Summer 2016 — THE POTOMAC


  Denise Milstein

I wrap my fingers around your door handle and push down, hoping that the door will not give but it does, since you left it unlocked, you usually do. So I walk in unannounced, leave my sandals next to yours, step into the kitchen where I find you, unsurprised to see me there, saying, "You must be thirsty," as though you knew that I am coming from the desert. You pour me a glass of water and slice me an orange that you arrange with your birthing hands, your working hands, your loving hands, on that plate I gave you so long ago now. You place it on the table which you finally painted green it seems, but the chair remains the same, unbalanced and unpainted, hardly supporting me as I sit and eat the orange and you lean back against the counter in that blue wrap–around skirt that reaches just below your knees, and the faded pink blouse I once opened, button by button, feeling like a thief as I peeled layer upon layer to find the center of you, to hold you in my cupped hands. There you stand, your arms loosely folded just below your breasts, a pencil holds your hair in a bun, your eyes fixed on the corner of the table where I sit and eat the orange without a word, thinking how I cannot break the silence even to ask for a napkin. So orange trickles down my chin and I hold out my fingers the way a murderer might, to consider them for an instant, dripping and macerated, before running from the scene.

Muted by your silence I slide the chair back, wanting to undo all of this, to perform every action, every gesture, every detail of these past few minutes in exact reverse order, to void my intrusion somehow. But the chair makes a scraping sound as I push back and rise awkwardly, then walk sideways, never taking my eyes off your eyes, still fixed on the corner of the table as I reach the door, slip my feet into the sandals I left there and use my elbow to push down the latch and walk back out onto the narrow street along which your little house sits, into the blinding light which renders me deaf. Or is the stillness of the afternoon such that I can cross to the shade on the other side without looking, wiping my hands on my shorts, while you remain, leaning back against the counter, holding yourself? Either your head is bent in sorrow or you have lifted it in defiance, proud to have survived our encounter intact. Or, your eyes have shifted to the door and you wonder if it really did open and shut, if indeed I walked through it, and whether I am now out on the street, summer sun beating down on the perfect silence that holds between us, that surrounds us like a bubble until a blaring wail pierces it, screaming straight into my ear, a metal monster out of nowhere, barreling into me so that where there was space there is no longer even air to breathe, only pain now, my body a collection of objects alien to me, ones that I touch but cannot feel.

I can still see. I see your dark door open again and your shadowy house exhale cool air into the street. I see you in the doorframe, now standing over me, taking me into your arms and oh, your sure hands finally on my cheek and the side of my head against your breast, your body opening to me because the breathing hurts like birthing and you know. If I could reach my ear to the place where I can hear your heart, my skin against your skin, the softness of us, then I could go on without breathing. But now you are counting breaths with me, saying "One, baby, two baby, three baby, four," these last breaths, the way you count for your women when they're pushing, as if a new me was being born, a me beyond you, a memoryless, painless me. The newborns you place naked on their mother's chests, body on body, where memory begins, where pain begins.

Now all fades to nothing, your arms around me, your hands on my face, your heart lulling me into no time, no place, how it softens, how all movement slows to never, how counting ends.

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