AS A DESERT TOUCHES ONE’S VISION
W. Jude Aher
She is sitting on a bed that was hers as a child in pajamas that were her father’s. Annie watches the three a.m. shadows dance still in the quiet. Blonde hair falls dirty almost across here eyes while her fingers twist the ends. Wind blows the walls from without, and the winter plays her memories to come and go. Her eyes are shades unseen and tired from too much beer, trying against some soundless stage keeping a dance alive to fall closed and easy. And how can her pillow smell of her father? Annie longs for the sleep that crawls across the crags of her blanket bunched under her feet.
It’s morning and it’s a Monday and at ten a.m. Annie sits at her father’s kitchen table sipping her cold coffee. She knows her boyfriend is still asleep as he works the end-week shift, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, twelve hours a day. He works, he parties and he sleeps. Though he makes a real salary and is in charge of some major computer system, Annie still finds herself annoyed at him, especially on Mondays, for sleeping all day. Well, if she is occasionally irrational, so be it. It isn’t really his job, anyway. And besides, at the moment, she has no job at all. She puts down her book and stares out the kitchen door through glass onto a chill winter sun casting light. She stares onto concrete and dreams of a garden she can never grow. Is the child hers who runs naked in the mud? Twenty-five years old, and where is she?
Brushing back her hair, Annie drinks down the rest of her coffee in one gulp. Listening to her blood yearning for the stimulant to begin coursing through her blood, to wake her up, she grabs her book and rises. Empty cup in the sink, she walks back to the stairs and her room. As she passes her father’s room, she stops at the door and stares inside, as it lies open.
She’d been twelve years old and at the last of her youth. Naked and still wet from her shower, she’d stopped at her parents’ door, which laid open. She’d peered in to find her mother gone. Her father had been sitting up in bed reading through glasses and smoking his cigarettes. Seeing her head angled around the door, he’d put down the book and smiled at her. She’d moved into the doorway naked in her boyish form, wanting to go and curl warm under the covers next to him. "You’re going to be late for school, Annie." Of course, he’d been joking, as it had been Saturday. He’d called it confusion training. He would say that he was teaching her mind to be where it was. It was like the books he would occasionally leave in her room. He would never say a word and an adult book would just be lying on her bed some nights. She would hide these books from her mother, as her unspoken expectation had always demanded less from her daughter than her daughter could dream to see. Her fingers had curled the corners of her hair as a cool breeze had caressed her passing in the hall. Her nipples had grown hard, a thing which meant little to the child which had been she. Wishing, seeing the open book lying next to her father’s smile, she’d been startled by hard fingers locking hard onto her arm. It had not been the words, but the anger that had been held in her mother’s eyes.
Back in bed, staring from her book to the small clock on her dresser, Annie sighs silently and still tired from the late night before. She thinks that she should have stayed at her boyfriend’s, maybe felt his long naked warmth sleeping close against her. But sleeping, he would be sleeping, as she stared into the windowless darkness of his room. She should be looking for work, but for what? Is she married? Are there children to be fed? Are there dreams to be unfolded out there in a long concrete-walled world. Covers are pulled up over her father’s pajamas, still warm from the night before. Maybe tomorrow as she crawls under for sleep.
She dreams of her ex-husband and it is not a happy dream.
Tuesday evening, Annie sits, her legs curled under with a book on her lap, fingers curling her hair and watching. Eric, her boyfriend, is playing video football with John. It’s late and the empty beers can no longer be counted. She loves John, but ... always the buts that come floating in across her mind these days. Does she really want the guys gone? Feeling irritated, maybe she should have been drinking tonight. Stephen sits across at the other end of the couch, staring at the game, staring at Eric’s New York City hole in his ceiling. They would never go home, as it still twelve with nowhere to go. Watching the boys play, Annie is tired. Watching John, Eric’s cousin and a character through so much of her life. She had been so young and his drugs had been so warm and freeing. She’d been able to smoke a little and her mother had no longer been able see where she‘d been. Eric curses as he loses again. He rises to dance that silly dance with his empty beer bottle. And she only smiles at the boys and at her love. And at the whisper that they could be something.
Thirty-year old men, she thinks of her father, four daughters he’d brought up, a wife dead for whom he’d had little love. Living alone now, but for her. "He stayed for us, maybe he stayed for me." A thought without sound. She won’t leave him or again she thinks. So, thirty-year old boys have all the right to be thirty-year old boys. Eric picks up his empty beer, looks back at her and then loses a point. Annie picks up her book and tries not to think of her husband, ex that he is, dust in her memories. And just as easily, the beer is forgotten and Eric goes back to losing.
