Chapter 1 of EXQUISITE CORPSE
Your fingers play with the lapels of a half-open robe, the sash dangling to one side so that it tickles the toes you flex and unflex as you wait on me. Behind the camera, I’m adjusting things. In front, you’re wondering where I’ve set my focus, which small part of you I’m going to capture today. This is your job, and you do it well, but being carved up like a side of beef will always cut you. It will always sting.
A gust of wind whips off of the lagoon at Ke‘e and through the trees that hide us from the folks gathered on the beach. You shiver as the breeze makes goose flesh of your naked skin, but you smile just the same. It’s golden hour, and there’s no better place on Kaua‘i to watch the sun set. The regal ridges of the Na Pali Coast conspire with sea and sky to paint pictures that might make Pele swoon.
If Tutu were the type to swoon, of course. Which, of course, I think—trying to remember how far we are from the nearest volcano—she is not.
The thought sticks with you as I stumble through my set up: we’re carving you up. We’re drawing and quartering you. Eighthing you. Sixteenthing.
You close your eyes and think of your freshman English professor explaining about the blason, that form of poetry that Shakespeare was making fun of when he wrote that his mistress’ eyes were nothing like the sun. The prof recited Spenser’s sixty-fourth to you in his office that afternoon, in his best approximation of the King’s English, while you wondered how cute he might be without the aviators and the bushy mustache that were his trademarks. It wasn’t until later—until now, maybe—that you really thought about the words, that you wondered what it must’ve felt like for an Elizabethan woman in her ridiculous ruff to be picked apart like that. What must it have been like to force a smile when recited to by some overwrought orator, to primp and to preen all in order to be recited about?
Your ruddy cheeks were roses red, your eyes like flowers newly spread. There was something in there about columbines, you recall, but nothing about the dead. The very newly dead at that time, you realize, doing the math. Six months gone, all of them. He must’ve realized it too, your professor, for there was a pause in that line that he did not intend. A catch in his throat, not unlike the catch in yours right now as I say “When you’re ready.”
You pull the robe back from your body and let it fall from your shoulders to pool on the ground. Sunlight bathes you now, the last of the day. I’ve taken too long, and we both know it. And so, we work fast. You let me take what I need, as quickly as I can take it, and you smile.
And yet: you smile not because you’re told to, not because you have to, but because you know the truth. Someone could tear the pages from magazine after magazine, reassembling them like Shelley’s doctor in his lab—or like those kids in Weird Science wearing bras on their heads while conjuring Kelly LeBrock from their computer—some king could summon all of his horses and all of his men, but they’d never be able to put you together again.
When I ask you why you’re laughing, you tell me that you’ve decided what you want to be for next Halloween.
“What?” I say.
“Sexy Humpty Dumpty,” you say, and we laugh so hard that we fall into each other. We fall so hard that we stumble into the hollow inside of the banyan tree that’s been our backdrop. Then you fall to your knees before me, pulling at my clothes until I’m as naked as you are.
We have loved many men between us—and even a few between us—but I’m the only woman you’ve ever made love with. And so, as your lips brush across my leg until hip becomes thigh, until thigh becomes loin, I ask you: “Why me?”
“For when I look at you,” you begin, in between kisses meant now to prize me open, “even for a short time, it is no longer possible to speak.”
A moan escapes me that neither of us are expecting. You stop for a second and look up at me with a raised eyebrow, raised to ask if you’ve gone too fast. Or too far. I cover my mouth and look about to see if anyone might have seen, might have heard, and I’m about to apologize when you finish your quotation.
“It is as if my tongue is broken,” you say, and I want to laugh. Because your tongue—it is most certainly not broken. But I don’t laugh, because I don’t want you to stop. I grab a banyan root in each hand to steady myself and I nod at you to continue. And you do. My god, you do.
Even if they found every piece of you, Ashley, they would never find you. There are bits that even I can’t see. That even you can’t see.
And isn’t that all the comfort you need in this world?
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