Windy Willows, Spook's Lane

October 5th

My beautiful man,

I've had the loveliest evening. To wander through October woods is to float through a sunset, and I imagined you were there with me, your leather glove enclosing my mitten, the sleeve of your soft, worn coat brushing against my arm. I made believe we were talking about our day and I could feel you squeeze my hand as I mentioned my woes, and wrap your arm around me when I made you smile. Your thumb grazed over my shoulder when you laughed and a happiness went through me, so buttery and warm that the trees soaked it up like sunlight.

I want to know what it's like to kiss you under scarlet canopies. To have the smell of damp earth and fallen leaves mingle with the smell of you. I want to wrap my scarf around your neck and button up your coat. I want to slowly work the finger of each glove over your hands.

I want to be the one to peel them off again.

I want to unbutton your coat.

I want to unwind that soft green scarf.

To remove your jacket, your suspenders, your shirt.

I want to watch your eyes change from morning light to midnight as you wonder what I mean to do next.

I want to make you wonder. I want to make you wait.

I want to live in that moment when you wondered and waited.

I want to know you in Autumn the way I knew you this Summer.

I am hot and sleepy, my skin is flushed and damp. My hair is wet and tiny trickles of water, like a lover's finger, slip down my neck and my back. Tonight I stood before the mirror and let my towel drop to the floor and imagined what it would have been like if had been you who had discovered me. If I stood there the way you had, with your skin dripping and your body bare.

We were to meet up at three by the gelato cart on the old pier at White Sands. You were visiting the family you boarded with when you were teaching, I was due the following day with the Wrights. Diana and I were going to dine at Hayway's, moon over bolts of fabric at Harte and Co, and stroll along the boardwalk with our natty new parasols. Little Fred had other ideas however and instead of a smart day out she and I stalked over the auction houses with a poor bawling boy, seeking out Fred so that he could drive them back to The Pines. I waved them off, half sorry, half glad, and went in search of the Roth place in hopes of finding you.

Those delightful people pulled me inside and pressed plate after plate of rugelach on me while they told me where I might find you. High up on the west coast, deep in the red cliffs was a cave. It had once been a hideout for smugglers. You used to take your pupils there on field trips, though the Roths had never seen it.

"Such an out of the way spot, so dangerous. One would have to clamber over boulders and rock falls in order to get to it. I would advise you to wait here, Miss Shirley," Mrs Roth warned me, "though... from what I know of you, I don't expect you'll take my advice."

I smiled to myself during the entire two mile walk as I thought of you telling the Roths how you had engaged yourself to a woman who balances on ridge poles, clambers up bridge piles, and races you up trees. You might have impressed them with my B.A. or my books, or the fact I was a headmistress at a very respectable school. But you, Gil... you love the adventurer in me. How could I not go looking for you?

It must have been close to two when I arrived. Mr Roth said I could come by the cave from above, where a small set of steps cut had been cut into the cliff side and the trees grow sideways as they take the brunt of the wind. But I preferred to pass along the shore, picking my way over rocks, around pools, with my boots tied together and slung round my neck ~ a trick I had learned from you.

The sun was high and warm on my back and the sea fell in gauzy rolls, spilling their foam at my feet. A gull cried out to her mate and I realised I hadn't passed another person for ten minutes or more. I felt that deep satisfaction you often tell me about; when it seems as though the sun shines and the sea washes over your toes just for you. I remember shading my eyes and searching for a sign of you. Instead I was confronted with a sheer face of rust coloured stone being worn away by the waves. I sized it up and thought to myself that perhaps Mr Roth was right, I should have come to the cave from the hillside instead of by the shore. At its narrowest point there was only four feet between the razor, red crags and the water's edge. I tried to recall when the tide was supposed to come in... and then the tide came in.

The one that dwells inside me.

On the other side of that rock face, footprints cut into wet white sand. They were those of a man, I was sure, spread wide and blurred as though running at some speed toward the cliff. It was you, I was certain it was you. Then I saw your cap wedged into a patch of sea-grass, and an apple core lying beside it. It was you... and oh, Gilbert, the thrill that went through me when I knew I had found you. As though I hadn't seen you for a month instead of only a day.

The climb itself was nothing, but I already told you that. My feet were bare and they found their footholds easily enough; my boots beat against my breast as I rose, your old grey cap rolled into my belt. It was the wind that tested me. It whipped my hair over my eyes and caused my skirts to snag, so that as I attempted to climb I would feel myself yanked backwards. I wasn't frightened, not really, only ever thinking what should I do that I am not doing? Or rather, what would Gilbert do?

When I found the first likely ledge I paused for a moment. Slipping your cap over my head and tucking my hair under it, then taking the tail of my dress up between my legs and securing it into my belt like a pair of pantaloons. How much simpler it was to climb then. I was sure anyone passing below me would assume from the ease of my movements that I must be you.

