Winter 2019 Creative Nonfiction

Lauren W. Westerfield

That Same Summer 

  

I.

Trace the outline of these fields: alfalfa, lentil, wheat. Green like citrus. Green like lasers. Arm stretched out as far as it will stretch beyond the window of his Ford Escape.

Your fingers graze the line of the horizon, where blueness yields into Palouse. Your fingers trace the line along his forearm, etched in dark green ink: a line that ebbs and rolls just like these hills he loves—that you begin to think you might love, too. A horizon line above which rises one clean circle, full-moon round: circumference measuring the same size loop your thumb and index finger purchase when they touch.

It’s hard to deny that everything’s connected.
This is how he phrases it—the circle, what it means.
You nod your head.
You ask yourself: Are we?

Because this sweetness is so new. Beset by qualifiers [as in, nothing serious, as in, no commitments]. And yet it is sweet. Sweet the way hot lemon water slides like honey down your throat the third time you wake up with him, with B, and realize he bought lemons just for you. Sweet the way a bad recording of his voice and untuned banjo swells—[bashfulness a shiver up your neck, phone gone hot against your ear]—at Reagan, as you’re waiting for a plane:

Come back home to Idaho.
Or maybe that is not the title of the song.
After all, it is a made-up song.
After all, these lines are all made up—equations, rules—between you.

 

Until this spring, you haven’t slept alone in years. Eight, to be exact—eight springs, eight summers, thirty-two long seasons—spent with someone else beside you, always.

[What this means: now solitude is sweet.
That is, if you miss that someone else
sometimes, you do not miss his body:
in your bed, or out of it;
in your car, or mouth,
or kitchen]

 

But now, so quickly, it is summer.
Now, so quickly after A, there’s B: his bed, his body—lined and circled.
And sometimes, when you wake up on your sliver of his full-sized mattress, both of you pressed east toward the edge because his cat has joined you [and his cat takes precedence], you think: this is not—

—that is, this is bitter;

[as in, nightbreath; as in, isn’t what you want]

Until you wake again at dawn. Until you turn to find he’s poured a tiny, warm, and humming blue-gray lump of cat between your bodies. Until he draws you close against his chest and slips his left arm—that sweet lined and scored and circled arm—around your shoulders. You study it again. You wait for him to rest the bristle of his moustache near the big vein at your temple.

April. May. June. July—
June.

 

He goes back to Kansas for vacation. He leaves you keys—even though you’ve only been together for two months; even though together is a funny thing to call two people who are definitely separate

[and really, you’re not sure what together even means—for people, bodies—anymore]. All he asks is that you feed the cat. Sleep with her a night or two, perhaps. 

[This is how you know: like waking up
with sudden fingers on the verge
of going numb—]

You hesitate. You worry expectations. But his place is right above the bar. Easy and convenient. And you really do adore the cat. So one night, after drinking two shots of Fernet [because you tried to hang out with his friends, but found yourself increasingly uncomfortable, uncertain, and you do not even like Fernet—] you skip the walk uphill to your apartment, and instead walk back to his.

For the first time: alone.

You peel off your jeans. You slip on a pair of his striped boxer briefs. You stand barefoot in his brown and cream and yellow kitchen, scooping spoonful after drunken spoonful of Jif peanut butter from the jar.

To be fair: you do this at home sometimes, as well. At home, you often feel ashamed. But somehow—in his kitchen, in his underwear, eating his cheap non-organic peanut butter—you are unabashed. Brazen, even. Intimate— 

[with this: Trojan Horse of might-be
love, wheeled and parked
between your hips—]

You brush your teeth. You sit on the toilet. The cat scratches her litter and you talk to her: about this night, about Fernet—about the bitter taste that lingers, and the weather. You try to hold her after, but she runs away.

Then you fall asleep in white and green and bamboo-printed sheets: Arm & Hammer clean, and only just familiar. Remnant cat hairs on the pillow as you drift.

You wake at five a.m. to some strange pressure at your chest, and warmth, and a vibration. The cat is kneading at your shoulder: keeping time. One gray paw and then the other, back and forth, her purring audible above the din of dump trucks.

For the first time: just you and she, alone.
All morning long, she climbs and clambers on your body: sniffs your cheek, or licks your palm, or burrows at your breast. And though you tell him all about it afterwards—and though the two of you will laugh—you never tell him this:

[Her pink sandpaper tongue, sweet-scratching at your skin, is intimate—but also something more. Like love, perhaps. Or cheating. Something so close to possession—the having
of it, or the losing]

 

II.

That same summer, you turned wanton. Ate until you spilled. Drank until you felt the pinch of denim and elastic—belt-dig at your waist. Not visibly. Not in a way that others would have noticed. Just enough to feel more comfortable naked than in clothes: without stricture, unrestrained, your softly curving flesh made free against the air.

Even now, tonight—this one-year-later-May, this new near-summer-dusk—your friend Josette [as she is pinning up her hair, testing her curling iron, nipples outlined underneath a ribbed fuchsia tank top, bare face stripped and spotted, shining before makeup], even now, she tells you: but you’re tall; you carried it so well; no one would have known

Still: you knew; you still know. 

Sometimes, that is what’s important. How you felt the signs—

[what this means: this isn’t what you want]

—then numbed yourself with apricots and buttered toast, kisses and good gin. You know how your body opened up, then filled—brimming with the excess of his infatuation.

  

[The way you felt: like satin stuffed with stones.
Like tires, or the spilling of a melted candle pooled around a jam jar,
pooled around the bottom of some vessel much too small
for all its waxing—hot and wet, and sticking afterwards]

 The memory of something burned, then held.

