Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit. Maybe we’ll be laughing about even these things in the future…
The slogan should spur Eden to build a brave new world, brick by brick, but it doesn’t. People are hopeless. They endow magnates and bankrupt those who pay it forward. Those who are least inclined to venture beyond are those who pursue dead ends. Everyone yearns for success, but they make the same mistakes.
Eden knows that nothing changes. All remains as before. Each fate curls the next. Like blood, it threads people together. It is a gnarled likeness they strive to unknot.
Except these links cannot be untangled.
She looks to a clock whose ticks pace each second. The library amplifies the incessant metric of time. It narrows her study carrel.
Eden hasn’t slept in days. Everywhere she turns, she sees herself.
Constrained to this bureau. Not unlike her peers or predecessors whose etchings scar its alcoves. She palms the inscriptions and the spines of books shelved in the surrounding aisles. Tactile reality tethers her to the maze.
There is no escape. Only descent.
As Eden falls, her gaze is affixed to the sky. She can’t bring herself to look down because the ground is clouded over, obscured by plight and impermanence. No safe place to land. Nothing too divine to bear wings. She just goes down.
A blind alley in time.
John assures her that everyone falls. No matter where they’re from, where they’re headed, how fast or slow — everyone faces the same end. He recalls the murals of presidents and professoriates which litter the campus. Money defines each and every effigy. Not flukes or fate. Not even soul.
Eden eyes a Latin proverb that tinsels a wall unit. The words are encased in glass and carved into a plaque of aventurine: “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”
John and Eden are young. The world owes them nothing. This truth fractures the inscription. She wanders the immaculate corridors. She is always hungry. Although she’s not sure what for.
She inspects acknowledgments which dignify faculty and alumni, prosperous magnates and prodigies. Glossy profiles accentuate the dreams sold by tour guides who quip that your portrait will one day hang alongside them.
For Eden, these sentiments belong to a corporate cadre that is disparate and irreconcilable. They don’t inspire her. They remind her of all the things she doesn’t — and can’t — have. These platitudes are a mirage. They bleed her vitals and seize whatever remains in vicinal reservoirs. Wealth subsumes the extract. Like paper, it is razed, dried, and pieced into profit that is bound to be pilfered by the elegy who snort whatever’s left.
The portraits sneer if one looks hard enough. No one admits what truly frames those within: luxury cars, cuisines, and palatial homes whose respites are lakeshore inns or cottages. Eden remembers when she was a little girl, and her father took her on impromptu road trips. She used to love their downtown drives. She felt like a princess.
Then, she grew up and realized she was a peasant. She could never dream to afford keys to those stately colonials or upscale condos that streaked midtown boulevards.
Now, Eden and John take road trips. They cruise along the old interstate through backroads which cleave the valley. Every so often, a manor would emerge. It stands amidst celadon wands of pine. Tall hedges and planked walks turn up even in the middle of nowhere.
Eden thinks of the inhabitants, inheritants, afloat without the slightest tremor of fear or uncertainty. She finds herself adrift yet tethered to earthy tinctures gleaned from pinenes and petrichor.
John wears a knit shirt. As he catches the hem, Eden strips down to a high waisted bikini. She can’t swim. She makes a point to rove the shallowest waves. John follows after he toes off his sandals.
Not long after, they lounge on their towels in the sand. Eden stares after his reclined form and sees him as a husk not unlike the cairns which idle in his grasp. Indecision wells inside her, the reckless desire to repossess whatever parts of herself she entrusted and bestowed to efface every morsel, then banish every intimacy.
If only one could become fixedly detached, to unravel what had been fondly entwined.
She learns — and resolves — to smother her affections, to instead breathe life into studious ambitions. No helloes or goodbyes, just the foresight to hold her breath against any whiff of attachment. She denounces stolen moments because she lives on borrowed time. Years ago, a neurologist spoke to the providence that steals into her brain. Day by day, it calcifies the nodal foci and hastens nerves which swathe beneath the surface. It makes Eden wonder what, if anything truly sets in or ossifies to contain enmity that is too hard to face. There is always a part of her that wonders what is real from imagined.
