“We called our bodies, moonmilk.” That’s how it always starts. The man props his head on his arm and listens. “The moon would drink us in and, oh, I don’t remember what else.”
He smiles. “Sure you do,” he prompts.
“Sure I do,” I say and begin to tell the story.
* * *
Desiree lifts her arms above her head, stretching as if beneath a beating sun and not a ceiling fan. “I’m not tired,” she says and joins her hands at the arch of her stretch. “Maybe I’m worn out,” she decides and lets her arms fall.
“We’re all worn out,” Derek says. This afternoon, we spent in embraces with each other, in couplings and all together. It started innocent enough. The man stops me there with a gentle finger to my lips and eggs me on, Enough innocence, he says. It started that Derek wanted to be with James and Desiree wanted to be with me and I, of course, wanted to be with James because Desiree said he’d given her that first orgasm. The one that never seemed to come. The man laughs and turns over to grab the brandy on the nightstand.
”First,” I say, “First Desiree and I watched James pick up Derek by the hips and carry him to the veranda,” He loved my mouth around that word. On the veranda, he pulled off the shorts Derek had been wearing. Pulled them off and exposed him I mean. He said something like, “What a profound thing I’ve found,” he said something like, “What a great claim I’ve made.” They fooled around for a while, cracking smiles and laughing at first, before they got a look in their eyes that I most often explain as just a look in their eyes. No one ever asks for more than that.
We watch them traverse each other’s bodies. It is precise, the way they touch each other, because they know what they are doing. Desiree leans over and says, “Their bodies are the same, I’m getting lost.” It is the first time I’ve seen two people become one flesh, their arms are twisted up and their bodies are one color. “This,” I say, “this is matrimony.”
* * *
Where I am now, the leaves are all still the same color. I’ve retreated south for a time to escape the fall. A woman at the grocery store I’d stopped at on the way here was friendly enough that I made small talk with her. This is before I met up with the man who is so interested in the story of Derek, James, and Desiree. The woman at the grocery store looked out the window and said, “The tips are starting to color, spring is showing its roots,” I looked out the window too, startled to see the reds and yellows this far south.
“Leaves are the only thing I know that die and get prettier,” I told her.
“And they do it with such style,” she offered. “So graceful,” and we laugh about that.
“You’re full of it,” I said trying to add to the humor but offending instead.
Ever since a friend died last year when the leaves changed I’ve been kind of fixated. I’d say petrified but the irony of that is maybe too profound. I came here to get away. I suppose one could say I came here to postpone, but no one has.
The woman at the grocery store said, “Be careful out there.” I said I would and I waved goodbye.
My mother warned me to be careful too, when I told her I’d be leaving. “What’s left that can hurt me?” I’d asked her.
* * *
The man I’m with now—the man who wants the story of Desiree, James, and Derek—he isn’t how you want him to be. He listens. Even when I talk about Derek and James together, on the veranda, that first part of it all, I see him getting hard. James and Derek fitting together the way you fold paper into airplanes. They unfold and the lines guide your fingers into the shapes that were there. It gets to be too much when I tell him what comes second.
Second, James and Derek are beautiful and naked on the veranda and time is slow and not at all important. I turn and see Desiree biting her lip. An embodiment of her name, because without that extra e, well you know. All at once I’m taken over by Desiree and kiss her.
We make love while I tell him about Desiree making love with me.
“Did she say your name?” he asks me. “Did she whisper it in your ear, like this?” he whispers my name into my ear, like this.
I tell him that Desiree’s fingers were soft in me, that she was patient. Hinting at things that he should be. He persists though, and it isn’t that he’s rough. If rigid was the right word I would use it, but I think, He should be rigid.
Desiree’s skin was a wine glass, was a bed of flower petals. “Was her skin sexy?” he asks.
“It was sweaty,” I say, “it was raunchy.”
“I need to use the restroom,” he says.
* * *
These are not the things I think of when I think of that afternoon. These are things he wants to hear, so I indulge him. I pour this story down his throat like honey. I mean, real slow.
I remember what comes just after.
The moon is drinking us in. We have called our bodies, moonmilk. It is Derek who says it. He mentions there is a river of the stuff running through the earth underneath our feet. We ask what it looks like and he points at my breasts and says, “White and blue and smooth and round,” he points at James’ cock and says, “long and hard and beautiful.” We laugh. We call our bodies, moonmilk.
“And what runs through us?” I ask. I’m still asking.
The just after. “Can I tell you a story?” James asks us. His arms are crossed over his chest, which is bare and matted. Desiree laughs, her laugh is cheesecake.
“It better be a good one,” she says. We laugh all our laughs. James clears his throat and looks ready to start the story. He pulls out a cigarette instead. He puts a lighter to it and passes the cigarette to Derek when he’s had a few breaths. That’s what he calls it, he says, Give me a second to breathe.
“There was a peeping Tom in our neighborhood that the parents kept a secret,” he smiles. When James smiled the plants in the room would sigh, pure sunshine.
“Kept secret how?” I ask.
“Didn’t tell us,” he pushes his hair back, back. Hair so black it’s blue, so blue it’s black. It stands straight on end. “It was something they could keep from us that felt like protecting us. The men would talk at Little League and the women would talk about scrapbooking and they thought we wouldn’t notice.”
“Did you?” Desiree asks.
“Not at first, but later. My sister and I would notice cigarette butts scattered by the windows. My mom would say, Must have blown in. Must have blown in!” he throws his hands up in the air. “Just like that.”
“Creepy,” I say.
“A few years back my mom told me where the cigarettes really came from. She said she was afraid it would scare me. She was right, it would have. It scares me more now though, thinking about all the nights I slept without any clothes on.” I imagine James sleeping without any clothes on.
