*Image: “Untitled” by Brian Michael Barbeito, photograph
By Vi Khi Nao
When it rains, which it hasn’t. At least not lately. But when it rains, which can be in the Spring or Fall, Nicole’s nipples become alert and her vulva swells up with clouds of feelings and illusions. It’s winter now, yet her nipples continue to move in the same state of awareness, a type of visceral consciousness in itself that is impervious to the concrete world – at least it would like to think so. This morning, standing like an obscure fixture on the ceramic kitchen floor, she observes the exterior world, looking out the window above the large, oval kitchen counter, where lies the earth’s floor expanding its barren bleakness into the heart of the horizon. She returns to the dining table to continue her breakfast. The pair of eggs stares back at her admiringly.
Out of the corner of her eye she notices several fanned-out blotches of crimson-painted petals on the ceramic floor. Before she can get up to search for a rag to wipe them away, her lover quietly slips herself into the adjacent seat and begins to pour a rain of flakes into her bowl. The sound emits the cracking of five hundred autumn leaves on a burning afternoon. Right in front of her eyes, an opaque vase glows at the center of the table with a rose wedged inside it. She can’t help but realize, in that moment, that the solitary rose looks and behaves like a crimson penis. Several days ago, it appeared like a strawberry muffin top. When time ages it, this penis blooms and continues to bloom. Each petal crumbles onto the table, dried and sterile and shriveled—and lost.
“Sage,” she asks, “why would someone present a rose to symbolize eternal love? A rose is the apotheosis of ephemeral representation. It lasts only days. At most, a week.”
“I don’t know, dear,” is her soft, vacuous reply. Sage reaches over to part her lover’s hair to one side. She likes the way Nicole’s face is shaped, oval and straight. Sage’s long fingers, like stems, linger on her soft cheek.
Nicole wonders whether, if the red rose inhabited a different place, say a wet, moist, damp place—would it thrive and become more itself? Or would it become waste and decompose before it enters the life of blossoming? Good thing it was only one rose. She doesn’t really know if she could handle a dozen. Later, while cleaning up the table after breakfast, much later in the evening, when the sun emanates a soft glow and vanishes, she picks up a few petals and places them in the trash bag. Essence of the male member in a black, smelly void. It will spend the rest of its life withering slowly, awfully, and perhaps with a type of moisture no one wants to know, or smell. The rose in the tall vase still stands. Stands erect with its head nodding to one side, acknowledging the knowledge it knows very little about.
Sage urgently leaves the table and enters the bathroom down the hall, leaving her lover to contemplate the rose. From the bathroom’s diminutive window, Sage can see the misty hands of cold dew climbing quietly on the window’s quartered veins. Each climb is evaporation. Each climb is an obliteration of reality. Each climb is ascension into the unknown. Today, although no longer itchy in un-scratchable places, she is still very aroused – aroused by the daylight that beams out of her nipples, radiating like antennae. Before the rose, she had thought about nothing but her breasts this morning. They are alive, their eyes alert and watching the world behind a beige veil which is their only current window. Her uterus is moist with desire and the rest of her corporeal expressions are dense with titillation. Outside, a few weeks before winter hit quite suddenly, a squirrel perched like a bird on top of a tree. When it climbed down with its head towards the ground, she remembered thinking how well the squirrel blended and camouflaged itself with nature, how for a split second it felt as if the tree were climbing itself. Winter has stripped the tree of its protective garment, leafless and completely de-robed with its no-longer-green hair tangled and suspended above the ground, no longer demented as it was last summer.
She asks, “Tree, why do you bathe naked in winter’s lagoon?”
She is sitting, bottom parallel but legs vertical to the floor. Each month her body builds a home. And each month when no one decides to live in it, her body learns to demolish it. The blood must drip. It’s dripping. It’s dripping because the moon is collaborating with her uterus. It’s coming. And she watches it through a narrowed window, a rose blooming out of a narrowed wall, through the reticent lips of her gender’s voiceless voice. Roses for her bathroom’s vase. Roses for a non-child that must enter from one world into another. Shivers and chills run down her spine.
If love can’t be seen through the symbolism of a rose, through what can it be seen? Can it be seen through the dank window of her toilet bowl?