Then, there’s John.
Eden wonders if he knows how intently she watches him.
How he replaces his glasses, sweeps through his playlist, or muses upon what shapes take form in the clouds.
How he’s a man of few words and even fewer friends.
How he seldom elaborates.
How cute he looks when he rolls up his sleeves to his elbows and sports tan chinos.
These clothes are never cast hastily aside. They are pared off, lain over a chair or wardrobe, foreboding a clean departure and his resolve not to leave any trace of himself behind. Less like an ally than an emissary in the war love wages. Eden gives John her heart while he guards his.
Still, he gives her something.
John is too enigmatic. She has yet to reconcile his pensive desire with frigid formalities. He looks like someone who has been raised and kept with unsparing precision.
But they’ve got a date.
The art gallery.
Eden’s supposed to meet John at his lab, then they’ll head out. His building edges the university district and neighbours several infirmaries. The view from below reminds her of a theatre screen. Lustrous panels with windows on either side of the entrance. They refract the dusk in lurid peals: crimson and violet enamelled by flaxen russet.
Things are colourless inside. Just sterile parchment. Walls hook coats and smocks. Researchers scurry past, absconding pleasantries. Glass partitions cleave narrow lanes.
Eden finds John crouched over a workbench. He dials back a microscope to examine intangible cultures. Her mind hasn’t been playing tricks on her. He looks as good as she remembers. Navy henley shirt rolled up to his elbows to bare muscular forearms. They were sculpted by hard labour and rock climbing, Eden discovered, when he shared more about himself in their private messages.
John adjusts a burette. The slightest tension in his hands evinces virility. It is spawned by veins affixed to fingers whose warmth kindles her intimates.
When they first met, Eden noticed his hands first. They weren’t frail or callused. The nails were trimmed, but the beds were long. They capped shapely fingers which drummed to punctuate what time passed and the virile dexterity that warmed her with each flex.
Now that Eden thinks about it, John has never really run his hands over her. They don’t take flight. They take stock. They’re meticulous. Just another way John unnerves her. Intellect and repose bear the wisdom of peace and compromise, knowing it is better to bend than break.
Except when he’s doing the breaking.
Eden falls to pieces whenever he’s around. John exists to seize and quantify. He takes hold and eases into a succulent cadence. She can’t hide. She lays exposed in those hands. They purpose her flaccid physique and graft an inarticulate appraisal.
Until the afterglow when her husk of a body assumes a new dimension of torment.
Eden’s perpetual mode of defense, avoidance, against the sheer prospect of experience; a longing for flight which removed her from scenes of passion and change. She is cautious, loathed to the precipice.
For John, she thinks to keel over the edge.
Except Eden shrinks in his grasp. His beauty illuminates her every blemish. His grace inflames her girth. Lights surge to ignite the tinctures to a vivid stain. She realizes they are worlds apart once the glare wanes to shadow.
She and John are together, but so much apart.
Neither separate nor equal.
Their eyes always meet when Eden tries to gauge his reactions. She is hardly fluent in the international language, but a devout student nonetheless. Modest efforts are made when she teases and treads. She trades notes with Ava and Mia. It takes little to nothing for Eden to emulate their prowess, all sworn to deprive John of his senses.
The licks and tricks which enunciate the maudlin murmurs.
The sleight of her hands.
The fluid rhythm.
The move from a grasp of the whole shaft to the softest touch of its tip, then fixedly kneading the entirety and teasing the curls around it.
Eden does this to John on campus. He incenses her when he caresses what flesh is within reach, luxuriating in the excess. She likes to think that he sees her as a voluptuous woman; plying him while advisors and analysts were otherwise occupied, palming his heartbeat underneath his shirt. The penis swims in the moistures of the mouth, the sex, the valley between the heaving breasts, sometimes edging against the posterior orifice.
