She was content to display herself so casually, I thought that together we might inhabit an evolutionary frontier, study somatic communication, drink beer. With her I felt free to believe that when it comes to people, there's no such thing as beneath—what’s there is there, in contact with air so deep we could sink in any direction and find ourselves sprawled on her shagreen couch. Is it real, I said, meaning the rough back of a horse I had seen through trees. Of course it is, she said, moving her hands through thick hair composed of nothing but curlicues, which speak volumes about thwarted hopes.
The view of the city from where she lived made me want to talk—all those gaps the sky was divided by, all those places where we might live. When she went in through the sliding glass to pour more in her glass, I would tell her absence about where I had been, which buildings I'd tried to find someone like her in. All the time I talked I kept a little swatch of her skin in my mind, a background to float behind words which, through proximity, might take on a property of skin—to contain something alive and capable of returning to the balcony with a gin and tonic and wanting to tell me about every place she’d lived.
What is the name of the property by which she could slip into the shape of a roof and inhabit its warmth for a time? Or into any object that happened to be grasped by her mind as providing a momentary refuge from time. Was it out of time that she slipped when she walked barefoot on pavement still releasing the heat of noon at night? Sometimes, from where I would lie, I could hear her brushing past shadows that collected along the side of my house, finding her way into those shadows, into mine.
We stayed so long indoors, the color yellow was a lemon and the color blue was the sky, and the flecks in her eyes began to assume the properties of furniture across which I, broken into light, might lie. In no longer desiring to go outside, we achieved an unusually sophisticated state of mind. In light that came in from where we no longer wanted to go, we drew maps of our home towns on whatever wrappers we found lying around. We placed these side by side, connecting our grids as if time were just a matter of alignment. Being inside was precise, scientific—we saw how everything was just time and light, and how, if you stay in the same room for days, time and light form a rhythm that can be touched by skin moving out and in.
She lived in an apartment so tiny, it’s like a maquette of life-size space, she’d say in the lobby, where she would seat dinner guests at the reception desk once she’d managed to get herself hired as evening receptionist. A maquette, and she’d go on and on with comparisons like this, finding in language enough space to proliferate. She’d claim the stories of dinner guests for her own storage needs, rearranging, extrapolating, opening drawers and sorting through the dry-cleaning receipts, photographs of kids, accumulated coupons—throwing out all of these to make space for her own ephemera. She had no qualms interrupting a dull account of a day as if her interruption were the point of the story. It’s the least I can do, she’d say, to give your story an edge—and then to leap off of it. She would talk all night and talk would become the door she’d open for us in the morning, waving us out into her life.
By reversing the color values of the image, I could almost make her go away. But always some trace of her would stay—the occasional dangling leather restraint, a full moon tangled in branches of nocturnal trees. She existed somewhere between the human and the pixel aspect ratio of everything I could see—the washed out beach, the concealed granularity. More satisfying than holding her beneath me was flipping the scene so that sky and water reversed—then I’d be holding her above and we'd be falling, a feeling that’s like being free—until it hurts.
I positioned her in the window, then went outside to be what she saw. Coming back inside was like parting a membrane—I felt her just beyond the door, so I stayed in the doorway and felt her just-beyond some more. The abstraction of tactility is like fashion—interlocking rectangles, an alluring autumnal palette—draped over the body’s shape like the body’s absence. As long as I keep her at a distance, she models my desire as I feel it, a life-sized self-portrait cast in the features of her sex. I suppose it’s sentimental to dress her in my clothes so I can feel tender and turn to the sky and admire the flattering patterns of sunset, which always inspire me to buy her a new vest.
It was a lesson on perspective to see that immediacy concealed each thing’s vanishing point. But in order to remain blind like this, it was important not to know what time it was. Not knowing that it was three o’clock and that soon we would have to turn back, we could see each blade of grass and the shadow each cast. Searching for the place outside the scene where we might see the contours along which time recedes, I knew we were trying to forget something, but I wasn’t sure what. If we keep describing things, we won’t get lost, I thought, watching her disappear among descriptions of thoughts.
Other times, I built small houses and faced what I wanted to see—the edge where dune grass is blown back from the ocean like hair from a face that doesn't change. Can I make that edge me—make it aware of the sand in the crack at the back of my knees? Of the feeling that I am waiting for somebody, and of the need within the feeling to see affinities—I check each net for what resembles me so that I can cast it back to sea. Things gather the windward sides of themselves, washed up things, and sometimes turn toward me—I am ready, I think, for something that can’t be taught. Except maybe by proximity—the way dune grass grows already bent, so that it doesn’t have to bend.
Evelyn Hampton lives in Providence. Her website is http://lispservice.com/blog.