“What’s wrong?” there was genuine concern in her voice. This personal authenticity unnerved him even more.
Her hands reached out to his which were clasped between his legs. He sat on a park bench looking out over the lake. The lake was calm and peaceful and in total contrast to the wind whipping inside his belly. Her hands wrapped around his which were still clasped tightly together. Her fingers long and thin, still looked small against his own. There was the slightest hint of desperation in her grip betraying the strength collected on her face.
Nothing needed to be said. From the start, there was an immediate attraction and bond between the two that given space and time would defy even the need for speaking. But at this moment, words were needed. It, they, this, was still too new to leave anything open to being possibly misconstrued. The silence, though Golden, was still not a rich enough expression that the moment demanded.
He opened his hands so as to let her fingers slide between his. He sat up straight turning his body to face hers. Simultaneously a smile came to the corner of both their mouths. He leaned in and softly kissed her cheek. She had felt one other kiss like that before in her life. She was grateful that her sunglasses wouldn’t betray her welling eyes.
He began, “It was something you said in the beginning when we first met. Through all of this, what you said then has never left me.”
He was a direct man. Not without tact or empathy, but always direct in all aspects of his life. He didn’t want there to be any confusion about where he stood, what he said, or what he meant. It may be uncomfortable at the moment, but it eliminated any imaginary conversations taking place in the future. It was honesty. For him, he had always found safety in honesty. Even in his secret life, he was honest an honest man.
He lightly stroked her forearms, continuing his thought. He didn’t need to choose his words or reasons carefully for they were genuine and every day they grew more embedded within him.
“Before we even met you said, ‘I know this is a bad decision. In fact, I think you said, a ‘bad, bad, bad decision.’ Followed with, ‘I know it’s also a right decision. I want this even though I am aware in the end, I’m going to pay for it. I’m going to be hurt deeply. I’ll end up a grown woman crying tears into my pillow. I never was much for Teddy Bears.”
He held her gaze and continued, “Those were your words, and here’s the thing. I haven’t purposely hurt anything living since I’ve been fourteen years old. Except for flies. I don’t understand what purpose they serve.”
“What happened at fourteen?” She asked.
“Two things happened at the age of fourteen. The first being, my father had an unsuccessful attempt at suicide. He swallowed a bottle of pills. He had to have his stomach pumped. After that experience, I figured there were already enough tormented and tortured people in the world. People whose souls are so bruised, to the point of being crushed, that folks didn’t need any extra grief from me.
The second is an odd thing. In the scheme of creation, it probably makes not one jot or tittle of difference…but it did to me. While my father was in the psych ward for a six-week stint, I was shipped off to my grandparents for a few weeks. My grandparents lived within walking distance to a lake so every day I’d pack a lunch and fishing pole and off to the lake I’d go.
It was the last day of my stay with my grandparents. The next morning I had to go back home and who knows what was going to be waiting there, right? So, I’m sitting on a pile of big rocks lining the shore of the lake in the last light of day. The sun was setting. Neon colors of red and orange reflecting off the water. I remember it all, really so very clearly. The c0lors were so very vivid. I had my fishing line in the water. I don’t remember what I was using for bait. It didn’t really matter. I wasn’t actually fishing. I was just sitting there watching my small red and white bobber float on the water creating small concentric circles wondering what tomorrow would hold when my little bobber plunged underwater.
I didn’t set the hook.
I just let that bobber go down into the black water. Eventually, the bobber surfaced. It was apparent that a smaller fish was still on the line. I figured it had probably swallowed the hook. I reeled in my line. There was a little sunfish at the end of it.
Have you ever stopped to look at a Sunfish or a Bluegill? Held one in the palm of your hand? They are a beautifully adorned fish. I mean, just incredible. The hybrid fish they create are worthy of being painted themselves. Well, it was I just as I thought, the fish had swallowed the hook. I could see it down there in his gullet stuck like King Arthurs’ sword. He was a dead fish swimming.
