My body a car-wreck and my throat a bungled knot, I walked to her house after work. Late summer sunlight angled down through the maple-and-elm green, the day’s work and heat drying to my skin in the afternoon’s cooling breeze, intermittent as a drunkard’s prayer. My work-boots rose and fell along the cracked hide of the side¬walk, rose and fell, barely clearing the pavement with each step as I walked to her house after work.
A great swath of silky shade had descended from the street-tree boughs in a close shawl around the shoulders of her lawn, the sover¬eignty of her home. Only one car sat in the drive, a blue-enameled sleeping thing, a wolf or pacified hound. I crept up the porch steps to the screen door, and through its filmy weave everything was a shapeless blur, beyond focus. It was open.
Deep inside, somewhere, a refrigerator might have hummed. Probably not. In the silence of her dusky interior – the den and dining room and sleep-sweet tea-scented kitchen – I was the only sound. Heavy feet and too-loud breathing. A total racket. I took off my boots before going up the creaking stairs, tiptoed, still sent the steps to complaining to deaf ears. Inside those upper rooms, I didn’t find a soul.
It bummed me out. I really wanted to see her. Knew it was wrong, but still wanted to see her. To lie enveloped in the nest of her arms. Curl warmly in the secret of her. Any moment, the one drowsy car outside would become two, her husband would be home, and still I wanted so badly to stay. But in this other man’s house, there was no one for me here.
I don’t know when this happened. How old or young I am. I don’t know where you fit into this.
Back downstairs, I’m discovered by cats. Lousy with meows and doing their damnedest to knock me down. Carrying my boots, I slipped out onto the porch, sat on the swinging loveseat, fitted my feet inside their armor but left the laces untied. Where the leather had rotted away, the steel-toe dully showed. A longhaired grey tiger of a cat twined be¬tween my legs, against me rubbing and loudly purring. A small engine with a rattling tick. A bristling expletive of tail.
I leaned my elbows into my knees and watched the light chang¬ing across the empty street’s face, understood time as an incident of bodies, great stone and vast fire. Outside her door, I felt like a scrub pine on a rocky bluff. I felt the rocky bluff. The love-swing’s chain-links groaned and creaked. I felt exactly what I was.
It wasn’t long before she came out onto the porch, though. Standing just outside the door. Close enough to touch me yet not touching. She’d been upstairs all along, napping in bed with her baby. I’d missed her. When I looked, she had melted with the dark. Now she came out into the shade’s silken embrace in a loose robe of red-and-black plaid, dark hair tousled and ivory breasts exposed. Like she didn’t care who saw or maybe wanted to be seen. Each nipple the perfect response to a mouth. Her baby rested like a pink sleepy sack of potatoes against her hip, blank and dazed. Her dark eyes found mine, unsurprised and a little bit pleased, and I would’ve been a fool not to know she had me.
Around my legs, that grey cat cycled in almost-fevered orbits as she told me how she’d missed me. How she wished I’d stay. How she knew that I could not. Her presence was the sun, universally drawing me in. The loneliness of her home was a deep and empty well, she said, and I was the water slowly leaking in. She seemed so ripe and full to me as she spoke, so clearly a mother, soft and white but healthy, powerful. A minor deity. I longed for her warmth and pillow, her folding legs and gravity’s arms. Her brunette tangles falling in a sheet over our eyes. Her water into my well. I slipped my feet into and out of my boots, into and out, and wished so desperately that we didn’t both know. But too soon, her one car would become two. Of course her one would be two.
The wind blew open the folds of her robe. The love-swing’s chains creaked and groaned. The baby blinked and the cat purred, and I felt exactly what I was.
Profile: Douglas W. Milliken