It suddenly strikes Michael that waking up to the naked curve of a womanly hipbone, soft stomach and white breasts pressing into the mattress, is what heaven has got to be like, when you forget all about pink-cheeked angels and golden gates high in the clouds.
As a boy, Michael was an industrious Sunday-school goer, not that you’d guess that now, taking a look at him, and not that he’d ever tell Sara because she’d go all science-is-queen on him.
But whatever prototypical image lit up in his brain, during those few years of carefully praying before sleep – only in his head, so Lincoln wouldn’t surprise him and make fun of him – now, Michael is convinced heaven is part of daily life, that shards of it hit you every now and then, with moments like these.
The shape of Sara’s body nude on his sheets fills him with a sense of somehow not unwelcome disbelief.
Like waking up to a painting.
The sheets and bedcovers are blue, turquoise. Sara picked them, half-joking – in another life, they would have sailed the world together as lovers running from the law – she said, It’s like the sea, don’t you think?
Really, he hadn’t thought so until now, his brain still hazy, just drawn out of sleep. Sara’s hair falls like a curtain over the quarter of her face that isn’t buried into her pillow. It’s a little tousled, introducing a merciful sliver of reality into the scene, otherwise, Michael’s mind is going wild at the sheer fugitive beauty before his eyes, momentary perfection. He thinks: Venus, sirens, creatures dreamed up by man to charge woman with seductiveness and artifice.
Maybe artists only painted beautiful women to gain a sense of control over their painted form.
That Michael’s been in control for most of his life doesn’t mean he can relate. From the first, as early as Fox River, Sara was the one thing unplanned, the one thing he couldn’t manipulate. There was no point – would have actually even been wickedness – in trying.
Her long limbs stir on their blue background. The muscles in her thighs tense as she rolls on her back, her hair scatter red as sin on the sheets. She opens her eyes and all mystery fades, she’s no longer an ungraspable painted beauty. She’s his wife. The woman he fell in love with. She becomes real again, wonderfully real, still a shiver runs down Michael’s body when he brushes her face with his fingertips.
“What time is it?” She asks.
“I don’t know. It’s early. You can go back to sleep.”
Whether to yield to his advice or protest, she draws closer to him and half-draws him on top of her. They sometimes sleep like this, their bodies grafted to each other so well he’s not sure which body part is his or hers. She likes to feel the weight of him against her.
“What were you thinking?” She speaks into his neck.
He hadn’t realized she was still awake. “When?”
“Just now. You were looking at me.”
“Was I?” He plays innocent. It’d be rookie to let on how much she awes him, those moments of absurd, heart-stopping admiration when he feels himself elevate her above every living thing. Years of marriage haven’t stripped Sara of that powerful but slightly frightening aura that love sometimes comes with. Even though he’s seen her body from every angle, knows by heart its secrets and intricacies, it’s done nothing to mitigate what he can only think of calling her spell on him.
She might be his wife, she’ll always be the woman who bewitched him. Who took his head off the game when the stakes were his brother’s life, and who’s been reigning with full power in his heart since like a fortunately merciful monarch.
Sara chuckles in the crook of his neck, props herself on one elbow so she can look at him. “You know you were. Sometimes, when you think I’m not looking, you do that.”
“Just – look at me in some funny way. Almost like I scare you.”
“You don’t scare me.”
That’s the absolute truth. Michael wouldn’t be scared if he woke up to Sara holding a knife to his chest. That she has full power over him is true, but that doesn’t frighten him either. It’s just the way things are. What point would there be swimming against the tide? They both know he’d be willing to die for her – their past has been rocky enough that he’s actually had the occasion to prove that.
Michael shrugs. Sara is still watching him with appraising eyes. “You know,” she says, not reproachful, “sometimes it’s like you’re still the same man you were at Fox River – that mystery I couldn’t unravel.”
“Nothing to unravel anymore. No more secrets.”
He doesn’t add: no more anything. It all came undone, the plans and scheming, all that had made sense of who he was before so that his whole being became a more or less fit recipient for the ungovernable passion she awoke inside him.
“No?” She insists, playfully. Her index is drawing lazy circles on his tattooed shoulder.
“No.” He smiles, because he isn’t lying. “I was just thinking how much I love these sheets.”