The fog rolling off the Schuylkill under the low sky of clouds touching the city’s towers has freed the streets of others, allowing us to walk hand in hand, chafing in unison the cement beneath our feet, the vibration and rhythm pleasing. We talk and our voices echo down the street, around the corner where we turn, laughing with our hearts in the hands we hold together. Against the wall they stand. When it is too late to pull apart our hands, we see them. We walk by, fixed on the disgust burning across their faces like the red hot ends of the cigarettes they suck with tight lips, Death’s slim stick.
Ew, they say, and from their lips spews the smoke of toxic satisfaction. We hold our breath, close our eyes, and unlink our hands. We hurry out of their smog and into the mist down the block in silence and apart, now checking around corners before turning down streets.
We drive home in silence. One of us grips the wheel with white-knuckled fists while the other stares out at the store-fronts, home-fronts, and lone street walkers through the drizzle specked window, trying to catch sight of the Whitman between the buildings. But we’re silent now, because silence is easy when you don’t know what to say. We’re sorry only to the other, we hurt only for the other, but we’re angry at the world because affection is a crime when you’re us.
We share a hug after the front door is shut and locked, before flicking on the lights. One holds the other against his heavy chest, closes his eyes, and, while breathing in the scent of the city and rain now trapped in the other’s hair, tries to squeeze away the scars that rise on nights like these. The other holds the one by the waist, safe in the one’s arms, breathing in the aromatic intoxicant of deodorant and sweat.
I love you, we say into the clothes we’ve grown to share, listening to the drum of our hearts, a sound that’s hard to hear outside the house.
We try to forget them and pour some wine, two glasses of sweet red while we set pans on the stove-top and pull out the chicken. We turn on the stereo atop the fridge and dance and sing with wine in hand while dinner simmers.
When we’re full, the wine bottle is tossed into the trash and the dishes are cleaned. Warm with delight, we carry each other to the bedroom, laughing and stumbling down the hall, discussing the universe, but not its limits. In the bedroom we work together to undress with closed eyes, locked lips, and hungry hands until we fall bare into bed.
I love you, we say. The rain is loud, and, when a boom of thunder makes us jump, we laugh some more. In our arms and legs, with our groins entwined, we’re warm, but the air that blows in through the thin walls of the room is cold. Despite the thunder and lightning flashes outside, we decide to shower.
The stone of the bathroom floor is ice on our feet while we wait outside the curtain, letting the water heat. One of us stands on the others’ feet so they warm with our blood that seems to run through one to the other. We’re skin and tongues, sweat and wine.
In the shower we wash each other, moving our hands over our bodies, washing, massaging, under the fall of hot water, cleansing each other down shafts and between cracks better than we could ourselves alone. When we’re clean we stand beneath the gushing showerhead, letting the water run through our hair, between our eyes, around our noses and mouths, glazing our faces.
In bed, like a split deck of cards, into each other we fold.
In the morning we breakfast with eggs and dress again to go out. The sky is a bright powder blue with a few lonely clouds and only the shadow of the previous night shaming our minds. On the way to the city we sing, loud over the bridge and through the streets on our way to the river trail. We find a spot in the back of the lot, the park already full of joggers and walkers in bright colored athletic wear. We start our walk down the river, one of us with a book to read, the other with a pad and pencil to sketch when we reach our bench. We keep our hands full of these things and away from each other as we walk, aware of the distance, the divide. Couples of opposites slice their way between us with hands intertwined, swinging strongly back and forth, carving at the canyon between us.
We stop when our bench comes into view. A couple of opposites, delicately attached by their mouths, is sitting in our spot. We reach for each others’ hands, shocked and robbed of our bench, yes, but something more disturbing is there, in the way that they kiss. The world could watch and watch and cheer, and cheer them on even as they get up and walk away, with his arm over her shoulder and hers around his back. Here, it’s hard for our fingers to find each others’, until they do, while we watch the couple walk down the river path.
Conscious of our clasped hands, we approach our bench. We feel the eyes of joggers and walkers the way the opposites didn’t feel ours. We imagine them behind us, stopping and staring and watching, building up clouds of smoke in their chests, the smoke of toxic sticks, to blow us away and send us back home. But the river runs fast and high after the night’s storm, and we continue to the bench, round its side, catch their eyes with our smiles like nets before we sit, pulses in sync with the strength of the river stream.
Photo by Richard BH