When Eden was eighteen, her uncle told her countless tales of life in the desert. He lived there for many years. Perfect, he said, because the people there had inhibitions. People in the rest of the world never think twice to share. To think everything, every place, everyone can be shared. They enter with a sense of purpose and possession.
No matter the faith or indecision, one strives to enter another. They lack independence as much as conviction. Far from orderly or enlightened, they idle together within dark, tender cradles of filth.
“Those people insist upon cleanliness,” he explained. “They take great exception to hallowed ground.”
There were virtually no squatters, he claimed, because ghosts would dwell in abandoned sites and the ruins of old temples. They took many shapes; but unlike living beings, they were not borne from the earth. Ghosts were instead borne by fire.
One day, according to her uncle, a modest lady indulged the wiles of a sheikh. She was a reserved, proud woman who strove to disprove those who infantilized her. The sheikh, an aristocrat clad in a sumptuous kaftan, dared her to peek into a deserted mosque. Minutes after she accepted the challenge, her screams could be heard for miles. She threw herself on the ground, wracked by spasms as if hands swam beneath her skirt, until the sheikh gathered her in his arms. The woman did not go slack, but silenced. She thrashed to seek the hands which unraveled her veil and the silken flesh whose sperm anointed her intimates.
Except the sheikh had long since fled for an imam and villagers.
They returned to find the woman hysterical. Her every peak was erect.
The hungry mouth.
Writhing, glistening, she was seared by an invisible flame.
Even after they had locked her in a sanctified suite, the flame could not be extinguished.
This story terrified Eden. The idea of a phantom that could burrow between her legs…
And the mortals who could fulfill what remained vacant.
Then, she remembered that her uncle was an idealist. He lived in an ideal world, not a real one.
Now, Eden reclines on a couch. Its tapestry reminds her of fire. Its rosy patchwork is bleached by the sun and bursts into a pirouette of sparks. The fabric has begun to unravel and exposes wadding caged within a bed of iron.
Residing between a condemned plaza and seedy block, the Fenwick Lodge is seldom inclined to renounce its neighbours. Its name hangs askew beneath pallid lights while available units and amenities are conscripted below in tarred cursive. Eden finds herself at a Thanksgiving potluck in one of its units. Time wears on the interior. The walls are covered by hackneyed placards and pamphlets. Notices and chains underscore the endless renovation efforts of the complex that is marred by a spate of indignities.
Eden can relate.
She feels heavy.
The prattle of small talk used to be a welcome distraction, but she can no longer idle in conversation. She wishes that she could’ve talked herself out of studying, dreaming, thinking too hard. If then, she never would’ve ventured into university and the endless albeit not entirely trivial pursuit. She recalls her small hometown and all of her friends who had grown to resemble their predecessors of hard labourers and housewives. As hopeless as it was, they patronized and emulated vapid cults of personality. Eden has outgrown that. The Fenwick Lodge kind of looks like her high school: a storeyed edifice of wooded up windows, corridors, and overgrown weeds which thrive despite the enclosure of a russet chain link fence.
Eden peers toward a cute guest whose eyes meet hers. Her heart takes a dive. A numbness tears along the surface of her skin. She can’t reconcile his charm with the guise of hospitality. Eden tells herself to get a grip.
Don’t say anything.
Don’t say anything stupid.
Sheepishly, the host admits the turkey might be undercooked. They eye the bird, then crank the burners on the stove and juggle the pan over them.
Eden’s eyes dart back to the cute guest. His name is John, she overhears. The smoky scent of his aftershave climbs into her nostrils.
A stench of smoke later wafts like incense. Eden arches as if to emulate its tendrils.
Eventually, the stuffed turkey steams before them on a pullout table. It mists between pulpy starches and roasted greens.
