Three. Nine. Five. One.
(“The wheels are turning, but you’re upside-down…” –U2)
The pattern is this: three, nine, five, one.
Three is the hour at which she walks in the door. He assumes it’s because there’s no one else around, no one to see her tired eyes and weary body stumble into the 7-11, looking for sustenance and craving salvation.
Nine is the number of minutes she’ll spend in the store, wandering among the sprawling shelves, never quite finding what she thinks she’s looking for.
Five is the number on the bill she hands to the cashier, who checks her ID and hands her a pack of Camel lights. She accepts them without a word before pocketing the meager change and shuffling out the door.
One is the total cigarettes she lights nervously, twirling the glowing tube between her fingers, watching the thin blue curls of smoke disappear into the sky. On her lips is a fervent prayer, her words so soft they do not reach his ears, but they stand, clearly, in her eyes, which melt away to leave traces of moisture against ruddy skin.
Three, nine, five, one.
The pattern, to him, is oddly comforting.
He comes in colors, a rainbow draining onto the ground, as she watches him.
Red is the light that catches his car, suspending them both in time as she stands in the middle of the empty street.
Gray is the cold dew of morning, kissing limp brown locks and soft pink cheeks.
Green are the eyes that stare right through him, seeing nothing, missing nothing. A pale skinny arm reaches out to press against an invisible wall, and his fingers recoil when he realizes his hand is pressed against the windshield.
White. Blinding white light stings his weary blue eyes as she finally smiles, disappearing with a filmy laugh and an awkward wave. At his feet, her cigarette falls, soft ash floating across slick black streets as the light from the filter fades into morning.
It is daybreak when her eyes open slowly, squeezing shut again out of instinct as she groans in protest. Her body shivers against the cold morning air, and when she blows across cupped hands she feels nothing but empty air. No cold. No heat. She bites her lip and stumbles toward the shower, until she remembers the landlord shut the hot water off days ago.
Several hours later, in a house across town, his eyes open, blue lamps flickering against the warm light of midday. He arches his back and breathes deeply, cuddling into thick, heavy blankets. Lazily his hand wanders to his stomach, scratching lightly, absently, as his body greets the day. With a weary sigh he pads off to the bathroom, turning the tap decisively to “hot,” indulging in rich, heavy steam as he steps under the water.
and her eyes flicker from the TV to the door and back again. On the television shiny talk show hosts speak words she can recite by heart, words of abuse and agony and nights spend hiding from the terror of love. Her hands are unsteady, her stomach quivering as she takes deep, calming breaths. Her husband left hours ago, this morning, with harsh words and a stern threat of punishment. She thinks woefully, sadly, that tonight she’ll add another color to the rainbow of marred flesh painting her body. Shuddering, she closes her eyes and dreams of cigarettes.
and he is getting antsy…knowing somewhere…across town…she hurts. Though not one for intense observation he knew instinctively what she would not say from the moment she first stumbled into the convenience store exactly three weeks ago. Her lips told silent stories as they moved absently, automatically, the same way her feet did in the rhythm of pattern. If he closes his eyes tight enough he can almost hear words…her protests…the silence rich with untold tales. He had watched her as she moved slowly…assuredly…three, nine, five, one. She has kept the simplest of truths from him. She has hidden her rings.
Her husband is drunk at , barging into their humble flat, brash and violent and caught in the web of lustful rage. Wildly his fists swing right and left, sometimes hitting targets, sometimes striking air. From under the rickety kitchen table she watches, cowering, waiting for it to be over. Earnestly she prays that he won’t find her.
and he is curled into an overstuffed recliner with an expensive bottle of something-or-other, tracing the thin lines of dew, tasting the condensation with the tip of a curious tongue. His eyes close and he grits his teeth. He does not touch the wine. He closes his eyes, raw from tears he cannot shed, and dreams of her.
She leaves early, eleven-thirty, creeping past his sleeping body, tiny steps immeasurably loud in the quiet apartment. Gingerly she stalks past him, palming the twenty he accidentally dropped on the floor, disappears in the thick fog of night. Tonight, more than ever, escape is on her mind. With a silent laugh she throws her key into the gutter.
and they meet in an alley, completely by chance. She is pressed against the cinderblock wall, cradling an empty packet of cigarettes in her hands, her face intermittently illuminated by the flicker of a butane lighter. Intently, in shadow, he watches her, arms crossed, heart clutched in his hands. She looks up and their eyes meet.
They walk toward each other in uniform steps, strangers with coincidental history, torn pages from the same novel, destined to share space but nothing more.
They stop mere inches from each other, his hands resting lightly on her hips, her fingers stroking patterns across his shoulders.
“Who are you?” He whispers, voice hushed, curious.
“I am you,” She replies, her words a maddening caress. Defying logic he nods, understands.
They begin to touch, slowly at first…fingers in pockets, tongues tracing tentative paths to sordid destinations. In the alley they kiss…warm…wet…heavy…mouths and noses and hearts beating in time to the city’s pounding rhythm.
