My therapist was good at breathing. She used the technique to control time and emotion in a contagious fashion. Once while on retreat, she smudged me. It’s of value that showers and changes of clothes don’t wash off that sort of thing. In the back of that sedan, though, I could hear a foreign form of panic trying to make itself known. A second cousin of sorts. I didn’t like it, but I knew she still had the reins. The way she multi-tasked as we wove made me think about her. My back-seat view of her head was unfamiliar and as I watched her juggle the wheel, her cell phone, directions from the stranger in shotgun, and the group’s emotions, it occurred to me that maybe someone had body jumped her.
This, of course, was absurd, and as I shook off the thought, my mind drifted to the day before St. Patrick’s Day, 1998. The whole weekend in New York had been chilly, but that Monday evening at Madison Square Garden was almost bitter. Or maybe my hangover had caused poor circulation. Yeah, it was probably that. The party we’d flown out for had been a wreck. Fights, injuries, arrests. We’d decided to stay over an extra day to catch the Rangers game. The hope was that the event would be a redemption of sorts. We’d splurged for 200-level seats. Afraid we’d be too tired to rally, someone motivated us to leave early. We got there in time for warm-ups.
I sat there shivering, wishing I was at home in my bed. I couldn’t think about anything but that and how weird it was to see Pat LaFontaine in a Rangers sweater. I honed in on him, sent him my mojo. As I zoned out and channeled all of my energy toward number 16, it occurred to me that LaFontaine might have spent his entire, shoe-in-Hall-of-Fame career in the state of New York. I stared at the laces of his sweater, squinting as if the answer might reveal itself, right there on his jersey if I looked hard enough. I choked down the final bite of my cold, seven-dollar hot dog and decided I had to ask. I was 92 percent sure.
“Dude,” I said. “Has this guy always collected his National Hockey League checks from New York-based teams?”
None of my buddies answered. None of them even looked at me. One of them had dozed off.
“Seriously,” I said. “Wasn’t he drafted by the Islanders and then traded to Buffalo?”
One buddy shrugged. Another pretended to read his 16-dollar program.
“He totally was,” I said. “He missed all of those Cups with the Isles by like one season or something, then got shipped to the sorry-ass Sabres.”
A guy in a seat in front of us turned to face me for a second.
“That’s crazy,” I said. “He’s probably never even had to fly anywhere to move.”
“Man,” one buddy said. “If you tell me we don’t have to stay for the whole game I’ll pretend to be excited.”
I shrugged off his nonsense. “Crazy,” I said. “I gotta look this up when we get home.”
I felt a connectedness with LaFontaine about that game. I knew he was going to show us an epic evening of hockey. A confidence that he would score coursed in my veins. I tried to talk my buddies into a wager. When nobody would bite, I upped the ante, guaranteeing a hat trick. My buddies talked about whose turn it was to buy beer. Left alone I was then. One player, one fan, one wave of chi.
On his fifth shift of the game, LaFontaine and a teammate ran into one another, resulting in a concussion -- not the first for number 16 -- and an early exit. He would never play another NHL game. I cried on the train ride back to the hotel, which was probably something else sneaking up on me, but at least I hid it from my lame, sleeping friends.
But my therapist was kind of freaking me out. It wasn’t exactly clear who was on our team or who was on the other teams or were those teams were. All I knew was that we were in a hurry and there were tasks. Somebody had given out lists of tasks, to the team leaders I guessed. My therapist clutched one that had wrinkled a little bit between her palm and cell phone. She also squeezed an uncapped pen between two fingers, and even though I had a clear shot of the gear selector, there was too much happening for me to tell if the sedan was a manual transmission or not. Every time I stared at it and grew certain that it was not, I felt the car shift and it seemed like her full hand did, too.
There were really only two things I was sure of: Somebody seemed to be yelling and I felt like I was on some really good drugs. Well, three: My coffee-house crush was in the back seat next to me and all I could really focus on was trying to pinpoint a possible moment in the immediate future in which we might be alone. I was dying -- like, last-remaining-seconds-before-you-empty-an-overflowing-bladder dying -- to secure an opportunity to inquire whether or not she shared my same level of interest in having my penis inside of her.
