Monday, October 29, 2018
Anonymity, Dark and Bright
I’ve led a fairly tame life, at least in terms of erotic encounters. In the “play party” period of my second adolescence I may not have known much about some of the people I met, but I always knew that they were known to other people that I did know well. And I always knew that I had to drive home alone at night.
As far as my writing goes, the excerpt below is the closest I’ve come to anonymous characters in a story, and that might be stretching the point. But the characters don’t exchange names, and they meet in an isolated wilderness setting, so maybe that counts after all. One is there for the fishing, and the other is there as a photographer obsessed with the “ephemeral art” of nature.
This is from one of my earliest attempts at erotica. I think it was my third time in a volume of the Best Lesbian Erotica series, which would make it 2001. I included it in the first collection of my own work, A Ride to Remember, from Lethe Press, in 2011, which seems a very long time ago, so it’s been kind of fun to revisit it.
Of Dark and Bright
How has it ever come to this? What am I doing here? The opening of my show, and I'm lurking high on a shadowed stairway looking down at the bright rectangles on the gallery walls, at my photographs, my visions, my studies in light and dark. And my whole bone-shaking desire is to step back into that sun and shadow, that scintillation of sky mirrored on rippling water, that light as it strikes so harshly even the smoothest of stream-worn granite, but flows like a lingering touch over the angles of your body.
What I'm doing here is watching for you. Without any reason to think you will come, though you recognized the name of the gallery when I mentioned so casually that I sometimes show here. Or any idea of what I will do, if you do come. So much for the wisdom of age.
Nature is playing tricks on me. Not that I'm complaining; a second adolescence is a torment I'm in no hurry to escape, and my body still gets me wherever I want to go. But where does this surge of raging hungers fit into life's cycle? Where's the archetypal progression from maiden to mother to crone? I've made it almost through the first two, not without joys, not without scars, not without clawing at the boundaries. You'd think some wisdom would have been gained, in all that time; but not enough to ease me through this turmoil. Or even through the next few hours. How will I bear it if you don't come? How will I bear it if you do?
The first time you saw me, you retreated.
I should have been glad. These few days to myself had been hard enough to pry from a life of too many entanglements. No matter how graceful the undulation of your line out over the stream, how elegantly precise the settling of your lure onto the water, barely creasing the tension of its silvered surface, you were an intrusion. Good fly fishing form, skilled hands, nice balance, but--go away, kid. You bother me.
I watched, unseen, as you moved upstream, searching out the deepest pools among the rocks. No closer, I thought. Go back. Even at a distance, even before I understood, I was reluctant to let your serene concentration be rippled by a chance encounter.
My elkhound Raksha tensed on the opposite shore, gray fur blending imperceptibly into the rocks and driftwood. A low growl rumbled in her chest, a prelude to whatever menace might be required.
I signaled with my eyes to be still, since my hands were occupied with balancing stone on stone, building structures to be photographed--some as cover art for a book set on a distant planet, some as a sequential study of "ephemeral art" showing the effects over time of wind and water and ice, and some for my insatiable obsession with aspects of light and dark. I should have wondered at how quickly she subsided, but I had forgotten, for the moment, that her savagery was reserved for unknown men.
Then the trout struck. Your lean, intense face transformed with joy--and I knew. I watched you play the fish, draw it carefully, inexorably toward you, stoop to deftly grasp and then release your prize. The lines of your body revealed what the multi-pocketed fishing vest, the baseball cap over close-cropped hair, had at first concealed. But I already knew.
The stream swirling past my hips might as well have rammed a log into my crotch. A hunger raw as pain, irrational as the jerk of a hammered knee, lurched deep and low inside me. I cursed at my old-enough-to-know-better self; and in that moment of distraction my balance wavered.
One stone shifted, then another. I tried to restore the equilibrium of my construction, but the pebbles in the streambed turned under my feet. I staggered, and stones from the disintegrating tower bruised me on their way to the bottom of the river.
You heard the avalanche of rocks and looked up. In a calmer moment I might have enjoyed your expression as your gaze traveled over the surreal array of stone circles and pillars, the camera and tripod on the shore, and Raksha observing you with a lupine grin. By the time you saw me I was pulling myself up onto a wide, sun-warmed boulder, and then wishing I hadn't, realizing how mercilessly revealing my soaked t-shirt had become, how inadequate my denim cutoffs had always been. Damn it, how far into the wilds did I have to go to be spared seeing myself through someone else's eyes?
Expressions shifted across your dark-browed face like the drifting shadows of clouds on the mountainsides. I knew you were cursing the shattering of solitude, and considering what, if anything, of yourself to reveal. I saved you the trouble of deciding.
"Raksha, stay!" I commanded, turning toward the shore, knowing that she had no intention of doing otherwise. I stepped from rock to rock until I stood beside her. Then, one hand on her shaggy neck, I faced you again, smiled, and nodded in casual acknowledgment of shared humanity.
Your answering smile was brief, startled, and lit with a sweetness you would have cursed yourself for showing. You could pass, in the right circumstances, but never with that smile. Then you turned away. I watched you retreat downstream, leaping from boulder to boulder with a long-legged, impetuous sureness that sent a shiver of delight across my skin.
