He woke up late. It was impossible to say exactly what time it was but the sun was blazing through the window and it was definitely not morning anymore. The power had gone out again. He ran into the bathroom and turned on the shower and then put the coffee on and stripped out of his t-shirt and underwear and dialed popcorn to see what time it was.
“Good afternoon. At the tone, pacific daylight savings time will be twelve forty seven, exactly.”
He slammed the phone down. He’d missed her. It was almost one o’clock and he’d missed her.
The overflow of alternatives began to dance in his mind. The bed reached out to his sleepy face, singing songs of forgetting and a return to slumber. The refrigerator hummed a warm and handsome melody of breakfast. The shower sang of possible grooming and well defined hair. She stood before all of his options with the saddest smile and the brightest eyes. She was watching him, her fingers re-clasping the stack of books under her arm, waiting for him to make a decision.
He walked to the bathroom and turned on the faucet in the sink. Wiping the steam from the mirror his face peered back at him like a basset hound in the sun. He sighed deeply and grabbed the toothbrush, brushed his teeth a little too hard, and stepped into the shower.
It was past two when he arrived at school. He only had one class, statistics, and there was a strange sort of displacement about the campus. He sloped from the hill where he and his friends usually hung out, to the student union, trying to appear casually in place. The afternoon was quite a bit different from the morning, and even though she was rarely there, he was looking anyway.
She was sitting in the library. She’d been there all morning. The mists which filled the campus had begun to burn off and it looked like it might actually be a nice day. The eucalyptus trees had stopped dancing in the wind, and the sun shined brightly on the faded grass. Why did the grass always die? They would be about ready to roll out new strips of it soon. Every six months they dug up the dead grass and rolled out new sod over the dark brown earth. It was always a surprise to see the dirt. If God had intended for there to be grass so close to the sea, He would have put it there naturally. Men and their self-will. It was funny to see them struggle against His will. She imagined herself the director of landscaping, without actually appointing herself the official title, and approved the plans for a sand pit where the grass once dried in the mist, and cost so much money to water and tend. The sand would be kept clean and organized by a series of stones laid in about the boundary of the area. Instead of gas guzzling lawn mowers, there would be men in beige jumpsuits to sweep the sand from the walks in the evenings.
She glanced down at her notebook and laughed. She had been transcribing mathematic equations out of a book, and now, between the method of functional separation and her notes on the differential constraints method was a kidney shaped sand dune with dots of sand flying all over the rest of her notes. She remembered her father’s insistence that one always take notes in pencil, and then study in pen. This way, he would explain, you could make a distinction between what the instructor had said, and what you found out for yourself. Her father was associate minister of the Sabbath School, and was always telling stories at the breakfast table about campfires and the end of the world.
She hoped the end was coming soon. She could use a little more Heaven, and a lot less of this world. She loved her father very much, and always did what was expected of her. She was never happy, but kept up a sunny little smile for everyone to help them feel better. Her eyes twinkled at each member of her family, they would take comfort in her face. She had a beautiful face, and they were so happy when she was with them. Though it never failed, by the time her smile danced back at her in the eyes of her mother, who was always last, her father was little more than ashes and smoke. She would begin again, directing her affection at each one of them. It was exhausting, but she did not think about it.
Of course she did. But she didn’t allow the threads of unhappiness to enter into her dialog. She said her prayers loud enough for her parents to hear, scrubbed herself clean, exercised, and wore loose fitting athletic clothing to please her father. Once she wore a pair of sheer, tight fitting panties beneath her sweats. The fabric stretched up between her legs and pulled on her. She loved that feeling. She wanted more of that feeling. But she dare not give in to her experiment. Half way through the day she felt so guilty about her pleasure that she stole into the bathroom and removed them. Spending the rest of the day without underpants on was even worse. Once the door to the fires of her heart were open, nothing made sense to her. Everything made perfect sense, it felt completely right. But this was sin, wasn’t it? This was shameful.
There were other girls in the church who were not the daughters of the associate minister. They had come to the church later. They were very happy. She admired them, witnessed their transformation and loved them so much. She had been impressed with certain ideas from the day she was born, and they no longer moved her in quite the same way. Boundaries were constructed, spaces to store her things, her remnants of imagination, and dreams of one day becoming a doctor, or a professional woman who lived away from here. Very far away from here.
He sat down on the bench beside the hill. His class didn’t begin for another forty minutes, but he felt like leaving. No one was here. the afternoon sucked. The sun had come out and was pelting his overdressed and hastily showered body with heat which rose up from his over gelled hair. Why did he fuck up his hair on days when he was running late? Was it the wind as he dashed from the bus to the street car? Was it always like this and he just didn’t know it? All he ever wanted was straight, thick, leading man hair. Instead he ended up looking like the bastard son of Ronald Reagan. Things were easier when long hair was popular. He’d felt a lot more handsome.
