Eden hates this class. Captive to the minutiae of cinema studies, she follows the methodic clicks of the lecture. Each slide comes thick and fast.
Her heart is heavy. Her eyes are vacant. She is no stranger to this campus and the errands of tutelage. Undergrads colour the autumn grounds, then shrivel into the winter term. Few remain for summer or spring. Just a cavalcade of courses that goes.
The latest slide whitens as the projector gives way to footage of a jump cut. A woman treads a sylvan expanse. Avid lips precede sensuous breadth. Silky ringlets curl like a burnished aureole around her head. Dust kicks out from her boots. She murmurs that the air is thick with mint and lemongrass. Her fingers dangle in the breeze. They ride an unseen wave that crashes against Nazareth’s “Love Hurts.” She twirls a crimson ribbon around her wrist and pulls her hair into a ponytail.
Eden knows this woman too well. She can no longer suspend her disbelief. The woman is light, but Eden knows it is a light of illusion; a beacon that flares in the distance of a dark tunnel with no end in sight, or a paragon of paradise lost.
If only things that mattered could cease to be finite.
The lecturer says movies express hearty visions. They compare and contrast everyday words from cinema whose language is marked by edits and ellipses. Eden thinks language just conveys what’s within reason. Our hearts leap to fathom what’s left unsaid.
Except she never cared to. Her heart throbs only because it has to. Desire is unheard of. The chambers and ventricles dilute rather than congeal. Pride steels her ambition.
Until that damn potluck.
Eden doesn’t know much about heart. Most of her time is impersonal, intently monitoring the valves and veins. But tension, hatred, and indecision always manage to steal through. They make Eden aware of her flaws. She doesn’t care to define them. All she does is weld them shut. She solders the scraps into a suit of armour from what remains.
Tiny fires pulse within, measly currents which flicker and stir under her skin. They keep her awake. Their cores yearn to explode, but Eden corrals them to a furnace. Resolve wells over its forge. Embers rage against tiresome escarpment and ashen valleys which have yet to be engulfed. What protrudes are callous rods whose ends sear crimson. Their heat whitens. They are struck, then shaped from indistinct shrapnel to an alchemy of tumult and resolve.
The armour comes to life in a vaporous plume. Eden takes pride in the gauntlet. The metal husk secures every reckoning and reprieve.
Until a spark kindles the interior, a faint albeit heavy flutter she can’t shake, and traverses the heart like fire. It warms the blood and mounts waves which hasten her pulse. The flame licks a pair of lips that curl along what waves they break until they come.
Then, there’s John. Something about him makes Eden struggle to braze her steely enclosure. She begins to hate the forge; the condensation, the steam that chokes her. Her lance grows burdensome and slackens her grasp. She realizes the armour is as onerous as protective.
Conversely, John is bemused by her. He just smiles. He always has a smile for her, always disarming even if it has yet to wear her down. Visions slant through the glass over the bridge of his nose. They encumber her shield. Insights flood the remaining armature as his toes graze the soles of her feet. He discerns mere ripples which shrivel and swell. He makes light of where others see an ocean. To John, everything, everyone is tenuous.
Temperate at best.
Fickle at worst.
Eden imagines how wonderful it would be to hold such insight; to know she could have anything she wanted because everything came down to nothing at all. John lacks armour. His impervious defences are purely ethos. She discovers this too little, too late once her inhibitions subside.
She imagines John clad in a starched lab coat, hunched over a workbench, inspecting reagents. Livid fluorescents absorb every alcove. Varnished cupboards trim the nightly hums from his computer station from whence he gleans repose.
He’s right at home.
Unlike Eden whose eyes always manage to land upon some foreboding overture in the film library. The pursuit of knowledge holds transient treasures. Once they are found, they lose the prestige they once possessed. No longer diamonds, they become spades in the excavation of hidden gems deeper still. Except each film reel and ledger is bound to be fool’s gold.
Eden figures this is just how things are, how they’re meant to be. There are no exceptions. All who venture for answers or purpose discover the pursuit is one of perpetuity; and the sorrow of one problem after another has no terminus beyond that of one’s own. Indecision urges her to cleave every seam, strain to hear every track, even as the curtains fall and darkness begins to close in.
