Web Site: larrywinfield.com
An early 90's story, noodled on during long commutes on the bus...
Standing on the platform, waiting. Just want to get away from the Loop and find some grass to walk on. Another job interview that didn't promise much, three more tomorrow, and the wolf no longer stands outside my door; the bastard is inside waiting beside me, licking his chops.
I dig into my shoulder bag for a book, twisting the strap and drawing mild stares. Always drawing eyes like flies buzzing a carcass. A train that wasn't mine came through and took away their damned attentiveness. No, not quite. A pair of eyes remained on me, like a small hand spreading heat over my left shoulder. Fixing the strap, I turned to see this brat dressed like a junior banger, flashing gang signs. My eyes told her to go away, said it loud and clear; she pressed close through the sparse crowd, turning up the heat with each step until she was a foot away. Her edges got fuzzy and the air around her rippled, emptied the platform of people, washed away the train and turned the bright blue sky dusky red and gold and, and, and... who are these people in old-timey clothes standing around me?
My eyes wandered back to her, a dozen questions/pleas/demands filled my mouth and I couldn't speak. She blew warmth into my face and her gangbanger shell shimmered, melted, leaving only eyes and lips gleaming like newborn suns. She glanced at the book in my hand, swung the gaze up my arm and it felt like glass and I felt like glass, rigid and transparent.
She reached out and brushed my cheek and it was late spring air caressing me and the suns in her eyes poured into me, filling, overflowing, thoughts dreams fears flowing out for her to see and consume. An old woman's voice echoed through me, faint allusions to a journey ended, treasure found. I felt like the hand a child raises to the summer sun, exposing blood and the hint of sinew and bone within. Felt love.
"You need help, don't you?" she whispered, and smiled and seduced and quivered, easing back, pulling out of me, returning me to flesh. It wore like a bad suit. I closed my eyes and squirmed, twisting and clenching muscles to make them mine again. Drew a hell of a lot of stares now, and I could taste them all. I blinked the train into view, saw her standing at the open door, once more a brat flashing gang signs, and she wore it like a bad suit and didn't hide it. The doors closed and the train pulled off.
The sunlight on my face carried no heat and my stomach hurt and my feet hurt and these assholes were still glancing sidelong at me. I tried to shut them out and remember just what did happen here but I still felt the intrusion. The details were getting slippery and distant. All that was left was the need and longing, an itch I couldn't scratch. I looked down at the book I held. It felt like glass.
I saw her again the next morning, floating through my wake-up fog. She stood across the room near the window, shrouded in darkness, silent and bare in my locked room, and it was the most natural thing in the world. Pleasant warmth on my left shoulder as I rolled onto my back. Soft shadows rested gently on her shifting form, sliding into crevices on her bare back as she moved to the window and pulled the curtain aside, peering into the alley below. The shadows began moving over on their own, stretching her by inches, filling and rounding. She was now older but not much older than the wraith at the train station. The need and longing she buried within me wailed and I began to rise against my will and she smiled.
"What the hell...?" I whispered. She turned to face me and her smile grew an edge; I closed my eyes, tried to regain control, but her smile cut through. The legs were fighting
me, screaming to lead me across the room. I tried to lock onto something anything to break her grip -- visions of torture, day-old corpses covered in maggots amid heaps of rotting garbage -- focusing on the images until I could smell them and my empty stomach turned over and still the edge of her smile sliced like a searing knife and the obscenities fell away and the hard edge softened into warm silk caressing and stroking, stroking. I fell back against my pillow, aroused and ashamed.
Her smile turned into a smirk; she was just making a point. I got up on my elbows to throw my anger and a drop of cold sweat stung my eye. Watery lines glittered on her back as she turned back to the window; a bare delicately etched tree outlined against an overcast sky. I blinked and rubbed sleep and sweat from my eyes; this has to be a dream, I thought, a bad dream triggered by that Toni Morrison book I was reading. "No, not a dream, not a dream," she whispered. It was an old woman's voice, brushing against the back of my left ear. And a shudder ran through me.