A thirteen-year old girl, running within had followed with her friend. She’d followed into a house, hoping not to meet any parents. Down wooden stairs to a world of gray plaster and pipes. A door going nowhere on just another wall of the basement, though this one had been made of wood, painted and unpainted. A small room had laid hidden behind that door as if by magic. It had been a room of dark and poster colors. It had been a room where music had played deep into the night and parents had seemed never to come. She’d taken a pill, afraid to say no, afraid to lose the peace in her corner of this room. And she had stared at her friend, whom she had to believe knew for where they were. Time had slowed down and the music had wandered liquid across the walls. Her small breasts had almost seemed to grow against her shirt. And as she had grown younger, her body had seemed to grow up. For a moment into a moment, and it had been such a pretty pill. Someone’s tongue had parted her lips and the minutes had become wet and hungry. She’d seen John across the room as a wizard in his own colors. He’d drawn pictures, pictures that had walked as her own dreams might have. Annie had kissed a boy and had seen magic. But also, Annie had wanted to go home. Her breasts had been sore as a hand had pushed against them. And so Annie had left to go home early that first time, not knowing that the pill didn’t go just with that room.
Gray plaster caves had followed her from that door now a shadow or an echo passing in the whisper of her footsteps. There’ been the wooden stairs that would let her escape, stairs leading to a home and to a place where a mother had stood, waiting always waiting. As her friend’s hand had touched her, she’d almost loosened from the grasp of the pill. "Annie, it’s not yet ten. We have twenty minutes ‘til we have to go?" And Annie had been pulled back into the room where the colors had been then softer. The boy she had kissed had then been sitting under headphones and the room had been caught only in whispers and no music. And the wizard had given her a picture. A rose and lightening in a circle that turned forever.
Passion, sweet passion is a softness in her dreams as Eric enters deeply into her and comes so close from so long ago. Her body is free like her husband could never call. In his open eyes, just for a moment, she can almost see herself.
Wednesday morning, Annie sits the edges on Eric’s bed, listening to him sleep. She is naked and chilled as the morning crawls into his room. She can feel and smell his wetness on her. Her hand strokes lightly across her abdomen, touches in the echo of his feel. Something of love is a sweetness that strokes the roof of her mouth. Slowly she wakes and slowly the cold grows cold. And as Eric sleeps, Annie rises reaching toward a warm shower and coffee. And Annie sits looking for some clothes to wear as she remembers that this is Eric’s apartment. And she remembers the other boys who are often still wandering about readying for work. Is it still early enough? And so, Annie draws on clothes she doesn’t want to wear.
Clean and in a pair of Eric’s clean jeans, Annie sews a hole in the old shirt she’d found folded with the pants. With her hair drying, she wishes that Eric will wake. The apartment is so lifeless, she stares down at the shirt she is sewing, pausing for a moment for her small breasts and the soft nipples lost with lamp-lit shadows. She will go home and clean up for her father. Hoping, she is hoping that he had made himself dinner the night before. Time to go home and Eric will be asleep for hours yet.
Annie has told herself that she doesn’t believe in magic anymore. She remembers the drugs and all the years of dreams that have slipped past so fast. Her first pill at thirteen until her marriage at nineteen. She had remembered the good and tried to forget the bad. And now she tries to forget the good. But in growing up, who really forgets? At nineteen, Eric had met her and at fourteen she’d hadn’t the sexuality to meet him on equal terms. He’d been a sweet dream of youth easily lost or not so easily as a rage to be free and of age had sung a blues deep below her eyes. What are love stories when the believe you to be a child? And what of another man who didn’t care and had taken her body in pain? And the drugs had clouded the whispers. Growing old, growing slowly.
Annie sits on her father’s bed, freshly made. She wants to scream but won’t dare the release. She wants meaning carrying all the hints of which she might attribute to years of youth and drugs. She had also tried the stage of a high-level job and money, looking to but a piece of time. But truthfully, drugs had been more fun and acting old had been just that, acting old.
She sits on her father’s bed and tries to think of Eric lying next to her, wishing he would grow up and marry her and hoping he won’t, fearing the betrayal it might entail. Annie grows edgy but fights leaving her father’s room, fights leaving her father. Without her, he would be alone. As alone as he was when her mother had still been alive. Her only friend, but a man with his beginnings left so far behind. A man, though, who needed her. A second of thought for her sisters and all their empty money walls which carried no halls by which to carry their souls still out and back to the home they left behind. Could she do such with Eric? Could she trade her home for an emptiness that would be freedom? "But he likes my father. And I love them both."