Over the course of the evening, Eden feels her cheeks burn whenever she steals a glance at John. She is drawn to his hands, always pocketed, connected to virile wrists cleft by thick biceps. For some reason, his stance reminds her of an abandoned dockyard that loomed outside over her hometown. She used to cast stones through its windows when she was a little girl. Her block lay in its shadow, a rusty legacy of bygone seafarers. It evinced the successful campaign of the old mayor, a former fisherman, who swore to revitalize the industry.
Except everything was capsized by the new highway.
Still, the wharf resolved to find purpose and fulfilled such with the invariability of the setting sun. It stood against the fierce current and acrid sea salt. Long after it was shuttered, shadows of movement floated within. Pickups loaded with fresh catches parked on its smashed asphalt.
Just a rusty legacy of a time she knew never was. You could see its steel for miles.
Eden remembers stealing through its windows and trudging along the gutted interior to climb the odd stairs. Even though the town stayed the same, the view was different every time she came to the top. Cars, people, even the clouds overhead had moved or vanished.
The more things change…
John declares that he made the stuffing when Eden approaches the scrumptious spread. For the first time that night, her gaze narrows into his. She notices his glare is steady, refined but nonetheless incisive.
She musters a small smile. “Looks tasty.”
John accepts the compliment. He remarks on each dish as Eden barely fills her plate. Here he is, she thinks, musing about the meal when it’s the thought of him that makes her lips twitch. She thinks he’s clueless.
Eden starts to doubt that the more she looks. He seldom speaks. His tongue darts between his lips, shining them, as if to punctuate his silence. Awareness hitches his chin. John has definitely caught her looking. She catches a glimpse of herself — flustered, red-faced — in the reflection of his glasses.
Miles away, Eden hears the host reflect on their agonizing thesis. She relates except hers is not nearly as uncertain, but she admits to procrastinating.
She isn’t always on top of things, she murmurs.
For her ears only: “Well, someone else can be on top every once in a while.”
Now, Eden knows John is anything but clueless.
Their eyes meet more as each minute becomes the next.
Eden wonders if John sees through the woman from the small town, ever so slowly licked by stranger tides as the frigid intellect within begins to unravel. Her unruly hair crimps down her cheeks. More than once, she’s been told that her eyes — hard, luminous — are animalistic.
Which is why, deep down, she truly distrusts her uncle’s story. The ghosts of then have yet to sear the now because they live inside us. How ardently we disguise our nature marks the advent of civilization. Mouths, hands, eyes; even the pelts which coarsen our crowns, however voluminous or receding: they are all masked or averted, scandalized when they are exposed to unhinge our desires rather than acknowledge them.
Fire doesn’t create.
Fire bares the ghosts within.
When dinner is over, another guest offers to drive people home.
John and Eden are headed in the same direction. Neither speak much. Eden tries to relax as the entrails of the evening speed past the windows. They edge through packed boulevards as neon logos sputter overhead. Over the lower slung apartments, Eden discerns mint shingles and high beams that ridge the skyline. They mark this part of town as an outlier of the sticks and suburbia which only seem to exist in lifestyle magazines.
When Eden arrives at her complex, the sky deepens. The elevator is out. She must climb the stairs.
She invites John to climb with her.
Eden keeps a straight face, but underneath she feels curious, faraway, removed from life as she came to know it. She blurts out that she’s an insomniac. John nods with similarly sleepy eyes.
Both strive to awaken by sharing a bed.
Eden thinks back to the wharf, how the dockyard is spattered with bitter tides. There is a current between her and John. It rains on her, harder and harder, with each step. When she unlocks her door, he nudges it open. He asks for a glass of water shortly after he comes in.
Eden wonders if she should shower, but John empties his glass before she can. The haunted woman comes to mind as he nears her. She recalls her overbearing uncle whose puritanism was a reason she no longer went to church. Another reason was the clergy with their frugal shifts who insisted God meant for us to suffer. Eden left that all behind in the old town. Even though the placed birthed her, she is an imposter amongst the seafarers and chatelaines who still pay their tithes.