She turned slowly. I watched the shadows dip into a stray etched branch that curved around and up past the ribs, gracefully flowing between her breasts, forking above and below to the left. Breasts not yet ripe, but ever ripening. Lifeless. I was right, I thought, and demons from every horror movie I ever saw stormed in to torment wreck and rampage, became dry ice caught in my throat, a cold hand squeezing blood from my heart.
She rushed over, becoming a silhouette again, put warm hands on my chest and warm sweet mouth over mine, pushed scented air down inside me... the warm breeze of late March sprinkled with the honeysuckle that grew on wire fences somewhere back in my childhood. I'd stand near their sun-and-ghost-colored enticement, alternately looking up over my shoulder to bathe my face in the season and turning back to inhale. I'd pull one of the blooms loose, slowly pull the long pistil out through the bottom and touch the nectar to my tongue. The nectar expanded... became a sweet tongue against my own; she made me breathe again. I felt love and loss and sunlight overflowing and please don't ever stop (no, get away from me)... yes...
She let me go, mournfully let go, moved back, kneeling beside the bed. In the faint morning light the flowing line above the breast curved, invaded the aureole and ended at the cratered ruin of the nipple. I stared at it, stared into the tiny chasm, edges delicate and clear in their ragged symmetry like the petals of a just opening flower, and it hurt worse than any scar I ever... Her hands and sweet mouth covered me again, laid me back against the bed, climbed in. And two days poured through me.
I couldn't understand what she wanted from me.
I kneeled beside the bed, watched her chest rising and falling in the imitation rhythms of sleep, and wanted her and was afraid of having her. Would she end this ghost story gently or just crush my soul and move on? Well, that's what I expected from a ghost: pleasure and pain, torment and debts paid from some long-ago offense. I traced my fingers over the delicate scar that flowed between her mounds like an ancient river in a timeless valley. I leaned over, laid my ear on her river, breathed deeply of her, hearing faint laughter and splashes and chocolate children playing in wet sunshine. Calling my name.
The last few hours replayed as my fingers flowed to the end of her river, around and up to the summit, making soft slow feathery circles around the bittersweet nipple, so real and pliant under my caress, yet unseen, like a memory excised, as if she preferred a fuzzy void. I wanted to know the how and why but she smiled and refused. Twice I asked and twice she drew me into her and moaned whispered that it happened before she died, it wasn't important, but she let it flow between us, as if my asking added to her passion, her writhing and thrashing.
We began again, frantic. I pushed deeper, harder, obsessed with that part of her kept shuttered away. Brought her closer to the brink she rushed to and feared. Carried her over. She opened up, lost control with a loud shuddering spasm. She clasped my head, smothered my ears and buried my face in her neck; we became glass melting into each other and she gave me all of it. Violator and violated thrashing in knee-high grass, hazy plantation summertime, beneath the stink of magnolias and willows in the damp breathless air, mockingbirds laughing taunting in the distance. Muffled screams and a pocketed souvenir, taken by a penknife.
And I felt it being ripped from me
felt the bloody hole and
felt the knob of warmth in my
greasy white hand and
you won't slap anybody else's face
STOP! (I had to know...)
We held each other and cried, our fingernails burrowing into the scars of her river, the cords of my neck. She trembled and clung and didn't stop until she finally went to sleep. I felt like garbage, unable to close this window I'd smashed open. I rocked her, feeling my muscles cramp. Let them. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..."
I pulled away from that memory of a memory.
I hadn't moved from my resting place, afraid to awaken her, needing to pour some love back into her that he (that I) had torn out. It disgusted and aroused me still. Her fingers slid over mine, lightly stroking her invisible nipple. I raised up to see all of her torment gone, washed away. She laid my head back down to her river; I could hear her children playing and splashing again as she touched my temple, softly rubbed away the questions I still had. I could feel her smile.
