IN THE EVENING
The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.
I point out to her the constellations of the zodiac, explaining that the signs follow the line of the ecliptic. Ecliptic, she asks. The arc of the sun across the sky, I tell her. The signs were lined up on the ecliptic and each one was most prominent—directly overhead—at a certain time of year. That's what it means to be born under a sign, I finish. So it's actually pretty literal, she says. Yes, I tell her. Huh, she says. I knew the horoscope signs had to do with the stars but I didn't know that other thing. About the arc of the sun.
We are laying on a quilt—that really, really ugly one from her living room that I've remembered quite clearly for almost a year now—on our backs in the yard behind her house where there are no trees to block our view of the sky. It is August, the end of summer, and the night is clear and warm. The nights have begun to lengthen again to where the sun is fully set before eight at night. Sometimes, I can wake up earlier and move around if I want to. It is worth the occasional slight burn to see the last rays of a sunset. That I can be conscious in the evening hours between afternoon and full dark is a gift of old age. It's this possibility and the heavy warmth that make the summer my favorite season. Cold weather doesn't sting for me the way it does for a human but that doesn't mean I like the feeling of a chill wind across my skin the way Pam does. That's why I prefer to wear a coat in the winter.
Tonight, I think she thinks I just stopped by. She doesn't seem to know that I am here, somewhere near her, almost every night. Not stalking. Watching over. I do not peek through the window when she changes, however sorely I am tempted by the sound of the shower turning on and off. Tonight, I didn't have to be at the bar so I came to see her as early as I could. I woke up in the dark of my house at seven, still her evening time, and she was surprised that I called. You're awake? I remind her of the age thing. Has she forgotten that I managed relatively coherent thought and movement in full daylight in Rhodes? And you're asking if you can come by, she said. All I can say is Yes, so that all she can politely say is Yes and let me come because I know that she is as polite and bound to the concept of Southern Hospitality as I am honest and bound to being opportunistic.
I called Pam to let her know where I would be and she just says okay, she'll handle things. Because she always does. When I get to Sookie's house, she waves me over to where she is sprawled in the grass, knowing I can see her even though it's dark. What are you doing, I ask her. Stargazing, she says, obviously. She pats the other half of the blanket, inviting me to join her. Why, I ask. From the way she bites her lip a little, I can tell she doesn't really want to tell me. Probing the bond between us, I feel a new insecurity within her. I lay down next to her and stay quiet, looking up.
I've been thinking, a lot… About the "bigness" of everything— Don't you dare look at me like that you pervy bastard. I laugh and she lightly punches my arm. Seriously, she says, I've been thinking about how much I don't know, how much there is beyond me, beyond my life, beyond this whole planet. I just felt like looking up and out instead of inward or around. And out here it's dark, so everything is much clearer… She trails off, then says she was thinking about Dallas and Jackson, how when she was out at night there, the sky seemed almost all one uninterrupted color, except for the presence of the moon. No stars, no detail. I ask her what she's found in the sky above, by looking at her library book. She wrinkles her nose in distaste. Not much. Cassiopeia, I think, because she's shaped like a W. The rest I just don't know. I keep looking at the book with a flashlight, then when I turn it off and look up again my eyes have to adjust and by then I'm thinking again and I've forgotten what I'm supposed to be looking for. This is when I ask her if she wants my help. She sighs and says okay and we're both laying back with our palms behind our heads, elbows out in complete comfort. This is when I tell her about the zodiac. I tell her all of the signs and what they mean. She follows my finger tracing patterns in the sky. I tell her the stories I know behind every starry picture I can point out to her.
