May 29, 2011
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My hands ride Thea’s breaths over the surface of her arctic body, while somewhere in my chest a furnace bursts into flames.

My fingertips graze glacial collarbone, the smooth valley between her pink-capped breasts, the ridges of ribcage dressed in silk. I can feel her bones shifting beneath her skin like sea creatures writhing under frigid waters. I try to move in tandem with her pulse, try to grasp its rhythm and roll and mold it between my fingers. I try to orient myself on her landscape.

I’m on my right side, my arm bent at a forty-five degree angle supporting my head while I try to focus on keeping my mouth shut, my desperate attempt at maintaining some sort of composure and eroticism on my face, when really I would like nothing more than to jump her bones right this very second. Thea is on her back, one hand behind her head, the other trotting two fingertips around the little silver locket slung around her neck. As transfixed as I am the with motion of her still body, I force myself to look back at her face. It’s important that I know she’s still there.

She’s facing the window with her chin tilted slightly upward, so that all I can see is the sweep of her jaw and the fault line where her brow meets her cheekbone. Her dark magma hair flows from her head in swirling rivulets, devouring her pillow in smoldering rivers that smell like coconut and banana.

All over her body the skin is one tone: milky, smooth, churning with something unearthly. With my puce comforter draped haphazardly across one side of her bare body she looks like that Boticelli painting of Venus, except less masculine and with narrower hips. Cars pass by on the street below, and as their headlights illuminate my girl, the crests and falls of her torso are sharpened. I sip from her shoulder and reach over to caress her cheek. That’s what romantics do, isn’t it? Caress cheeks?

But right as the back of my hand is about to make contact with her face, a jolt runs through her body that spreads through the bed and into me. Earlier, the electricity between us had made the air in my bedroom crackle so loudly I was afraid my neighbors would hear. Now, it felt more like I’d cornered a wild animal and she was now raising her hackles, ready to flee at the slightest provocation. Gravity returns and as her body sinks slowly into the sheets, as the comforter floods over her and all that’s visible are her two big brown eyes setting over the creamy swell of her shoulder, she suddenly seems improbably small.

It takes a moment or two for me to realize that my mouth is open again and that I should say something.

“You okay, babe?” I ask, in my best concerned voice.

Thea’s sloe-eyed, hooded gaze sniffs about my face. What is she looking for? What isn’t she finding?

“Y-yeah...” she manages to stammer out. “Yes, I’m fine. Adam...I’m really sorry, I...don’t think I can do this tonight.”

My temple hurts from clenching my jaw so hard. “Sure,” I say through gritted teeth. It takes so much effort not to show any ounce of annoyance on my face that I actually have to look away. I sit up and turn my body to face the digital clock on the nightstand – quarter to midnight. I can feel her eyes on me again, two muddy sunsets warming my shoulder blades, and I can’t help but feel a little violated.

I smell the cold of her fingertips.

“You want to leave now,” I say over my shoulder, still refusing to look at her.

From behind me her voice is small and tremulous, and for the thousandth time tonight I wonder what the hell could be devouring her with such efficiency.

“Yeah, I think maybe I should...” she says. I can feel that steamy anger that had been backing up my heart just a second ago begin to dissolve, and a large part of me doesn’t want it to. The bed shifts, and reluctantly, I look back. Thea, still nude, has her back to me with her legs hanging over the edge of my bed. Hunched shoulders, arm tucked tightly against her chest, shielding it from the darkness, and head hung low as she shimmies her panties up her thighs, I can’t help but notice her stunning luminescence. Her hair darkles against her skin as she wraps the scarlet mass of hair around her neck and her arms disappear as her hands nervously try to find the collar of her shirt.

Stop. I want to tell her to stop, grab her by the shoulders, pin her to my bed, and let the night watch on as we gnaw each other’s triceps, absorb each other into our blood streams like ground aspirin. Her shoulders, the length of her torso expanding with each breath, her rotund cheeks that pinch my sheets – she looks like an Egyptian bone doll on a mantle.

She’s so massive, I can’t even take all of her in. Sometimes she’s my own personal Everest, and other times she a storm cloud that always seems to be lurking over the horizon.

She’s fully clothed now, in her red flannel and skinny jeans. Standing, her hair sways as she scans the floor, looking for something.

“Here,” I say, tossing her the gray knit cap that she’d dropped when we’d stumbled into my bedroom, falling into each other’s kisses and landing on tongue. I noticed it when she didn’t, and promptly hid it under my pillow. I thought if things went well, she wouldn’t mind if I’d keep it as a fond souvenir.

Thea tugs it onto her head, glances at me briefly and nods her gratitude. Then she’s out the door before I can even make a witty remark to break the tension. I fall back into bed, screaming my carnal frustrations into my pillow, hoping that Venus will hear me and alight on the warm impression in the sheets left by Thea’s body.

