He looks again at Gretchen, to the woman who is his best friend's wife, lying here, beside him, in this house where he was a boy.
He'd heard her park in the drive and recognized the sound of the truck and did not believe it. He'd wondered if he was dreaming. It was after midnight, and there was just a paring of moon, Venus unclouded and lamping, fallen to the west of the moon, fallen down the vault of blue-black sky.
He heard her in the hallway, recognized her steps, heard her undressing at the foot of his bed, the sound of her breath, and still did not believe it. Even when she was beside him in his bed he did not trust the scent of her, the feel of her skin against his own.
"Who is this?" he asked.
"I don't believe you," he said. "This is just a dream."
She pressed herself harder against the length of him. She kissed him. She cupped his hand over her breast. "Does this feel like a dream?"
"Yes," he said. "It feels like my dream."
He reaches out in the soft morning light and rests his hand gently on her abdomen. Just his hand. The hand rises and falls. She fidgets slightly against its weight. Her eyes flick under their lids. Her lips part as if to speak.
He remembers her younger. Before the gray got a start in her hair. Before gravity pulled half a lifetime of living through her flesh. He can't help himself. She bends her left leg at its knee and settles the foot against the inside of her right calf, her thighs opening, and he remembers her at seventeen, in his arms. He feels the weight of wanting her all the time between. Twenty-three years, he thinks. The bulk of his life.
He remembers her standing in a falling light, spring light, unsteady on her bare feet. He remembers her kneeling on the uneven ground. She knelt on a blanket. He remembers her raking her hands back through her thick hair, drawing it into a ponytail. There was the sound of the creek. There was a hatch of mayflies. The air was gauzy with pollen and insect wings, the sun halved by the horizon, nearly set. Her breasts rose with her arms, cast cups of shadow, and her red hair ignited. That is what the slant of sunlight did in her red hair. He wondered that her hands did not burn.
He concentrates on their breathing, and the effort allows him a sense of fragile union. He concentrates on his breath, and hers, and doesn't wonder if he is wrong in the world. He doesn't worry that the walls are shelved with the eyes of the curious and judgmental dead. He feels boyish, sweet-natured, innocent, even lucky. That is the way he's feeling when she comes awake.
She smiles and looks at his hand, where it rests on her belly. She lifts his hand and turns it and kisses its palm. She swings her legs over the side of the bed and sits. She shakes her head, and her hair lifts and falls at her shoulders. She still holds his hand.
"Did you sleep?" she asks.
She turns to see him nodding and smiles again. "I didn't plan this."
He stares at her.
"Honestly," she says.
"I wish you had."
"But I didn't. It just happened."
The sun breaks the horizon and slaps the room alive and stark. The reds, greens, blues, yellows throb. She stands in the glaring light, and he reaches out to her. He looks up the length of his mottled arm, to the soiled fingers, the broken nails, the stubble of worn hairs spiking the lengths of the fingers. He means to ask some question, something hopeful, but his mind is struck blank by a plain and primitive gratitude.
He pulls in his arm and bends his knees. He rolls against his hip and sits on the opposite side of the bed.
Insect chorus spikes through the morning birdsong, and he knows the nightchill has settled in the trees along the creek, in the ditches, and, thinly, where the ground falls low.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Spragg. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Putnam.
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