Daddy enters the echoing stone house with sharp thick too loud noises. Eve still sits on the floor in the growing dark of the living room, talking to her friend Elsie, her friend made that afternoon out of an old can of kidney beans and some paper from the typewriter in Daddy’s office. As she shifts, the foot she’s been sitting on seizes awake from its deep sleep. She lowers her talk to a whisper. Daddy’s home, Elsie. Shhhh.
She hears his nearing footsteps. He enters the living room. She feels the room to be deepest in the center where he stands, as if settling into the earth. She worries she might begin to slide down toward him.
He stoops to switch on a lamp. Eve is seen. Because she is Elsie’s only protector, Eve stares fathoms back up at Daddy’s shadowed face.
His big body settles onto the couch. Come sit on my lap, Eve.
She takes Elsie into her arms.
Come up here now, Eve.
She puts Elsie down, stands, wobbly, one foot still pins-and-needles, approaches his knee, tries to climb up. She makes a numb and trembling smile, her face feeling not her own. His hand grips the top of her thigh, another pinching hand under her armpit. He stares large and close into her face and she lets him maneuver her body onto his lap. Do you know what I do at work, Eve? She shakes her head, studying the imprint the wooden floor has made on her knee. I’m a lawyer. She hears liar and scrunches her brow. I make sure people get what they deserve. She feels ashamed, wonders what she has done wrong.
Then Mom comes in with the glinting amber-filled glasses. Eve trips trying to get off Daddy.
Her belly, the beginnings of her thighs are in a shallowing slumber. And one hot summer night for sheer wrongness she takes some Anais Nin and reads, and when she feels that dense dizziness in the bottom of her belly, where her body spreads across the frame of her hip bones, she braces her lids closed against the light and reaches down herself and tries to put her fingers where it sweetly hurts.
Dad lies dead in the bed. His white-blue eyes, asymmetrical, one half-closed now, one fully open. Margot and Mom and Eve herself stand on the threshold. She thinks the light in this room must be recycled through a TV set.
She thinks how when she was little and it was dark and Mom was out she used to imagine he’d been in an accident, that he was dead. She wanted to feel it in the black septic depths of her chest so she imagined never seeing him again. What Mom would do. Not the funeral, but she did imagine not having to go to school. The sweet sour pity for her when she finally went back. Eve thinks she is sick herself, something wrong, but no one notices right now because of the dead body.
It is summer and she is on the train, her skin dewy with sweat, hair a little matted though she showered only an hour before. She isn’t wearing a bra. She feels like she’s asking for it.
Who but a slender soft wild-haired young man approaches her? She’s a little scared by his glance, hunches over and covers her chest with her arms. Crosses her legs. What stop? he asks. She tells him 72nd street. He nods. There’s a theater right around there, do you know it? The Cherry Street?
There must be something wrong with this blue-eyed guy, or he wouldn’t be talking to her, would he? She sees him shoving her down in an alley and her hands and hips and eyes-closed. Which is what her mind gives her when it is asked for “rape.”
But there is the scruff on his jaw, the wrinkles in his shirt, the thick newspaper tucked under his arm, his soft eyes. How can she help but hope for succor?
Eve is in love with the chapped lips and worn nearsighted eyes and soft nowhere body of a young man. When he touches the warm tender undersides of her arms and when she buttons the frayed cuffs of his thin shirts, when she forgets to look away from his eyes after too long, she feels as if the earth is in her chest and that it may break violently out. She has wide open eyes and he is 25.
One Christmas morning they give each other gifts: a bracelet bought at some trinket shop in a cobblestoned pocket of the city, a jar to catch fireflies, a failure of a hand-knit cap. He offers her a sleek black leather journal in which to write slanting heartsick frantic memories. He promises to read them.
One after another, and the pretty brunch her mother made is cold on the kitchen counter by the time they’re done.
Sometimes they smoke to folk music in his apartment and she sits cross -legged on the veal-colored couch, his arm along the back rest and their two hands kissing at the fingertips. And they, otherwise still, give their sight to each other, collect the seeing between them. Maybe he will slowly raise the hand from the back of the couch and bring it to his face, lift the slender glasses from before his eyes and place them on the floor beside his shoes. They swim together in the melancholy of sound and smoke. What if he has been her father? Fingers murmuring, whispering together. They tried to get back to that place again one night high and listening to Baez this time, and only ended up fucking on the couch.
In Italy, on a couch, a low low couch. Kohl smeared around her eyes, throat a little sore even when she says the smooth buon giorno. Eve is watching one particular man. His smile and his frown. Notices the weird high set of his shoulders and yet the length of his legs. She watches his wrists and the blinking of his eyes. She doesn’t know what he is saying but she wants to pull him on top of her, in his linen pants, plain loose shirt. His cherub curled hair. Wants to pull him on top of her on this couch. Couch like in old hoary Rome, where goddesses recline. Her cheek below his shoulder, torso on torso, his hip bones, the stretch weight move of his thighs. Wants to wonder where next his breath will hit her, on the nape of her neck or the blank between her collar and her breast. How can she pull him down on top of her, feed him her luxurious desperation?