John is a beacon, sometimes a siren whose airy peals take a toll. There are no words, just incisions. She finds a ravaged fortress in the effusive linens whose pillows spill over rumpled blankets. There are no knights. Just daze. Any joust is subsumed by a dismount, caught in the cushions, wherein they lay down their arms.
In John, Eden sees that to love is to hate. Desire and enmity are interwoven. The latter contains depth and is as, sometimes more irrevocable than the former. Contempt overwhelms our innermost selves and renders us a throng of nerves subsumed within its vast expanse. Honey is in the heart while venom bleeds into the universe. Both are wrought from tessellations whose designs kilter whatever we will into existence.
When the woman onscreen dissolves, the lecture hall swells with thunderous praise. The actress emerges from the front row once the final credit rolls. She rattles off her name, means, and motifs that accrues on the local film circuit. She says there’s a party tonight—priceless nostalgia, complements of an antique projector and grainy, deciduous trees which will flicker onscreen.
Eden never looks twice when it comes to people like the actress. Vanity clings to them like a second skin. They want to be vultures. Not birds of a feather, but birds of prey. They come to campus. They come to roost. They forget who they are when the world outside comes to get them.
Eden is an albatross. She despises colourful plumage. Not like the usual jays who read, then pen their numbers on the actress’ palm. She knows the party is bound to become a shameless kernel of sex, drugs, and hearty DJs who accept all requests.
Hard lights bathe the interior in swathes of crimson while throbbing acoustics breathe life on the floor. Hypnotic beats pour out of heavy speakers. The music is underscored by bright, kaleidoscopic tinctures that waft from a DJ booth. Icy piles of beer and soda clutter bulky, nondescript crates.
Despite a dainty straw, Eden enjoys hearty swigs from a red party cup. She twirls the candy-striped plastic with her tongue and tries to shape what ice hasn’t melted.
The DJ cracks open a can and toasts the floor: “Keeping it loud! Keeping it real!”
Eden blows bubbles into her cola without so much as a glance their way. She trains her eyes on a projector whose frames blanket the adjacent wall. Gritty images flicker into one another. She searches the spectrum of light that ripples before her.
But it is an arbitrary pursuit. Something she knows all too well. Her gaze strays to posters and placards. Studious fidelity engenders reservations. Academics tend to be strait-laced. Art is their refuge.
Maybe that’s why John liked her. He observed the time they shared, fuming, likely scouring her for morsels he could salvage.
That’s why Eden loves disco. Lucid missives backlit by heavy, funky baselines and eclectic beats. All of which enunciate embracing life to a spangled extreme despite its emptiness. No need to face her problems when she can just dance them away.
Jackie Moore knows just as much, as a lost soul who years for freedom alongside her lover’s refuge.
I’ve got love on my mind.
The songstress is a lovesick apostate. Her heart is at odds with her libido. Both lead to an astral expanse that is suffused with maudlin constellations.
Ain’t no use in me wasting time.
However the stars blur or glisten, the path swells onward. Soles trudge ahead because heaven is afoot. But each junction is a point of no return.
I’ve got you on my brain.
Her lover is a mirror. They bear the same words, quirks, and coquetries. Except she craves the pyres of love—aches, intrigue, clashes—while her lover wants to idle in a paradise of lovemaking. So the reflection is true to life, but one need not squint to discern fractures.
I ain’t fixing to play no games.
The voice, seizing one embrace after another, falls into the trap of love. Its snare rouses insatiable passion, to which the object of desire subsides if they should reciprocate.
Baby, you’re my life.
Lovers turn inward and indulge themselves, to connect—romance, reverence, any intimacy out there is pretext to connect. Such that life sets upon itself under modest conditions.
Give me one more chance to prove my love.
Except one never knows and learns too late that what quivers inside is more replete with anguish than love outside. Love itself doesn’t satisfy or turn heads, but it looks damn good considering which ensue in its absence.
Baby, you’re so fine.
The beauty is not the desire of a voyeur, but the caprice of a lover. It cuts through lonely hearts with the urgency that swelters others.
