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December 26, 2019 Fiction

The White, White Light of It

Kirsten Larson

The White, White Light of It photo

There is no cuddling after sex. Dory gets right up and tends to his cactus. He pokes at the grainy soil with a chopstick, picks up spines with his bare fingers, fingers he will touch me with again shortly. Sometimes he waters sparingly with water out of the glass he drinks from. 

What does he do with his other lovers, afterward? Maybe they talk, or smoke, or go out to eat. I’m happy to just watch him. I’ve never seen a man tend to anything. 

He always comes back to bed; it’s our ritual—sex, tend cactus, sex.

His studio apartment has only one room and a bathroom. We both use the bathroom with the door open. A kitchen the size of a closet is tucked against one wall. Tall windows take two other walls. His bed, the fourth wall. Six floors up, above the tree line, the view through hazy windows is all sky. He hasn’t hung shades or drapes or pictures. Sunlight reflects off of everything; white walls, white mattress on the floor with one white sheet, and a white formica table near the galley kitchen. 

All the windowsills and the top of his table are covered with a tangle of potted cactus. The pots are all shades of red, blue, brown, yellow. Round, green, shiny, pleated cactus, spines and spines and spines. The colorful pots stand out because of all that white. I’ve never asked him why he only grows cactus. 

I like not knowing things about him. I like speculating on the details of his life. 

It’s summer. Because of the windows and no air conditioning, it’s too warm. Maybe only cactus will grow in this heat. That’s one explanation for the lack of houseplants with leaves.

There’s no hiding in the late afternoon light. I see all of Dory’s flaws. He has no shame. I’ve learned from him—the one sheet is rolled into a wet ball at my feet. I’ve never seen any of my flaws reflected in his face; his hands have never paused at the pooch in my belly, or the soft skin on my thighs. 

The hard curves of his back are wet with sweat, fine dark hair on his shoulders matted to his skin, stocky legs rooted to the wood floor. His body is a wonder. So different than mine, solid, thick.

“What are you doing?” I say.

“What I always do,” he says. 

“I don’t know what you do,” I say.

He keeps his face turned away from me. “I’m loving this plant. It’s called mammillaria elongata. You won’t let me love you, so I am loving this plant,” he says. 

His penis swings dark and heavy in front of him. He tries to smile, but his eyes are heavy with something. 

“Mammillaria elongata. It sounds easy to love,” I say. I hope my tone suggests the whole conversation is a joke, love has never come up before. I hope he won’t ask me to love him. Dory turns to his cactus. The back of him curves in a line, shoulder to waist, crevasses and ledges, handholds. 

His arms stop moving. “What do you tell him, about where you are when you are here,” he says.

My heart picks up. With the word him, Dory brings Matthew into the apartment, a place Matthew has never been. Not just his name, his eyes, his smell, his fate. My familiar. 

“What do you mean,” I say, but I know exactly what he means. 

“Can’t you stay just once, for one night?” he asks. 

There are a few things I do know about Dory. He is about my age and has never been married. Does he really care if I stay? I’ve seen glasses in his sink, red lipstick prints on the rim, long, dark hair on the bathroom floor; he has other women. This is probably about winning, I think. 

But, his voice. 

I could use sympathy to change where this conversation is headed. I could tell Dory that I had to order a wheelchair for my husband this week. My thirty-five year old husband. A wheelchair he is forced to use because the cancer has eaten away his spine. 

“Hey,” I say. 

Dory turns and looks at me in a way that makes me not want to be there. His arms are down. 

I’m full up with other people’s pain.

I spread my legs, the only thing I know to do. Cowardly, selfish. His eyes move where I want them to. No matter how he feels, he responds. We won’t talk about betrayal.

“Come here,” I say in my relief. 

I feel the small surprise at this, like I always do, how well my body works with his, how animal I am. Dory never says my name. “Oh, god, god, god,” he says. 

All the men I’ve known cry out to god. 

My sounds contain only starts and bits of words. I am looking for something to believe in.

Afterward, because of his remark about staying one night, I don’t get right up, shower, and go. Instead, he offers me a glass of wine, cold and white. I pull the sheet up to my neck, take his wine, and we drink—something we’ve never done together. 

I owe him, I think, and then calculate when the day nurse gets off duty. I have some time.

When Matthew dies, I will never see Dory again, this I know. With Dory, I am so far away from Matthew, from his illness, from the hospital bed in the spare room, from the pureed, grey food, from bed pads, drains. In that way, Dory, this place, will always remind me of Matthew. After whatever is coming comes, the loss of Dory will join all the other losses.

What will become of me?

 Nothing hurts after sex. My body is lulled from the wine, the heat, Dory. My eyelids heavy, my neck soft. I allow my eyes to close, just five minutes, such relief.  

 

When I wake, it’s black-dark. For a second I don’t know where I am. My head feels loose, dizzy. I don’t know what time it is because my phone is in the car. Dory snores, light and even. It’s a sound I’ve never heard from him. I stay still for a second.

Then my heart kicks in my chest. I roll off my back, sore from all the time in bed, onto my feet, “Dory, Dory, I’ve slept too long, Dory,” I say.

 

It’s still hot inside my car from the day. I check the phone—no calls. I will get used to a life where no one misses me. My underwear and bra are in my purse, my jeans wet from sex. The warm summer air smells of sweet, dry pine. 

I have an excuse, if Matthew should ask—drank too much after work. Out with the girls. I’d get away with it. Matthew first started his long goodbye by not asking about my life, by not asking anyone who visits about their lives. He rarely looks directly at me anymore. My living has caused a jealousy deeper than any infidelity could.

Two in the morning, no other cars on the road, so this is what it’s like to be the last person alive. 

I open all four windows and hold my elbows out. The hot air cools my wet armpits, the wet under my breasts, my damp skin. My sweat smells like deodorant. My body hums like it does every time I leave Dory. 

I turn the corner onto my street, and then I see the moon. It hangs at the edge of the earth, fully the width of the road. Spires from the neighborhood church are outlined in the white, white light of it. I pull over. 

“Look at that moon, have you ever seen anything like it,” I say to myself; to god, to no one. 

I drive the rest of the way home with my lights off.

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