Eve and Tracy at just the right moment remember their overwhelming desire to muck around in their brains with some potent hallucinogen. Eve gets a hold of the stuff, laughing goofily at their girlish recklessness, their whimsy. Who are they to be so whimsical? To be beat poets under Reagan? It’s like a moment from the movies. She wants to scream like the young girls did for JohnPaulGeorgeandRingo, scream that way in front of this funny young unibrowed academic supplementing his unlivable salary with drug money. To scream. She laughs instead, as if from being overwhelmed, about to faint away.
She sits on her made bed. Whitewashed walls and wooden floors. She handles the Baggie carefully on the quilt. Tracy sits beside her. Four hands hovering a little, moving around this stuff to frolick in the firings of their brains.
Eve has some idea that she is an oracle. The seeds of bones are coming out through the cracks in the wall before her. But if she goes into those cracks, travels around inside the veins meandering through the wall she can find her future. Why is it hiding there?
She is full of hip bones and tries to take off her pants to look at some, slides the clicking zipper. The jut and flesh white and green and purple. These hip bones are full of flowers. But she knows that her husband will tear these flowers with his broken teeth. Her husband will be full of shoulders, childish and angry and punished and head stuffed full of the flowers from her hip bones.
It is hot, so hot she spends her wine money on a window air conditioner. She sleeps well that night because she can breathe for once, which means a lot considering that the warm wine once helped her fall asleep. She wears thin shirts with thin little straps and stares at her collar bone and shoulders in mirrors she passes. She doesn’t have time to shower more than once, in the morning, but she wishes she could. By midday the slender layers of her dark blonde hair have condensed, darkened at the roots with sweat.
She won’t shower a second time today before the party. It wouldn’t be in character anyway, for a wild west party theme. How often did they shower in the old West? She stands in front of her frameless mirror in a thinning flowered blouse, a jean skirt, and her thrift store cowboy boots. They even have spurs. Who wore these ancient leather things in Albuquerque or the plains of Kansas a hundred years ago? They must have been a man’s. She does have big feet, Mom says. She braids a few tendrils of her hair in front of the mirror.
It is dark and the air is hoarse with smoke of all kinds and she is damp in all the crooks of her limbs. It is not the straightforward hot and arid of tumbleweed America but some complex jungle-heat.
She sees some man, shoulders for children to sit on, shoulders to eclipse a woman. And a wide forehead. Soft eyelids. A wide wide grin. He is wearing a red bandanna tied around his neck, a concession to the party theme. She’ll drink this beer, drink a bunch of this beer because there’s no money for wine.
She’s been feeling for a while the pressure beneath her hips, dreaming of her mother and of grandchildren. Seeing men for features and fathers.
My name is Johannes, he says. Johannes? she says. Yes. I am not from here, you maybe can tell. She laughs. And you are? he asks her. American, she tells him. Oh, Eve. I’m Eve. She swallows. So where exactly are you from?
In Ecuador it’s cheap. I want to retire there, live like a king, only wear a Speedo for the rest of my life, he says. The rest of your life, she repeats. She thinks of the shiny used cars her father put out for sale in their driveway, the plum-colored chicken her mother once prepared from a Julia Child recipe.
Johannes places a warm coarse hand on the bare beginnings of her shoulder blade.
Her lungs stutter and begin again, heart unwieldy and off-beat in her chest. Languorous heat thickens below her jaw where doctors feel for swollen lymph nodes or a heartbeat.
Sometime later, after more beer, he tells her a dirty joke. They laugh big and loud together like thieves.
Hiding under the coffee table in the den, on her belly, shag carpet tickling her nose. She is hiding from Uncle Frank, strange, missing teeth, who always smells musky and smokey and whose laugh has deep cracks in it, ravines. Mommy said yes, he’s coming to dinner, when Eve asked her earlier. She’ll hear his husky laugh from the foyer any minute.
Hey, happy Thanksgiving. There it is. Eve burrows into the rug, closes her eyes. Opens them. Climbs out from under the table. Tiptoes to the doorway, stands at the frame, so she can just see Mommy and Uncle Frank in the other room. He sees her, and smiles big. Breathes out a crackling laugh. Hey you. She smiles big back, can’t help it. She bounces a little skipping up to them. She pokes his leg. He reaches down to tickle her and she is laughing great shrieking laughs before he even touches her.
It is a civil ceremony, Eve in blue and pink, Johannes in a beige suit.
That night they get drunk. Not on Champagne but on beer. In the kitchen of their new home, cluttered and warm already, the slender out-door tabby cat they took in a few days ago slinking against their legs.
Johannes dreams out loud to her in his off English. I want to own my own business, you know? That’s why I left the old country. The nepotism there — I can’t even tell you. I want here to start something. All it seems that you need is a good idea, and bam — you’re rich. Imagine retiring to Ecuador. Or the south of France. Nothing to do but tan and fuck, you know?
As he speaks she is thinking that she married him for his shoulders and his grin and because he needs a green card and because she is ready. She is afraid, wants to hide under furniture. She thinks of that time with Tracy, when she was an oracle. Now she can see her future as if it is past.
Eve? Johannes calls her back, impatient. She turns to kiss him.