John never tells her he likes this.
John never tells her anything.
Eden will canvass the cock, marvel at its imperceptible jerk, but she has yet to discern what yields its protrusion.
But John knows how he arouses her.
She tells him why.
She finds herself admitting to uncanny albeit sultry observations: his contagious quiescence, tidal respects; how scarce words bespeak a pensive poise and clipped courtesies along with an intrigue she finds impassive. John pares her not unlike his garden. He plies her sex as he would a wildflower. Armed with her avowal, he allays the petals and tempers the pistil.
John has the upper hand. Maybe that’s what draws her to his. The fingers have been languid. They sought her sex, suffuse it, repose amidst the lips. They would content themselves to circle the apex or survey another orifice. Every touch was magnified by the hands, under erogenous perusal or within their resolute grasp.
Eden struggles to return his gaze. The eyes are inauspicious, glinting, looking too deeply. It takes nothing for John to climb over her. He mounts the wall even as it is teethed by rocks and steep drop offs amidst the onset of monsoon. Eden just pants up the range, barely scaling the hurdle. She begrudges his negligible gestures; the measured, static endearment while her heart races. But John stalks ahead, intent to reign over the world below, so he ascends to the summit while Eden dissolves into the expanse. Before she does, he eyes her as one does a feral animal. All smiles against her unruly curls and FUPA along with restless, countless insecurities.
Nothing to the contrary.
If only those hands could talk.
Eden recalls how the hands are remiss to tender his sex to her mouth. After some cursory licks, her tongue kneads the shaft. The hands discern what lust takes shape despite her inelegance. In those hands, the skin she lives in — the interior she starves to no avail, the homely bosom and distended midriff — bemuses itself into a pleasant likeness. The uneven skin is no longer at odds.
John smiles. He must’ve read her mind. He always does.
Minutes later, his hands warm hers. They feather her palms. He thumbs the veins between the knuckles of her fingers. Lunar curvatures throb and he fulfils the sallow crescents.
“I see you finally came up for air.”
“I was on the top study floor,” she shrugs. “You can’t come up for air from high altitudes.”
John smirks. “You can climb higher.”
“You would know.”
Something about the innuendo makes Eden’s heart thud and echo like it’s empty. Ava and Mia come to mind. The women are libidinous loci amidst a pitiful myriad. Devouts whose illusions moor them to a fibrous reality that chides them for independence or intellect. It’s a game whose prize is earned by playing dumb, playing house, playing into eager hands. Eden never knew where they came from. She never knew how they could yearn to walk when they refuse to take a stand. She never knew how love could be a drug in which one could enjoy the lows as they clawed in the wake of its high.
I know now.
The museum seems small. Pungent odours cloud over pasty diffusers. They creep into Eden. Cheap, incisive aromas of jasmine and chamomile. The sharp scents sting her eyes. She blinks and tries to inspect the artwork through the fog.
Eden wanders aimlessly. She’s drawn to the artist statements. Prestigious awards and cathartic retreats. New faces with old money. She envies them. They create what they love, live how they please, get away with it.
Because they can afford it.
Eden has a losing hand, but she still wouldn’t trade the cards she’s been dealt. Everything always figures itself out. For every failure, there’s unlikely success. Life grinds on, vacant and desperate, sustained by the hope that everything will pay off.
Suddenly, the space between her and John shifts. It’s lively and relentless. Like something is waiting to happen. She feels his eyes on her. She swelters under the weight of them.
Does he think I’m pretty?
Eden turns to John. He’s engrossed in a painting on her right. It’s a murky abstract piece. Two bodies, a man and a woman, emerge from the inkblots. Smears blacken each sex, prudently, as if they detail the perfumed garden stalk by stalk, and effect the convergence of the legs. The man reclines alongside the woman. They have no shame. They make John’s eyes twinkle like beacons. The figures are awash with nascent rays.
