Shelter for the Survivors Of
It was a morning when David had his appetite, shoveling soggy Cherrios into his mouth, when he asked Angie if they might make love one last time before he died. The spoon quivering in his hand. Droplets of bone-white milk glossing his beard. Angie felt a sudden anxious quiver blast through her insides. She pulled out the chair across from David. She sat. “Alright,” she said softly, “but let’s wait a few days. Oh, Dave, don’t look that way,” she reached across the table, stroked his arm. “Just a few days.” She glanced accusingly at her lap, as if to say, I’m menstruating. A lie.
Of all the things he needed, Angie had not foreseen David needing sex. They had had plenty of it before he was diagnosed; in fact, sex, and a bit of quiet company was all that threaded their tenuous union. They had always given up their fine young bodies to every urge, and it was usually a ravenous meal. But wasn’t that plate licked clean, Angie thought.
Sometimes when David had his wash, sitting on the lawn-chair shrewdly nuzzled into the claw-footed tub, when Angie ran the loofah under his testicles, around his prick, always in broad dismissive strokes, David’s penis would harden. And how familiar it was, the same penis as before, large, seemingly healthy, only attached to this recently demolished body.
After his wash, Angie would gingerly hoist David from the tub to his wheelchair, and from his wheelchair into their bed. She would feed him all his pills with a bowl of something soft (vegetable juice if he was especially feeble). And much later in the evenings, when she’d return to the room, her clothes dropping off around her, she’d crawl silently onto the bed like a nymph coming to lie aside the washed-ashore victim of a shipwreck, the thin blue light of the television like moonshine on their faces. And on some nights, waiting for sleep to take her, she’d put her fingers up inside herself and go at it quietly, careful to see that David never woke.
Angie spent her evenings next door in DoVeanna’s kitchen. It was her greatest relief, settling David into bed, drifting out the front door, barefooted through the cool scraggly grass. She’d ascend DoVeanna’s front steps, glancing out at the clouds—pink chalk-dust smeared over the lavender sky—and the world was a beautiful place, and God its biggest asshole. Poor, poor David, she thought, always at twilight with the day rubbing itself away.
“Another?” DoVeanna asked.
“Why not,” Angie sighed. It was just that way in every household, the choice liquor and the people who drank it; people eager for the night-tide, its pull warm and heady. DoVeanna filled the tough little snifter with water and placed it in the microwave. With a dishtowel she carefully wiped the glass dry and poured the honey-colored brandy into the hot basin.
“Let it cook,” DoVeanna ordered, but Angie never minded searing her fingers for a first sip.
“David wants to have sex before he dies.”
“Ah shit,” was all DoVeanna said. She sat and gave her drink a swirl, watching it pull up the sides of the glass.
“I lied to him, I told him I was on the rag.”
“Girl, you can’t be on the rag forever.”
Angie confessed to DoVeanna that each day she was newly astonished by the virulence of the disease, and the resilience of the body. Some mornings David woke hushed and trembling, his eyes pulling deep into their sockets, and Angie was sure he was half-way out of himself, but then he’d always somehow recover from it, and was lately even finishing his meals.
“The body wants to live,” DoVeanna said, dragging a single finger down the front of her neck.
“Yes, it certainly does,” said Teddy, appearing out of the dark hall off the kitchen. Every evening DoVeanna’s husband would drop in and out of their conversations while replenishing his drink or unwrapping an ice-cream bar. “The body is drawn into death,” he said, “like a bird drawn into a tornado, feverishly beating its wings.”
Teddy was a tenured professor at the University. Hoity-toity and la-di-da, were the words that David used for him; Angie had not yet made up her mind. She knew though that DoVeanna clung to her husband like one of those fortunate critters who rode through life on the broad back of a much larger animal. Before Angie had known them personally, when they were only her neighbors and not yet her friends, Teddy and DoVeanna had seemed a severely mismatched couple, and not for their most obvious difference—Teddy was white and DoVeanna was black—but because Teddy was polished, noticeably educated, and DoVeanna was not. He was a short, puffed-up, bespectacled man, fashioning a beard that minimized his mouth to a dark shifty hole in the fluff. DoVeanna was taller than he, Junoesque even, her house dresses always stretched thin on her large rear-end. But she certainly had a pretty face, and on more than one occasion she had confessed to feeling lucky for having the white woman’s hair, loosely spun satin curls, and a nose that was more European than African. Her eyes though, were straight from the beginning of time, wide, expressive, and so intensely brown that the whites were stained a touch yellow.