She imagines the rose still. By the end of the week, more petals will have fallen onto the table and scattered on the floor. Some of them will curl up, and some will languish on the wood surface. Perhaps the penis is losing itself to time and gravity. The petals on top of its head will be pruned. The rose will look pruned. Extending her mind’s finger, Nicole touches its center. So soft that it is like touching nothing. The penetrator keeps on penetrating—onto a threshold of ennui. She has never been with a man who has deflowered himself for her, who opened and continued to open in his opening. So, naturally, optically experiencing this rose in its deflowered state is a virginal experience. She must be the homosexual man, entering the man, the he-rose, and finding himself vibrating and quivering. But can this be love, the syncopated meeting of two different heads, both gliding on each other’s soft and hard flesh? Could this be love, the tree climbing the tree?
Nicole knocks and opens the door as Sage wipes the blotches of roses away. Her head peeks in, hands covered with broken egg shells, feet as rooted as ginger, and she asks, “Do you want a jar to nurture the menstrual content?” She tells her, “No, not this month.” This month, the roses emerge in liquid. If they had delivered themselves in solid form, perhaps quasi gel-like, they would have had a place at the kitchen’s window. So the moon could have something of itself to look at during those grave one hundred autumn days.
Sage re-enters the kitchen. She finds Nicole on her knees on the ceramic tiles in the midst of washing the red blotches with a wet white cloth. An aluminum bucket three-quarters full of water situates itself near her right arm.
“Let it be,” Sage tells her. Her smile spreads across her face. The smile, wicked with elation, opening like the breaking of sacred bread.
She bends down; her thick beige dress opens like a Japanese fan on the ceramic floor. She bends down and delivers a kiss to her lover, whose eyes are illuminated with passion. She leans over to collapse into her arms, the way the wind bends its will against the stalwart tree. In leaning, in collapsing, she kicks the bucket and the water spills, flooding the ceramic floor. They both break into giggles. The room echoes, bouncing the ebullient noise against the white walls. And then they become serious, their lips smooth out the lines, the skin around their eyes loses its grip, and they become lost, trapped, inside the windows.
The windows of each other’s eyes. The windows of each other’s bodies. When the house was built, it must not have been symmetrical. It must have been lopsided. It’s actually slightly slanted. Water flows to one side, collecting in the far corner before bouncing like demented balls down the stairs. The water splashes and drips, bouncing and dripping. She holds Sage’s gaze before her body takes over.
When she elevates her pelvis
When she elevates her pelvis for a kiss
When she elevates her pelvis to meet Sage’s, their lips seal a kiss.
When she lifts the dress over her lover’s body. And when they climb on to each other like a tree climbing a tree. When she is denuded, ripping open her lover’s blouse. When she is not with child. When two windows face one another on a bleak winter day. When water soaks open the doors of their bodies. When in the bleak winter day, when she elevates her lover’s pelvis to converse, lips to lips, breath to breath. When four windows greet each other on a bleak winter day.
The furnace rumbles. And the refrigerator sizzles. Outside, the cold is sneaking in. Inside, the warmth is exuding out. When her doused body is pinned against the old, wet kitchen tile, the color of white pearl, four breasts, four cups cupping each other, four cups of Rioja clinking in a toast. This is a toast. The lovers are feasting on each other’s bodies, feasting. Window to window. Lip to lip. Pelvis to pelvis.
And when four windows view each other on a bright Monday morning, the whitest of lights illuminates through all the other’s windows. The exchange of different cups of love. She is spread out. She spreads her out like an accordion. In reflex, she folds back in, and in deflection, she is spread out. Again. When her fingers, like stems, intertwine and grip the other body in the ride. When two currents of liquid rose collaborate, merge, sharing the same currency.
When lights radiate during that time of month, on a bleak winter day. When two bodies climb each other, riding each other, riding into the dank window of the void.
When the floor is empty of water. When part of the floor is wet and moist, and the other part dry. The lovers ride, kiss, carve each other’s bodies until they have become solid clay. Two halves wedge together to become a ceramic vase. Out of that orifice two red ribbons emerge, interlacing, stitching the eye of each body, its red current, and a rose sprouts out of the ceramic floor.
*From the forthcoming FC2 collection A Brief Alphabet of Torture, due to be published in 2017 by The University of Alabama Press. Used by permission of The University of Alabama Press.