by Alexandra Apuzzo
She says to look away and so you do. She is changing: fabric sliding against skin, the sigh after unclipping a bra.
“These things are so confining,” she says.
“Yes,” you say. You tug at your own, underwire poking through like a needle.
“It’s really just another way for the patriarchy to oppress us, don’t you think?”
“Say patriarchy again.” Your eyes are in the corner where her dirty laundry is piled. Black and maroon underwear is visible. You move your eyes to a different corner.
“Patriarchy.” Her voice is muffled. She is pulling on a T-shirt. “Ok, you can turn around now.”
She wears a shrunken tie-dye, collar bones jutting against ocher skin. A warm color, like there is a fire just beneath the flesh. Your abdomen lurches, like you should look away. You do not. The fabric is thin, and her breasts break the landscape of the shirt like small waves. Her nipples, hardened by the draft from the open window, poke out at you. From this you do look away, but cannot forget.
“We should burn them,” you say. You want her to think that you are brave. “Our bras,” you say at her raised eyebrows. “Like the movement, you know.” You want her to think you are involved in such things.
“Oh,” she laughs. Light and fairy like. “I couldn’t do that,” she says, a little sheepishly. “Not really.”
You are relieved to hear this. You couldn’t, either. Not really.
You look at her face. You feel this should be a safe place to look, but it is not. Her dark freckles are splattered across the bridge of her nose. You’re not sure if you are vulnerable, or she is.
“If you’re uncomfortable you can change into something of mine,” she tells you.
“Oh, no. I’m fine.” You are not fine. Your too-tight jeans make you feel breathless and young. The underwire of your bra has found a permanent home in one of your ribs.
“Are you hungry?”
“I could go for some food, I guess,” you say. Just for something to do with your hands. Just for an excuse to watch her.
When you stand next to her you feel a kind of heat like a craving. You think of her breath, the rhythm of it. You wonder what would happen if you kissed her. You think maybe you are losing your mind.
She sits on the kitchen counter top with her legs dangling, stretching naked toes. She opens a bottle of wine and smiles at you in a way that reminds you of your ex-boyfriend from freshman year of college: crooked, suggestive. And now you are thinking of him. Of his straw hair that he tangled in calloused fingers. You liked him because his lips were round and pink and soft. You could kiss him and pretend he was someone else. You think about how you could kiss her lips and not pretend, just open your eyes and see.
“Can I tempt you?”, she asks, holding the bottle of wine in front of her like a spiritual offering.
“Yes, please,” you say, eager for a loosening of the tongue.
After a couple of glasses, you sit on the countertop next to her. You think about her smile, the slight parting of lips, and wonder what it means. Your head is spinning. You stop thinking about it.
She is talking, now. She is telling you about her brothers.
“Four of them,” she is saying, “all older than me. I was the baby,” and you imagine her as a baby. Small and delicate and rooting, searching for a breast. You drink more wine.
She tells you about her first crush. You wonder how she could have so much to say.
“He was tall and black and gangly,” she describes him.
You think about your first crush. She was olive-skinned with coarse dark hair. She was a mystery to you. Her name was Eva. You do not tell her this.
After your fifth glass of wine, you feel warm. You put your hand on her hand as if it were an accident, but she does not move away from you. You feel warmer still at this. You smile at her. You are thinking about touching her cheek, though you would not do it, when she jumps off the countertop.
“I’m so sorry,” she says. “Aren’t you hungry?”
Searching in the refrigerator, she pulls out a bottle of cornichons and pickled ginger.
“This is all we have,” she laughs. “Do you want some?” She says, fishing a cornichon out with two thin fingers.
You sit on the floor now, feet tucked under your crossed legs, and eat the cornichons and pickled ginger, and sip the rest of the wine. She tells you she is glad you came over.
“I really wanted to get to know you better,” she says more quietly than she had said anything else. She gulps more wine and passes the bottle to you. The glasses lie forgotten on the counter.
“Me too,” you say, though you are afraid it is not enough: you think you should say more. But then her hand is in your hand. It is there like a feeling you cannot shake. Beautifully and stubbornly there. Her fingers are long, and yours are short. You hope she does not notice this.
And she is leading you somewhere, and you are following, and the wine bears down on your eyes and your brain like a fog. But you can feel her, the nerve endings in your fingertips firing and tingling as they find her skin, her collarbone and neck and jaw. You can smell her, sense the warmth like a scent, like animal instinct, like sweat. You have never done this with a woman before, you want to say, but you do not. You let her fingers lead yours, you let her mouth move over your mouth. You wait for her. You do not do.
Image via Pixabay by collager