If she said yes -- and there was zero possibility of it being a quick, simple, question/answer type of situation -- then it could confuse things, like my job and my marriage and my relationship with my kids, but my brain had already deployed a six-option plan for how to costume that solar system of lies. At the center of the thing was really only the desire for a kiss, the manifestation, the ink on the contract of acceptance. If there was something behind it, the penis part would either come up later or it wouldn’t. I had to touch those lips with mine, though.
My therapist slammed on the brakes and instructed us to get out. It seemed a bit dramatic, but I could tell -- even behind sunglasses -- that her face meant business. There was a flurry of words but it was unclear to whom she spoke. The person in the passenger seat -- the one with the directions -- peered around the seat at us. She looked familiar and my first thought was to try and figure out what restaurant we’d worked at together. It seemed as though I could read the one word that formed on her mouth but all I could think about was the back alley of Dean’s Diner.
I zoned off in the dull gray of a sand-filled Corona bucket and listened as she explained her day-off plans to have more work done on her tattoo. Two hours remained in my 22nd consecutive shift so my brain wasn’t functioning so well. This was my fourth summer at the diner and the late-July stretches had reached an almost-depressing level of familiarity. A year from then -- at least that had been the plan -- I’d have saved enough to move to the northwest. All that remained was the patience to do that last long stretch of months. I’d closed all the late bars in Dallas and Fort Worth. I’d hooked up in Austin and been threatened in San Antonio. The time couldn’t come soon enough.
But this girl -- Caitlyn, I think was her name -- carried on about helping her mom move and her dumb boyfriend’s job search and, worst of all, her stupid cats. I knew more than I should about her. I’d eavesdropped on her server-station conversations, stalked her on Facebook a little bit, and even snooped her journal once when she left it overnight in a wide-open, break-room locker. She was intelligent, perhaps even ambitious. She seemed like she came from decent foundations but feigned the enjoyment of bad decisions, had herself convinced that anybody on the planet gave two shits about her plans to enhance the stupid ink on her stupid skin. My eyes sunk into the crown of the Corona label and the image began to resemble a series of baby strollers as her voice droned on. When I found myself entertaining the idea of getting her drunk enough to take her home to violently bang her and then make her immediately leave, I shook my head as though a cold-water splash had woken me from a nap.
“I’m excited to see it,” I said.
I looked at her, confused as to why that wouldn’t have been plain as cold white bread.
“Your tattoo,” I said.
“Dude.” The word echoed, giving way to a silence in the sedan. “Are you on drugs?”
I blinked a few times and looked at the girl with the directions.
“Man,” I said, examining the inside of the car. “I’ve been wondering the same thing. Do you feel it, too?” I looked at my coffee-house crush, who shook her head with a determined look in her eyes. The direction girl tilted her head down and lowered her own sunglasses a spec.
“Get the burlap sack,” she said.
“C’mon,” my crush said. She scooted her buns in my direction and shouldered me.
We stood there on the curb and watched as my therapist drove away. As the car got smaller, I watched its left-turn signal illuminate a few times and then it was gone. I gave the block we stood on a scan and everything looked familiar but an overwhelming sensation of feeling lost melted over me. I put my hands on my hips and looked at Kim. For a second, I forgot about being lost and wondered if this was the kiss-opportunity moment. My vision shifted between the immeasurable deep blue of her eyes and the shape of her lips. Her hair seemed cleaner than the last time I saw her -- which made me wonder how much attention I’d been giving her hair -- and it occurred to me that she had on eye makeup.
As I continued to take an inventory of her admirable features, I smiled at her cute sneakers, which somehow reminded me that she was vegan, and in the next instant all I could think about was feeding her crispy strips of bacon. We were in some kitchen that had nice, alternating tones of brown in the furniture and on the walls. There was a non-stick skillet on the stove in which somebody -- me, I presume -- had scrambled some eggs. A quaint stack of breakfast dishes and silverware sat on the countertop and the air smelled heavy of biscuits. I fumbled with the idea of whether or not there was anything sexual about the bacon feeding and when I decided that there wasn’t, I looked at her face again, all but determined to place mine against it.
“Where do you suppose you find a jean-short-style skirt made out of burlap-sack material on a Sunday evening in New Mexico?”
“New Mexico? Did she tell us it had to be from New Mexico?”
“No, dummy,” she said. “That’s the first thing you think of.”
“The thing you need,” she said. “You think of it in some random place on some random day and then it becomes easier to find in the time and place you’re in.”