Held, but not produced. This is important. Not a filling up with some new thing—motherly and ample. Not a making, but a gripping: nervous, frightened even, body layering itself over and over in defense—

That same summer, you stayed hungry. Everything you did, you did because you knew that time was passing like a flybuzz, like a Vespa. Like the budding sprigs of lavender, ringed and held against the sidewalk where you park your car: plump-wet-purple for an instant, wind-dry-flaking- within days.

This is how it goes: a summer, or a sideways love. Your body knew this. It still knows. Your favorite things became the pricking bees of sweetness: Vouvray wine uncorked too soon—wine that wouldn’t last the weekend. Olive oil cake and peaches. Rainer cherries—smoothround, tight- skinned—in the fridge.

Still: you forget more slowly than these sweet things die. You grow older. You have many things to think about. You find yourself, at times, so sick of learning. So eager to lie back and stick just like a fly in honey. Dead and slow, and nothing to be done.

But that same summer, you could not see any of this. Not exactly. That is, you saw it all the time—but never in the cherries or the olive oil cake, or at the bottom of a wine glass where the sediment sank low. You saw it only when you also felt or saw your swelling, sweating body—in the shower, in the mirror—

—caught its edges.

[A sun-crown halo during an eclipse]
[Something that could send you blind]

Now, tonight, it is a different summer.
Now, you start to notice—understand—

[What that summer filling-up was telling you:]

Now you sit here, peering into Josette’s bathroom. Stool-perched in the narrow hall of her apartment. It is a different summer. You’ve since traded Vouvray for Verementino, dry white wine with just a hint of fizz. Spartan in its stringency against your tongue, its tartness down your throat. Now you watch her as she dusts her skin—still winter-pale—with powder, then with blush.

She is going on a date. Someone new. Some stranger who just walked into the bar—such a rarity in this small town.

Now it is one-year-later-May.
Now it is near-summer-dusk.

[Watch the dry wax break
beneath my index fingernail]

 

III.

That same summer ended.
That same summer, in so many ways, is back again.
That same summer is.

[as in, it should have ended; as in, it repeats

How could you have known?
Or: perhaps you did.

[here, you check yourself]
[you know more than you let on—]
[beneath a tooth; inside your hips—]

This is summer in a too-small town.
This is summer in the land of rivers, not the land of waves.
This is then and now:

 

[That is: this is that same summer, turned]

Slowly, you are learning. You learn that rivers loop. A river curls in on itself. This is how it goes: the way of land-bound water, or two summers in the same place in a row.

Now, again, so quickly: summer.
Now, instead, so quickly: your turn to want, to count the days—

[Peel a word like anniversary from the label on  this same Grüner Veltliner—the first you  drank together—from the soft flesh just  behind your jawbone, or along your lower lip—]

There is gravel in your throat. The cottonwoods. The brightness of late May. Silence sits uneasy with you: sticks to the untidy edges of over and again.

Between these two: a false distinction.
Clever like a stretch of fishing line.

[as in, gasp for air, as in, isn't what you want(ed) in the first place, anyway]

April. May. June. July—
June.

The moon is quick-teeth-waning. Your eyes and nose are full of pollen. There is mud inside your body—red like dirty clay, not fully sprung into the kind of red that counts—and it wants out. Like this summer, your filling up, your wantonness, has turned. This is summer at a slant. You are getting skinny. Sarah keeps telling you the same thing that she tells her angsting teenage daughter: go get yourself a full-fat latte.

[Yesterday, you accidentally bit down on the right side of your tongue.
You figured this was how the universe might say, stop talking.
So you did.
You stopped]

 

 

Last week, you and Sarah sat out on the fancy restaurant patio, on Main Street, drinking crisp rosé.
Last week, he rode by you on his bicycle.
Cut-off sleeves, sun-red skin, lined and circled arms.
Rode by not thirty seconds after you’d mentioned that it had been at least a month since you’d crossed paths with him—this, despite the fact that you now live in the same building. That the odds were stacked. That it was probably high time.

He then rode by not once, but twice.
You said again

[as in, nearly]

This is summer. You begin to see the pattern.
You have so many questions. Such as: when does coincidence become logic? When does logic become clairvoyance?

 

[What you mean to say is this:
what’s true is neither over nor again.
It is both. It is porous: lightened
by the late-May sun, and twisting—
—it is full of holes]

Tomorrow, your friend C will walk side-by-side with you from campus to downtown.
He will say I love the summers here.
You will say, Me too, but not right now. C: What do you mean by that?
You: Doesn’t sunshine sometimes feel like an assault?

You will think he doesn’t understand. You will grow impatient. You will think he doesn’t see what you are asking him to see. About this, you will be both right and wrong. You won’t know the difference for awhile yet—that is, not until the summer closes in; not until the cottonwoods swarm down beneath the awning of the coffee shop. Swarm and grope your nostrils and your teeth.

In the meantime, you look out. See the loop and patchwork of Palouse. You look up. See the floating cotton: shadows like cell clusters, lakes, or tiny storms. You look in the mirror. See your body like a window square. See the windows of your apartment—yours, then B’s. Windows lined along the same brick wall, looking out along the same side of the street.

Count the squares between.

[Peel and peel. Remind yourself:
this isn’t what you want]

Peer through your front window: see him walking, framed against the glass.
[He will keep on walking past]
[He will stay within the frame]

 
 

 

 

 


Lauren W. Westerfield is an essayist and poet from the Northern California coast. Her work has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, New Delta Review, The Pinch, DIAGRAM, Sonora Review, and Hobart. She received an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Idaho, where she served as Nonfiction Editor of Fugue. Currently, she teaches writing at Washington State University, and is the Nonfiction Editor of Blood Orange Review.

 

 


 

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