It makes Eden jealous. “Maybe that will be us one day.”
“You know, close.”
John wrinkles his brow. He eyes the edges, searching for something to take form. “Closer?”
“Close at all.”
Eden is piqued by the other patrons. Mostly couples who tangle around them. She regards the linked limbs, breaths, extremities. Figures savour hard lights or plait the shadows. Thinking of John closing his hand over hers makes her ache. The prospect of deeper intimacy mortifies her as much as it deluges her.
Then, John shrugs. “We’re close enough.”
Eden swallows hard. John slides his hands in his pockets. Quite fitting since the hands which steal into her are unseen. They chafe her heart to bequeath a dark, foreign force that trickles to the interior. Her eyes clench. They swim through the astral plane behind her eyelids, searching for some, any semblance of indifference. She tries to forage through herself to recover the composure that’s held her all this time; the blight that Ava and Mia lack; the poise that inclines her to a wisdom which is seldom more intimate than impassive.
But she finds nothing.
John says nothing.
His silence conjures a morsel of her old self. Maybe the placid, shrewd solitude — piece by piece — would return.
He checks his watch. “I’ve got to head back to the lab. My experiments should be done.”
She stays quiet.
“Do you want to come?”
Nodding, Eden rummages through her purse to retrieve titanic cat eyes. The sharp bifocals conceal her gaze, so John can’t see how intently she watches him. She inspects his retreating form, scouring every inch for flaws to disillusion what must be an effigy. She grasps at straws: scars, pores, freckles, pigmented lips.
No, these are perfect imperfections. She’s gone over them dozens of times. Literally and figuratively. It’s too late to talk herself out of the attraction.
Eden knows the walk to John’s lab is a short one, but he still leads the way. They pass through scanned locks. Not one word passes between them. He replaces microscopic slides once they arrive to his workstation. Every so often, he makes a note.
Eden doesn’t remove her sunglasses.
His lips curl. “Are you getting your Corey Hart on this evening?”
A desperate warmth floods her cheeks. Even though her eyes and stance are guarded, she feels exposed as if John can see right through her.
Which he does.
“Tell me what you meant,” he says. “You don’t think we’re close?”
She tears off the shades. “Why do I have to tell? Why am I always doing all the talking?”
“You’re the one who said it.”
“I’m the one who says everything.”
John crosses his arms. “What should I say? What should I do?”
Eden shifts her weight from foot to foot. “You’re supposed to know. You’re older. You’re the man…”
“I thought you were a feminist.”
“I am,” she flushes. “That’s not what I meant…”
“Then, what do you mean?”
“What are we doing, John? What are we?”
“What do you think we are?”
“Tell me what you think.”
“I think we’re close.”
She trembles. “Is that all?”
“You have nothing else to say?”
“Just tell me what you want me to say, and I’ll say it.”
In that moment, Eden realizes that she is more like light than fire. Her eyes are an earnest russet. Her hair is black but casts an umber halo. Her tan is plain, not luminescent. Unlike the curvaceous bombshells whose figures tightly, richly fill out their wardrobes, her ungainly body writhes in shapeless clothes which are consciously oversized. Eden takes great care to quash rather than incense heady flames. But she knows how to fight fire with fire. She flat-irons out any ardent ringlets, scalds off daily grime in her shower, sweats out her respects in loose androgynous apparel.
John looks to the window. Eden catches his eye in their reflections. She blinks furiously as if to make up her face. No words pass between them. Yet every move she makes before the mirror image enunciates her fulsome build, the pendulous crests of her breasts and rear, all replete with hard light.
John finds himself appraising the spectacle. He goes to her, rolls up his sleeves. He lingers a whisper away not unlike all else he withholds: tacit sweet nothings, the clasp of his hand, wraithlike kisses, banter which leads nowhere. All intimacies she neither infers nor imagines.
