He nods, or twitches. Maybe he moves his shoulder blade slightly, pushes his torso off the bed. Just enough motion. Whatever he does she understands—like it could be so simple—winds the timer back. Prepares the lotion and the oil.
“You put you face here.”
He had come in from the cold, wind still breathing when he made his way down. Each step creaked under his weight. So did his ankles. The bells on the door chimed, the women behind the desk—one tall, the other squat—smiled like they knew him, like they’d known him for years.
This is his first time.
“Good, now we relax.”
He sinks his face in the slit, takes a breath, tries to release the tension. Like it could be so simple. Maybe it is, he thinks. He’d like to let go. He’d like to be more open, maybe even transparent. Without thinking, he thinks of the girl seated to his right on the F: red hair, blue eyes, a white book—Heartbreak Tango—in her hands but she’d been looking his way, staring uncomfortably—uncomfortably for him—sitting in the silence of a rattling train, shrill whistles and automated messages, THE NEXT STOP IS, jogs below the bridge before sunrise, the tears in his eyes in the early morning, half-asleep or still dreaming, the stack of papers on his desk, manila folders, a mosaic of manuscripts unfinished and half-read, crowded elevators, the company party at Bluefish Grill he’d attended for twenty-five minutes, in which he stood at the bar and stared at a painting of an indeterminate ocean, the last time he’d been on a beach, feet submerged in sand, not thinking about anything except that he had no thoughts, or no words for them, the pressure of the current, the feeling of letting himself go, being able to, a certain sense of freedom or carelessness—“Better you call before you come in”—stock images of fire hydrants seen from various angles and perspectives, rush of water, the sound a faucet makes when it roars forward, improbable noises, passing gas—whether it’s appropriate here, whether it’s ever appropriate among anyone he didn’t know—and what if she tickles me, makes me laugh, like in the seventh grade, middle of Geography, temperature inversion, tectonic shifts, time distance, the whole room and each face laughed too—laughed and laughed and laughed—but her hands are so smooth, so smooth and so firm, almost simultaneously smooth and firm, each lean finger, probing and producing, without any expectation, without any response, a thing like that is always sexual, he thinks, trying to picture the hands, the fingers, the face, the tall woman, the squat woman—which one is it?—“Oh oh oh ohhh, little China girl …”
“You like a little music?”
He doesn’t say a thing and there is music, suddenly, whistling like a river, or a flute, like that wind that had been breathing down his back, his black fleece and knitted sweater when he’d arrived, both of which came off rather quickly if not abruptly. Both of which are lying in a heap, somewhere to his right. David Bowie gone. Replaced by a lakehouse, the smell of rain, fireflies in mason jars, the intro theme to Dawson’s Creek he’d never actually watched. Without thinking, he thinks of a hearth, marshmallows on sticks, children in a circle holding flashlights below their chins, discarded dolls in attics, Saturday nights, his hands on the steering wheel for the first time, a German blonde from Ridgewood, making out on her parents’ leather couch while the others played Ouija downstairs, lips like flower petals, kisses till you stay stop …
“Too much? Or okay?”
… the secrets, the shame, cheeks flushed, so hot it felt like he was burning, a sick feeling in his stomach, anything to feel somehow sated—it was never about being hungry, it was about never being hungry again—every day, from that day on, a ritual like Thanksgiving, turkey on the table, the garbage that’s inside that you throw away, and he had tried to remove whatever it was that was inside of him too, lick his lips and say a prayer. Silence follows silence. Silence always follows silence. No answer, no answer, no answer … Without thinking, he thinks of a chasm, a well, a fear of the deep-end, a toilet, a kitchen sink—I want to know what’s at the bottom, at the very bottom—things that begin and end in infinity, prime numbers, the movie Pi—why hasn’t Aronofsky made anything as good since?—a drill to the head, a punch to the face, a hemorrhage or stroke—it’s because he’s trying too hard—a complete evacuation of the brain, the idea of cancer, like a cloud swirling secretly underneath the skin—“Too much? Or okay?”—veins and arteries, the smell of hospitals and Band-Aids, glow-in-the-dark bracelets that he’d worn at the roller rink, European house music—the same deep voice repeating—pretending to speak Dutch in Amsterdam, the slick, winding streets of a foreign city at night, waning stars and time travel, Quantum Leap, the pale moonlight, Jack Nicholson (pre-Nineties Jack Nicholson), the way Bald Bull grins in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! teeth whiter than a picket fence, balloon eyes blinking in 8-bits, childhood, legs dangling from the car seat, park benches (so many parks with benches), “Ladybug, ladybug bring me luck …” The song we used to sing together, sitting on your lap in the playground and I’d never sing along, I’d only just listen. Look up and listen. Look up at those sad green eyes that were also so soft and beautiful. Listen.