“Did they find out who it was?” Derek asks. James shakes his head.
“No, but my sister told me when she was six that she saw someone outside her window. I told her she imagined it. I’m too afraid to tell her the truth now.”
“That she hadn’t imagined it?” I ask.
“No,” he said and took a breath. “That I had seen him too.”
* * *
The man often leaves to go back to his family. Today he is wearing pressed pants and I can just hear my mother, Men who wear pressed pants are pressing their luck. Is that all I can think of when I’m with him? The ideas my mother will have about him?
I prayed today would be different.
On the way here, at the beginning, coming down south a coyote came between my car and where I was going. I saw it from a distance traipsing across the road. I drove up to it slowly. He paused and met my gaze before running off into the brush on the other side of the road. I watched him leave.
I called my mother to tell her I’d been careful.
She scoffed. “You have to turn back now,” she told me.
“Why?” I asked.
“Old Native superstition,” she laughed. “If a coyote crosses your path, it’s time to end your journey,” she laughed some more. “Thought you said you were being careful.”
We never take the advice we need most. After all, here I am.
* * *
Desiree wants to tell a story now too. The cigarette is gone so James lights another one. We lean back. Derek has a hand on James’ thigh. Desiree has her hands in my hair, braiding the thick strands.
“I knew a woman who broke mirrors every seven years to stay alive,” she says it like she’s got something on all of us. We must look puzzled because she says, “You don’t believe me?”
“We’ll need some context,” Derek says.
“I’m getting to it!” she says. “It started, the woman told me, it started when she was eight years old and was scared about getting AIDs. She got sick and her parents were yelling a lot and she thought she had AIDs. She’d heard about it on the news and knew she was going to die, thought it was only a matter of time. She had months to live. Weeks. Days! She was scared to die, and aren’t we all?” When some of us nod she says, “Exactly.”
I kiss the nape of her neck. She ignores me and carries on.
“She starts to feel better and her parents let her outside to play. She’d just had the flu, her parents told her, she was going to be fine. So, she tells me, she was playing outside just throwing rocks at the pavement because that’s what there was to do. She was an only child I guess. She throws the rocks really hard because she’s mad. She still thinks she has AIDs, she still thinks she is going to die. I guess she threw one so hard it ricocheted and broke a mirror on her dad’s truck. Dad runs outside, he’d been watching from the kitchen thinking what the hell is this kid doing? He runs outside and scoops her up and brings her inside. He goes back out, he sweeps up the glass best he can and he comes back inside. She’s a mess, hysterical, cannot stop crying. Dad tells her it’s ok, it’s ok. Just seven years bad luck,” she takes a breath, a drag from the cigarette. “She told me that seven year guarantee gave her back her life.”
“That’s not true,” Derek says.
“It is true! Every seven years this woman breaks a mirror. Of course, she’s had a lot of bad luck along the way. The worst luck you can imagine. When she was eleven, her dog died after she threw its ball into the road. She started her period during class and she was wearing white pants. Awful things like that. When she was in college she said she never once found a parking spot on campus the first time around.”
I see Derek roll his eyes. Desiree claps him in the ribs.
“Is she still alive?” I ask, taking the braids of my hair.
“She died the day after she stopped breaking the mirrors.”
“You’re lying,” Derek says.
“Swear it. A specialist told her that he could help her stop. They spent months training. The day came and went and she was so proud of herself.”
“And she died the next day?” I ask.
“And she died the next day,” she says.
“How did it happen?” James wants to know. We all want to know.
“If you say a truck of mirrors hit her I’m going to die,” Derek says.
“You won’t believe me if I tell you,” she says.
“Tells us,” Derek says.
“She killed herself."
“She didn’t,” Derek says. Desiree nods.
“She wrote a letter. Said she realized she’d been in control of her destiny all this time.”
“That’s such a happy thing to figure out,” I say.
“It’s what scared her the most,” Desiree says.
* * *
The leaves are turning colors and the air is getting colder. The man wrapped a sweater around my bare arms today instead of leaving.
“Should I stay the night?” he asks. I meet his gaze and I am back on the road with the coyote. I am back on the phone with my mother.
I did pray today would be different.
* * *
A year ago the friend that died had become more than a friend. I could talk endlessly about that, but I can’t stop thinking about just after.
The just after. I visit the grave only once because it’s out of my way. I stop referring to him by name and when people ask how things are going, I tell them, Things are going fine. I don’t tell them that I’m fine, because I’m not. He had been the friend in common. He had been the common thread. Through him I met Desiree and James and Derek. I met the peeping tom and the woman who broke mirrors to stay alive. We saw one another a last time at the funeral.
Everything since then has been the just after.
* * *
I told the man that he could not stay. No one will know that he happened. When my mother asks what I’ve been doing I will tell her what she wants to hear. “Drinking coffee by the fire and reading a garden magazine.”
The man asked about it when he was putting on his suit jacket and fingering the keys in his pocket. “What happened just after?” he asked. “After you all made love, when your bodies were moonmilk. The parts I asked you to skip.” I told him I didn’t remember and then he left. The one story I never get around to telling is my own.
* * *
When he’d gone I tidied up the house, deciding I should leave too.
I took a shower. I peeled away my clothes and turned the water all the way to H. When I was finished wiping away the fog from the mirror I saw a note on the sink by my toothbrush, the sides of it curled and damp from the heat.
I threw it away. I drove back home.
JACOB GUAJARDO is from St. Louis, MI, not MO. He is an undergraduate student in Grand Valley State University’s creative writing program. He is a full-time student and an aspiring drag queen. His work has previously appeared in Hobart (Web). For questions or a good time find Jacob on Twitter @mrsaintjacob