Amanda’s serpentine blond hair splays across my chest like a crime scene, like a bludgeoning victim. She’s twisting her fingers in slow circles on my shoulder. She’s murmuring, her breath slowing now, her voice crackling in the throes of desperation and pleasure. Her bare back is lit by the evening sun filtering through the shades, the russet daylight punctuated by cold black bars of darkness.
But what is she saying?
And how am I supposed to respond?
The house is darkening, the commonplace sounds (the belching furnace, the stuttering ceiling fan) are strangely muted. As if the sinking sun is acting as a volume knob for all other sense and clarity. As if the entire world is slowing, stopping in ceremony to mark the sober denouement of the day. Is this how evening has always functioned?
A man is walking on the beach. The wind is blowing, hard enough to whip up sand and pummel it against his legs, the grains clinging to the hairs there and giving them a bloated appearance. The beach is empty, just the man, who looks to his right, off over the sea, at the turgid angry clouds. Something is on its way. Something mean. Dangerous. His glance is furtive, brief, painful, and he turns around to brush the sand out of his eyebrows and wipe the sudden tears off of his cheek. He clenches his eyelids. Some grains made their way in. To lacerate and irritate the soft vulnerable membranes there. To sting and punish. He bows his head, continues rubbing, continues walking.
Amanda is rising now, making her way to the bathroom. Her footsteps on the carpet are graceful, delicate. The curving diminuendo of her calves and heels and the balls of her feet punch silent craters into the beige fibers, the fibers cradling, the skin gliding. The moment is pregnant, with a quiet reverence.
That’s out of place, that reverence. This is a moment, like every moment. Like any moment. Just a necessary human act after an unnecessary one. But beautiful.
She closes the door behind her. It’s been painted green, but years ago, and the paint bows out in slender sheets to reveal past decades of colors, a kaleidoscope of history and questionable decorating choice. The weather out here has battered the door, and no one has taken the time to care for it. It’s daytime, but under the trees it feels timeless.
This door—and the house it plays gatekeeper to—is exciting. Exhilarating. It’s a secret, long forgotten, only now found and documented. The trees here aren’t mere oaks or beeches or pines. They’re jungle trees, exotic, spindly, grand. Vines and snakes wave merrily in a slow dance to the time of the gentle hum of chittering animal call and sharp staccato birdsong.
Mark is there, staring rapt up at the structure, overborn with the mystery and potency of it. Mark, in fading cargo shorts and loud sneakers and greasy black hair. Face splatted with red and swollen acne. His entire left side is smeared with mud, after that tumble he took down the creek bed. His mom isn’t going to be happy about it.
He glances at me, eyes sharp and mischievous. The corner of his mouth pulls up in a grin. He bounds up the stoop to the door—stops, catches his balance as the rotting wood moans—and reaches for the doorknob. It once was shiny, brassy. Now it is dull and rusted. Mark turns it. It catches. It’s locked.
Mark begins jammering the knob, slamming it back and forth. He kicks the door. He pounds on it. The door replies in dusty, coughing hollow sounds. It holds strong to Mark’s assault.
This isn’t what happens.
Why do I know that?
He continues to pound on the door. The sound ragged and angry. As it pelts out from the wood, it evens out, becomes regular. Rhythmic. Oomph, oomph, oomph. It’s a bass drum, a backbeat, a metronome. The wild-haired, grandiose conductor to the soundtrack of the world around me. Wild hair… or are they ears? Long, gray floppy ears?
The sound grows louder. Louder. Drowns out all other sound and thought and motion. It pounds in my head, squeezes my head, throttles my head. It bounces and echoes across my ears and thrums, vibrates, sloshes against the bones of my skull.
Sloshes. The sound begins to abate. Slowly color and sight return to me (where had they gone?) and the sound is the carefree, tinkling hum of a toilet flushing. I hear the water spiral happily down the pipe, and then gurgle, in satisfaction, in satiation. Then the hiss of the faucet, the thump of the soap, the rattle of towel on bar.
The door swings open again. Amanda locks eyes with me, her face bright, her temporary vulnerability (what was that?) gone. She smiles. Pulls up the cover. Climbs into bed.