“Are you on drugs?” I felt my chin drop a little bit and I could tell my face looked astounded.
“No,” she said. “Why do you keep asking everyone that?”
“You seriously need clarification on that?”
“C’mon,” she said. “Let’s find a cab.”
I followed her along the sidewalk and felt like I had to jog a few steps for every dozen I walked just to keep pace. She never moved this fast making lattes. Somewhere in the gutter the kiss opportunity fluttered in the undetectable breeze. It was the idea of it that lured me, fueled my interest, pushed my motivation to force the moment. It was sensibility -- I think -- that kept me from doing it.
I heard a glass bottle tip over in an alley that we passed, but the shadows made it too dark to pinpoint the activity. The tall brick building adjacent whispered stories of catering-outfit fiascos and spice-shop sadness. The idea of tugging on Kim’s shirt sleeve to try to convince her to stop and go in there for interviews exploded in my mind like a deaf person watching a fireworks show. I wanted her to love the plan, to giggle with enthusiasm, and dig me because of it. The fear of rejection kept me silent, pseudo-skipping to not fall behind. I stole a final gaze at the structure before the distance between us and it silenced the fancy for good.
She spoke with fervor for several blocks, and at a rate that made me think of two things: 1) She either needed to be heard now or with some frequency, and she could tell that current company provided a good opportunity. I wasn’t sure how she could tell, but my guess was that it was a woman thing, that she’d pegged me as a confidant, the undesirable title of friend. For a moment I fell down the rabbit hole of the notion but managed to claw my way out before sadness overtook; 2) I wasn’t sure where she was walking with such briskness that would result in the procurement of a taxi for hire, or why there was an apparent arrival-time cutoff.
Mostly I found myself inventing her past and in doing so, it was easy to create her family members, what they looked like, how they acted. The hard part was all the ex-boyfriends: the ones that might’ve been right but lacked appropriate timing; the ones that were shitty to her and scarred her here and there. The worst of the lot though: the ones she loved, the ones she had hurt over or maybe still did, the ones that had exposed a vulnerability and laid a foundation of perpetual distance. Maybe there had been some she’d hurt and the act of creating pain in others had fostered a hunger inside of her.
“Are you even listening to me?”
“Yeah,” I said, curious if there’d been an audible pause. “Of course.”
“So are you down or what?”
I recognized the shift in her voice that she’d held in air when asking the question. A quick inspection alerted me to the oneie and lighter she clutched with a concealed extension toward me.
“Oh,” I said. “Uh, thanks.” I took them and put the hitter in my mouth, falling behind a few more steps to shield the wind as I strolled.
“Dude it’s no big deal if you don’t want to,” she said. “I just had to get my thinking cap on.”
“No,” I said. “You read my mind.”
For a moment I felt bad about lying to her, but comforted myself via the she-wouldn’t-understand theory, the premonition that, were I to decline, she would put me down like a library book whose cover didn’t match the intrigue of the spine. She might think of me on future visits, but never scan my section again with interest. I wanted to consume the exact same amount of THC as she did and be, with precision, on her level. Were I to inhale, though, a fork in the road would appear -- her traveling down an enlightened path, me blistering down a runaway-truck ramp, out of control with the popping of ideas of how and what the rest of our lives together should be. When I sparked some of her weed I blocked it off at my epiglottis, I felt a little worse, having wasted some of her smoke.
“Oh, my God,” she said. “I love this place.”
I’d just extended my arm to return her property to her but retracted as I saw her sprint across the boulevard. I couldn’t tell if she was heading for the little carnitas joint or the record store with shoes in the window. Either way, we had neon in our future.
Inside the record store my mind took note of much of the stimulus, but first compartmentalized a disappointment in her attraction to the shoes. It made sense, but having heard her play way too much Lionel Ritchie and just the right amount of old-school R.E.M. I’d perhaps been mistaken in pinning her for a closet music junky like myself. Her voiced waned a touch as I waded into the aisles, looking for a piece of vinyl upon which I could forge a shared memory of ours that was never to be.