On endlessly precious and quietly wasted summer days I used to love walking the half-mile to a store that sold silver dollar sized chocolate-chip cookies two for a penny. Come out of that store with a dime's worth, eating and skipping down the street that was little more than a paved road slicing through vast stretches of soybean and cotton fields and country-sized blocks of a half-dozen houses. Get home, go around to the shady side and stuff my face before my friends could find me. Loving it all and not knowing why. It would be so easy to splash through that wet sunshine, a child again, loving it and not knowing why.
She still wouldn't tell me her name. I had to have that, something solid. Loving her and not knowing why wasn't enough.
I got dressed and left my room, left her sleeping, breathless nostrils twitching, chest rising and falling and no sound escaping, as if she remembered in sleep that she was a ghost. I took a long walk, endlessly pounding concrete to force some reality back into me, feeling stuck between lightning and johnson grass. The unemployment money would only take me through the summer. The relatives wouldn't help - I'd burned those bridges into cold ashes long ago. I saw my books and papers and worldly goods stuffed into bags and my nameless ghost reclining half nude on a newspaper mattress in the park and laughed.
I kept walking, not seeing a clear path out of my maze. The tips of my fingers tingled. The grinding rumble of a passing bus brought back the full memory of my private metaphor: lightning and johnson grass.
That April thunderstorm so long ago. The ozone stink of lightning bolts walking toward me, the deafening fury of the thunderhead above looking like gods of darkness and light wrestling. Running. Too terrified to breathe, running in circles through a field of wet johnson grass hissing like an army of angry snakes and my clothes and skin being shredded. I walked into the park and over to the lake, sat on the rocks so I could hear the water, trying to see the end of this thing, because it was surely coming, somewhere beyond my guilt and her sweet loins.
When I finally got home, after the thunderstorm had moved on, I collapsed in the kitchen and only half heard the crying and wailing over me. Barely felt the tatters of shirt and pants removed, pieces of johnson grass picked out of my hair and skin, the alcohol that was like a rose, stinging and sweet. The arms that rocked me. I felt her arms slide over my shoulders and curl into an embrace. And the arms rocked me. I watched the waters ripple and spasm and she hummed an old nameless wordless song from across the waters. I felt like an infant burrowing into my first cradle. Looked up at her with infant eyes and saw her for the first time, through a clouded snatch of memory I couldn't possibly have... my grandmother? "No, baby. Her grandmother," the ghost lulled. My infant eyes saw anger and confusion and shame I couldn't beat down.
It didn't advance; she hummed her ancient melody and I looked into and through her eyes and saw the aftermath of that terrible day. The hours she lay among the grass and weeds, not moving till the crickets began their evening wailing, hand pressed to her breast to stop the blood. Getting up and stumbling through the woods toward the slave shacks, hand stuck to her chest, dirt and leaves clinging to her back. Collapsing in the doorway of the first shack she reached. Only half feeling the blood and grime washed off. And inside, where words and soothing caresses and clean rags for bandages couldn't reach, she shriveled away and died. And I understood.
"The outside of me died when your grandmother was just a baby; that passing I didn't feel at all. Inside, I been dead a long time." She rocked me within her cradle, hummed her ancient song. The anguish dissipated. She came to me to bring her love back into the family, because she had to purge this thing that killed her before her time. Because I needed it.
I looked up into her face and saw through her face; the river she wore became glass and spread, enveloped her and became smoked crystal. She bent down and gave me a sweet long last kiss that echoed into words. "Next Sunday's paper has the job you need. Thank you."
The sun kissed brick and steel of the buildings beyond the park unfaded their way through her, through the gown she wore, all lace and gossamer shimmering and dissipating. I stood and waited until all trace of her danced off on the morning breeze, stood and hummed an ancient nameless wordless song from across the waters, walked and hummed slowly through the dewy grass, through the sun and chill and felt neither, her arms cradling me still.
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