Flushed with warmth, Eden edges the space between them. Her tongue snakes to the corners of her mouth.
John doesn’t budge. “Cat got your tongue?”
Here, kittie kittie…
Eden half leads, half drags him to a darkroom. Her doctorate is in cinema, so perhaps what leads her there is instinct. This space is meant for photosensitive cell cultures. But for Eden, it’s just another theatre. Lamps swathe everything in crimson and render this a place out of time, purpose, or consequence. A stage whereupon darkness bemuses mantles or heavy curtains. Eden guides John’s hands to the small of her back and walks hers to the nape of his neck.
Another silence, another void takes hold as he struggles to undress her. How can he be so maladroit in ways, but dexterous in others?
As they fall upon each other, she envisions arcane, carnivalesque orgies whose entrants are heartened by masks. Eden becomes possessed. John inhales the musky scent of her hair, her body, the sex as she encloses him. She assumes the role of a queen; an inimitable lioness who is immortalized by a mane of gold, an unruly coiffure that wreathes an unruly body.
John is no king but a pacifier who is just as, if not more regal with a temperate phallus. He feigns resistance just to see her torturously pitch forth, clawing after an apex, where he need only touch the vulva with the tip. Then, she teases him. She stills when he’s about to come, as if she seeks less release than repose; and John would lay there, racked by the desire to be caressed yet wary of her prerogative. He would edge closer, graze his sex against whatever is nearest, trying to come by means of any softness.
But he can’t.
Eden resumes upon his miserable realization. Kissing, swallowing, clenching. Until their bodies are luminous, balmed by their pursuits and exhaustion.
Eden closes her eyes. She imagines John speaking, telling her she’s beautiful, assuring her that he cares, promising her forever. He climbs. She climbs too.
Like waters whose tides heave and swell.
The hands, mouth, and tongue signify the ascent. They fall to one another with licks, bites, the parting of her legs.
No words pass between them. Just wavy breaths, suckling straits, the spill of the penis in the moisture.
When all is silent, of the two of them, Eden is the first to dress. Apparel becomes a means to escape as much as expunge. She hears and makes for the buzz of motion sensors and the ancient fluorescents beyond the lab doors. The threshold looms before them like a silver monolith. It blackens the scarlet that peals upon them.
John remains silent. Eden wants to hold his hand, rest her chin on his head while he leaned on her shoulder, but he makes no move to close the space between them.
Lonesome, in their disparate pupilage and proclivities, they know both too much and too little, but neither yield to despair.
At least, John doesn’t.
Eden struggles to meet his eyes, but she finds something she recognizes when she does. They are alight with curious brilliance. She has seen this a hundred times in herself. Not too long after when they started seeing each other, she asked what drew him to her. It was her face, he admitted. So, whenever she passed a mirror, her eyes lit up as she searched her reflection. Although she has yet to find what caught John, she zeroes in on what drives him away.
What should drive him away.
His advance is conclusive, but she is barely aware of it. Somehow, the intent repose, the insouciance of an analyst, entrances the object of focus. John doesn’t make Eden feel like she’s pretty, but he makes her feel like she’s the only girl in the world. He watches, listens, cuddles intently whenever she has him to herself. Sweetly, he smiles and murmurs affirmatives as she volunteers random facts or insights. His statuesque posture is hardly impersonal by her side. She finds refuge when his fingers thread hers.
She rasps. “What do you want? Is there anything you want me to hear? Is there anything you want to say?”
“Tell me what you want to hear. Tell me what you want me to say.”
John looks into her soul. If that’s not magic, Eden doesn’t know what is. Those eyes caught her long before she realized she was even falling. They unmask the empty freedom of being alone and beseech a yearning that may only be sated by impact, what ecstasy he may endow in the hereafter. John gauges her pulse as much as he hastens it.
But John remains silent.
And, the spell is broken.
Image credit: © Alexander Krivitskiy 2021Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in