What had been given away and what had been taken? The lines move as Annie stands hard in the wind. Between the lines, she can cry.
Annie had met a poet who couldn’t make her cry. He’d been a man who was so easy to forget. In a moment not so long ago, he’d given her a poem. He’d touched her soul with dreams that had never heard of her world. She kept the poem in a box hidden behind a tear. What man can ever really be a friend to a woman? What man when all the boys are so easy to play? She leaves her father’s room to return to her own.
It is just a piece of paper. It is just a collection of words as are all the books she often reads. She can read the poem again, but what can it do? Its intimacy dares for magic without flesh. The lies can never mesh where a woman must try to create. And she reads the poem again, this time alone down the hall from her father’s room. And she doesn’t speak of it anymore, as she returns it to the gathering dust of a small wooden box.
desert sand in a night scream & whispers
in and deep in
a shadow - of light
in a quiet lives
her back leaning against
a child’s torn eyes and / broken tries
whispers wander from
shadow corners to
speaking of rage and love
a woman shadows her eyes
on a line too thin
a child warm in
a chair’s night deep
fingers in the still
wind of her hair
to dream behind the
within the pages
of a book
against the tightening
of her breasts
deep loving tries
as a desert touches
where a child sighs
a woman cries
where a woman fears
a child is lost
in the circle
dare a poet to
but where a woman
also may a woman
in the circle
dare a woman to
love a man
living the child
deep in a shadow
in the circle
dare a man to
love a woman
a poet sighs with
only beauty in his eyes
wind swept woman
between shadow and love
with tears of ice
the water of her dreams
desert sand carves
sun warmth burns the air
dare a man to a woman,
Thursday night and Annie spends hours talking with her father. They wander between books and dreams, and he always seems to see. But his eyes are often old and half the time, distant. Can books be more than just books? Can talks cross the line between whispers and flesh? Thursday night comes and goes too quickly, leaving her father asleep and leaving Annie lying alone in a child’s bed.
She tires to remember and it is like trying to walk across a desert, one carved more form rock than sand. The wind blows movement as she yearns to be still. She wonders if she is dreaming and tries but can’t be sure if she can feel her bed. A man is hitting her or is he making love to her, demanding so much as she tries harder not to feel. Raw against her folds, she prays for liquid but tastes only sand on her tongue. As the wind cries, the wind whines. A lonely soul can only watch the scratches from deep within her skin. Feeling the pain demand her strength. She speaks to a man without eyes and sighs as hope dies once again. Dry with fear, a fear gone cold, she feels the blood pulse from his body, staining, simply staining hers. She walks alone. She is walking away from where lies a man, his erection hard, covered only by his own hand. Blood drips cold down her inner thighs from a vagina small and thirstless. Falling to the sand, Annie rubs her body, legs apart, hard against the earth. And she dreams of grass warm and sun green beneath a rage of water falling free. And when Annie awakes, realizing it had been a dream, feeling her sweat growing cold beneath her pajamas, she wants to cry. But not alone, she doesn’t want to cry alone. Her father sleeps as a father should and Eric, though he might not, is not near enough.
Friday night, meeting Eric after work, Annie in a dress. This is something she rarely does. It is a cold night with a colder night wind blowing off the Hudson River. The wind swirls trapped between the downtown New York City buildings. Annie is excited because she had been called for a job earlier that day. Maybe she wants to celebrate, though the interview wouldn’t be until Monday. She wishes that it isn’t so cold as she feels somewhat trapped in the weight of the long black wool coat she wears. Eric is staring at a woman up the block wearing a jacket and a short, dark skirt. The wind is blowing up the back of her skirt and her hands are fighting to keep herself decent. And Eric is enjoying the occasional sight of her white even in the shadow, white panties. Annie isn’t jealous, as he only looks and would rather the girl was she. But even so, she decides to find some sweet young male ass to comment on this night. If men were to be men, so a woman must stand her ground. But before they reach the restaurant, she forgets about the stranger’s panties. She hasn’t yet told him about the job.