“Like Dorian,” Teddy said.
“Yes, like Dorian,” DoVeanna agreed, “Flappn’ them wings all the way into the twister.”
“Who’s Dorian?” Angie asked.
“Dorian was one of them boys I knew back in Chicago,” DoVeanna said, “one of them boys real fancy and light as a feather. He got the HIV and then he got the AIDS and well, he jus’ wilted like a flower tossed in the fire, but he lived for ten years!—and poor as a church mouse!—before he died. I do think a man can live a long time with cracks runnin’ through him, oh yes, like your best old coffee mug in the cupboard.”
Could David live for years, Angie wondered, like a cracked old mug? She wasn’t sure that they had enough money for June’s rent, and the thought turned her insides rigid.
Money. That was the problem. There wasn’t enough of it. Not to live decently.
Not to die decently. There was a trickling in of funds from the state, her unemployment and his disability, pin money was all, hardly surmounted the interest on the credit cards. But in spite of their drained bank accounts, it was decided that they absolutely would not slink off to some dingy apartment with flattened greasy carpet and hoosegow windows— a wretched place for the soul (if there was a soul) to exit the body—and that they would remain in the quaint old house in deepest part of town where they had rented for the past year and a half. Though it was small, merely a shabby cottage, and broken in hundreds of ways, Angie loved the house, how the sunlight poured through the leafy trees and danced on the bare white walls of the rooms. She loved its quiet wisdom, its scars incurred by dozens of families. Certainly a house familiar with death, and it could, if necessary, Angie believed, extract the soul from the body like a strand of sugary fragrance from a pie.
The first of Angie’s own things pawned was a cherished leather jacket, and a stab of hate went through her, having to trade her clothing for groceries and gasoline. Soon though, gasoline was of no use, as they parted with their cars, flivvers anyhow, to remain in the house through the winter and spring. And when the days were warm enough, Angie posted paper signs on street corners and sold their stuff off the lawn for cash.
It was misery at first, letting things go. She agonized over the silliest shit: a sundress she hadn’t worn in years, a lamp she didn’t like anyhow, a muffin tray! It was all run through the same equation: (useless junk = money = sustenance) or (muffin tray = fifty cents = bar of soap). But after the first wave of things were sold, something flipped inside Angie, like a dial inside a compass, and she quietly, inwardly, embraced this misfortune. Once David had gone, so too would she, a waif returned to world with one heavy bag slung over her shoulder, the house dropping off behind her.
She had, however, come up against one big problem. David was not dying fast enough. Of course she never phrased it quite that way, instead, she reasoned that they had run out of things to sell. Either way, their piggish little landlord would be clawing his hooves on the porch by mid-June, a man who’d gladly see Angie wheeling David up the sweltering street—their last essential belongings piled atop David’s frail legs—before he’d let them stay a moment for free. There wasn’t a signed lease, but only a verbal agreement regarding their rights to the house, and Mr. DeMarco had several times reminded them of this detail, because in the eyes of the law the scale weighed in his favor, and if his demands were not met then he would call them squatters, and so too would the state.
David was insistent that Angie not involve strangers in his death. It was the only oath he asked of her, and in a sentimental moment she had agreed. Afterward the dreadful severity of their agreement came clear to her. There was David’s mom in Omaha, but she stayed in a halfway house and went out of her mind every few months, and any family of Angie’s had drifted off her radar some time ago. They had a few friends between them, people around town, but not the kind who’d let you die on their spare bed.
A week had slipped past without any mention of Angie’s postponed consent to David’s request. Wasn’t four or five days the longest he had ever waited for a woman to stop her bleeding? There was one night when she slipped into bed and tapped him on the shoulder, and when he said, yes, she simply rolled away, fluffed her pillow. Resent was beginning to stack heavy inside him.