Hours later, she turns on her side. So you're pretty smart, huh? I laugh lightly, dismissively. Not that smart sometimes. Really. Thank you, she says as she places a hand over my still heart. Her hand trails up to my neck, she sets me on fire when she leans over to place a gentle kiss on my lips. She kisses me again, her hand traveling south. I respond of course, but no tongue, nothing sudden. My hand presses on top of hers, making me ache to be inside her right now. I want this. But I don't want to go too fast. I turn on my side to face her, the ground and the quilt soft underneath us, and my hands begin asking questions all over her body. She puts hers on my face and slowly tangles her fingers in my hair. I let her pull me forward to meet her lips and we kiss, we kiss, we kiss… I slid my hands up and down her thighs, pushing her dress up around her waist, pulling her hips against mine because I want her to feel how much I want and need her. Her arms slip under mine so she's gripping my shoulders, her fingers arching into claws. I can feel her nails through my shirt. She gasps when I slip my fingers under the edge of her underwear and pull.
Breaking the kiss, she looks into my eyes without my asking and nods her assent. I discard her underwear completely as I meet her lips again. She has trailed her warm fingers up and down my chest prompting me to sit up enough to sweep my t-shirt over my head and toss it off into the grass somewhere around us, which as far as I'm concerned is another fucking planet. My world is right in front me, her lips on mine, slipping her fingers into the waistband of my jeans, delighted that there are no additional layers. I moan into her mouth as she grips me, then undoes the button, peels down the zipper. I am feeling her heart beat through every pore in her skin. Feeling her with my fingers, I know that she is ready. She releases me from my jeans, pushing the denim down and away a little, her hands on my ass, her favorite part, drawing me closer. She draws one knee up my side. I grip her hips, still holding her gaze, her eyes as blue and deep as mine. I pull her onto me in one stroke and we moan because it has been too long. I roll her onto her back so that I'm above her, pushing myself deeper. We come together like gravity, like the quiet falling inward that marks the birth of a star.
Her lips move lightly against my chest. I can read them on my skin. She loves me. I love you, whispered into her hair so quietly I know she can't hear it. I zip up my jeans and smooth her dress back down over her hips and legs. We don't say these words out loud. We can't. If I bring her further into my life, I risk hers. I think about her in danger, when she has been in the past and that she may be in the future. And I can't stand it. It is a swelling sickness that spreads my ribs until they hurt. What a fucking pussy.
The part of me that loves her, anyway, which is the largest one. The other parts are animals, political and primal. They cannot love her because they must protect her. And it is, in my view, one of the great ironies of existence that you cannot effectively protect something you love with as much clarity and detachment as you could protect someone or something that meant nothing to you. Because you'll always be thinking of the thing, the one you love and that thought will weaken you. It will distract, interrupt, misguide and finally kill you finally dead. She would be damaged by the permanent loss of me, I know our bond is that deep. And if I'm dead, she is up for grabs. In my stead, Pam would… Come to think of it, I'm not sure what Pam would do. She is my Child but I know that there are hidden parts of her mind that I have never seen in the two hundred years since I made her. I think she would help and protect to a rational extent. I also think Pam knows when to jump from a sinking ship.
Bill would try more actively to protect her in my place and would probably get himself killed fairly quickly, taking her with him or leaving her, once again, out in the open. I almost laugh at the image of her stumbling barefoot through a battlefield in one of her light cotton dresses. For some reason, this battlefield is extremely cold and she's not wearing a bra but maybe that part is more for my amusement, ever the opportunist. All of it, though, is a cruel, condescending picture and it represents the worst extreme of my fear for her life, my need to control it, to control her, if only to guide her away from danger. What can I give her, except a shorter lifespan? And it's not only fear for her life, but also for her freedom. She values her independence and power of choice above nearly everything else in her life. I know this, even if she's wrong and I'm right, even if I know she's about to run into a brick wall she can't see but damn it if she'll listen to my warning. And I am proud that I know her so well, have known these things of her before she'd ever had my blood.
With all these loving, hating, defending parts in conflict, I cannot give her my whole self, which is what she deserves. Though she would be put first, which is what she always says she wants, her well-being before all others. Except mine, because I wouldn't die for her. In my view, that kind of death is selfish. What the fuck kind of lover dies for his other half and leaves them alone? To die for someone is a momentary impulse. To live for them is seeing the bigger picture. And what the fuck kind of lover expects the other one to die in their place?
