It struck me how the sight of her entering my darkened bedroom, the penumbra of light around her body from the lamp outside, could awaken the quickening sensation in my body of a young man. Memories mix with fear and longing now that my younger image decreases in portfolio and distance within my remembrances, and I struggle to keep my libido separate from the tawdry, adult cold-sweat of my present state. I owed her that much. . .
The late afternoon sunlight streamed into the courtyard adjoining our favorite Bistro and as I faced her, a warm orange glow seemed to emanate from around Zoey's face and hair. Hours of lab work had not yet taken their toll on either of us, feeling no worse than after fifteen minutes of sleep after pulling an all-night binge at the student pub. Still, hours of sitting at a lab table had left us cramped and tense, so we chose to stand at the counter shelf that lined one of the walls enclosing the open air dining area.
Zooey pivoted her hips to one side in a luxuriant stretch and I made note of the body parts I would be attending to that night. She reached down to one side, rubbing her upper leg and thigh softly.
'13 all,' I said. The pucker on her face as she tended to the sore spot turned into a smirk and then a smile.
'Turned out 13 was a lucky number, at least for our side.' The district volleyball championship back in high school had been her one shining moment of glory and was emblazoned in the hamstring pull she never fully recovered from. That one amazing spike had turned the ball over and carried the team into legend status, the kind that haunts the trophy cases found in the halls of high schools many years after the roar has died down.
'Left a mark though.'
'Not as bad as the trade mark Wilson I left stamped on their middle blocker's forehead!' she said. 'Besides, you're one to talk. I've been catching all those strange noises coming out of your body when you get up in the morning.'
'That's not iiiit. It's more of an anatomical expurgation than a metaphorical exclamation,' she said. 'Like some lame ass haunted fun house moan,' she jeered as her gaze dropped down to the source of her irritation.
'It's not that simple, I won't have it be that simple...'
'Don't...' she said as she looked around to see who was close by. She never stated it plainly, but she adored being able to detest me when I mooned over her in public. My favorite tactic was famous movie scenes.
'Sad alais, will you marry me?'
'Stop!' she hissed.
'Be my queen,' I said in increasing volume.
'You're making a fool of yourself,' she said as she shrunk from anyone watching.
'We'll love each other, and you'll give me sons.'
'You're no Lion in Winter, OK? Now CUT IT OUT!'
As she returned to kneading out her hamstring, I could see the contour of her backside through her scrubs when she lifted her leg slightly to stretch the muscle. I watched her intently.
'Remember your eleventh birthday party?'
'The great groping incident?'
Zoey's grandmother was an avid gardener and she tended her expansive back yard with all the care of a Renaissance painter working in oils. A myriad of spring time colors adorned the site of Zoey's birthday party, and the smell of Jasmine danced in the breezes that swirled around and through the Magnolia trees lining the back end.
After opening the presents, all of the children were sent out into the garden, to exhaust the surplus energy consumption of cake and ice cream. But before we were allowed to romp, we were asked to sit in chairs arranged in a semi-circle in the middle of the yard to receive a birthday benediction from the diocese priest, a close friend of Zoey's family. Her dress was not to her liking, but her mother insisted that little ladies in thigh-high crinoline doll dresses was never out of fashion.
I had rushed outside to take the seat next to hers and I placed my hand on her chair to prevent anyone else from sitting there. I turned away for an instant, and that's when I suddenly felt the touch of warm cotton and flesh settling itself over my hand.
I would venture that no one's first sensuous memory as a child could be more sensual than that experience. At that age, there can be no revulsion but the copper tinged sensation of shock in my mouth and the look of bewilderment on Zoey's face foreshadowed an awkwardness that found its expression in our expulsion from the Garden of Eden that is love in innocence.
After the party, when we thought no one had noticed, we were asked to sit down with the family priest and introduced into the adult world of lust and sin, making us feel as outcasts; clinging to each other ever more as we were told that such seemingly trivial circumstances could one day lead to sins of temptation that degrade the flesh and lead to purgatory for the soul.
Later at school, we spoke of it in hushed tones during lunch.
'You didn't mean to do it on purpose, right?' she asked.
'No for crying out loud!' I had already undergone the mystery of claiming it as a sin in confession and felt as if the world would never look at me the same way again. 'I had to tell the priest five times that it was a mistake! Jeez! Why doesn't anybody believe me?'
'Keep it down! I don't want anyone to know about it.'
Our parents had mercifully decided that it was something best kept discreetly and never to be discussed again, as if it never happened.
She looked about sheepishly and then turned to me. 'How...' her line of sight dropped down to a point just over her right shoulder.
'How did it make you feel?'
I wanted to feel as insubstantial as any of the million daydreams that cross the transom of a child's mind. Something fleeting that captures the imagination and is gone once you try to hold it, to make it real.