David watched as Angie filled their only mug with steaming hot water from the kettle and drowned a tea bag with a spoon. Secretly, it had always vexed him the way Angie clicked her spoon around inside the cup for a bit too long, and on that particular day, he felt compelled to wheel across the kitchen, pluck the utensil from her long slender fingers and fling it at the wall.
“Could you stop that?”
“Stop what? You mean this?” she slapped the curved back of the spoon against the inside of the mug.
“Yes, that,” he replied. “I wish we could go somewhere today,” his words laced with a touch of sudden forced lightness. But David wasn’t certain as to whether he truly cared to leave house. It was an idea he had contemplated; one last look at the world beyond the view of their own street. More than anything, he was looking to lay out another desire that would be met with resistance and guilt.
“The bus is half-a-mile away. And where would we go, the mall?” Angie pulled her face into a brief but intense frown.
“There’s that big park on the north end of town, you know the one where they light off fireworks on The Fourth of July.”
“It makes me a little nervous, David, getting the wheelchair onto the bus and all, and it’s only ten ’o clock and it’s already hot outside.”
Perhaps, David realized, it wasn’t a good idea after all, and not for fear of the bus and the wheelchair, or even the sun that would color their faces red like old boozers, but because David had forgotten something relevant to the north end of town. It was packed full of hateful people. People who had struggled through lives rougher even than his or Angie’s. Dumb ugly colored folks who would never climb out of their poverty. The world had put fire into some of them, and ice into the others, and David had seen the hate glinting in their eyes, the hurt pulling on their mouths. A year before he would have crossed that park at the blackest hour of the night, but now, well now he was no safer than a woman or a child. “Okay, we won’t go, not today, but at least take me out onto the porch.”
David had suffered an awful flu in his twenties. Different town. Different girl.
For an entire week they burrowed themselves in the girl’s bed, coated their insides with sweet medicinal syrups, and still, in spite of their wretched conditions, they felt their midsections throb for each other. It was an intense desire endemic to the loins. The girl would languidly shift her pelvis, scissor open her sweat-slicked legs, welcoming his advances. And they screwed again and again, their bodies warm as cooked meat.
Bone Cancer was rougher than the flu like a hurricane is rougher than a rain cloud. If David went too long without his OxyContin, he’d encounter a pain so unyielding it seemed to undulate from him in swaths of invisible flame. He’d tremble and sweat and cry like he had never cried in his life, waiting for the meds to short-circuit his pain receptors. When properly medicated though, the suffering was rounded off into an unshakable, depressing ache, through which that same buzz of desire could sometimes be felt, his manhood a starved little animal unconcerned with the body. Nothing in him wanted to passionately kiss Angie, or slip her breasts into his mouth; he only needed to feel that warm clench of her insides settling down on him, he only needed to sink her in this last stretch of their ruined life.
He was brooding, of course, over her casual acceptance of his diagnosis. She had said nothing when the doctor dismissed chemotherapy; no use in battling a forest fire with a garden-hose, was the doc’s metaphor, the regret loosely pinned on his smug old face. To go home and let death push its way through him without a fight, that was to be David’s act of bravery, to be compassionate and practical about his own stinking death.
Why hadn’t Angie called up a few oncologists in St. Louis or Atlanta? When had she turned from girlfriend to caretaker—quiet, efficient, withdrawn? Every day was her quest to wade through the death-sludge without dropping to her knees.
Perhaps the wreckage had at last torn through the body and into the brain, perhaps the pills were shuffling his thoughts, but in recent days, David had noticed a mass resurfacing of distant memories: moments, people, whole forgotten eras unanchored from the depths of his mind. Two weeks in the fourth grade when he had vanished and found refuge with a gentle vagrant named Irene; times here and there in high school (between girlfriends) when he had earned some extra cash dropping his trousers for a pansy boy with too big an allowance; his summer in Detroit where he did nothing but burgle by night and graffiti train cars by day, and then several years afterward when he spotted his faded tag on a train passing through Nashville, and oh what a strange flutter in his heart, to have slung something out into the wide open world and to have it returned to him at a different place and time. What cryptic evidence of his existence!