I remember staring at that Sunfish. With every gasp for life his lungs took from the waterless air, the barbs of the hook sunk in deeper pulling at the fish’s flesh as he inhaled. Blood was beginning to trickle into his belly. To this day, I don’t know why, perhaps looking back it was simply teenage anger. Like I said, I don’t know why, but I stood up and picked up my fishing pole, the line still taught with my hook deep in the sunfish’s’ gullet. I swung my pole up and back like a threshing ax, the line swinging out tight to my right, the fish still secured until death. I looked back over my right shoulder as I began to whip my fishing pole forward. The sun was setting perfectly behind me now. It was then that I was awakened to one of the most beautiful visions I had ever seen in my young life.
Droplets, mists, sprays, streams of water were falling from the fishing line and from the yellow and black fins of the fish. Falling perfectly in the remaining burst of the sun, creating a million prisms dancing in the sky. It seemed as if all life had stopped forever in that split second of sun and spray.
I’ve seen beauty since then, I’ve even been in stupefied awe. I mean daybreak on the hills of the Maisa Mara is brilliantly stunning, like living watercolors, but I’ve never seen a million galaxies of light suspended before me, each different, each the same. It made me feel both big and small all at once. I’ve never seen anything like it since. Only maybe once in my dreams and of course, it’s a memory I replay often.”
“It sounds like a vision worthy of some cathedral ceiling.” She was smiling. She loved listening to him talk. It seems he had read about most everything and traveled most everywhere at some point in his life. His dark brown hair had streams of silver. His eyes were wrinkled and worn. His smile though devilish was always warm and safe.
“Please go on, I’m sorry for interrupting.” She offered.
He smiled in return pausing to look back over the lake. A hummingbird suddenly was suspended before them which was odd being their surrounding were void of any flowers.
He looked at her, “That bird must smell your sweetness.”
“You know; you can be totally corny sometimes. And I know you’re not sincere with that line, but you say it so damn charmingly I almost believe it. Enough, continue.”
The hummingbird zipped off, and he began again, “I remember the stream of water from the tip of fish’s tail fin creating a rainbow. I remember smiling and thinking that the Noah’s Ark story from the Bible, taken literally, is a vicious and dare I say almost savage ending to life. Drowning? Seriously? Children drowning. My God. Is there a more terrible death than knowing that your last desperate breath for life is going to fill your lungs so violently that your body will be flung back into the darkness of water…forever? I mean, fuck.
I remember thinking, in Noah’s day, it must have been pretty damn good to have been a fish.
All the fish lived. All of them.
But not all the animals lived, nope. Only two of every kind and few of us humans. One family. One family that will be marrying first cousins right off the bat to repopulate the earth. Right?”
He looked at her over the top of his sunglasses so she could see his eyes. She returned the favor adding a touch of flare by using her hand to lower her own. Reciprocity is such an enjoyable experience. They took their glasses off.
She was a beautiful woman. He felt incredibly lucky to meet her acquaintance. Her mind was sharp. Brilliant actually. It had been so long, if ever, that he had met another person who so mentally clicked with him. He couldn’t stop thinking about the intellectual connection they shared. The thought distracted him during the days and kept him up during the nights.
The physical chemistry between them equally matched the intellectual stimulation. When they touched, it made every fiber in his body throb. So much so, that soon after they start kissing and touching, his head begins to throb at a rapid pace, racing to the point of unrelenting pain.
Pain with no absolution.
Pain propelled by a gnawing angst that drives him to retreat from any other living person. His pain and passion for her knew no borders, but he was stuck right where he was.
He leaned in to gently kiss her cheek. This was useless. He could feel her high Scandinavian cheeks rise up against his lips as she began to smile. Her hand slid up the length of his forearm, pausing to squeeze, continuing to his biceps and shoulder.
“Damn, every muscle you have is firm boy.” She squeezed again.
He smiled at her words. Even though he could feel the mounting painful pressure beginning to fill his head, he could not stop. He kissed her neck. She tilted her head back and to the side opening herself, giving herself to him. He wanted her completely. His own flesh voracious with a carnal hunger that was only matched by the intensity of her own.
He pressed the palm of his hand firmly against the curve of her hip and kissed the corner of her mouth. The smile her face once carried was replaced by a grin of purposed intent. She looked hard into his eyes. He was not afraid to hold that gaze. They had the exact same color eyes, a greenish hazel and both of them with yellow specs scattered within and without which were now shining now dancing in their eyes, glowing even here in the last light of day.
