THE AFFAIR

Stephanie Adams-Santos

 
 
1
 
I try not to think about her, but I fear the not-thinking has only become a tight-hearted watchfulness.
 
I went away for some days with my family. Behind the broad glass windows of the rental house I watched the wind drag itself over the sea. Through the fog I could see the pale shadows of seabirds tilting and swerving, going god knows where. Some flew backward or didn’t move at all—beating their wings in place until the gale overcame them and they spiraled down to the water. The first time I saw it happen, I thought the little bird had been swallowed, drowned. It beat wildly facing the wind, suspended as a hummingbird over a flower—and then simply let its wings down. It dropped quietly and was lost in a shadow. My heart paused as I waited for the little grey bird to come up, staring at that spot in the sea. The whitecaps crawled by, one after another. The trees around the house thrashed and their mighty trunks swayed like they were made of rubber. But the bird still did not come up. I was struck—an inverted, muted sorrow—a white noise, a harsh, strained silence came over me like a dumb cry broadcast through a loudspeaker. I turned around to say something, but the others were chatting idly around the breakfast table. My lips parted, dry, ashamed of themselves. There was nothing to say. Later I saw a dark bird floating on the waves, head up, composed. There it is! I thought, There! But I knew it wasn’t the same bird. Eventually I convinced myself it was, and I watched other seabirds drop and rise, drop and rise, always dark birds, calm birds. The little grey bird that never came up—I had imagined it, hadn’t I? It was just a first impression of something else?
 
There was a senseless violence in the weather that day. The wind and the rain colluded like two leviathans, hinting at the underlying fickleness upon which our very souls are fixed.
 
2
 
November was a barrage of rain. Each thing repeated itself. Loneliness repeated itself, compounding, steady, like the rain. I hadn’t slept. How many hours had passed? Shadows lifted and blotted, bled and went dry—the hours went by, night and day, night and day. There I was; I had been unaccountably lonely the night before, making terrible noises all through the never-ending darkness of my bedroom in the hopes that my lover in the next room might be pierced with a pang for my sorrow, a pang for my bestial existence, that she would perhaps come to me and admit where she’d been several excruciating hours after midnight, full of comforts and sweetness and deep, stabbing regret, unraveling her spool of betrayal until it was thin enough to float away. And if she hadn’t been with the other dark-haired girl from the delicatessen, in some unbearable close quarters with her, then at least an admission of some other truth would be in order. There is always something to be gotten at. Someone is always hiding something. Try it: say “Tell me what you haven’t been able to say aloud,” then “Tell me,” then “Tell me” relentlessly, looking only at the other’s eyes and mouth, until the lips quiver and that gives it away. Then they will tell. Or they won’t, but they will fear you.
 
Yes, there is always a reason to moan in the middle of the night, growing more and more bare, moving all through my life toward the little blackgreen door at the end, through which one can only crawl naked, leaving her skin in a heap at the threshold. All I asked were for my lover’s burning words of devotion. A pact in blood. A sword to be lifted and struck with sure muscle into the bosom of my loneliness. To be surprised by the flood of sun I never knew. It was simple as anything. But when my lover finally blundered into the house after her long and unexplained absence, she went to directly to her separate room and slept soundly.
 
In my bedroom across the wall, a world of inches inches away, I tore out my hair and flailed beneath the sheets as if caught in a devil’s net. Steam poured from my back and buttocks and arms. Sweat pooled in the squished corridors between parts. Everything fell down, a weight in my arms fell down, stones, rocks, sand. Impossibility, a snake without eyes, tightened around my heart and my stunned eyes burned against the wall. By morning all I knew was that my body had hollowed itself out in the night like a star, collapsed into a point of infinite vacancy and only some shadow, like a missing star in the astronomer’s map, was left. But in my dream I was wanting to lift.
 
Afterward, I wrote a poem:
 
      Then I went in darkness a long time
      until the spirit filled me, I thought
      I might burst from being so suddenly
      opened. I went up.
 
      I remember the mouth
      of something in the sea,
      its soft throat convulsing
      around me, then everything
      is dark again.
 
      Our bodies were
      tumbled and dragged to the shore.
 
      What color was I?
      I never knew.
 

3
 
I am thinking. We can do little to control how we exist outside of ourselves. But it is a fact that we exist outside of ourselves. That is the principal reason I don’t like to be seen much (or worse—watched!) by strangers, or even most acquaintances and so-called friends. But most haunting is the sense of being talked about by rumor, for your truths to be traveling loosely in the whoring mouths of other people. It isn’t wholesome to be known in that perfunctory way, for the spirits of oneself are as fragile as the harvestmen that sometimes pass ethereally by the walls, their bodies separated from death by only the thinnest wind. When you are seen or understood in the wrong way, a piece of you is carried off, unreachable, distorted. Then it wounds you forever from that lost source and something takes its place—a kind of primitive pain that reminds you forever in a dull, nearly mute voice that there is no place you belong, except in the capricious memory of the living, and even then, not for long. Often our best selves are murdered in the minds of other people.
 