At moments his mind was nothing more than a fleeting inventory of bittersweet confessions. These were last things, things he’d like to say, if only Angie would really hear him.
He was hurt that she never sat with him while he fell asleep. A little company at the end of his day seemed a small kindness, considering he’d soon be food for the worms.
To some degree, he was always angry, to be thirty-four and nearly dead, but every evening his anger was brought to a rolling boil as he watched Angie through their bedroom window, drifting through the last sunlight to be with the neighbors. And who were they? The Professor and his Negro fetish.
It was friendly of the wife, David supposed, to have given up her old magazines on their behalf. DoVeanna had moseyed over and introduced herself during their first yard sale. She gave David a long hard look where he sat on the porch in his third-hand wheelchair. Surely she pondered his chipped away image; what had happened to that handsome young man she had seen only months before, going to and from work, a jaunty lightness in his steps? DoVeanna returned early the next day with a box full of 1970’s Life Magazines. Just taking up space in the basement, she said. The whole lot sold at the next sale, and for five dollars a piece. Angie was very pleased.
From then on DoVeanna was incredibly helpful with the sales. There was the morning that she and Angie spent half an hour hauling David’s chest of drawers from the bedroom to the front steps, and when the ugly bureau did not sell on its first run, they persuaded Teddy to assist them in transporting the hulking thing back inside. David sat in the corner, his head fallen, his eyes resentfully flashing up at them as they battled their way back into the house. He found himself too crippled even to smile at the little creampuff of a man. And he noticed that when they had finished with the chest of drawers, there was whispering among them, and then a soft crying. David wheeled a touch forward and craned his neck just far enough to see Angie and DoVeanna stopped at the front door, Angie’s face planted on DoVeanna’s large breasts, her shoulders quivering and her arms flung around the woman; and DoVeanna, like a mama bear, was pawing at the back of Angie’s head. It was odd the way they held each other, as if slow dancing,
David thought, as if some secret music was running between them.
“David? Are you listening? I said we have to talk about money.” Angie sat down cross-legged on the front porch. She came to notice that David’s eyes were ever so slowly crossing the sky. He was following a plane, merely a sharp edge tearing through the peppy blue heavens. “Dave?”
His eyes fell away and they both at once noticed a squirrel walking the power lines. If ever he requested to be wheeled outside, Angie obeyed regardless of the weather and left him alone in the tranquil rhythms of the neighborhood. She knew he was at heart an outdoorsman. David had sometimes recounted his treks through the Canadian backcountry, cooking fat glittery-skinned fish on the banks of icy rivers. It was the only time in all his life, he claimed—dominated by the very spice of the air, the plush soil underfoot, the supple juggernaut lakes inverting the sky—where he had not a twinge of suspicion that he was being fooled. Angie had initially liked that about him, his sexy earthiness, and had meant to suggest a weekend in the mountains, but the idea had gotten away from her.
It was wrong to disturb him in his Zen-ish absorption with the sky, but David was most together at that time of the day, and it was important that he clearly understand her intentions. “I’ve counted the money David, all of it, and there’s not enough for the bills, there’s not enough for rent even.”
Nothing. He was carefully tracking the squirrel.
“And so something has to be done, some move has to be made, don’t you think?
Tonight I’m going to ask DoVeanna if we could stay with them for—”
“Alright David, what should we do? Where should we go?”
“Sell the TV,” he said. “Sell the kitchen table and the chairs and the rest of my clothes.”
“It still wouldn’t be enough! It’s all penny-pinchers out of the hills who come to these sales, nobody is going to give me more than thirty dollars for that television!”
“Call Mr. DeMarco and talk to him that way you talk to him, and ask him for a month on credit.”
“Are you delusional?” she cried, shooting up like a rocket from her spot on the porch. “It doesn’t work that way! DoVeanna and Teddy—”
“Angie, I’d cut off my balls and have them for my last meal before I’d take charity from that self-satisfied little hobbit.”