Gary walked past. He didn’t say anything to him. Gary was one of those guys who if you got stuck next to him on the bus he would tell you all about himself, but if you passed him on the street he wouldn’t even look at you. He seemed friendly, but that was only when girls were around. He had a lot of friends like that.
He turned and looked at the clock above the library. Thirty five minutes before statistics. He scanned the stone facade of the building. The dark streaks of green ran from the lip of the roof down the front of the building like tears. The edging was modern, but the texture of the walls was timeless stone. In the windows people passed, students sat at isolated study tables.
In the far left window a couple sat about three inches apart engaged in what looked like the most intimate conversation two people had ever had. Her chin rested against the palm of her hand, fingers curled up around a pencil. His arms disappeared under the table. Their eyes were locked together.
In the next window sat a chubby guy in a tightly zipped jacket. His legs apart and arms on the table in front of him. He was snacking on potato chips and chewing with his mouth open. He sat there for a long time, giving the handful of chips a good chewing, and when it was a slimy paste in the folds of his mouth he would stuff another handful of crisp chips into the awaiting multipurpose hole.
In the third window was an empty table. A white chair sat askew, and a row of books stood behind it in the shadows. He thought about getting up, getting out of the sun and going into the library. He had missed four classes, and there was certainly a lot of reading to do. He wasn’t getting any reading done here, and it wasn’t a bad idea.
Yesterday he’d been sitting in physics class watching the back of her head as she laughed. The instructor was a clown. He wore a different t-shirt every day with some physics problem on it, and was heavy into class participation. What that really meant was that he would explain the concept of something, making it sound easy, and then ask the class for input. Some student would raise her hand and he would grin and then call on them. They would invariably be totally wrong, and he would get all enthusiastic and explain why it was wrong. Usually a teacher like this was a prize at any school, in any discipline, but he was failing physics. It was impossible to pay attention. He’d tried changing his seat, skipping the lectures, reading and re reading the book, but his text book smelled of her, and all he could do was hold his head up with his hands and daydream. Her thick, beautiful hair shined even beneath the florescent lights of the lecture hall. Her sunny little smile, and sad eyes tore through him without mercy. Her honey colored skin and overpowering smell left him a useless pool of a person on the table in front of him. And it had only gotten worse. He expected it to get better. He’d had crushes like this before. Usually, If you look at someone long enough you can see that they’re a little bit horsey, or their teeth are all screwed up. Something can break the spell: A boyfriend, a belief system, sweat pants, anything. But not her. She had grown. She seeped into his mind from Seventeenth Century Literature to Victorian Prose and Poesy, she was there. All of his books smelled of her now. He could not breathe.
She had asked him what she thought of the professor. He liked that she called him a professor. They laughed in the afternoon sun and agreed to meet after class for a cold drink. He skipped class and waited in the cafe. Ten minutes before she was scheduled to arrive he had completely talked himself out of their meeting. He was sweating, and unable to pay attention. A band was setting up on the little half stage, and he wanted another coffee. Did he need another coffee? No. But that never stopped him from having another one. As he collected his books and filed them into his bag, she walked up to the table and smiled.
“Are you leaving?” She asked with a bright sunny voice.
She laughed and said “You look like you are about to leave.”
“Well, these guys are about to play.”
“You don’t want to stay and hear them?”
“Do you want to?”
They sat next to each other while a very skinny boy with curly red hair played a couple of songs on his guitar and told jokes. His playing was sincere, and the songs were obviously about someone he loved very much, but his jokes were cynical, and you could tell he was embarrassed about how he felt. Maybe she didn’t love him back. Maybe she never existed at all. Under the table, he felt the warm proximity of her knee. His mind was unable to listen anymore. He inhaled deeply and felt his knee hover closer and closer to hers with each beat of his heart. She seemed to be completely attentive to the red headed boy and his songs. She smiled brightly at his punch lines, and nodded her head to the rhythm of his strumming.
When he was finished she turned her face to his and looked into his eyes without saying anything. Her eyes were green and blue and brown. They reflected light in a way which left you wondering if you were really looking at her, or if you were only seeing yourself in there. What was this face? Why was she smiling? He shifted his weight a little and his knee pressed into hers. She did not pull away.
What he wanted to tell her was that she was the most beautiful thing in the world. He wanted to tell her that all he ever thought about was her. No matter how many showers he took, his nostrils were full of her sweet, delicate smell. He was furious, desperate, and out of his mind. But instead he said, “So you like physics class hunh?”
