“That’s super inappropriate behavior,” Brian says to me after I tell him about the gentle caresses at work, her head propped up against my shoulder after we lock the doors, as I count the tills.
“So was swiping right on a coworker,” I say.
Brian waves that one off, sitting crosslegged there on the floor.
Tommy is steps away in the “kitchen,” pushing around diced potatoes with a spatula. The cast iron pan smokes. A desk fan sprays said smoke out the window, into the black. Tommy wears an apron over an otherwise bare chest, an Indiana Jones style fedora sitting loose atop his head. As usual, lipstick is smeared across his lips though this time it’s a pale shade of blue. He swishes toward me, hands me a plate heaped with midnight breakfast, scrambled eggs and cayenne potatoes, and pours me a glass of orange juice. I swallow my pride and say thank you.
The way Brian and Tommy eat next to each other on the floor, it’s too sexual, I can barely swallow. They can’t take their eyes off one another. They feed each other potatoes, chew their eggs for the other, transfer with open mouth kisses like birds.
In the morning, as I cross the gravel drive toward my car, I see Tommy out in the fields making phone calls to no one. He’ll dial a number, let it ring, crouch low and touch the earth. Pressing his ear to the dirt, it looks like he’s tracking something, some beast.
There’s an incessant buzzing in my ears. I wonder if he hears it too.
I pull out of the drive. The last thing I see is Tommy scampering toward the wood. The wood. My heart hammers.
It’s a relief to be back at work, watching Mags and waiting for her to mention our match on Tinder. On her break, sandwich in one hand, phone in the other, she swipes, she swipes, she keeps on swiping. I forget how buried I must be under other men—maybe she didn’t even realize that was me. Aside from the now frequent caressing and head rests, Mags treats me exactly the same. She never mentions Tinder.
Her eyes, more often than not, are red and puffy and tired. Bloodshot. Then one day, they’re not. She’s unusually bouncy, wearing this floral summer dress in Spring, and that’s the day she stops touching me. I could never take my eyes off her before but now it’s painful to. Her unveiled pale thighs and calves, smooth to the imagined touch.
She talks at me, never pausing long enough for a response which is good because I have nothing to say. My mouth is too sticky, too dry.
I wait for her to press up against me, for her fingers to graze my back but they don’t and I fear they never will again—her eyes are too clear, too awake, too conscious of what her fingers can and cannot do, what they should’ve never been doing in the first place.
A tension in my neck. It’s a slow night at the bookstore and Mags stands by the registers. Her dress hangs high, flutters when she steps back and I almost see things. I roll my skull over my shoulders, stretching and possibly tearing the web of muscle there. I groan, I rub the back of my neck. I groan louder so Mags can hear me.
“Ugh, I need a back massage,” I say in the most casual, unassuming way possible. I raise my arms above my head, arch my spine. It’s a cool beat before she speaks.
“If we weren’t here,” she says, “I’d give you a back massage.”
I swallow. I’m not sure I really expected her to take the bait on that one.
“You can give me a back massage,” I say, sweating.
“No. Not here.”
Her cheeks flush pink and in her widening eyes I see the machinations of her mind backpedaling, as if she only now realizes whats being implied. But they can’t take back what’s already been said. Tears well up there and she turns away from me.
“I’m tired,” she says.
Back at the cottage, Tommy still searches the wood. I see him out there among the trees, drenched in the moon. He’s crouched on all fours with his eyes closed and he doesn’t move. Then he sniffs the air twice in rapid succession and his eyes shoot open. I try to sleep but I can’t.
When I ask Brian what he’s doing out there, Brian only shrugs.
Still, the buzzing in my ears.
In the parking lot outside the bookstore, I lean against the back of my minivan, a candy cigarette hanging from my lips, the kind we sell behind the counter. I lean there casually in wait, looking like some millennial James Dean with a salt breeze in my face and an uncharacteristic calm in my eyes.