I promise to be true, only to you.
Love is neither lurid nor silent. It is contrived and inarticulate. Such as the curious hushed, wanton contempt of whom realizes that ineloquent pleas yield undesired effects.
This time, baby, we won’t be in and out of love…
Success is a glorious but wearisome purpose. Especially for Eden who never admits—or accepts—fault. She sees enough in the Mias, the Avas, and the like to know that a pittance is all one can hope to gain. Pride and sensibility proffer the comfort of conceit. Nothing ventured, nothing lost.
The scientist whose methodical prowess culls unobtrusive charms. Never one for sex or relationships, he swore, despite his meticulous pursuit. How tenderly he qualified and quantified her beauty against the ugly world which renders her anything but…
Even now, Eden thinks of him. She wants him to hold her, if only one more time. But even then, it would be the same as before. She never lives in the moment. Every instant is scarred or bound to bleed into another. Which made every one with John bittersweet.
Eden knows everything’s just a matter of time. It’ll hurt less as long as she does more.
All Eden has left is an empty cup and a regal pair of cat eyes. The cola fails to sweeten her mood, but Jackie Moore works her magic.
A little too well.
She sees John. One hand buried in his pocket while the other grasps a sweaty beer. A stark contrast of his profile emerges from the colourful motley that peals from the DJ booth.
Subtle shifts indicate that he sees her too.
It can’t be…
Eden takes a deep breath and, against her better judgment, trains her eyes in his direction. She tries to search his gaze, but he doesn’t let her. Of course, they were bound to cross paths. Even though his grounds are nowhere near hers. He often stays in his lab past midnight, as much for thesis progress as for the painstaking, impersonal satisfaction he gleans from routine. Testing, typing, replacing goggles and gloves. The smell of order is one of ethanol and aseptic dyes. After all, there’s nothing more overrated than the company of others.
Eden wonders if John ever thinks of her, calls after her; if she lives in him as he in her.
If others make themselves at home.
Not that Eden expects any more, any less. It’s not like they were ever friends. They met through his colleagues, most of whom she barely knew. Everyone said he wasn’t much of a talker.
But he was there.
They barely spoke when they first met, but she felt him most; the most lurid in what moments which trickled by, the continuity that threads each pause, the lone flash of prospect. It felt like they were alone together. He was a virile archetype whose muscles are tidal. Waves bunched under his collar. Others rippled as he rolled up his sleeves to bare his forearms. She felt like slop beside him: smoky, coarse, and too far gone to clear.
But he watched her like she was riveting.
Like she had something he wanted.
It grew stronger as the night wore on. She felt it climb like currents, irrevocably lapping, drawing them together until they coalesce.
Eden never felt anything like it. There were others who weren’t exactly memorable, but their clumsy efforts made them impossible to forget. John was different. Something ran between them. She still doesn’t know what it was.
What it is.
Out of this world, she figures. Astral aches which pulse through the sky. Like lightning that splits the clouds.
Lightning never strikes twice.
The DJ is loud. The actress is louder. She inclines them to gather round. There are more people now. The room heavies and swells.
Eden considers leaving, but the swarm closes in. She scans the crowd for John. She resolves to be subtle, but once she sees him, she can’t stop looking. He wears a flannel shirt over a linen one. Both are shades of cobalt which complement his jeans. His glasses refract sundry neons.
Eden refuses to lose. She shoves through the mob, head held high, until she reaches the door. The lawn is spangled with fairy lights and paper lanterns. A clique of smokers claim a picnic table. One of them edges between two others, content to leisurely puff as their hands wander.
Eden recovers her phone to search for the next bus. She chides herself for running, but figures she handled things pretty well.
She takes a deep breath, runs her tongue along the ridges of her molars. No matter how hard she knots her resolve, the poise she assumes unravels. Everything spools back to fractures of dusk which stole through her curtains, the twinge in each kiss, the spill of warmth through their threaded fingers. It feels surreal to find herself at this bitter end instead of a sweet hereafter.
“What’ve you been up to?” John chuckles. “Besides ignoring my messages.”
She shrugs. “Nothing, you know, since that took so much time.”