I thumbed through the ‘E’s, shaking my head at El DeBarge and Eurythmics, curious behind the decisions that had led to those purchases and later their selling. Beyond the ‘J’ section I flipped past a few shitty KISS records and found myself lost in the sea of absurdity that is the passion of the average fan of that band. In the ‘O’s, wedged between an Orson Welles War of the Worlds record some idiot had misfiled and an Orion the Hunter album I considered buying I found a copy of Two the Hard Way, the LP Gregg Allman and his wife-of-four-seconds Cher put out in 1977. I couldn’t help but pity the dummy that had tried to hide it there so no one would buy it before he could come up with the six dollars.
My mind took me a few steps in the direction of my coffee-house crush and I laughing about the couple’s pose in the cover photograph, how a reenactment could have made us horny enough to consider doing it in a falsely imagined private corner of the store. Some sense of self-preservation encouraged me to shake that burrow off before I got too deep down it. A moment later I came across a Japanese import of Radiohead’s single “Creep” which had three other tracks I didn’t recognize on it, but the $65 price tag got me out of my head enough to look in Kim’s direction. When I did I saw that she stood a few steps away, modeling a pair of pumps. They were colorful and cluttered with cliché African design, like a child had cut out pieces of construction paper and glued together images of skirted men dancing and women balancing bowls on their heads.
Her smile dispelled a staggering vibe I couldn’t capture, as though my chore was to catch every raindrop in a 19-second downpour. It was impossible not to hone in on the -- construed or otherwise -- sexual energy with which her face misted me.
“If we didn’t have to go,” she said, “which we do, I’d buy them. And I don’t even like shoes.”
“Six-eighteen,” the cab driver said when he placed the taxi in park and looked back at us. Like some kind of dunce, I patted both of my pockets with my hands as though I don’t always keep my cash in my right front. As I slid down to reach inside for it, I saw that the driver was already taking a 20 from Kim. Inside the gift shop Village Treasures, she moved to and from pieces of merchandise. A few beats on a conga, half a dozen shakes of a pair of maracas, and a quick thumbing of a book of photographs, she stopped. “I knew it,” she said.
And there it was.
It looked like a skirt of burlap fabric with fine hemp for seams. I wasn’t sure if this was still a common article in African countries, or how uncomfortable it might be to sit in, but I was certain that, no matter who you were, your vagina would be showing if you wore it. Or your panties. Whatever. Panties, I thought. How did we come to call them that? I guess maybe because it’s better -- more ladylike, more provocative -- than underwear. That must be it. Either way, no boy or man has ever stumbled into a quick-sneak view of panties beneath a skirt, and thought of the word underwear. What actually occurs is the rapid-fire sentence, Holy, shit -- there’s a thin-fabric-covered vagina so close I could touch it…I might even can see it right now through the material! Either way, Kim was right. There, embroidered on the corner of the skirt was a remarkable depiction of a face.
Only, not the whole face. It was but a segment that used the upper cheekbone, the inner nose bridge, and a trailing shadow of eyebrow to frame in the eye. It was breathtaking, like the moment in The Truman Show when he pulls out the magazine-cutout image of Lauren. We stood in silent admiration and I wasn’t sure where her mind went, but mine took me deep into the eye and made apparent the rest of the beautiful face. I could olive-skin brown, a poignant mouth and delicate chin. There was also exhilaration for hair, powerful locks that went undetected, flapping as though attached to the head of a gorgeous woman in a convertible on the highway.
For the first time in who knows how long, my mind went blank and I stared into the iris. An imagined mesmerizing green grew massive as gravity vanished. A fleet of buffalo-skinned drums began to beat in unison, a slow, steady rhythm that signaled a summoning to the council fire. I floated there in a motionless orbit until a gentle energy began to pull me toward the pupil. I hovered, directionless near its surface which felt miles away, yet large enough to make me seem but a speck, were I to land on it.
Darkness surrounded me and a growing warmth caused me to sweat. As my skin churned out the liquid, my body odor poured into my nostrils, glancing on offensive, quick to move beyond it to a sort of husk. As my smells moved into fourth and fifth zones I grew comfortable with my weightlessness and executed -- with astonishing ease -- a skydiver’s somersault. The heat rose so that even my calves dripped and the aroma coming off me shifted to such a base level that a primal glaze froze my brain with the lone idea of the need for quick procreation prior to perishing.