He hears her mouth move, talking again above him, chimes, footsteps, absence—“Better you call before you come in”—wondering whether or not to shift, wondering whether or not to speak or even shout, wondering whether this is included in the amenity: uninvited guests and interruptions, the way life enters all of us (but he doesn’t think that), whether he is part of the performance or watching it.
“Turn over now.”
He can hear the trains moving, somewhere above or below him, the opening and closing of gates, discordant thrash of drums next door, the sound of people talking. Laughter, ceaseless wind. Without thinking, he thinks of static on the radio, the blare of a bad signal, traffic on the Verrazano, unrelenting questions. Death. I can be sure of that. I can know it to be a fact and unresolvable and absolute. One fine day I won’t wake up. Or I’ll wake up differently. As a different person. As something different altogether.
“Let the hands lie flat.”
He remembers a recurring dream—at least it always seemed like a dream he’d had at another time, or else a continuation of the previous one, a whole movie he’d been playing out during sleep, a whole other life—holding hands in a dark bar facing the booths, a plate of flowers, wilted dandelions, the dark black eyes of the woman on his lap, her dark black hair … SCHAEFER, WHEN YOU’RE HAVING MORE THAN ONE radiating in electric red above her head. Who ever has only one? he remembers saying, silently, in his dream. Who ever isn’t thirsty for more? The face of the woman becomes anxious, fevered, inexplicably nude. She had been trying to tell him something. To no one, he waves good-bye. He never waves good-bye indoors. The bartender pats him on the shoulder and when he turns around, she’s gone. Everyone is gone. Wilted dandelions on the plate, strobe-lit and flaming from the neon-lit signs. All he wanted, he remembers, was a mirror, the better to see.
The problem with dreams is that they so often turn into nightmares. Just like anything else. And there is nothing, nothing to do about it. You are the world you have created, he thinks without thinking. “You want more deeper?” And when you cease to exist, this world you have created will also cease to exist. He feels a tremor in his calf but it’s just the masseuse’s hands, fingers exploring each taut groove. “You want more deeper?” she repeats. Without thinking, he thinks of each muscle in his body, each bone, each unknowable pore, all the openings by which he might find something, all occasions as occasions for self-discovery, making love, always in love with making from an early age, a wild imagination he’d had and still to this day, like something might be off or does everyone see the world like this? A soundtrack to segue between scenes. There’s people like me and then there’s people like you, he imagines explaining, to no one in particular, maybe just someone on the street, all the time disbelieving he could be like anyone else. Like he could be that person too. At least I realize this, he thinks. But that is even worse, isn’t it? So many pressing thoughts, things that are with you when you wake up and you feel as if someone’s there, the thought that this could so easily get away from him, that all of this may already have, out of reach and now unreachable … She’s on him again, both knees overlapping his chest, pressing her thumbs into his temples, into his scalp and then his neck, swaying slightly to the music still playing.
He thinks of slow dances, hands on hips, drifting into the recesses of the night, whatever remains of the song, a disco ball above them, empty rafters, an old gymnasium, either a memory or a memory of something he’d seen once on television, the feeling of falling, the desire to hold a hand—any hand—more about the feeling anyway, feeling secure, wanted, trusted, touching each other, surrendering, feeling what it’s like to be held or behold, the girl, again, on the train, and at the next stop he’d get off, at the next stop maybe she would too, so he counted the beats of the train as it hurtled on, all the while avoiding her look, all the while letting her know that he was aware of being in her presence, simply by smiling, staring but not really looking at his half-formed visage in the blackened window. Half a face, half a smile, and the half-held desire to see, to say hello, to open up, to be seen—like it could be so simple—the graffiti splayed across the Second Avenue stop where he’d departed as her face slipped toward the dark. Before he came in from the cold, seventy-five minutes ago. Maybe more.
BUT WHERE WILL WE FIND EACH OTHER
The question mark, he realizes, was missing.
Chris Campanioni‘s recent work has appeared in Prelude, Quiddity, The Brooklyn Rail, Rosebud, and Fjords Review. He has worked as a journalist, model, and actor, and he currently teaches literature and creative writing at Baruch College and the College of Staten Island. Through every medium, he writes about media representation and the cult of celebrity, how we construct our selves and our identities, and the ways in which we communicate and correspond, especially in a culture inundated with interruptions. Find him in space at www.chriscampanioni.com or in person somewhere between Brooklyn Bridge Park and Barclays Center.