'I don't know.'
'Did you feel like sin?' she asked. 'Did I make you feel the way the priest said?'
'I don't know. I've never felt that way before Zoey. It was an accident.'
But in that moment, as I relived it countless times in my mind, the one thing I never got over is how we became forever linked, inseparable regardless of time and space. Zoey came to understand it too in her own way, that point in space and time where we could return to each other; like whenever our eyes met, or in the singularity of making love, at once tempting and frightening in the moment of release, when we knew that somehow we were connected in a way that no divine presence could ever tear asunder.
The scent of Jasmine in the breeze swirling around the courtyard caught both of us in mid-thought as we drew in the air; a sense of stimulation frozen in that one moment of time.
'Promise you'll never forget these moments of time together.'
'Never, as long as I can hold you in my thoughts'
The house had taken on stillness, and a vacuum like quietude that I knew well. It was time to turn out the lights and sit quietly in the dark. Taking a candle from the kitchen drawer and having retrieved our photo album from its secure place, I settled into my favorite chair in the living room and waited.
I looked at Zoey's picture with a wanting that, should it last longer than my resolve, might make my chest implode. It was a doorway pose, with the backlighting showing the outline of her body, her hips at an angle and slightly turned so that I could just discern the horizon of her derrière.
She still favored the side of her old injury, but the pose was classic come-hither in panties and a brassiere, with arms akimbo but under her chin, like a dancer about to start an evocative sequence of steps.
I had taken up photography in my spare time in the years right after Zoey and I got married. For our first anniversary, she agreed to indulge me by posing for the picture, but with the proviso that she would keep it in her possession, only to be bought out whenever the whim met us. The age of selfies and posting pictures on the internet from camera phones had thoroughly soured my love for catching an image, something to hold on to after the moment is gone.
Turning the pages of the album was like going back in time and I landed on the night of the big volleyball championship and the legendary spike that would, later in life, be the reason for her demise: Zoey being carried by her teammates after injuring her hamstring.
‘It was an embolism,’ the doctor told me after she died. ‘Usually for someone of her age and health, it’s caused by DVT, did she recently suffer a leg injury?’
Deep vein thrombosis. As a clinical diagnosis, it wasn’t the proximate cause of death, but it is insidious in it’s ability to linger deep inside an old sports injury, causing blood clots in a vein that break loose and rush to the lungs, heart or brain; wherever they can do the most damage.
‘Did I make you feel like sin?’ The question had lingered in our story, only to come out and haunt me once I made a crazy and overwrought connection: a moment of despair, regret and confusion when I somehow connected in my mind the great-groping incident with the legendary spike, and began blaming myself for being part of Zoey’s abbreviated life, cut short by an accident, a moment of awkwardness that we were made to feel ashamed of.
Looking for relief, I remembered the silly fight we had just before leaving for college.
‘Why are you being such a dick?’
‘Why did you give back the ring?’
We had come of age together and I was afraid that she would wander away from my life like so many things had and have in the years that followed. The song playing on the radio had started it all:
here’s what I’ll do, I’ll play it loose, not like we have a date with destiny…
I cajoled and threatened, she demurred and told me everything that is meant to be will happen; if we were meant to be together, then it will be. I remember that night as the advent of my occasional bouts of insomnia.
It would be another sleepless night with a house full of my nervous energy, emanating outwards into the void. I rose and went to bed, carrying the candle and the photo album with me. I placed the candle on the hallway table outside the bedroom, and settled in for another date with destiny.
Zoey’s ghost stood in the doorway and the smell of jasmine pushed its way past her into the room.
‘Why do you keep doing this to us?’ Her lips moved but no sound came out, there was only the sound inside my head. ‘It’s a sin.’
‘I can’t let you go love.’
‘And I can’t cross over until you do.’
Rational minds would call my insanity a psychosis of the mind, insubstantial and impossible, but I knew she was in pain somewhere and I was the cause of it. She was a captive in my mind and could not break free.
‘If you don’t let me go, you’ll have to come with me this time. We can finally be together forever.’
She could make it happen, and I knew it; was convinced down to the depths of my soul. All I had to do is say: yes.
‘Do I mean that much to you?’ I asked.
A question rang in my ears in return: ‘Do you love me more than life itself?’
Answering such questions requires a wisdom of the ages that eludes us all in the moment, and that is why she was still a captive, linked to me in time and space in a way that no divine presence could tear asunder. That is why we all falter in the end, why we choose to delay the inevitable and suffer the consequences, forever looking to the past to see ourselves limping around the corner or shouting out a warning before we get caught in an embarrassing predicament. We wait for ourselves in this reverie, hoping to get the right answer without the benefit of hindsight, which is what we are looking for in the present.
I gave Zoey the photo album, she took it in her hands, turned and walked into the hallway as the candle there died out.