I had a lover swam naked as an eel. I sat watching him from the shore. Sand caught in the folds of my dress and in my mouth; grit between the teeth. He rose from the water clean and shining, polished perfect, sheets of water slipping from his skin. He washed from himself everything that could be discarded; sweat, lust and the unforgivable trespass on his heart.
I recall her asking for words and I would not help her. Words were hers, the tools of her craft. She muttered “Acute, astute…perspicacious?” I did not ask or answer. She left her writing splayed on the desk; one-dimensional monuments to her mutterings and musings. I did not see. I sat on whipped sheets, rearranged the parts of my body to avoid the slant of sunlight imposing itself upon the bed. I kept my linear blueprints neat, forced my thoughts into compartmentalized structure. The things she wrote—her odes to the past—I had no time for them. The past is meant to be washed away; clean and precise. Nothing but lines and angles.
Temperament: mine was restless, volatile. (Father sat in his study archly. I thought if I could erect defenses against his tyranny I would). I had no time for idle things. Sleep was incidental to life. Emotion, secondary. I sometimes felt she moved not at all. Like a stone (a statue of Venus!) she weighed me down. I only rose from the water over the feeling I might drown. But it was the other things I tried to rise above, to climb away from. It was my father locking the door to the basement, shutting me away in the dark until I stopped sniveling. Boys do not cry.
“We are not so different in what we do, you and I,” she said. “We build things, we mount ideas like stairs, one atop other, and then we climb to loftier heights, to see the view. All I see is you.”
“You are not so—what was that word?—perspicacious as you might think.”
“I shall write, ‘He is pernicious, even as he lays there turning art into the rules he lives by.’”
Rules of locution did not then apply, but now I recall her words. I recall sheets of paper white as ghosts. I try to see what was written on them. The stain of their ink eludes me. They flutter faintly, out of reach.
It was a recurring dream: hearing father shout from the bottom of those stairs while I, above, swallowed the key. When I woke I could taste it—metallic—and my throat constricted. I tasted it again when I kissed her, the base elements of the earth, and I mistook the constricting of my throat for an inability to breathe. I was too accustomed to the stale air of enclosed rooms.
When I grew hungry and weak I would not cry. I would cease to make any noise at all. Maybe he came out of fear or relief, I don’t know which. I did not learn quickly. I did not recognize the pattern. In time I learned the art of repression, though it did little to shorten the length of my captivity. Soon I understood the futility of emotion, the futility of none at all.
Then came The Event. It started with the mailbox; the contents of which are the undercurrent of life. (The written word is the moving tide, the roiling ocean! I was not—what was that word?—perspicacious in the least.) There was a letter from the School of Architecture and Design; the realization of a carefully engineered dream. I took it to father who was waiting—his look of overt derision never wavering—behind that solid desk. I meant to sound vague but something of the conquering hero crept into my voice. His laughter was condemning.
My luggage was lined up neatly in the foyer. I began to shoulder into my coat. I did not think he would come to see me off. The clearing of his throat commanded my attention. I thought perhaps he would stay there looking down at me, but he laid a hand on the banister to descend. Perhaps he was surprised by the multi-dimensionality of a stairway not transposed on paper. On the second step he slipped. He pitched forward suddenly and in trying to correct for the sudden movement, completely unbalanced himself. He hurtled down the stairs at a rapid pace and came to rest at the bottom, not far from where I stood, coat in limbo.
He was confined to a wheelchair, having broken the rigid bones of his back. His office was transported precisely intact to an unused room downstairs and nothing else changed. Time, which sped up so suddenly as he fell, resumed an ordinary pace. I picked up the displaced luggage in the foyer, locked him away.
I sat in the hollow of his latest building. He showed me where the shelves would go, where the light would cast its glow. I almost saw it; the room complete, though it is never what we dream. I would have told him this but I saw that he already knew. There were no windows in that room. I tried to loosen his iron grip, coaxing his fingers one by one. The hammer clattered away, a look of regret in his eyes. I made him touch me. His movements were stiff and then…then we swam. I heard him—afterward and in the dark—choking on his tears. It sounded like the footfall of a ghost.
In the end I fall somewhere in the middle; father below me and her above. Unable to move. We are all crippled, love. This is my letter to her, where she sits on some eternal stretch of sand, to tell her I am a skeleton of joists and studs where once there was flesh and bone and man.