by Len Kuntz
I watch her walk to the lake’s edge under the amber glow of a summer night’s moon. She moved in a week ago and it’s a short distance from her house to mine. Gossip says she’s just fresh out of prison, having served time for killing a man who used to beat her.
She bends down to test the water temperature, then her blouse comes off, bra, shoes, jeans and underwear. My mouth goes dry and through the window I can see blended images – the now naked woman and my own reflection.
She studies the moon for a moment, as if it’s the voyeur and not me. Even with frail light I can see how pale and thin she is, ghostly, almost glowing herself.
She walks into the lake without pause, until she’s all the way in and moving across the surface with crisp strokes.
I step outside, down the path to the shore, feeling my heart skid, knowing this is a risky move.
She comes within ten feet of me, stops, and treads water. I wait for her to say something but she doesn’t and so I take off my clothes and get in. We swim to the east end where a small park sits. Soaked, out in the open air, we both shiver. Wordlessly still, we meld into each other, making flames of our flesh, the only sound slick skins slipping across each other, lush breathing, and a final, satisfied whimper.
I want to know her name, if what people have said is true and if it is, why did she stay with such a cruel man. I want to know everything about her, but without warning, she stands, then dives in.
I watch her swim the length of the lake, watch her emerge from the water by her house, watch her dress and walk home.
I’m out of breath by the time I make it back, freezing, clothes clinging to my skin.
I turn on the electric fireplace and pour myself a bourbon. I watch flames dance, trying to recall the last time I saw a fire with real wood in it. I think about what’s true and what isn’t, how the human heart wants to protect itself even as it slays itself.
In a room down the hall my wife sleeps, dreaming who knows what. If she remembers me in the morning, it’ll likely only be for a short time until she slips back into her catatonic state. I may have to help dress her if she’s not too violent. If she’s calm enough, I’ll make her breakfast and tell her stories about the way things used to be.
published 27 November 2013