“The professor is funny.”
He felt her fingers touch his knee under the table. Her eyes dilated, and he knew that he was blushing. Without thinking his fingers softly touched hers. She smiled.
“Look, I am completely infatuated with you.”
She pulled her fingers away and inhaled sharply.
“No, no. I don’t mean anything weird. I just mean that I really, really like you.”
She looked down at her lap. Her hand reached back to his under the table, and she looked up at him with tears in her eyes.
“I am infatuated with you too.”
The rest of the evening was a blur. Phone calls, lies to parents, stories about church and God, more coffee, dinner, almost a movie, and then the steps of his apartment house. Leaning up against each other in the door way. Lips pressing together. Teeth together, but tongues running over the surface of teeth, soft biting on lips, and arms wrapped around torsos.
“Can you come inside for a few minutes?”
They did not cook, or talk. The moment the door closed she grasped his face and pulled him toward her. Her mouth open, pushing her tongue between his lips past his teeth. He dropped his bag, and let his jacket fall off of his shoulder to the floor. Her arms forced him down, and he only struggled for a moment. They lay on the bed, kissing.
At three o’clock in the morning he awoke in the dark, still wearing his clothes, he switched on the light but nothing happened. the power must have gone out again. He patted around on folds of the comforter, hoping to find her under the covers. His apartment smelled of her, but she was gone. He stripped down to his t-shirt and underwear and lay back on the bed. Staring at the headlights moving across the ceiling he fell back to sleep.
She stacked her books and put on her jacket. The library was quiet, but sterile. It wasn’t a good place to study. The windows were just too distracting. She could feel his hands on her body. Three hours of sleep was not enough to fade the physical memories of last night. Her face was still raw from his stubble against her face. Her lips were chapped, and the under side of her tongue felt like it was getting a canker sore. She felt wonderful. Though she had considered the consequences. Her morning was spent on automatic pilot. She had paid no attention to the lectures, took no notes, and wondered what God would think of her. Was she really such a sinner? Was this so wrong? Her father would have called her a whore, and cast her from the flock if he knew. She wasn’t so afraid of being cast out as she was afraid of God, and of judgement. But had she done anything which God would frown upon? Back and forth she went. Feeling his hands on her body, fearing the punishment of God.
She made a list in ESL class of the pros and cons, first a list of ten things that were right about him feelings:
1. He makes me feel beautiful 2. I love his hands on me. 3. He didn’t laugh at my beliefs, he wasn’t freaked out 4. He is very sweet and respectful 5. I have dreamed of him all my life 6. His kisses are perfect 7. He might convert 8. He would accept me and take me away 9. Even though he was aroused all night, he did not reach into my pants 10. I think I love him. And all love comes from God.
Then she made a list of ten things which were wrong about him:
1. My father would be angry if he knew. 2. God is watching us. 3. My feelings are a sin. 4. I am being dishonest. 5. I lied to my mother. 6. I told him I have never done this before and I have done it once before. 7. Is this temptation? 8. There is no one I can tell about this, I am alone. 9. I have to do what’s right, and not what makes me happy. 10. I feel guilty and ashamed (but only a little.)
She sat in class while the instructor went over plosives and phonemes and examined her list. She tried to scratch off everything which was selfish. In the end she only had one thing left on the list. It was second part of the last entry in the first list.
He approached the steps of the library, bouncing on his heels. He walked funny, and he knew it. People made fun of his walk when he was younger. But now that he was older no one said anything. He’d never actually been in the university library before, but it seemed like a good place to hide. He arrived at the steps and stopped in front of Dr. Lyles.
“Hello there!” The professor said with a grin. “We missed you today.”
“Yeah… I’m sorry sir…” And there she was. She stepped out from the doorway, just over Dr. Lyles’ shoulder. Her eyes met his. He felt the world bloom. He looked at his instructor, his lips were moving, but made no sound. He looked back at her, she was standing still, just looking at him. He smiled. She did not move.
“Excuse me sir.”
“I’ll be here on Friday. I’m sorry about today sir.”
When he got closer he could see that she had been crying. The sight of her beautiful face, swollen from tears made his heart fall into the ocean like the anchor of grande liner from some ancient empire. The crash of the sea, the pull of the ocean’s floor, taking the huge weight completely and drawing it in silence into her darkness.
She touched his arm, and opened her mouth. He kissed her cheek and whispered into her ear. She pulled back and looked into his eyes. He smiled. Drawing his arm around her shoulders, they walked away from the campus, past the perimeter of eucalyptus trees, and out toward sand, and the sea.