In a vague, dusty corner of my mind, a slideshow ran in fast-forward, portraying images of all my family members. Individual shots of them, all in black-and-white, flashed as they smiled at birthday cakes and waved from tourist attractions. In one instant I became my father speaking to a younger, scared version of myself; in another I was my son, grunting in defecation. A signal set in and informed the rest of my body that the extreme heat was a sensual mirage, that such warmth was the comfortable temperature of norm. I wedged my tongue hard into the floor of my mouth and the sensation against my jaw triggered an ejaculatory feeling to be released across my body. This I repeated with multiplicity.
The collective experience, in its innumerable directions, ceased eruption and transformed itself into a fuel for laughter, leaving my mind’s finger on the trigger. With zero hesitation, I pulled it, sending my essence into an almost-irretrievable euphoria. The theory of time vanished and I rotated from the onset of laughter to the execution of it to the recognition of immediate-future laughter. This cycle forced repetition upon me until it seemed there was no end, that there had been no beginning. I moved beyond the initial soreness in my abdomen and developed a stronger core once it had healed. I had traveled -- it appeared -- down a black hole of howling. Then, when the thought of ceaselessness registered, I was struck with a flash of fear. I looked to my left and saw Kim, hovering, clutching her sides, running her forearm across her nostrils, and the sight of her grounded me. I knew then that the sensation was finite and felt sadness mixed with relief knowing that it would end.
I blinked a few times and a chill of transposition rushed down my spine. I stared with wide eyes at my hands, unsure if the skin belonged to me. The drum patterns had hushed, but I could tell via peripheral vision that I was back in the store, staring, once again at the burlap skirt. With a few more blinks I turned to Kim, who threw herself onto me.
“What the fuck was that?” As the sound of the last syllable rang out, gentle pulses of electricity pierced my ribs right at the spots where her fingertips clutched my sides through my t-shirt. I could feel the top of her head beneath my chin but there was only hair, no straw hat like the one Rayden wore. I pulled her back for inspection and as she stared through me, the faintest glint of blue flashed within her already-azure pupils, casting a shiver down my spine. A faint percussive rhythm made me flex my auriculars, but as the beats became harder to track I recalled that my coffee-house crush awaited a response.
“It…” I said.
We sat on the curb and I watched her peel the fruit with determined fingers. In spurts I battled maniacal phases of milliseconds, convinced I could hear the juice drips echo against the asphalt. In the forefront of my mind I therapized her, keeping a tally of how many segments she shared versus those she slurped down herself. I hated her for stretches of micro-moments as she seemed to only remember we were sharing every fourth or fifth bite. In the negative spaces of those frozen instants I realized that I loved her, bound somehow by the nonchalance with which she allowed the fresh liquid to remain on her chin. In the background of my mental chaos lingered a lost effort to recall the face of the man who’d sold us the citrus and how his storefront had been decorated. I could see the transaction tucked in the darkest fathoms of my memory, but I couldn’t reposition the imagery in my head. It was like a stuck jack-in-the-box crank threatening perpetual startle, only it never popped, allowing psychopathy to fester.
Strange warmth rained down on us, distorting the time lapse since my therapist had driven out of sight. For a moment I convinced myself that it had been 22 hours ago, that the sun had only (again) dipped behind the hills as we’d purchased the fruit. As I wallowed in the mystery of the heat source it occurred to me that we sat in the midst of a limitless pillow of time, that here was the opportunity to forge that missed memory from the record store. I looked at her and she wiped a drop of orange juice from her chin with the sleeve of her hooded sweatshirt. A burst of libido injected itself into my veins and I was a less-scuzzy Gregg Allman, ready to climb on top of the Cher I’d never have to share with the pop-music world. It was happening. The feeling took me over. My body moved toward her and she looked at me, almost knowing. Then a two-beat tone rung out once from her pocket. Then a second time; then a third.
“She’s coming,” she said. The soundtrack of emotion in my mind silenced with sharpness. I blinked a few times and then saw that she held a beeper in her hand. I looked back into her eyes and when they met, she looked away.
“Theresa,” she said. Kim stood and wiped the sidewalk specs from the seat of her pants, then dragged her palms along the legs to dry the sweetness. A piece of rind stuck to the tip of her ring finger and she flung it toward the street. The distance between us had gone from consummate to the outreached limbs of the Sistine Chapel in less than two seconds and I could hear cries rattle between my ears as though my soul were twirling down an eddy.