“You know what,” she snarled, nearly grabbing him by the chin, “unless you have a better suggestion, then you’ll go where I take us!”
“You promised, you swore to me Angie, that you wouldn’t involve strangers. Why don’t you just dump me in the casket right now?” David slammed his fists into his lap. “That’d be easier for you, wouldn’t it? What do you do over there anyway? What do you tell those people about me?”
“They’re not strangers! And don’t be cruel!” she cried, the front door crashing shut between them. And David resumed his scanning of the sky. He found the little diamond, farther west, at the tip of its jet stream.
It was that moment in the evening when the kitchen became suddenly very dark, the last fiery bead of sunlight pulled under the horizon, and the women sat in the deep shade of the house, drinking and talking. Away at a weekend conference, the house felt strangely eviscerated without Teddy, and DoVeanna was especially happy to have Angie on those evenings. She let herself completely unravel on the brandy. She talked of her childhood in rural Illinois, of a mother who didn’t care much for her, and of moving to Chicago, shapely and quiet, at seventeen. She talked of loving too many men, and of finally settling for her gnomish little husband and a pretty house tucked under a few big trees.
Angie spoke of how she too had fled her parents, went out into the world with arms akimbo and failed at absolutely everything. She spoke mournfully of the house, of how she had done everything she could to keep hold of it, and not just for David, but for his soul, when she wasn’t sure she believed in a soul anyhow, but it seemed that trying to believe was to be on the safer side of things. DoVeanna vehemently nodded her head.
“Teddy,” she said, “doesn’t believe in all that, God and The Bible and The Church—he says educated people don’t need it—and I don’t fault him none for it, but I can’t help thinkin’ that believing is worth more than not believing.”
“Yes, I feel that way too,” Angie agreed. “DoVeanna, I’m going to ask you something, and I don’t want you to answer me tonight, answer me tomorrow if you want.” Angie paused, scooped up her snifter and noticed that she had drained the bulb of its sweet, pleasant liquid. She bit down lightly on its rim, with the momentary desire to chomp right through the glass. She then set the snifter aside, slid it to the far end of the table. “We’ve got nowhere to go next month, I mean, I keep telling myself things’ll work out, because things always do, but we’ve got nowhere.”
“I know,” DoVeanna said, her eyes instantly glossing up with tears. “Sweetheart, if it’d be up to me, I’d have ya’ll here, but it’s Teddy. Him and I already spoke about it.”
“Oh. You have?”
“We have, but I’ll ask him again,” DoVeanna said, standing abruptly, her thighs knocking back her chair. She went to the wall and flipped on the kitchen light. “He’s not a bad man, really he ain’t, he’s just…” she searched for the right word, “just… fussy.”
“It wouldn’t be for long,” Angie muttered. And at that moment the women were thinking just the same thing. Thinking of the boy, Dorian, who had lived for years with cracks running through him, like an old mug.
He’s dead, she thought, David’s dead. It was what first popped into Angie’s head after yanking a hunk of glass from the arch of her foot. She stood for a moment in the bedroom doorway, foot in hand, the blood, dark like oil, spurting up through the gash. The light off the television revealed a mess of glass on the bedroom floor.
Angie hopscotched to David’s bedside, where she found him tucked in neatly, his head thrown back on his pillow, his lips innocently parted. She put her ear to his mouth and felt the cool suck and warm give of his breath. She whispered his name, louder and louder, until she was somehow hollering, “David! David! David!” But nothing, only a slight flutter anchored far behind the lids.
There was one surviving lamp that went with Angie from room to room in the evenings, and she went back through the dark house to fetch it from the kitchen, the cord dragging behind her, the plug skipping on the pitted wooden floor.
In the bedroom, on the bare white wall, there was what looked like evidence of a bullet wound—gun slid into the mouth, the wall behind catches the crimson spray of blood—however, it was not blood, but vegetable juice, and David’s glass finished off in fat gleaming pieces beneath it.
