairs; by this point, he had grown used to it.
“You catch ’im this time?” Idris asked. They never understood. No one understood that he was uncatchable, because every time she came close, she would simply flow through him.
When she reached the kitchen, Idris had already squeezed her orange juice. Amber used her manicured nails to create whirlwinds for the pulp. “Why you never drink my orange juice? But every morning you ask me to make it?”
“I think I’m allergic.”
She spent most days preparing. Preparing for galas, dinners, Karen’s recitals.
Amber threw out her toast as Christopher came up and kissed her from behind. She felt his hair gel meet the contour of her cheek, each prick of his stubble felt like a bee sting. “I’ll see you at three.” His voice traveled across the room and tickled her ear drums. She checked Idris to see if he could hear him too.
“What’s at three?”
“Father and son doubles match? With Brandon?” She’d forgotten to prepare for that. “Come on, we’ve been telling you all week. I left the address on the counter. It’s at the
country club, next town over.” He walked out the door, probably into nowhere. It’s impossible to prove if things really exist out of your view, she always thought. She looked for the address but couldn’t find it. It must have seeped into the granite of the counter. It didn’t matter anyway, because she would never drive to the next town. The car seats got stiff and she couldn’t listen to Idris for more than 15 minutes.
• • •
Amber sat in the waiting room, flipping through a magazine, only looking at the pictures. The clicking noise, as the receptionist entered names on a touchscreen, was strangely comforting. Her fingernails were long, and they pecked at the pixels. The bell jingled on top of the door, heels clunked to the desk, and the receptionist tap-danced across her screen, all the while, violins crackled through the holes in the speakers. Jingle clunk tap. Jingle clunk tap. All with violins. Jingle clunk tap. Then it all fell to tranquility at the sound of a waterfall. Trickle trickle trickle. So sporadic.
Amber felt peace in water. Like it was a tight sock that compressed her body. It wasn’t claustrophobic though. The whole thing was full of holes so she could breathe. She saw his glow swimming in the water, but she restrained herself. She locked all the bones in her body as she’d been practicing. Not here, she thought, not the fountain again.
She was on a boat the first time she saw him. She was with friends; Christopher wasn’t in the picture yet. When she was in high school, her friends would park their boats in a line just off shore. They’d pop champagne and wiggle in bikinis. Their skin was glossy; the water was clear.
He wasn’t on a boat of course. She spotted him off shore having a bonfire. She later learned he looked out at the boats to laugh at “f***ers” like Amber. But as the boat rocked, she couldn’t help but stare at the outline of his body illuminated by the fire. His clothes were dark, but so was his soul. His insides. And she could see it. She wished she could dive into the ocean and he would come in and meet her. They could talk underwater, and with his fire, everything would be bright.
“Mrs. Foster?”
She followed the man into an office drowning in fluorescent lights. Always cold. Patients would come and meet with Dr. Stein, but they all got swallowed and never left. He would claim they were on the verge of a major breakthrough so that each week they would continue to throw bags of money at him. Amber usually woke up while Idris was driving her home. She had never really been asleep, but therapy was her equivalent of napping. She melted into the soft brown cushions of Dr. Stein’s couch as he tried to unlock the door to her brain. There was a whole flood behind those gates that he would never get to, but she let him graze around and peek from the outside, pounding pounding pounding; she felt bad Christopher was spending all that money, and she wondered if she too had been swallowed. She decided this session would be different, that she would fight the force trying to suck her in. Maybe, she thought, giving him a closer look would be healthy. Maybe he could poke and pry with his mental scalpels. A real doctor’s examination could be good for her.
“So last week we left off with
‘Everything’s fine. I love my life. I love Christopher and my two darling children,’ just as we did the previous week.” He consulted his notes. “And the week before that.” This is how she concluded every session. She never knew if Christopher was watching, so she spoke like a tape recorder stuck on perfection perfection perfec- “Anything new? Any updates from last week?”
“Yes.” She hesitated. “Yes, well it’s not new. It’s actually quite old.” He gave her a motion to continue. “I’m followed. It’s various people, but it’s the same person. Every time I get close to catching him, I just seep through. I try to run and hit it like a brick wall, but it’s just this space that goes.”
“And why are you trying to catch it?”
“To preserve him.”
“Could you learn to coexist?”
“We have. I think that’s why he’s following me.” She looked around the room to see if she could find him. Them. She couldn’t though. Dr. Stein’s Venus Flytrap was the only other life in the room. It must have been too dry.
“Well, sometimes people fixate like this when they have a lack of closure.”
She nodded.
“And the most healthy way to approach a case like yours is to …” He struggled for the right words as if he didn’t do this all day. “Find that closure. Which can be hard. Especially if one is dealing with death. Severe loss can …” She woke up in Idris’s car, but this wasn’t a regurgitation. She hadn’t been swallowed.
“Turn left, Idris. To the tennis match.” She felt prepared.
During the match, she got up to pee. When she lived down the street, she had belonged to this club. After she moved in with Christopher, she never came back. She walked to the end of the hall. The back of the building was all glass; you could see right out into the marina. It’s where she had parked her boat when they weren’t threaded along the shore. They got thirsty sitting at the docks. They needed to lap up water while the kids lapped up drinks.
• • •
She saw herself on the sand. The moon wrapped itself in the clouds to stay warm, and the whole ocean was dark. Thick with blackness. But cutting though the moisture of the air was the outline of the man. He wasn’t illuminated. He was just carried with the breeze from the ocean. She thought he washed ashore. He must have waded in from somewhere far away and the stars dragged him to her. When something was foreign to her, she blamed it on the tide. His dark clothes had been stripped, and his skin wasn’t toned, it molded. To her, he was a revolution. To her parents. To Christopher. To her life. Her future. It’s like the moon wriggled out just to give them a spotlight.
She imagined it was public. That her friends sat in the audience and watched them embrace. That they saw each vertebrae of her spine curve. Her hair flop out of its stiffness, her nails dig into his back. Music came from the club’s dinner party, but she could hear every breath he took, the sound his bones made every time he moved. Someone turned up the dial on the moon and everything became so bright that the light pinched her eyes. When she tried to look at his face, it was like looking through a steamy shower door. She traded in her life’s movement, so now everything was still.
• • •
Amber walked out of the club’s bathroom still drying her hands, pushed the glass door, felt the breeze. The sun was never as bright as the moon. She walked along the dock and examined each boat. A new generation. She felt relieved that her time had passed. When she got to the end of the dock, she dove. She pierced the bubble into another world, hoping there, she could catch him.
Christopher blamed Idris for poor monitoring. They fished her out like hair from a drain, and her body sagged loose. She hung above the water, demonstrating the transition from carcass to angel.
For a moment, she had found him. He was sitting there underwater with his fire. She caught him. Using her nails, she carved open his body, so that his skin flapped to both sides. She scooped out those dark insides. She pulled out intestines, tubes, liver. And swam in it. Sucked the juice off the bone. She dug her fingers in and painted her skin, so when they pulled her out, her body was covered. 

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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