So I've done it, I thought, gone completely round the bend. Fantasies, delusions...and delusions of what? I wasn't even sure which I wanted more, to fuck you, or, in spite of the scars the world could be counted on to inflict, to be you. Not that it mattered. My chances of one were about the same as of the other.
But then, in the morning, you came back.
Extension of my dreams or not, I went with it. Those dreams had left me sweaty, slippery, tangled in my sleeping bag, and utterly without relief. Raksha sniffed at my crotch with interest. I pushed her nose away and headed for the river.
Mist rose from the water into the early coolness of the July morning. I eased into the deep cascade-fed pool between the largest boulders. The current here had often swept away tension, pain, everything extraneous to pure being; but I didn't even want it to cool this fever. Some aches are to be savored.
Raksha stood above me on the bank, testing the breeze. I knew by her focused stillness when she caught a human scent. There, across the river, half-hidden by hemlock branches, you stood, watching her wolfish form, and watching me balancing breast-deep.
This time I wore nothing but my river sandals. Fantasy, delusion, whatever; I chose to pretend that you cared. "Good morning!" I called across the rush of the water. "It's all right, I won't turn you into a stag."
You grinned, not startled this time, and came down in easy strides to the riverbank. "You sure? Might be too late. Kinda feels like you already have, antlers and all. But I would've taken you for Venus, not Diana."
"Venus?" I said. "That manipulative bitch?" If this were delusion, I'd make the most of it. Your deliberate drawl and uptake on the Actaeon myth made my skin tingle; your voice, low and with just a hint of huskiness, would have done the trick all by itself.
"Nothin' wrong with a little manipulation," you said.
Damn, why hadn't it occurred to me before that this could be fun? Whatever else it turned out to be. It was a gift you offered, your willingness to play the game, to take the risk of sharing this self with me.
[Snipped: several pages on which more explicit fun and games ensue]
I hear your voice before I see you, and the petulant reply of your companion. I struggle to be glad you aren't alone. I watch you move slowly through the gallery, studying the pictures, while she fidgets with her hair. Then you stop before the central work, the one that makes everyone stop. Your body takes on that blend of stillness and tension I remember so well; and this time you see it, too, in the photograph before you. You lie there on a wide, flat rock in midstream, leaning on one elbow, looking down into the rushing water. Sunlight slants across your naked, smoothly muscled back and buttocks, your long, lithe legs, but your head is in the shadow of a higher boulder and your face is turned away. The arm you lean on hides all but a mere, subliminal trace of your curving breast.
Your companion pauses, says, "Ooh, sexy!" and moves on. She doesn't recognize you. No one could recognize you unless she truly knew you, truly saw you. You should be with someone who will always know you, always feel her heart jump and her breath catch at the sight of you, at your least movement, at your stillness, all through a long, long life. It can't be me, but it won't be her, either.
You lean forward to read the caption, then turn and scan the gallery. I have retreated up around the curve of the spiral stairway, but you come unerringly toward me, and your movements as you climb quickly and easily up the stairs make something lurch deep inside me.
I look into your face, watching for anger, half-wanting to see you angry, at least once--your anger could be as breathtaking as your joy--but never hurt. Though your expression is casual, detached, your dark eyes are intense. "Nice bunch of stones," you say, gesturing below.
"I'll take it down," I say, "if you want me to. You could sue me for not asking your permission, but I didn't know how to reach you." I had deliberately refused to let you tell me how to reach you, for fear that I might descend into stalking. You, sensing that my life is not elegantly simple enough to be all my own, had let it go at that.
"You might as well leave it up," you say. "Just another pile of stones."
"No! That's not how I think of you!" My throat is so tight I can scarcely breath.
You tilt your head slightly, considering. "Where did you get that title? 'All that's best of dark and bright.'" You glance down briefly toward the photograph. "Sounds familiar. From a poem, isn't it?"
"Byron," I say. "'She walks in beauty, as the night/ Of cloudless climes and starry skies,/And all that's best of dark and bright/ Meets in her aspect and her eyes.'" I manage a slight smile. "On top of everything else, you've turned me maudlin."
You give me that sudden, blindingly beautiful smile, and relax, and lean your shoulder against the curving wall. "So, will you be going back to get more pictures of those 'ephemeral' towers?"
"Next month, over Columbus Day." I'm still far from relaxed, but at least I can breathe again. "I was hoping you'd ask."
Your wide grin makes my heart leap. "I kinda feel an urgent fishing trip coming on," you say, ignoring the querulous voice from below calling your name.
Then you're gone, leaving me throbbing from a quick, hard, incendiary embrace. And a promise.
I feel kind of guilty doing nothing but posting an excerpt when it’s my turn at bat for this blog, but I have some urgent final editing to do on a second collection of my own work, Wild Rides, coming out fairly soon, so I really have to concentrate on that, having frittered away my time yesterday baking two birthday cakes for two family birthdays, and celebrating those birthdays today at a family gathering. As I said, I live a fairly tame life. It's a good thing I have writing to keep me sane--or, rather, to keep me from being too sane.