“Time enough at last.”
“The actress is from one of my classes,” she offers. “Why are you here?”
“She dates someone in my lab. We’re here for the beer.”
“You’re not big on beer.”
John laughs. “So, you remembered me after all.”
Eden crosses her arms. She goes rigid, watching his lips curl as he nods knowingly. He observes the gesture out of habit. She struggles not to waver, to shift her weight from foot to foot. Vainly bracing herself, she stiffens when he nears.
The air between them thickens. Something of which she’s painfully aware of in the absence of his hands, dug in his pockets, once he lingers inches away. She resists the urge to close her eyes and let him swim over her, flood the infernal harbour and inky peaks.
Eden tilts her head. “I see you’re still not big on talking either.”
“I’m big on doing.”
She swallows hard. “And, what are you doing?”
“Whatever you want me to.”
Eden snickers. “Yeah, whatever I want.”
In the distance, Thelma Houston pines: Don’t leave me this way…
“I missed you,” he murmurs. “I miss you.”
They never dated, she realizes. They just hung out a few times, watched some movies, shared some plates, enjoyed artful installations, walked the night. Stuff anyone could do.
Except Eden never lets anyone in.
No, they never dated. They just skimmed each other over, always on the edge. He wouldn’t fall. He just climbed, higher and higher, while she clambered after him. How badly she wanted to attain some morsel that was remotely meridian.
“I miss you too.”
The statement rings like an accusation. She blames him. Only he can make her feel like this. Whenever he speaks, she feels each syllable curl his tongue.
John finally draws out his hands. His thumbs bud her cheeks, then muse along her collarbones. “I still don’t know what to say.”
“I don’t know what I miss.”
Eden wets her lips. They quiver as her eyes become glassy. She rubs at his wrists. Softly, she shakes her head between his palms.
John opens his mouth. The glaze in his eyes mirrors hers. She wants to see it all, have it all, feed into a divine reel whose film envisions paradise. A dusky halo takes shape while everything falls apart. So much swells within as if it were bound to spill out.
But nothing comes.
Eden blows out a long breath. Although she softens her voice, it still sounds defensive. “I don’t know what I miss because I don’t know what I remember…”
“All this time, I thought we had something,” she frowns. “Something neither of us could walk away from. Something to talk about.”
“A prison you can put into words?”
Eden rolls her eyes. “Clearly.”
John pulls his bifocals down the bridge of his nose and squints at the cup she retrieves. Eden thumbs the ridges which pattern the base. They make her think of how dead life is. She eats, drinks, breathes, scavenges for what sleep she can grasp; but she lacks vitality. Nothing she wants makes sense. Everything is impossible. For what she wants, she knows nothing will come. Although she can never hope to mount the summits John climbs, he rouses her to consummate peaks; and in these heights dwell points, not exactly yearnings but remnants of them, which are redressed in moderation, so she knows they are just delusions.
She knows there is nothing to wish for.
Even if there was, wishes never come true.
Eden figures John knows this too. Just climbing and climbing, until he reached a ledge and saw there was nothing but regret ahead. Except there’s no stopping, no going back, no denying what lies ahead.
“I’m gonna go.”
John adjusts his glasses. His eyes grow disarmingly tender. “You need a ride?”
“You sure about that?”
Eden looks to the sky, trying to find some word or reason to refuse. “Pretty sure.”
John’s eyes flick to hers, leery of the soft concession.
Leaving should be easy, obviously logical, but Eden hesitates.
It’s like grad school. Everyone equates their validity and humanity with success. They champion the right to life—food, healthcare, shelter—but say little to the meaning of it. Every little thing counts, they say, all work is work. Despite the slim chance that anyone will get a job or even graduate. Everything matters but not everything defines you.
Eden looks to John. Her mouth is dry. Her eyes go to his throat. “Are you going my way?”
“Just tell me where you want me to go.”
Swallowing hard, she searches his gaze before she speaks again. “Why don’t you tell me where you want to go?”
John inches closer as her cheeks burn.
“Tell me, John.”
His hand catches the rise of her jeans. The rivet comes undone as the material draws in his fist. She touches his hand, thwarting its ascent.