John is a pious sanctum. He entrances Eden. Hot waves roll in what little space dwindles between them. The strands of his hair are infused with the moonlight that peals through her windows. Her eyes start to swim. They sink to his feet, then rise to the muscularity that makes his chest ripple. She is no stranger to the turmoil of wonder. It lures her with bountiful prospects.
Except now Eden can quench her thirst.
John is pensive. He gives thought to his every gesture. He cups her cheeks. He grazes her crown when he is no longer sufficed to smooth the planes between her eyes and cheekbones. He kisses her until her hair is disheveled. When Eden lifts her sweater to uncover her breasts, John pushes it off altogether. The buds of his fingers give rise to ecstasy. They kindle her bosom, kneading the spheres before they roll the peaks. He leans in to suckle them until they are luminous.
Eden steadies herself against the wall. John kneels to pull down her leggings, walks his fingers to her navel, and softens the undersides of her breasts with his palms. He resolves to enkindle her despite the frigid precision that tempers his grasp.
Eden straightens to let what remains of her clothes crumple to the floor. Her legs part to welcome his appraisal. His tongue hits her like waves along a torrid coast. Each lick ebbs into a molten inlet, one after another, which leads to his ocean. She goes limp in his hands once they encircle her waist. She thinks of lonely isles. Their only constant is to be struck by waters. Eden knows the logic as much as the disaffection of being alone. People are fickle and unkind.
But what yearning John incites is so great that it makes his touch a relief, a warm consolation, that is only human.
She can’t think, but she wants to speak.
Don’t say anything stupid.
Her mind races. Only his name rings in her head. Even if she never sees him again, nothing will be the same.
The more things change…
John abandons her sex to fix his eyes upon her. He holds her gaze and delves within its recesses to wrest out her humanity.
Eden grows intent. She leads him to her bed. She sets her sights on the handsome brawn that curls before her. She resolves to taste the spill of his fleshly expanse. When he offers his restless sex, she accepts the endowment. It is taut, tempting, fine skin that eclipses into a tawny summit. She licks it softly, sweetly, idling against the tip until it stirs. One hand moves across the head while the other fondles the base. As the former encloses gently, John enjoys the friction and Eden enjoys the pungent extract that creams along her tongue.
Lewdly, Eden wonders aloud if John had always held this in mind from when they were at the potluck; if he revelled in the idea of his cock in her mouth to oblige her tastes.
John admits he’d be lying if he said the prospect never crossed his mind.
Eden cushions his penis between her breasts. She presses it, holds it, lets it glide within the valley still moist from his kisses. It warms her heart when it begins to pulse.
John withdraws to lay beside her. Eden floats over him when he does. She proffers her own sex as she seeks out his. He thumbs along the mouth as he licks the clit. Then, he pushes his tongue in as far as it will go. Eden grasps to incline his hips upward. She laves at his crown. Her kisses bathe the stiffness and cruise into its curve. At the same time, Eden swoons as John returns the favour. She moves to enclose his fingers as he presses them further within. She sinks into his warm harbour that curls her toes, then rises to engulf the delicious shaft.
Eventually, Eden tears herself away when John rasps. He edges her off of him to move over her. Against her clit, she feels his cock palpitate. The aroma of her sex — an odorous, crisp briny scent as if she emerged from the sea like a siren — mixes with his own. They are balmed with the musk of one another. This arouses Eden more. She inhales deeply, freely.
Eden closes her eyes. She reclines as John crouches over her, hoarse, fraught but patient all the same. His lips ghost along the tip of her nose, then down her chin to rest at her collarbone until his lips returns to hers. She takes his tongue into her mouth and touches its tip with her own. The tongues feverishly dance long after he plunges within. Each time the penis sinks, each time the cunt absorbs, the tips of the tongues touch.
Warmth between the tongue and the sex.
Back and forth.
Eden ceases to be anything but the breath, the suckles, the sex that swims in the moisture it makes. A delirious thread of her imagination recalls the trimmings of their potluck — thick, wet, juicy — and dares to empathize.
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