Her voice on the wind. She’s just now locking up with the others. I chew on one end of the cigarette, take it out and flick it as if I were ashing ash. I place it back between my lips and pretend I don’t hear her coming my way. I pretend I don’t hear her little steps or smell her lilac smell, though when she says, “Hey you,” I’m truly startled, because she stole my line.
“Hey,” I choke, “you.”
I look into her. Her eyes are clear and her hair reflects the moon. The clarity of her eyes, I’m not sure this clarity is to my advantage.
“What have you got there?” she asks, saddling up next to me. I pull out my box of candy cigarettes and slip her one. She places it between her lips and leans against me, against the minivan. The two of us stand there, staring out at the bay from the parking lot, and from the corner of my eye I see her cigarette tremble. It’s not that cold. We’re looking pretty cool though, the two of us standing there.
“Wanna see something?” I ask her.
She nods, the cigarette nodding with her.
I open the back of the minivan, revealing the full-size mattress I have stuffed back there in place of the bucket and back seats.
“It’s beautiful,” she says to me.
I nod. “I had to take the backseats out when I first moved up here, to fit all my stuff.” As for the mattress, I explain, the cottage is too small to accommodate such a luxury.
“It’s beautiful,” she says again, now sucking on the cigarette end. She hops up onto the edge of the mattress, and I sit there beside her, our legs dangling out the back. Rolling my head over my shoulders, I once again rub the back of my neck.
“Here,” she says, and scoots behind. Her legs straddle me and her chest presses briefly against my back. I feel her breath on my ears. She starts at my shoulders and works her way down, kneading the emaciated muscle of my back. The way she presses down, digs in, I feel stale blood released and reintroduced into my bloodstream. A rocking calm takes me, her fingers massaging me into a state of rhythmic stillness, nodding with the waves of some sea. Her fingers grow more violent, press in deeper, scrape bone. And I’m not stupid, I know a storm is coming. Under the waters something stirs, some beast with nine eyes and the surface roils with its awakening. My inside sky has gone a pale shade of black and I fear for my life because I’m blind to what’s coming, because it’s only a girl and she’s numbing this very fear from my bones, the healthy kind of fear thats supposed to tell you when it’s time to flee, time to fly when the sirens sound, scream that the beast is coming. You can tell by the towering tsunami that precedes it, black against the sky, blotting out the stars.
A spit of rain against the windows.
A slow patter, a steady fall turning the ground a darker shade of everything.
Now it’s pouring.
“How does it feel?” she asks me.
“Not too hard?”
“You can go harder.”
I try to keep my back firm as she presses in, but I can’t stop from rocking, the bobbing of my head.
“Would it be easier,” I ask, “if I were to lie down?”
Her kneading slows, her fingers back away. I realize now how raw my back is, how much it hurts without her touch, because of it.
“Not tonight,” she says.
“K,” I say.
“Not yet,” she says.
My heart sputters at that—the ‘yet.’
She scoots back next to me, drops her head onto my shoulder. A curtain of rain cascades over the open door, separates us from whats beyond.
I think I hear it, that silence that comes before. I picture the tide suck itself back, exposing the reefs and the sea creatures too slow to find cover. The shadow, I believe I see it through the rain, rise and hulk into the sky. Over the sound of shattering drops, I’m sure of it, I hear it’s roar.
“Did you hear that?” I ask Mags.
Listening to her breaths, I say nothing. My mind retreats into itself.
Tommy found the phone last night. He found Brian’s phone buried in a ditch out back in the woods behind the cottage. Six feet deep, he said it was. None of us know how it got there. I sure as hell don’t know, I told them repeatedly. But the way Brian looked at me, still looks at me, I suspect that Brian knows. I still see him tucking his phone into his pocket, not even bothering to clear the dirt still caked to its screen.
join man next week for journal #18 (in which said man and the lilac girl go searching for lilacs in the night)