His hand moved from the curve of her hip around the small of her back and slowly up the length of her spine there gaze never waning. He could feel her hair begin to drift into his fingers, it was soft and the color of corn silk. He could detect just the slightest change in her eyes. She had the look of a woman keenly in the moment. She had completely forgotten that she was entirely taken with the story he was only just one minute ago telling. He too had forgotten. His own blood was rushing. The pressure was mounting. He wondered if his head would explode should he kiss her here and now.
He was a man with an incredible threshold for pain.
He took her mouth. She took his back. There was no subtlety at that moment.
The world had stopped.
As if all life had ended or had it just begun?
A bolt of lightning came crashing through the top of his skull filling his head with a blinding raging light that would immediately paralyze him into a fetal position had he let it.
He grimaced and grabbed her hair fully in his hand and pulled her head back. Her eyes were on fire, and he could feel her fingernails digging through his linen shirt into the muscles in his back. It was one of the most intense moments he had ever felt in his life. So fully alive and yet on the precipice of death by an aneurysm.
“Take me, male. Take me now. Mount me.” She threw her head back and laughed full. Her laughter filled the atmosphere. My God, she was beautiful.
He tried to smile, but the pain was overwhelming, even for him. His body responded voluntarily and he recoiled, his hands reaching to the side of his head.
“Is it your head again?”
He nodded, “I’m going to need a minute.”
They sat in silence as the parks department workers tidied up the fishing docks and emptied the garbage cans.
In a few minutes, the knifing pain would subside enough for him to drive and to get back home to bed as long as he didn’t try to kiss her again. It seems every time he became aroused his head exploded. He looked it up on the internet. A sex headache. Turns out it’s a real thing. He had a sneaking suspicion that the pain was a bit more involved than that. His erection was only a red flag warning of some other impending pain. Pain precedes pain. Love precedes love.
He sat straight now against the bench. With closed eyes he slowly inhaled the humid evening air through his mouth, exhaling just as slow. Deep and slow until his mind was momentarily resting elsewhere.
In the far off distance, he could feel her hand resting on his knee.
Prisms and galaxies, sunsets and sunfish, bolts of lightning, rains, floods along with a giant neon glitter laced rainbow now filled his head.
“So, this Sunfish,” she asked, “What happened? You were talking about this poor little sunfish creature until you went off about the violence of Noah’s flood.” She smiled at him. Though his eyes remained closed, he could feel the warmth her smile radiated. His eyes remain closed, and he spoke.
“Right. I swung the line out tight to my right, on my left were two large gray rocks.” The pain flattening the tone of his delivery of the story. Monotone like killer finally caught and retelling the scene, “Big grey rocks, one flat like a table, the other lying partly on top of it, with an edge, like a kitchen counter.
It’s hard to describe even though I remember everything about the moment so vividly. It’s a memory I replay too often. When it actually happened, and when I recall the memory today, everything was moving in slow motion. All my physical and emotional movement was moving so fast, yet what I was looking at, what I was watching, was happening all so incredibly slow. I had a million thoughts at once, and each one was clear and precise, all separate but belonging to me. It was like when you’re fortunate enough to sometimes look up into the sky and see perfectly formed and spaced shafts of light streaming through the clouds, all together but separate.”
He turned his head towards her presence and opened his eyes. She was looking at him. She was earnestly listening. She smiled softly at him. He turned his eyes towards the expanse of the sky before him, closed his eyes and continued.
“I guess when it all comes together like that, everything at once, so fast, so sudden, yet so slow and crystal clear…I suppose they call that an epiphany or perhaps a revelation of some sort. I mean, I can still see the fins of the Sunfish fully displayed in pain and probably physical shock. I remember the arc of mist the wet fishing line created as I swung the little fish from right to left. I watched the fish the whole way as he flew through the air. His eyes were seemingly wide with fear. In the corner of my left eye, I could see the slabs of gray rock coming quickly into view. My hand – eye coordination was spot on in those days. That little sunfish, that masterpiece of color and design, connected with perfect force and velocity against the rock. You know, the same way my hand connects with your ass.” He smiled, through the raging pain in his head.