For this, and many other reasons and non-reasons, I keep mostly to myself, my home my burrow. In the sanctum of aloneness (is it always though? yes, yes, despite the pain) the tormenting eyes of our species, like shackles, fall off and whether I am naked or clothed makes no difference, and what sounds I make, and what expressions come over my face or what kinds of long staring-off moments occur—all of this regains integrity, and the body is once again guileless.
 
On one particular Sunday I was naked on the bed thinking about dinner. My scars were without shame, my forearms and thighs blank beneath the innocent scars. Sleepily I heard voices waft into the room with me and then realized with a start that the voices were those of my family congregating on the front porch. By the time I heard the knock I was already reeling, stumbling back into visibility, grasping for my scarves and veils, my long-sleeves and leggings, my hair my teeth my skin and the thousand other cover-ups I would need to compose myself into the person they knew.
 
4
 
I have gone over the details of the affair again and again, daily, sometimes hourly, often more. I want to know the scene so intimately that it takes on flesh. I must insert myself into its fabric, disrupting it, making it my own. But it will never be my own. I wasn’t there, my flesh was not there. I was home, counting the seconds for seven hours and watching blood make figures on my thigh. Is this the pastime of the damned? Savoring the rich pain of the mind—I imagine it without caution: First they sit down on the edge of the bed. The other girl puts her mouth on my lover’s lips and they tremble into the silence, nearly kissing. Enough.
 
5
 
A small white drone hovered over the waves. It stayed a long time in one place, like a hummingbird, but its one eye was plastic and impersonal, without passion or priority. It seemed to stare out over all of us, over all the beach and the waves as though we were the same, as though we were nothing. A man was pressing buttons, but in the end he was not its master. He was only a man taking a picture. When he finally walked away he kept looking back. I couldn’t tell what his expression was. Where was the master on the other end of that hovering eye? I scanned the beach. But there was no one—only children looking into the sand, a couple passing with their dog, their arms linked around one another. I saw no one who could have been its master. My hand was tugged by the leash. It startled me, my dog’s expression. I had been too busy watching the machine to notice. Whatever look that was in his eyes, it overtook his entire body: caution in his blood, the deep distrust of electronics. I felt the same. I felt that if it came into my hands, I would destroy it.
 
I was melancholy after that, watching my lover from a distance. She was handsome, staring into the sea. Standing at its edge.
 
6
 
Between the two rooms is anguish. A channel so narrow that the breath can only rupture inward, ruining the heart.
 
Love could end. I was crumpled down, tremulous, reeling from thought to thought. I began to understand. That I was misplaced, unadapted to the conditions of the world. An oak leaf growing from the wrong trunk: a monstrous, feeling body of flesh. I began to settle down into that thought, collecting myself in its simplicity. But quickly, painlessly, the illusion fades and there is no resentment. It’s only a fact. I was not to be loved. Love was done with me. It came down to a very simple thing.
 
I was in my bedroom, at the edge of its cliff. Then I was beside her again in the other room asking for the car keys and she lifted out of her perfect sleep to condemn me. I couldn’t listen to what she was saying.
 
“Give them to me. Now.”
 
I watched her face intently, enthralled by the passion in it. She had made a great wall behind her eyes and its shadow fell down on me, formidable. I had the thought to kiss her then, though I knew she wouldn’t understand it. Perhaps there was no place for understanding now. Her language was different than mine in this moment. Hers wanted to float up. Mine wanted to sink. We were dangerously near. No, it wasn’t understanding that brought us close to one another. It was some fury in the body, some incomprehensible pattern in the cells, which cannot be called understanding but a molecular analogue that aligns beneath the veil of consciousness in the blind dark of the body. I felt wild with desire. Her stance was tense, condemning, very far from desire. Though I was the soft one, I knew I could pummel her face into wretchedness if I wanted, I the stronger one, I the doe’s hooves upon the hunter whose gun has shivered from his hands. The thought foamed cooly behind my wild eyes. In some senses you could say I was out of control. In others, you could say my mastery of violence was supreme. What else shook in me?
 
I watched her mouth, the bones of her cheek, her jaw. She was firm about the car keys, that I shouldn’t have them. I could feel my hands trembling with desire, with conundrum.
 
I kissed her closed lips and left.
 

 

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