She did it the first time we were ever together. And I pretended not to notice, like everyone has something... some "thing" that they do. Like when I sugar my tea when we're out; two packets, torn on the left side, five stirs. That kind of thing. So I never questioned.
The room was stuffy but it always was when we made love, especially during winter. No, I guess I shouldn't expect it to be different. She was ... in me. The way you mix chocolate and vanilla ice cream in a swirl. The smell of her herbal shampoo and the heated-ness of her scalp rising in my nostrils. The way her honey skin melted onto mine like nice warm wax. And her pulsed heartbeat, strong and con-stant. I would lay awake afterwards and wonder what it was like to be the blood traveling through her veins, beneath her skin, through her body. I would wonder if I was even enough to be privileged to be with her, like this. I wondered, always wondered. I managed to close my eyes though, before I answered.
"Morning! "And her singsong greeting cracked a smile on my grumpy face.
"Morning." My smile broadened when I leaned forward to kiss her fresh lips across the kitchen island. Mint and bitter sweet coffee. Then she'd tuck her short dark hair behind her ears, which made her clear warm face seem rounder.
"We're having pancakes this morning. Whole-wheat and butter maple syrup." She slid my broken lipped blue mug across the smallish counter.
"You don't have to make me healthy, I was doing fine before this."
She turned off the fire and grabbed the plates and syrup. I side stepped then stretched to reach the sink and grabbed two mixed matched forks.
"No, if I were going to make you healthy, I would have had tofu pancakes and honey instead. And yes, I know you were doing well before me, your high choles-terol results told me that two years ago."
She sat across from me in her puffy moon bathrobe. The restaurant seats were her idea. I didn't bother trying to explain it to the maintenance guy when he was in-stalling the diner booth and the 1930's table, complete with low light. Dinner for two she said, so every night would be a date. I only sat back and watched her eating her pancakes.
Her golden brown eyes drilled into me.
"Aren't you hungry? "
I toyed with the mug, running my thumb against the jagged broken section. I fol-lowed the speckles on the table to her plate and then to the puffy terrycloth moon on her robe and then to her fierce eyes. I looked down to her pouty brown lips. Thin, unsuspecting. They reminded me of the caramel on the creamy fleshy-ness of flan. The end of her snub nose began to shine.
"You didn't stay in bed last night."
Surprise rotated to shock.
"I had to pee." I looked out the side window. The garbage men came barreling down the alley, heaving the over stuffed cans of garbage into the bottomless pit of the truck. The old lady from the other building came out soon after and began to sweep up what the garbage men left behind. And she would bag it and put it in her can. As if it had belonged to her.
I looked into my plate. My eyes welled.
"Okay." I made my way to the fridge for some pineapple juice for the rest of my tea. She turned and looked up at the sky.
I returned to my pancakes slowly. Bending my right leg to sit on it as I made my way into the seat. She hurried to the garbage, then to the sink with her barely dirty plate. She scrubbed furiously.
"I... just had to... you know? " She faced me, red nosed, hands soaked, like she had been washing dishes all morning. And the worst part was that I did know. She had been calm for six months, it was just a matter of time. Yes, I did know. I made my way towards her.
"Last night... It was... ah... just our, um, anniversary. You know?! " I sunk my fingers through my black braids. I felt the new growth of my own coarse resilient hair beneath the smooth extensions. I turned sideways and rested my palms on the counter behind me.
Darkness cast over her eyes.
"I didn't mean... that... for you. It just happened." She wanted me to believe. I did, I think.
I cupped her head between my hands, pulling her into me, muffling her words. I hugged, tight.
It was always the same way. My thigh would be resting across her ample belly and my fingers interlaced with her own; light against dark. Right before I took cloud nine up on its offer, I would feel her move. Her silken fingers escaped my weak hold and her taffeta body soon followed.
The water never went on first. The clink of the medicine cabinet was first, then the small splatters of the alcohol on the floor as she rubbed her arms and legs and belly. Then quickly, before I could wake fully, she would turn on the water and rinse off. She would come back to bed, cold, damp. Never. I never asked questions. I just held her tighter whenever she came back.
I made the sandwiches. Turkey on rye with mayo and mustard. Pickles in a Zip-Lock and Double stuff Oreos in another. We'd pick up a few cans of chilled soda and make an afternoon of it. Picnic Saturday. It helped to keep us cosmic, was the word she used. Together, existing not because of each other but with each other, harmonious. She said things like those helped to keep us in sync.
"What is it this time? " I watched as she buckled the belt across her firm chest. She removed her shades from her fanny pack and hid behind them. She crossed her light legs at the knee and fiddled with her white slouch socks. She raked her fingers through her bangs and buried her back into the seat.
"It's Mum. She's not well and I have to go see her." I turned up the radio and hid behind my own glasses. I turned the ignition and the silver mustang hummed.
Mum was reason enough to get anyone's habits back. I never got to know her and she swore me to hell for nothing more than loving her daughter. I knew better than to cross words about Mum.
I reached over and clicked the radio off.
"So I guess this means we're going today." I kept my arms stiff on the wheel.
"If you don't mind." She stared off to the side, studying an out of state plate.
Her family always made good work of keeping me out of the loop. They made sure to exclude my invitations for things like her sisters wedding and her nephews graduation party. She said nothing and stayed home with me instead. And I re-member when I picked up her brothers baby, her mother did everything but shoot poison at me. It's okay she told me, they just don't understand. I know, I would say and made a mental note to burn the threat letter her father sent me almost a year after we were together.
She came down the long steps of the hospital to our car. Her taut leg muscles jerking as she skipped down. She poked her head in and hovered over my neck. Her hair covered the side of her face and her glasses the rest. She stroked my thigh.
"She wants to see you."
The family hadn't yet arrived. Sickness found its way into her wrinkles and the whites of her eyes.
"Hello Mother Leone."
"Mmmmhmfph. The family would kill you with their eyes. I have to make this quick."
She reached a frail hand to me and almost pulled back at the contrast of our skin.
"You take care of my Nora or I will speak to God personally and make sure he keeps you in eternal fire."
"The rest of the family, I will make no promises. But let them hear you've done her wrong and it will be your last day. Get out! "
"And you. I am dying because I have lost face because you didn't come to Aunt Raysas' funeral. Take this and go. Just leave before they come."
So she knew we were. Because of the hushed phone conversation. Because I checked my billfold before we left. Not because I was afraid she took any of it, anything that was mine was hers but because I had to make sure I had enough. And the funeral was five days later. With her family and her father glaring me down as I tossed a carnation into the site.
"Blasphemer!! "And all I could do was stroke her back as she collapsed into me. She waved them away, walking faster as they tried to pull her away from me.
"You killed her!! Damn you!! "And they waved their fists into my windshield.
We passed in silence for six days. I couldn't touch or feel her. Couldn't kiss or hold her. Couldn't tell her how sorry I was. I watched as grief marched passed me morning and night.
"I want to know what it feels like... what you do."
She cocked her head from her soup and stared at me quizzically.
The initial shock sent me reeling. She stepped in quickly behind me and held my arms at bay. Then the water stopped and I shivered as she rubbed me down with a brisk towel. My eyes rimmed red.
"Why...wwwhy d-d-do you d-d-do th-th-at? "
"It keeps me pained enough to know that who I am is reason to celebrate and rea-son to love.
I wrapped my cold shivering body against hers.
"I could have told you that already."
Sandra, lives in Florida. She works full time in the cruise industry and has been writing since she was 13. She can be reached at Xanii @aol.com