Theresa’s Lexus was like we’d never left it. She swerved and hollered at miffed opposite-direction drivers when they honked at her lane intrusions. For a second I wondered if everything was alright at home for her, or if she’d developed a spontaneous pharmaceutical habit. I wanted to think about her sage-like stance, her patient breaths, and her impeccable advice, but she was -- as the saying goes -- a nervous wreck manning whatever this operation was. I wished that she could be relieved of her duties. Before I could think too much about it, though, there was hollering, and it was coming from her.
“Of course we got it done,” Kim said. “We wouldn’t have lied to you just to get back in the car.”
“You know I have to see it,” she said. “Someone awaits my report and they have to pass that along to someone who passes it along to someone who sends it to the top.”
“What do you mean you have to see it? We can’t replicate that shit.” Kim’s palms faced the car ceiling as she shrugged.
Theresa locked the wheels of the Lexus up in a scratchy skid and jammed the gear selector into park. She snapped her head back over her right shoulder and looked at Kim with a face that almost bordered on mean. There was still kindness in her cheekbones and forehead, but her mouth…it had hints of threat fading in and out of it as she spoke.
“Here’s where you check in with the program,” she said. “You demonstrate the task or you walk. And I think we both know you don’t want that.”
Kim looked at me with two-fold eyes. She wanted -- I think -- to tell me that she needed my cooperation, that this wasn’t a feat for her to pull off solo. The other emotion behind her eyes suggested that she knew everything I felt about her, that -- were I to fail -- it would never be reciprocal. I gave her the eyes, the eyes that said, We’re going to try this, but what should be more powerful than a measure of success or failure is whatever you call that thing that hovers between us.
All I could do was hope it transmitted, that it was clear.
Kim removed the burlap skirt from her bag and massaged it with her thumb and forefinger. She looked at me for a second, but returned her glance back to the material and smoothed it out with her hands so that the eye portion of the absent face rested smooth atop her right thigh. When she looked at me again it was though the back seat of the sedan was suddenly darker. I squinted at her face and found myself unsure if she’d managed to sneak some eyeliner on without me noticing. A burning sensation flickered from her jaw, illuminating the blue behind her cornea.
“Okay,” she said. “Focus.”
As we dried our retinas with forced stares at the image of the eyeball I could feel my mind’s fails begin to empty like folders flying from a bin in a computer’s file-delete-animation sequence. The moving-car sounds in my outer sensation faded, and as much as I didn’t want it to, the word “meditation” began to weigh heavy at the top of my brain. The image of the word hung like drapes from an old curtain rod that sagged in the center but pulsed with a puffiness that suggested it had been generated by a Scooby-Doo villain. When the letters dissipated, my stare transitioned to trance. The embroidered eyeball and my inner spirit seeped through my skin, gravitating toward the skirt’s artwork with funnel-cloud motion.
The soft sound of music appeared beneath the inner-most blanket of my mind’s apex and as another compartment of thought tried to identify the riff, a much-larger portion smothered it like a fire pit’s dying embers. As the concept of tune-identification faded, almost every other detail of thought wisped away with it, save one. Heat radiated from my right shoulder and up into the right half of my face with a vibration that hinted that its energy source came from my coffee-house crush. The motion within our stillnesses anchored us in harmony.
The outside of the eyeball on the burlap skirt developed a sense of commitment and as I explored its circumference, my vision shifted towards the center of the artwork. I couldn’t help but let my eyelids close for a moment, and when they did, a bright purple burst into the horizon. A black-and-white version seeped in behind the purple and clouds rushed past, giving way to the Uinta Mountains in the distance. They felt within grasp yet hundreds of miles away as I soared through the sky, the image of the embroidered eyeball bigger than the sun. I coasted in the air while it offered uncertain movement.
For a split second an eagle threatened to join us in the sky but was shooed away by light-blue flashes that pulsed onto the canvas. I rotated my head just enough to see Kim and felt saturated with determination. With one final look at the skirt’s artwork, I could feel the dual energies merge, setting the dark outline of the eyeball in circulation like a Ferris wheel. We stared at it and small pricks of eyelashes developed along the top of the outline. The eyeball looked down, then left, and finally to the right before a peer upwards with mysterious sadness.