She clicked off the television and stood there in the quiet, gazing at the calamitous stain on the wall, thinking there was something positively angry about it. Suddenly painfully dizzy, she burped and could taste the hot sweet brandy at the back of her mouth. Angie soon realized that a pool of real blood was filling out beneath her.
Peeling the extra blanket from the bed, Angie shook it open over the glass, dropped to her knees, bulldozed the pieces carefully into the corner. She then tore open one of David’s t-shirts and wrapped it tight as she could around her foot, tying it off and falling back onto her pillow. A dime-sized spot of blood soaked instantly through the layers of white cotton, then spread slowly to the size of a half-dollar.
Angie saw the scene as if she was outside it, as if contemplating a macabre painting or photograph. Two helpless people in some kind of mysterious distress: the jankedy little lamp putting out its soft skewed light; the sick man asleep aside her, flanked by his busted up wheelchair. In that single enigmatic frame, she saw her life, and she wanted to curse herself to sleep—but she didn’t.
Instead, she thought of DoVeanna. Sweet, curvaceous, cocoa colored DoVeanna, who had savored her bed-hopping youth long as she could before taking cover. Angie truly loved DoVeanna, and she realized right then, in a kind of somber epiphany, that she was too well-practiced at falling in and out of love with people. Before DoVeanna there were the girls she had worked with at the bakery last year. She had loved them too—and now? Now they were edging up to some precipice in her heart.
But it pleased Angie to lie there thinking of the girls from the bakery. They had been wooed by her capriciousness, and she in return had admired their simple, good natured ambitions: new pillows for the bedrooms, a garage door that opened to the push of a button. Angie then remembered how each night they had picked through the stalest of the treats, filling up paper bags for their men and children. Angie too had gathered her fair share in the frequent plundering of the bakery. There were nights and nights when she and David had between them on the bed a plate piled with pastries. It didn’t seem like anything too special at the time, but looking back on it, she realized what sweet nourishment that had been, for herself, for David, for the plain-faced girls and their men and their babies, to have fallen asleep all those evenings with a bit of sugar on their fingertips.
The room was quiet and warm, clobbered with morning light. Angie sprang up from her pillow and latched her eyes onto David. His lips were parched, his lashes salted. He breathed in fast, clipped breaths. “David,” she said. But still, nothing.
Angie carefully unwrapped her foot. Frightened by the gloppy scab caked between her heel and toes, she hobbled into the bathroom, sat on the lawn-chair and slipped her leg under a stream of hot water. She considered that perhaps David had drifted into a coma, and already she was trying to recall where she had misplaced that slip of paper with the telephone numbers to the county hospital and hospice; they will come and fetch him, she thought, and I won’t be in violation of my promise, she convinced herself. What allegiance is owed to a man no more alive than a houseplant? She was thinking where to find her duffle in the closet. By nightfall she could be snug in her seat on a bus to Austin, Texas. She had stashed away just enough cash for the ticket. There were old friends and flings in Austin, and there would surely be someone who wouldn’t mind the company. She sat watching the blood rinse off her foot, a few fresh droplets hitting the water in random configurations, like liquid red snowflakes, holding their shapes momentarily before unspooling in the lapping water.
“Yes?” Her breath caught in her throat.
“Could you help me up?” David called from the bedroom.
“Yes, in a minute, David, in a minute.”
“Why are you limping?” he asked when she finally appeared in the doorway, her still-wet legs made lucent in the sunlight; she wore only panties and a thin gray t-shirt that showed the honest shape of her breasts.
She nodded at the wall where David had made his mess, then quickly kicked up her foot, flashing him a glimpse of the wound. She sat on the edge of the bed and slipped over her foot three motley socks, pulling the longest, a wooly fuchsia purple, up to her knee.
“I thought you were dead,” she said. “Well, not dead, but I thought you were going to die. I thought you were in a coma or something.”
“I had myself a few extra doses of hillbilly heroin,” David whispered, grinning at the pocket affixed to the arm of his wheelchair, where undoubtedly his OxyContin was concealed.
“Dave! That was stupid! Now we’ll run out before the end of the month.”
David nodded his head peacefully, closed his eyes and sighed, anticipating the great pain he would have to pass through.