But I have to say. There are plenty of things she could ask me to do that I would never consider doing for any other being on this planet. If she said she loved me and asked me to give up everything and move to Canada with her, I would. If she asked me to stay with her always, make love to her in her bed every night and sleep in her house during the day, I would do that, too, even though she will never ask and I will not force the question.
Holding her now, her head under my chin, I know something without a doubt. I have to bury this. There is some bullshit saying out there about loving something enough to let it go. Fine. Whatever. To love is to bury. I will let her go. This is what I tell Pam when she takes me completely off guard for once and asks me point blank if I love Sookie. When I say I have nothing to give her but a shorter lifespan, Pam calls me a liar to my face. I can't punish her for telling the truth.
Sookie rests uneasily against me. A breeze rustles over us. Our half-clothed coupling felt like the end of something. I want to suggest a shower but it doesn't seem like the right moment. She picks up my cell phone from where it has fallen out of my pocket onto the blanket and presses a button, illuminating the little screen that says it's five am. You probably need to go, she says. The hidey-hole is--
Not accessible, I know. Listen, I have to go to Las Vegas next week, all week. It's a… King thing. I want Pam to stay with you nights. Will you let her? She asks me why, Pam has never stayed before and she's been fine enough. Something in my face gives me away. Unless someone else has been watching my house. She does not like this idea. It is me encroaching on her independence, spying on her. Sookie, I just wanted to make sure you were safe. The King is very-- She cuts me off. Not many living things on this planet can get away with that. It has been a very lovely evening, she says formally, as if we had dressed in our Sunday best and gone for a polite stroll down Main Street. But I think you should go. I try to speak again and she cuts me off with a stiff wave of her hand and her voice wavers. I don't have her gift. I don't know what she's thinking and what she thinks about what we did tonight. I don't know what kind of responsibility you think you have for me but I don't need you to guard me like Fort Knox. And I don't need you to drop by for a pity fuck. So that's what she thinks about what we did tonight. Just let me be, she says.
Now I've made her cry, even though I came here because I wanted to be with her, because I needed to touch her, because I love her. But I didn't tell her any of these things, so I can see why she's thinking what she's thinking. I should not have let this happen. I am an asshole. And I am about to take "asshole" to new heights of assholiness. Fine, I say. I will go. And I will not be coming back, I tell her. Pam will be here for all of next week, whether you let her in the house or not. And then I make the last deep cut as I stand over her. I always protect my assets. Then I turn my back and walk away, leaving her alone in the dark with a library book, a flashlight and a fucking ugly quilt. My shirt is still somewhere on that other grassy planet far apart from the one where we made love. But, to love is to bury. Let's get on with this shit.
I remember a dream I had this evening, before I came to her house. I almost never remember dreams. I only caught this one because I was waking up as it progressed. We are walking together on a road at night, she and I. We do not touch. We do not look at each other. The only light is from the night sky, in the form of far off stars and a bony sliver of moon. We arrive at the turn to her house. She moves to go down her long driveway without looking back at me. I walk forward, past the turn, further into the night as all the light blinks out of it. Darkness, as if buried deep in the earth, sunk deep into the sea. This is my life without. Just without. I don't want this. Even walking away from her house, I feel her. This is where I hate and love to the furthest extremes because I feel, I feel, I feel. Fuck I don't want that, either. Still, the beat of her heart vibrates in me, its rhythm thrumming like a song. Her living, pulsing, human heart. It wakes mine up. The dead muscle stretches and creaks with its newfound life. I want nothing more than to turn back, say I'm sorry, I love you, I'll never leave you, let's move to Canada. But I don't. Love it, bury it, let it go and all that.
She has this massive power over me and yet she is so fragile I could break her like glass. In other ways, she is as hard as flint, she sparks when struck to make fire.
She burns. I burn with her.