In one last, dropping, pout of a direction shift, it again looked down before displaying a maximized sense of alertness, and became fixated on its own lower left corner as if they eye belonged to a scared face attached to a running body. The world’s noise silenced like a church; I could see nothing but the eyeball, its position still fixed on the corner. A soft electronic buzz grew in the space between us and in a dark recess of my mind appeared an ancient man with a didgeridoo. He clutched the instrument with strong, wrinkled hands and the mouthpiece did not leave his lips. The tone he emitted droned with a longevity that suggested an aquatic lung capacity.
From beneath his hum came the sounds of levers shifting cranks, the churn of a low-speed locomotive, the occasional tap of a spoon against a glass bottle. As my ears sensed the first hint of pattern from the collaboration, the same percussive beat from the shop reemerged. I could see the rhythm’s lifeline in the outline of the eyeball, a pulse that resembled the display of a hospital-room monitor. Unsure if the embroidery’s throb frightened, my mind relaxed as delicate chants joined the chorus. The varying octaves rose and fell, dozens of tides striking the same beach at different times, each voice creating equal noise through both emitted sound and anticipated fades.
I looked deep into the embroidered eye and, just in the moment when the line between lost and centered alertness blurred, the eye’s vibration shifted from a singular, cycling pulse to two that started at the top, then met in that focused corner. It repeated this pattern seven, maybe eight times before a miniature lump cultivated in the corner. The lump shared in the vibration, an apparent receiving point for the dual throbs, until a sprout burst atop it, budding from the lump like a crowning baby. As its mass rose from its host the din of Kim and I’s voices invaded the auditory collection in the form of mirroring screams with minimal volume. Though we sat in the sedan, fixated in silence and stimuli, our screams amplified, reaching crescendo as the sprout took the shape of a newborn tear.
The freed droplet touched the first stitch of burlap outside of the embroidery and ran down it just as our fading screams leapt into our throats, startling my therapist and her navigating passenger.
“Did you do it?” Theresa looked at me in the rearview mirror from behind boxy, old-lady sunglasses.
“Fuck yeah we did it!” Kim clenched her left hand into a fist and thrust her elbow into the seat back behind us. I looked at her as my neck hairs bristled. Certain wetness formed in my own eyes and lone shivers ran down the skin behind each of my triceps. I smiled so big at her that my cheek tops strained. She returned the massive gesture.
“Unghh!” Kim hollered again. “Fuck yeah, motherfucker!” She stole a quick peek at the burlap embroidery to make sure it had not been imagined. “Fuck yeah!”
“Woo!” Kim, in a swift fury of motion, released the fist she had made and clutched the collar of her t-shirt. Yanking it downward, she pinned the top of her left bra cup in her grasp and pulled the two pieces of fabric toward her abdomen. When her left breast leapt into the air from its captive garments, she released the clothing and cupped her naked boob as if preventing its fall.
The precious view her excitement had afforded took me. Gone was the flow of the chorus of soothing sounds, the mirage-like imagery, the heat, and the shared energy. Her breast saluted the elements of the vehicle with its quiet, medium tone, its plentiful roundness, its eager, attentive nipple. The electricity of its presence pulled my head toward it and in the flash of my movement, I saw Theresa’s face in the mirror go from accepting smile to dastardly disapproval. My own face shifted from the direction of the sedan’s front seats to the front of the exposed flesh that belonged to my coffee-house crush, and as I placed my right-side rows of molars around her nipple, new, less-synched sounds filled my mind.
The first -- compelling -- noise took the form of a guttural that exited Kim’s lips. It ran deep and long as though it had been born in her loins and spent a lifetime reaching for her throat. I placed my left hand on her stomach and my right on the back of her neck, creating a tripod of stability for my body against hers. Beneath my left palm a strong warmth emitted from her midsection and just as she placed her right hand on the back of my hand, the second noise registered.
“Hey!” Theresa shouted. “What’re you doing?”
This most recent alertness persuaded me to refrain from my desire to run my tongue against the face of Kim’s nipple.
“Fucking quit it!” Theresa applied heavy pressure to the Lexus brake pad. The sound of gravel beneath the tires told me to sit upright. I looked at Kim out of the corner of my eye and she offered a brief smile with a left eyebrow that twice jumped then settled. I followed my breath pattern for a moment and felt awake, content, the opposite of how I’d felt watching Pat LaFontaine play in his last NHL game. My trip home, wherever that was, would not be a gloomy one.