“That little comment undoubtedly connected with something, darling.”
Her body was still on fire as she scooted herself just a bit closer. He could feel the firmness of her breasts pressed purposely yet gently against his upper arm. She was more than ready. Ready to take him. Ready to be taken. But even more eager to hear what was currently rumbling through his mind.
He wasn’t always easy to catch. He was ten years her senior. He loved language and words as much as she. Absolutely a huge turn on for her. Whenever she was with him she couldn’t help wonder about the timing of life, the people you meet, the compromises you make, the experiences you may miss out on or unfortunately experience. She could easily love this man. In fact, she may already be there. She knew it from the start. She had a feeling he knew it too.
He had a beautiful but complicated mind. He was quite sincere. Very honest. A fantastic communicator except for the fact that he would disappear from their chain of correspondence for days upon days. He’d return without excuse, either rested or weary, mostly the latter. But when he did return, when they were talking, walking, kissing, whatever the moment, in thier moments he was always fully present, aware, and engaged. That made her feel wanted and accepted. How could she not want more of it? But there is the timing of things, the location of things, the separation of things, and of course her two little ones who are her world and a husband who hasn’t touched her in over two years, and who believes words are a waste of time. So yeah, there’s that. The timing of life, is it really all for a reason? She had her doubts.
Her fingertips began to twirl his long brown curls, “Continue please.” She lay her head against his shoulder.
“I don’t know why I did it. I guess I was fourteen. I was confused and alone. I felt abandoned. I almost felt relief…almost, because the old man didn’t die. I couldn’t help but think it would be easier if he did die. He was a hard man. But, nope, he was there, but in actuality, he was just gone. Gone like my childhood. I guess I knew what was left of it was over then at that moment, and maybe I was really scared about it. I knew from that moment on, life was gonna get shitty, and I was gonna be more or less on my own. Anyway, I smacked the fuck out of that fish against those gray rocks repeatedly.”
Her head was no longer resting on his shoulder. She was sitting straight up looking intently at him, like a poker pro trying to get some kind of tell or read to how he was feeling. But there was nothing. His eyes presumably looking straight ahead, but he was the pro between the two. All these years later, though still tormented by the memory he was about to share; he was able to share it calmly. After all, it did take place thirty-six years ago.
“What life was left in that fish went slack along with line upon the first strike. It was like the force of the blow compressed all the remaining breath of life from his body, then the pressure from which recoiled and sprang his body back up into the air. He flopped back on the rock, sunny side up. His dark black eye, the left one, had become detached and was hanging out. His beautifully adorned patterned scales were forever marred…as if he wasn’t already dead, right?
I remember thinking that stupid fish shouldn’t have swallowed my hook, even though I was the one who let him do it. I just needed an excuse. See, if that fish were caught in the mouth, the force of the blow would have ripped the hook right from his lips tearing the cartilage in two. But nope. The fish was snagged deep in the gullet. I guess rage took over at that moment. I decided I was going to beat that fish until there was no more fish or until the line broke whatever came first.
At some point, Ol’ Sunny’s other eye detached. His belly split open. The sun was still setting, every splash of the water and lash against the rock was still creating the incredible scene of water drops dancing and becoming flying prisms and rainbows. I remember the sky was the color of faded orange and burnt yellow. I remember those colors because there were now drops of red fish blood being scattered across that sunset motif.
And then, it all fell back into real time. I could once again hear the lake waves lapping across the rocks. I could see the stain of life smeared against the gray stone. My line never did snap, and I smacked the shit out of that fish.”
He slapped the palms of his hands together mimicking the sound of death. She grimaced so he stopped.
He continued, “For some reason, in this ever recurring memory, it’s the setting of the sun I always remember. The sun was low enough to reflect off of the water. It was the end of the day, and I stood there out of breath knowing then I was also at the end of all I had ever known. There in that last burst of light, life as I then knew it and as I know it now, everything; the fish remains slathered across the rock, my dad crumpled on the bathroom floor with his own remains of empty brown prescription bottles, and especially the colors at that moment in time, the orange, the yellow… the speckles of red, all the colors began to bleed into one…”
There was a significant moment of silence between them.
