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Astonishment and Joy

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Friday, April 25th

Astonishment and joy. Astonishment and joy.

Earlier when she came in with a handkerchief upon her nose, she expressed her disappointment upon seeing me well and had said she was hoping to compare colds; so I offered to make her tea and honey.

I had been keeping myself busy with the concoction that would soothe Tallie of this troublesome cold when I felt her eyes staring after me; intent even with my back to her and suddenly making me conscious. When I turned, my eyes caught hers with that resolute glint that both unsettled and intrigued me ‘What?’ I inquired. ‘Every morning, I wake up and I think that I never want to be far from you.’ Tallie had the habit of shocking me with her abruptness (as opposed to my careful manner of things). She had said it as if it were the most natural thing for us to belong. Us to belong…like a mare to her foal, or a ship to its mooring. I let my eyes drop to the gentle rising and falling of her breasts and as I always do, when it came to her, I gazed in wonder and astonishment: hidden just beneath the layers of fabric was the very heart of her; I wonder if I were to rest my hand upon her breast, would it be beating hard enough for me to feel it against my palm? The very thought of it flustered me, so I turned. Tallie, at once sensing she had lost hold of my eyes, enticed me with something she knew I would like; she had said that under my influence she had composed a poem and had entitled it “O Sick and Miserable Heart, Be Still.” I had a habit I’d developed when I was a child, that whenever I felt I had been confronted by something bigger than I was, I would turn away; I wish I had not.

O sick and miserable heart, be still but it would not be still; it thrummed violently against my chest. I had felt this sort of exhilaration before, this hammering and it had been with Nellie’s first kick. ‘When I was a little girl,’ I said, ‘I thought I could cultivate my intellect and do something for the world…but my life has surprised me by being far more ordinary.’ Tallie, in turn, had looked at me with fascination and understanding ‘You’re talking about that moment that I have dreamed about, when we’re carried in triumph for having done something wonderful or received at home with tears and shouts of joy–do you know what I wonder?’ I shook my head. The afternoon light shone through Tallie’s copper hair–so contrary to my own which was always dark and unremarkable ‘Is it possible that such a moment hasn’t yet come for either of us?’ so I told her that I thought that it has…or that it could ‘You do?’ she said ‘So what do you think,’
‘what do you think about us?’ I could always tell the time of day by the light through her hair: how it glowed a warm red against the afternoon sun, how it looked like when the night had threatened to touch it but never when it finally did. How, I wondered, would it look like with the night upon it?

When I finally said I could not put what I had imagined into words, she had turned austere and told me to try. Then try again. ‘What do you imagine?’ her eyes were unrelenting, so I said, ‘I imagine that I love how our encircling feelings leave nothing out for us to want or seek.’ the manner in which I said these words had shocked me and when Tallie’s countenance had turned somber, I was first to turn away.
‘I've presumed too much.’
‘It's been my experience that it’s not always those who show the least,’ the heat of her breath now upon my cheeks ‘who actually feel the least.’ her voice turned so low that it became a whisper. When I had lost Nellie, I had felt I had been robbed of joy and was not allowed joy once more. Standing in front of her now, hanging on to her every breath; I had felt it again. It was in her eyes. My joy was in her eyes. A sound from the porch had startled me and momentarily took me out of the fortress Tallie had carried me into. Tallie, first to compose herself had assured me that it was just her dog’s toenails on the wood and that it was wise to keep him there so that he could warn us of trespassers and passersby.

What had transpired thereafter, I will not write down on Dyer’s ledgers. Tallie had leaned slowly towards me so that I could breathe in the smell of her, feel the heat of her; I had offered my lips in turn, and then she resisted as if there was a barrier between my mouth and hers that I could not see ‘Why didn’t you do what you attempted to do?’ I was compelled to make an inquiry but she offered no answer, so I took it upon myself to take her mouth in mine. When our mouths touched, I thought–and exalted that notion to my maker–how fortunate I was to be walking on the same soil Tallie walked on, to breathe the same air, to exist in the same time frame, same lifetime as she. My Tallie.

We were inattentive to the world that existed beyond our kiss. Until that moment I had not realized my heart had been like an uncultivated soil craving for human navigation; I had read, through my self-education, about riptides and undertows and had felt something similar was occurring between myself and Tallie: I was being pulled offshore. I pulled away, coming up for air. ‘I worry you’ll catch my cold.’ she finally supplied the answer as to why, earlier, she had resisted. And with her taste still, on my tongue, I found I had lost my eloquence ‘You smell like a biscuit.’ She laughed, and at that moment I had wanted only to explore her. To have my fingers upon her skin, tracing her from line to line like the trails upon my atlas: memorizing, circumnavigating until she’d cry out. Tallie was a poem, I had thought with affection, she was a ballad, an ode, an elegy: her hair its rhythm, her limbs its stanzas, her skin its rhymes. How, I wondered again, how would her skin look like with the night upon it? ‘I have to go home.’ she finally said and let her breath kiss my skin. When she left I had not–unlike all the other times after her departure–feel aimless. The very thought of it made me ecstatic, I was loved.
I was loved, I had realized with astonishment and joy.