At the mouth of the cave there were footprints in the red dust and more besides. A rough outline of your wet body. I could clearly see how you had lain back for a moment with your arms behind your head while your feet dangled over the edge. The cavern itself was shallower than I expected, though it appeared dark and deep at first. I stepped into it as carefully as I might enter into a river, while my eyes adjusted to the gloom.

You were bent over, drying your leg. "Hold up," you said.

You thought I was a boy coming to explore, and you turned your head and peered at me. The towel was dropped to the ground. And you did something so simple, so simple and easy its simplicity and ease took the breath from my chest. You straightened yourself and you stood there facing me, your hair dripping salt water over your shoulders and onto your chest. And the light from the mouth of the cave made each drop glisten as it fell down your body. And my eyes fell too, over every inch of you. And you stood there, Gil. You stood there with your shoulders squared and your legs just parted, I watched your toes curl and your lips open. I saw you, all of you. You let yourself be seen and you were beautiful, beautiful, beautiful in the dim depths of the Whites Sands cave.

It was only the matter of a moment, but now, Gilbert, now, I cannot be near you, cannot picture you clothed without longing to remove your clothing. The muscles that move under your shirt, I know what they are now, the softly rounded shape of your breast, the patch of dark hair that grows between. And lower, I saw that, too, of course I did. Before you stepped forward and took your cap from my head and placed it over yourself. Before you said, "You're early." Before I slowly nodded.

I left the cave ~ even now I don't know how my legs got me there. All I know is that somehow I was outside again, sitting where you had lain, my bare legs kicking out over the edge as though I sat on a swing. I must have looked out at a glorious view yet don't remember seeing anything but you. Your arms, your hips, your thighs, your sex. Please don't think me obscene, I am shaking as I write this ~ though I doubt I need to make that clear, it's likely you can tell ~ but I found it all so beautiful. All of you so beautiful, so that now since my return all I can think of is seeing you like that again.

When we took Davy's canoe out and then much water in, I know that I paddled to shore as urgently as you did. But when we reached the side of the pond and I stretched out my skirts to dry in the sun, there was part of me that was disappointed. I sat there next to you half wishing you had been soaked to the skin. Some nights, and in the quiet parts of my day, I relive that moment and imagine you standing before me and peeling off your sodden shirt and trousers, your undergarments, and lying next to me in the long cool grass that grows by the water's edge. Sometimes it's so real that I can smell the silty mud, feel your wet limbs cool against my own. Your throat is brown and your arms. Your chest as white as new milk. The soft dark curls on your body spark with tiny beads in the sunlight. I think about taking my finger and beginning at your crown drawing a line all the way down, slow and steady and never stopping. Sometimes in my dream you reach for my hand and make me stop. Sometimes you bring it to the places where you want me to touch you. Sometimes you are still as still, and you close your eyes and let my hands wander where they will, till I have painted you with a thousand spirals and your skin is hot and dry.

… … …

I have never been sure how much time passed between my discovering you and you coming out to the cliff edge. But when you did you were fully dressed, down to the perfect bows on your boots and your perfectly knotted tie. You sat down next to me and we talked about the climb, about the Roths and the Wrights, about how we should head over to the pier for some tangy gelato cups. So I pulled my stockings up over my legs while you decided to retie your shoes, and we walked those two miles in what felt like two minutes and strolled the promenade with perfect decorum. But every time you raised your cap to a stranger I remembered how you removed it from my head. I remembered you standing before me. I remembered the unrelenting pull of my hips towards yours, and the space between us thick with longing. It was a living entity, that space. Palpable and panting. As voluptuous as North pressed to North, each one unable to touch the other.

I think about what might have happened in the gloom and the quiet of that cave. If you hadn't taken your cap from me; if I hadn't let you. If instead of speaking you kissed me. If instead of me finding you, it was you who discovered me.

I look at myself in my mirror and try to see myself through your eyes. I wonder, if I had been so surprised would I have covered myself or begged you to leave? I can't imagine ever wanting to now. I want to stand in front of you wearing nothing at all. I dream of it. And not only since June, for more than a year. From the day you sent me those lilies I have wanted to be seen by you, feel your eyes on me, on my breasts, my thighs, my limbs, my hidden places. I want you to know all of me. And after you've seen me I want you to touch me. And after you've touched me I want you to hear me. I want to hear my cries mingle with your own. I want to moan with you and sigh with you. I want to be with you. How I want to be with you.

It's no use writing any more, I can't. I can't. It's not enough, Gilbert, but oh... the sensations going through me now, do you ever feel them? I am soaked to the bones with such wondrous bliss. And it's all because of you.