A thrill runs through me briefly as I imagine making love to the busty goddess in that giant clam shell that had carried her to shore. We’d wash up breathless, a tangle of limbs and hair, our kisses briny, our bodies encrusted with sand. We’d be merciless in our breaking of each other. We’d be the conquistadors of each other’s shuddering moans.

He hates me, I confide into my steaming coffee mug, both overwhelmingly dismayed and a little hopeful. After the disaster back at his apartment, I felt ravenous, so I got out onto the street and ducked into the first diner I could find to get myself some continental breakfast.

Cocking my head to one side, I bite off a mouthful of midnight croissant and rub my bare feet together. It wasn’t until I was standing outside the door to Adam’s unit that I noticed the clammy roughness beneath my toes and realized I’d forgotten my shoes. The thought of knocking and awkwardly asking him to retrieve them for me briefly crossed my mind, but I just sighed, raked my fingers through my hair, and decided to call him in the morning.

And then, of course, I changed my mind again and decided to just buy a new pair after my next paycheck.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me that my “little bouts of crazy” came from her side, traced all the way back to our Aztec ancestors. My blood is so heavily diluted by Irish whisky and German lager and the like that you’d never know I was anything even close to ethnic, but that’s what my mother says. That was her explanation for me coming home from school one day with a bloody ankle, having etched my name into the flesh with an X-ACTO knife during recess. Earlier that day Cheryl Peet had told me that, in the near future, everyone would eventually stop caring about me and I’d just fade away from existence. I figured my feet would be the last parts of me to go.

My toe brushes against the scar, and I smile, proud of my own foresight.

Behind me I can hear the outside world roaring, dark and hollow like a conch shell. Stella’s body, warming the cool night, is out there somewhere, and it makes me nauseous and jittery to think about her again...

The soles of my feet are cold and achy from my late-night meandering. I lean down and trace the cracks and ridges with one finger. Gravel is embedded in my now raw skin, and dirt shadows my heel and toes. My calluses – a result of years of running barefoot – look defiant as ever amongst the shallow scratches that mar the surface. My pedicure, needless to say, is ruined, the cyan polish chipped beyond recognition. Staring at my feet like this, I feel like a cartographer. My skin is like an unfinished map of my cowardice.

I’ve always been kind of doubtful of my existence. Others see that in me too, I’m sure, like Adam most definitely does now. Thea: his wispy girlfriend who keeps slipping through his fingertips.

All that I’ve really had to anchor me in this world is the pain, those crying, bloody things that pierce. Before Stella came along, I felt like my striped upper arms were the only parts of me that made it through the night, like Cheshire cats. Now I know that, when I fall asleep, I don’t just leave my fears in the darkness. They follow me through my dreams, and into the next day.

When I first met Stella our freshman year of college, she was standing in front of her full-length mirror, inspecting the fresh tattoo on her left shoulder blade. The strap of her lime green tank top was down, revealing large gold and scarlet compass the size of a fist and shaped like a blazing sun, with remarkably intricate patterns swirling along the edge. The needle, characterized by a curvy arrowhead, pointed due-South.

“Hey there, I’m Stella,” she’d said, through a veil of straight blonde hair trimmed to a neat bob. “I’ll be bringing guys over here a lot; is that cool with you?”

It’s a mystery how we came to be best friends, but five years later we still live together. As far as I know, I’m the only one she’s ever told about her traumatizing childhood, the mother who drowned herself in drugs and the father who’d beat her senseless. We’ve held each other crying, endlessly sobbing into each others arms, each session usually ending with us half-undressed, under her covers with her head resting on my shoulder. I would always be the last one to sleep. In the morning we’d wake and go about our lives as if nothing had happened.

Her legs haunt me. High and smooth they move her like wings move a seagull. I hear her sexy black stilettos clicking wherever I walk. Her perfumes stains the insides of my nostrils. I want to sleep in her lips.

Looking out of Adam’s window, I imagined Stella in her boyfriend’s arms, sharing his breath, drinking in his warmth, swallowing all of him with her eyes and her nose and the palms of her hands. The city is large, and despite my epic ability to lose myself in the mayhem of reality, my thoughts always gallop back to her. She is the only place where my body exists; everywhere else I’m just a glowing specter with red stripes.

Somewhere east of where I’m sitting, Adam lays in his bed, staring up at the ceiling and humming the theme song to MacGyver. Playing his air drum, he will catch himself getting over zealous and end up chuckling to himself, despite the night’s earlier fiasco. To the north, Stella gets out of her lover’s bed and makes her way to the front porch to have herself a smoke. Dressed only in his Metallica t-shirt, she will rub her bare legs together in an attempt at warming herself up. She will exhale and a plume of smoke, accented with her cherry lip balm, will dissipate into the air, and travel fifteen miles to a diner on the outskirts of Downtown. I’ll be there, when it reaches the glass door with the neon Open sign that flickers every couple of seconds. I’ll be there to take it into my lungs. The smoke will know where I am.

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