A low moan of assent escapes his lips as she gingerly traces his ear with her tongue. Overcome by temptation, desperate with the desire to learn what he can from this beautiful creature, he holds her body close to his and whispers, “what do you feel?”
She pulls back only the slightest degree, searching his gaze with wondering eyes. “Feel?” She echoes.
“What do you feel?” He breathes, emphatically, sentiments punctuated by fingers searching above hemlines and below waistlines.
“I…I don’t feel…” She answers, with scalding honestly. “I don’t feel a thing…”
Seconds, minutes, hours tick by…the alley grows cold, their bodies the single glowing ember in a fire long since extinguished. The clock chimes three and they tense, instinctively, knowing.
“I have to go,” She whispers, and his hands close more possessively on her waist.
She flinches, and his eyes widen, traveling down to where his fingers are pulling aside fabric to reveal the evidence of another man’s careless brutality.
“This?” He says softly. “Did you feel this?” His eyes are sad when they meet hers, and she looks away for just a moment.
“I don’t feel a thing…” She repeats resolutely. His lips brush her forehead and slowly they part, separating long enough to allow a pink tongue to escape before closing again. Sighing sadly, he smiles woefully, the tears of a clown, and watches as she turns to leave him.
As she walks down the empty alley, an ethereal image melting into shadow, he cries out for her.
She turns, extending her arms in offering, and he accepts, pulling her into his warm embrace.
“Stay,” He begs softly. “Stay.”
She offers him a timid smile, and he extends one of his own, cradling her body to his.
“Name…” She murmurs, and he cocks his head to the side, curious.
“What’s your name?” She repeats, and at first the answer evades him…but a moment later it is there, second nature, and he unearths it from deep in the ground, where for years it lay buried under the suffocating force of image.
“Joshua,” He breathes. “My name is Joshua.”
She blinks once, a half-smile of satisfaction ghosting over her face, and tracing his cheek with the tips of her fingers she whispers, “I’ll stay…”
They disappear down the empty streets, footsteps leaving no trace against the wet ground, breathing hushed, eyes downcast. He clutches her fingers in his-- smooth, unadorned fingers--and quickens his pace.
Through alleys and alcoves they dart, pace frenzied though neither knows why, staying out of the watchful eyes of the streetlamps, grateful for the thick shadows and the cover of night.
Her feet register grass a moment before cool dew licks her ankle and thin blades of lush greenery are brushing against her calves. She dares to look up at the foreboding mansion that stands imposingly on top of a high hill, and her steps slow. Curiously he gazes back at her, tugging gently on her fingers, invitation evident in clear blue eyes.
“You live here?” She says in a hushed whisper, and slowly he nods.
“Alone,” She continues, a statement that should not hurt yet makes him bleed, and again his head bobs in the affirmative.
“Come inside,” He murmurs, and she laughs, a high-pitched tone of cascading glee. He is perplexed, his smile faltering, and gently she pushes him into the grass, where he gasps at cold water licking his ears.
“This is all yours,” She smiles at him, tugging at a blade of grass, drawing it across his nose, giggling when his brow furrows at the sensation of friction.
“This…” She whispers, placing her hand over his heart just before their lips connect, “is all mine…”
He comes in colors as his body moves slowly…dark eyes dilated with lust, lips reddened by the stain of her kiss, black earth tingeing his knees, white light cascading over porcelain shoulders. He moans softly, a siren’s song, and she smiles, just once, and traces his lips with the tips of her fingers.
“Mine,” She repeats, softly.
Four-thirty in the morning and they lay cuddled in soft black sheets, bodies cradled by the thick mattress, flesh damp as it slides slowly, lazily, against like flesh.
“What do you feel?” He asks, this time with fuzzy, sated curiosity.
“I feel you,” She murmurs, and the response is enough to draw a smile to his face. She pauses, grin fading, eyes’ light extinguishing slowly. “When he…” She looks away, “…I feel…” She stops, ashamed. “I feel alive…”
“Oh,” He whispers, and his gentle voice is hardened by bitterness. “Is that what it is?”
Conversation halts into slow, still silence…until the clock chimes five.
Six AM and the burly man lying on the floor of the messy flat rolls over, groaning, rubbing his eyes, grasping at the straws of his surroundings and attempting to make sense of madness.
“Baby?” He mumbles, though there is no response. His eyes focus on a sliver of glinting gold, hiding in a heaping mound of dust mere feet from where he lays. He stretches weathered fingers out to seize the object, and anger floods his bloodstream when he identifies her ring. He stumbles to his feet, and stumbles out the door.
Seven AM and he is licking the inside of her wrist, gentle swipes across extremely soft skin, lips parted in open reverence, eyes closed in deference to passion.
“Love you,” She whispers, and he can feel the words stab through his heart. He opens his mouth to speak, but no words escape. He is lost.
Three, nine, five, one.
© 2002 ~A.