Eden shoots him a reproving look. His hand doesn’t move. Neither does she.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he relents. “I just know that you’re hot.”
She bites her lip to stifle what laughter fails to erupt. “Seriously?”
“The heat gets under my skin,” John says, and then, “Every time.”
Eden leans into him. She strains to press her legs together while his knee teases them apart. His car is parked in the yard. It neighbours a rusty pickup whose hood dislodges a tire swing. Parking isn’t an option. The porch lights glare like floodlights, and his back seats are cluttered with industrial detritus.
The last thing Eden sees is the actress approach the smokers.
Two backsliders whose wills escape, they ride in silence. Eden plugs in her playlist.
She stares ahead. A church looms in the distance. Nectar seeps along her intimates as she discerns its solemn spire. John steers past the frigid figure, onto a wide and coarse road whose lines are colourless.
John rounds a sharp turn and decelerates along a jagged avenue. He slows to park on an unseemly paved drive. A plush colonial emerges in his high beams. Once he kills the engine, motion detection lights blink along the entrance.
Eden recognizes this as his place, although he’s never invited her in or introduced her to his roommates. But she never took this personally. According to everyone, he’s never invited or introduced anyone inside.
She rakes a hand through her hair, as if to comb through the mess of what urgency brings her here. She recalls how much they’ve driven, how she has yet to reconcile him never once asking after her, never offering to steady her along wobbly paths, always counting on her to let herself out.
Her eyes well over when John opens the passenger door, then offers his hand as she staggers to exit.
Cloudy stars edged in indigo drift in formations that sprawl above their heads, twinkling a lustrous indifference to what throbs below them. John guides her across a bushy terrace that walks to a slate door. It leads to a basement suite which is sparsely furnished. He asks if Eden wants anything. She shakes her head.
Voices waft from upstairs. Her eyes land on a fireplace. Younger versions of John furrow the ledge. She sits at the hearth, looks at the pictures. Not the best shots, says her inner camerawoman. They’re grainy. Poorly lit. His face is overshadowed or washed out by a flash.
John follows her gaze, chuckles at each ungainly effigy. The pictures aren’t his. He lives with a family friend, an old widower whose late wife taught him piano lessons.
Eden flicks one last look to the earnest boy whose future self leads her to his bedroom. Vinyl blinds are drawn over the windows. Through the cracks, she makes out a shed nestled at the back of a succulent garden. A leafy houseplant basks in specialty lights on his nightstand.
“I remember reading someplace that gardening takes more patience than anything,” she muses. “Most people don’t have enough.”
“I’m not most people.”
John grabs hold of her arms, walks his fingers from her shoulders to her hands, traces the small tattoos on her wrists. He presses the thick heat of his erection against her.
A dull ache quivers between her legs.
“You’re not most people either,” he murmurs. “You talk.”
“One of us has to.”
He slides his hands around her waist. “I like the way you talk.”
Before Eden can ask what John means, he inclines her against the wall. Her breath catches when he pulls back and pushes her forth. His hands are warm. She faces the wall as they swim under her shirt to unclasp the peaks and bud along the hollow of her throat.
She hears him fumble with the snap of his jeans and recalls how the denim softens with wear. He has no trouble removing hers. Or her baggy shirt.
Then, she hears John discard his. “Stay just like that. Against the wall.”
Mutely, Eden complies. Her eyes clench so as to blot the world out, but the absence of sight only serves to magnify her other senses. She feels his arms, brawny and svelte, while his biceps are corded with springy muscle which ropes to his shoulders. His hands are lean, not calloused but weathered.
In her head, Eden pictures a film set: two stark figures alight, then grainy monitors whose displays contain different points of view and miscellaneous mounted cameras which peer over them. Except unlike the actress, Eden is immodest. She strives to spur John to action. But she writhes and laps her tongue to no avail. She only grows more eager while he remains the cocksure analyst who steels despite her ardent abrasion.
Shirking her vagrant caress, he starts to croon. “Come on. Don’t give me the silent treatment. Tell me what you want.”
“You said it yourself. You do the talking for the both of us.”