Her hand was still on his knee.
His head was still throbbing.
As they sat by the lake, the lapping of the waves suddenly spoke with a different timbre.
“I don’t know how else to say it. Life changed for me that day.”
“I guess shortly after that I decided that to the best of my ability that I would never purposely hurt anything ever again. Not even animals.”
A fly buzzed into the scene landing on the edge of the worn wooden picnic table they were sitting at.
“Except for fucking flies!” He quickly smashed the insect with the palm of his hand, flicked off the remains and then rubbed his hand in the dirt.
“Fucking flies. I hate fucking flies. They are straight from the pit of hell. I will kill all flies and mosquitos without prejudice. Those parts of evolution I don’t understand and can do without.”
He rubbed his hands together. She sat silently amused. She was smiling.
She leaned near his face, still smiling, “Do you know how badly I want to kiss you right now?” She raised her eyebrows and clicked her teeth in a playful teasing bite.
He was quite taken with her. Smitten even. But the pain still violently ringing in his head forced him to continue his story quickly but not without genuine sincerity. He cared for this woman.
“You don’t mind if I talk directly do you?”
She shook her head no, “Of course not, it is one of the many characteristics about you that drives me wild of course.” She smiled playfully at him.
“Okay good. I only ask because it seems that we are able to talk in such a manner. My head is also still unfortunately pounding, and I fear, the time remaining on the day for me is quickly coming to a close and what I have to say is important to me. I believe important for you too.”
She silently nodded that she understood. “Yes, I’m quite confident you didn’t tell me about splaying fish guts for naught.”
“No.” He tried to smile, but his head felt like it was being torn open. “But if you remember, you did ask what two things happened at fourteen.”
“That I did. Okay, Mr. Direct, pardon my interruption, continue please.”
He continued, “You know, I’ve felt misplaced and out of time my entire life.”
“Gifted people often feel that way.” She offered.
He nodded, “I don’t know if that makes me feel any better.”
He cleared his throat and continued, “When I was younger, there was an immediate panic whenever I lost something. Especially a dog. You know, me and dogs, we’re tight, right? I guess you could classify that panic as living in the realm of co-dependency.”
“You’re co-dependent with dogs?” She asked amused. It was that curiously amused look she had about life’s discussions that attracted him to her.
“Hey, if you moved around as much as I did as a kid, yeah, you get co-dependent with dogs!” He was mocking himself, and he wanted to kiss her again right then and there, but his head was again beginning to build to a painful boil and this moment was important, so he refrained.
“You know what I’m saying smartass.” He continued.
“I recognized this c0-dependency with my college girlfriend whom I loved deeply. But, because I realized I was co-dependent with her, I had to break it off with her. Otherwise, I’d be forever lost, and being lost is at least for me, entirely different than feeling misplaced and out of time…if that’s possible or makes sense. I mean, in my bones I knew there were places to go and see, travels to take and I knew I couldn’t afford to be lost. ‘All who wander are not lost,’ right?
It’s not that I was or wanted to harden my heart, I just knew that I would never become who I was to become if I was co-dependent on another person, and I was. I was co-dependent on the college girlfriend right? So, I walked away from possibly the greatest love I’ve ever known. I crawled into a corner afterward and bawled like a baby for about four years, didn’t handle all too well, but it had to be done.”
She was looking at him quizzically, “You’re a fascinating bird, Mister.”
He smiled, “Point being, after that season came and went, I never once ever again considered myself lost. Wrong turns? Sure. Wrong trains, wrong buses, wrong lovers, wrong friends, wrong cities, wrong jobs, absolutely, but never once did I ever feel lost. Never felt panicked like my dog ran away, until now.”
They were both quiet now. The moment had arrived.
He looked at her, “I didn’t expect to ever find you. So I certainly didn’t expect to feel so suddenly, lost. I’m experiencing something I’ve only really imagined. Perhaps it’s is even something I gave up on being real. It has caused me incredible inner conflict.”