“David,” Angie mumbled, “do you still want to have sex?”
“Yes,” his eyes snapped open, “I do.”
In the freezer, beyond a chicken-pot-pie and an empty ice-cube tray was a cheap vodka. Angie took the last few chugs straight from the frosty lip of the bottle. She wiped her chin and glanced around the ravaged little kitchen, the drawers and cabinets half opened and gutted, the floor marked by bloody footprints. Each day the house looked more and more like shelter for the survivors of an Apocalypse. These were dark days, Angie thought. And it suddenly occurred to her, like a bitter cold confession spilling its way into her consciousness, that perhaps all the good rules she had so blithely disregarded—FLOSS DAILY; ONLY SLEEP WITH MEN YOU LOVE; FIND STEADY EMPLOYMENT; HAVE A DOG, A VEGETABLE GARDEN, AND CHILDREN—were perhaps not ill-intentioned at all, but sincere coordinates by which people were funneled into semi-decent lives, and that perhaps she had been wrong in ignoring them. After all, it was she who was slurping Smirnoff for breakfast, easing herself into the idea of climbing atop a man whose bones were fragile as sand dollars.
Except for the knee-high fuchsia sock, Angie stood naked in the doorway. After a moment she went for the curtains, but David stopped her, “Let me see you, really see you, okay?”
“Okay,” she agreed.
She folded down the blanket and there were his legs. Once thick and chiseled, now each was whittled thinner than his own neck, the skin hugging the rotten bones and polka-dotted by an unending bloom of deep purple bruises.
David centered himself on his pillow. Slowly he bowed his knees and gripped the footboard with his sweaty toes, ready to receive her, though still obviously soft in his boxers. For several minutes Angie tugged gently over his underwear, and while feeling him come about in her gripped little hand, she was reminded of a cousin in her girlhood who had once lured her into the garage. David soon brushed her hand away and worked his penis through the slit in the fabric. Like a virgin boy, he gulped nervously.
What she found worked best was a gentle but purposeful rhythm, a slow and beautiful gallop. She shook out her hair. A sweat broke on her back. And in a moment when her eyes found his, she noticed David scanning her, and not any one part of her, but his eyes traced her every firm and glorious inch. He was committing her to memory, she could see that, inscribing the moment on the most infallible surface of his brain.
When David came, that familiar taken-away-look gripped his face. He sucked in wallops of sweet air, his shoulders lurched off the pillow and he grabbed hold of Angie’s arms, leaving tender red imprints where his nails sunk into the smooth undersides. And then David pulled Angie down on top of him so that their foreheads were pressed together, their noses gently mashed, and the same breath, milked of its nutrients, flowed back and forth between them.
After some time, Angie peeled herself apart from David. There was something perhaps she wanted to say to him, but it never found its way out of her. “I could fall back asleep,” he said finally, yawning contentedly. Gazing down at him, she wanted wistfully to run the back of her hand across his sunken cheek, but she didn’t, and the blanket was scrolled up to David’s chin, the curtains were drawn shut and Angie left the bedroom.
A strong craving for a hot shower took hold of her, but she thought it better to wait for David to pass completely into sleep. For a while she wandered naked through the house. In the kitchen the empty bottle of Smirnoff was still cold to the touch; its thin layer of frost had melted into a small shinning pool of water at its base. Angie swiped her hand through the wetness and raised it to her forehead. Like a fighter marking herself with warpaint, she dragged her wetted fingers slowly down the front of her naked body.
In the bedroom, David was nearly asleep when he had a vision that flowered seamlessly into a sumptuous dream: it was the train, the one he had seen in Nashville, bearing his initials. He was aware he was dreaming, still in the house with Angie, but also standing in a sweet-smelling field, a swollen sun nearing the horizon, peaceful, painless, and his train was approaching, chugging and screaming, then it was hurtling past, and David enjoyed resting there in its splashing cool wind. Though it had been fifteen years, David supposed anything was possible, so he stayed there, in the field, in his dream, waiting to see if his tag had made it through the years, waiting to see his initials there on one of the rearmost cars.