I watched her fingers trace the angles of my chest down to my abdomen, deep ridges of muscle and bone and patches of coarse hair and skin darkened in thick tracks of scars. I watched her hand grow timid about the stained edges, as if touching the scars would bring back the memory of what had caused them, as if my seeing them each day and feeling about them with my own fingers wasn’t memory enough.
What happened, she said.
I thought of lying, about how I fell drunk from a window and landed on some rocks or broken glass or maybe about how I was in a fiery accident or a knife fight and needed surgery to re-stitch the deeply shorn tissue. Something that might make her nod or smile or laugh and then forget it all. But she was gentle and seemed forgiving and so I told her the truth. She listened and was silent for a while and her fingers grew still and rigid on my skin and I regretted telling her almost immediately.
Are you serious, she said.
After a few minutes she rose and walked to the bathroom and I breathed the warm air of her departure on the sheets. There was artificial innocence and deep acceptance and years of hurt in her scent. She was like most every other woman. Light framed the closed door, a symmetry of knife edges in the dark. I heard the toilet flush and then the hiss of the faucet. She opened the door and stood in the frame, half-lit and exposed to the darkness, her nakedness stark and emblematic and teetering between the shadow of here and now and the verity of past light.
I’d better be going, she said.
She gathered her clothes about her and put them on methodically but gracefully, like I wasn’t even in the room. As if it wasn’t my room. As if she had done this a thousand times in a thousand different rooms just as I was certain she had. The clothes had come off in haste, without ceremony, the sole neutralizing obstacle to will. Now she stepped into them just as quickly and callously but with robotic calculation, like the clothes were a requirement and nothing more, as if they reminded her of her life before she took them off and how this new life was exactly like the old life and nothing like she thought it would be or perhaps hoped it would be. The clothes reminded her that nothing had changed, nothing would ever change. The brief nakedness between lives was her hurried respite from herself, from both lives.
It was nice meeting you, she said. Call me some time.
She sat and the edge of the bed sagged beneath her. She reached into her purse and rummaged through it and I wondered if the bathroom light was bright enough to kill moods and strains of moods or if it would even stop there and I could hear the wind whipping through the city outside my window but I could hear nothing more save for the screaming of bedsprings as she stood up and put a folded piece of paper with her phone number inside it on my nightstand. She crawled on the bed toward me and kissed me softly on the cheek and then the side of the mouth and for the first time I understood her intense sadness and its brutal dominion over her young life.
She walked out the door and shut it softly behind her and I could still smell her pale nomadic skin and her scalp and her breath woven into threads of the moment now lost to us. Her ghost haunted me through the night and so my dreams reverted in myriad to that lonely face at the far table in the coffee shop, that dark, worm-like body of abandon atop mine, shivering with the brief delight of self-sustaining sovereignty of soul. I closed my eyes and traced the scars on my stomach and torso with sudden longing for I never even thought to search her body.