“Ah, I’m the origin of your recent onslaught of headaches?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. It’s as if we are somehow connecting through some parallel universe that is just beyond the reality of our actual reach. You know that place where the sense of touch becomes fully alive and all the stars and planets and linear markings of time synchronize, and all of life is as it should be?”
“Good grief boy, can you just bring your altruistic universe back down here to this little podunk park? Stars and planets and linear markings of time in a parallel universe? What are you trying to say?” She waited for the answer.
He turned his head back towards her. He held her gaze momentarily then looked back out over the water.
“You and I don’t belong to each other. We don’t even really belong to this time. We both belong to someone else. We both belong to the time of our choosing and making.”
He paused to look at her again. She too was now staring silently at the calm water of the lake. She thought that today was indeed a beautiful day. Too sweet a day for such a stormy conversation. A light wind blew across their faces. She looked over to a small line of trees thinking that it was the perfect temperature for lying in a hammock gently swinging, with sleep close to arriving after making love with a man who had awakened parts of yourself you didn’t even know existed. But that was apparently for another day.
“Finish please.” She asked softly.
“Sometimes I dream of that sunfish, but in my dream, he doesn’t swallow my fishing hook, he inhales all the pills my father did instead. He swallows them all until his belly is bloated and he becomes easy pickings in the food chain.”
He reached up with both his hands, rubbing the side of his head. Massaging is temples, running his hands back and forth through his hair, and then his eyes which were beginning to pulse with pressure.
“Anyway, ever since I slammed that sunfish against the rock and all that scene entailed, it seems, I’ve used most of this life looking for redemption in one way, some form or another. Redemption is not something I want to seek from you. I don’t even know if that makes sense when said out loud, but it makes sense somewhere in my heart, somewhere deep inside of me it all rings true.”
He reached over to take her hands. “Listen, you told me, that this course of action will only result in you crying yourself to sleep in your pillow because of me. You even said, you didn’t care, that even though you know continuing would most certainly bring you pain. You couldn’t resist…that you wanted this anyway. Do you remember saying that?”
She nodded her head in agreement, for it was true. Not only the words but the strength behind them.
He let go of her hands, “If I continue going forward with you, using your body for my pleasure, escaping into your mind…if I go forward knowing that one day you’ll be in pain because of me… or for me…then, that is no different than slamming a helpless sunfish against a rock.”
He took a long slow breath and slowly exhaled.
He looked into her alive and curious eyes and said to her, “I have nothing to offer you but the truth. Since I’ve met you I’ve never felt more alive and more close to death…and all at the same time if that’s even possible.”
His head was pounding now without mercy. He knew he didn’t have much time until the pain went white. He wouldn’t say it, but he couldn’t deny the fact that since they first met his physical and emotional well-being were being ravished with every waking hour since meeting her acquaintance. It was if he was under an ancient deep siren spell.
He took one last breath of the shared air between them, “I suppose only you and I will ever know about the connection here between us. Or I guess I should say, the unbelievably surprisingly intense connection between us. Knowing you has awakened me, all of me. The thought of you has filled my days and nights and all the sunrises and sunsets in-between. There has been such a delight racing through my veins, pushing through my heart, the thought of you simply makes me pulse.
“But that pulsing doesn’t stop, it builds and builds until I feel like I do now. Like my head is going to pop like a thin-skinned politician. I can’t deny how I feel for you and I can’t negate the conflict within me. I can’t quit thinking of a sunfish slamming on rocks, or of the quietly desperate lives that people lead. There is too much pain in the world already, far too much.”
His head was hanging low now in the blinding white light, and he had to force the words from his mouth, “Please forgive me for my pain. Forgive me for the tears I will inevitably cause you. But, there is no escaping. There is only learning and hopefully rising above. For now, that rising above for me means to lay down until the piercing pain in my head relents. Then once again I rise up and continue on the journey I started long ago…I imagine you will too.”
His eyes were locked together with hers, “Thank you for letting me peek into and experience the possibilities and beauty of another universe. You’re awesome. Thank you. You know I have to leave now…”
She searched his face. She searched his eyes. They betrayed nothing for there was nothing to hide. Truth so bare, like death, so beautifully adorned, like a sunfish lying dead on a rock.