Wine softens the evening and the warmth of the restaurant is soothing after the cold walk from the car. Eric holds her hand across the table as they wait for dinner to arrive. The wine is affecting him also. Annie is pleased that Eric suggested that they start drinking wine instead of beer. It is softer, the glow. How easy is it to love this man across from her. Candle light shadows speak with him as his words drift and silence sifts. She is thinking of their marriage and the money she would save in the year of their plan. He is talking of their second trip to Ireland to be taken this spring. She can’t fault him as last year’s trip though short it was, was for him his first real venture out into the world. He had made a few small trips, but always with friends to party or such. And one place is the same as another when you party. Too many beers and the years go by very quickly. Anyway, he can think about their marriage after their trip. And her father, can she leave him alone? Maybe visit him on Sundays? It sounded so cold.
So, Annie sips again from her wine and stares at a thirty-year old man and her love. She feels how similar they can be as his excitement pleasantly threatens to overcome her. At twenty-five, there is time for all things, her father often said.
Later again that same Friday night, walking in the cold but adrift between Eric and the shared bottle of wine, Annie cares to dream of nothing but the moment. He can either go all night or sleep forever. The ability to sleep, she shared with him, but the going all night sometimes took some effort. The were to meet Stephen and Kirk. She wonders what bar he will pick first. And Friday night passes by.
Saturday night comes and Annie kisses Eric long and hard before letting him out of the car at his apartment. She can see the light on in his widow and knows that his friends must be there waiting for him. She is going home early to clean up her father’s house. Tomorrow is her sister’s birthday and she is giving the party. At twenty-five, she is as the unmarried teenager to her family. Silly to play against their game, but they are family and her father would love to have his house full again. And Eric has promised to be there by ten in the morning to help. She doesn’t need their houses and money to ... but no, it seems silly even to her for a simple family dinner to mean something to her. For how often has she avoided them? Still, she thinks of her father’s smile when everything is perfect.
At six p.m., Sunday, Annie sits at the kitchen table. Her father’s house is now empty of family and her father is in the living room, reading. She can still hear her sisters’ voices asking where Eric was. "Wasn’t he going to be here tonight?" And Annie cries, but quietly so her father will not hear. And Annie cries alone. Eric had called her at five. He’d just woken up. He was sorry, but it was only a dinner and her sister didn’t like him anyway. And she thinks below her quiet tears that her father does. Annie fights her tears alone at a kitchen table while time counts its hard seconds onto the strains in the palms of her hands. And at some point, she hears her father close his book. And she hears her father call a goodnight. And she hears her father walk alone upstairs to bed.
Pleasure to ashes and ashes to pleasure. She turns around so quickly and never seems to move an inch. Days run by, some days as quickly as years. And Annie wants to cry somewhat longer.
Annie lies in her bed listening to the echoes of her father leaving for work, lying alone in her room. Early Monday morning finds her almost awake. A rose lies on a small table next to her bed. How Eric managed to find a rose on a Sunday night ... but he could do things like that. She hadn’t spoken to him, had just taken the flower and closed her father’s door. She hadn’t wanted her father to wake up and hadn’t wanted Eric to see her crying, a crying he’d caused. Though with the night passing, she knew she would forgive him, just not yet.
And Monday morning finds Annie sitting on the edge of her bed. She is dressed in a pair of her father’s old pajamas and stares at a curtained window that hides the morning. Annie undresses and then lays back down on her bed. Her body is warm hiding from the sunlight. Her body is warm hiding from a rose lying close to her. Memories seem to crowd in between tears that again streak out the edges of her eyes. Eric lies atop her and moves into her so easily that it is as if he has always been there. And his blood throbs as her heart beats, as faster as closer as a moment could dare to be. And then a shadow sits her deep in the dream of a drug that is memory that is sleep. Years pass as waves wet upon a sand beach. And Annie stares at a ceiling that is simply white. Wishing she were an artist, could she paint a fresco that would be more than memory, maybe that would be more than life. And then Annie remembers that magic is dead. Love rules and magic is dead. From father to lover, she circles above herself in a silence that if anybody claimed to see, would quote the flashback.
Sweat gathers in the shade of her hair across her abdomen. And there is a poem in her mind that she isn’t ready to write. It is a poem of silence and it is all hers. But instead, for the moment Annie thinks she should get up and shower and get dressed. She has a job interview to go to today. But in thinking about getting up, she thinks of Eric at home and still asleep. He has no work and she has to get up. But before getting up, Annie wonders and stares again at the ever white of her ceiling.
She’d been twelve years old and at the last of her youth. Naked and still wet from her shower, she’d stopped at her parents’ door, which laid open. She’d peered in to find her mother gone. Her father had been sitting up in bed reading through glasses and smoking his cigarettes.