John clasps her arms behind her back in one of his hands, then uses the other to tread the mouth of her sex.
Never quite touching her clit.
Eden strains against his grasp. She finds herself strictly and incontrovertibly bound. Whether she coyly tussles or intently writhes, he keeps her in stride. She rolls her hips, throws her back out, aiming for a kiss.
But he just keeps her at bay. “Tell me what you want. Say it.”
His breath warms her chin. The scent makes her heady, faintly like that of linen and cloves.
A twinge of musk wafts from the hard, torrid shaft. “Come on, Eden. Say it for the both of us.”
Her mind wanders to when Jackie Moore rules the airwaves.
I promise to be true, only to you.
“I want you, John,” she rasps. “Only you.”
The lips of her sex weep as his cock glides between them. Her pride flares when she jolts and hopes the motions doesn’t look as spastic or inferior as it feels.
She thinks of a girl on film and wants to be nothing more, nothing less.
At once, John tenses and releases her rigour. He carries her to the bed, then suckles and thumbs every inch of her. Eden resolves to win, to humble him. She tautens around him, engulfs him with infernal intent, climbing atop and astride. Her eyes now close to her advantage. Her scents, touches, and tastes are augmented by stubborn cadence and odorous moisture until John moans that she either halt or hasten.
Eden lets her tongue dart out as if to touch his but withdraws it to lick the insides of her molars. He reels over her, thrusting, kissing, pacing himself to prolong the motions. Her legs part around his waist, over his shoulders, and knelt as he pulses from behind. She just reigns beneath him, wet, desirous, and expectant.
Lulled by balmy reverence, her sex grows flush and fragrant like roses in a greenhouse. John inhales them. He draws them between his lips, the petals and the stalks, then laves at the pistil. She loses track of how much his penis and palate wade in the savoury musk. All she knows is to roll her tongue along the hot, viscous spear; and to roll her hips unto each plunge. She moves in tune to his feverish rhythm that swims and creams.
Thereafter, John speaks only once. He tells Eden she’s beautiful when she tenses around his fingers. His right hand reaches for one of her breasts, teasing, tracing the goosebumps that form in the wake of his suckling.
The world falls away completely under the spell of his sex, his mouth, his fingers, which prostrate her for their pleasure. He tells her no one else has ever made him feel like this. She starts to reply, but he takes her tongue in his mouth and probes hers with his. It thrashes like his sex, unfolding, reaching into her in tandem with their climax.
Eden wants John to say more, but she drifts off amidst the afterglow.
When she awakens, she is replete with sensuous dreams, quivering from a cloudy embrace. But finding John curled away from her, Eden realizes such an embrace is less real than imagined.
A wanton breeze throws the window open. John turns over to lay on his stomach. Eden is at a loss. The memory of his scarce albeit sweet appraisal begins to falter. Uncertainty once again subsumes reality except she now finds herself coldly cognizant. All this time, she never really said anything. She just rambled. Their differences are something she has yet to reconcile. Silence isn’t awkward. What’s awkward is the revelation of their contrast. Prattling staves off the silence that follows.
This is why Eden despises silence with John. It doesn’t just sit there. It wafts between them. Every second they share is one that passes. Just morsels which forge a path bound to split and recede. She never wanted to see this. She wants this—whatever this is—to remain, even as the lure that couples them starts to fray and fades into the distance.
Even now, she wants to kindle her pride, but it wanes in the hush that encroaches. She sits up and hugs her legs. Her head tilts not under the weight of an imaginary crown, but a truth that is burdensome.
John is no knight in shining armour. At least, he’s not her knight in shining armour. Although the aftermath of their sex favours the scene of a great battle—a handsome, sinewy figure whose face is buried in pillows and rumpled sheets, allayed after a libidinous onslaught, naked, cool and complacent; and her shapely queendom, also naked, that heaves to glean amorous derivatives, puckering as if she were to leap.
But she can’t land on her feet and there’s nothing to break her fall.
I’ve fallen for John.
Eden retrieves her cell phone, headphones, and nods off to Samantha Sang as this truth sinks in.
Image Credit: © Alexander Krivitskiy 2018Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in