That Which We Call a Rose1

~ An Ode to A(nother) Naked Beauty2

(a story for adults, but more playful than steamy)

by Carole W

 

She would soon be home.

As if he stood in the doorway of her new office – one he’d never visited, might never visit – he saw … sensed … shared the closing of her work day. With her, he sighed out the sad necessity of her concentrated efforts; as she, turned his face to the wide arched, stone trimmed window she’d delighted in describing, in having Saw, as she must, the late afternoon light through beveled panes skitter rainbows across casework still open on her desk. Joined, even at his distance, the ritual she’d so immediately, so innately devised – the slow folding shut of the last file, her hands resting reverent on it, one atop the other, a moment of regret that her training was so required, a following of gratitude for the privilege … that she was there and able. Appreciation for her colleagues’ advice – the day ends the evening away, a restorative night, more than wishful thinking. The switching of her telephone to answer, the decisive off-pull of her desk lamp’s chain … an allowance of joy, of anticipation … the gathering of her things …

Nearly an hour yet until he would gather her close, in his arms, to his heart.

Only an hour

 

He was three levels down at work at the very perimeter of their lands. Half the tools the community owned, it seemed, were arrayed on ledges and outcrops of the passageway or stowed in lantern-lit niches; he was sure he’d used each one more than once since his late and short-taken lunchtime. He commenced his own concluding ritual the consolidation of hammers with mauls with wedges, wrenches with pliers, picks with rakes with shovels, ropes and chains with come-alongs and hoists. A relief crew would soon arrive to labor through the evening, would likely strew the tools as dramatically as had he given the complexity of their task. Best – efficient and considerate – to leave the area neat. As the second shift would for the third, as the midnight-to-daybreak team he regularly encountered on his return to the job site would for him.

There. He draped his laden, new leather tool belt over a jag of rock – one configured for the left-handed, a gift from Catherine. (Who would have ever thought? But, oh, yes, it did make a difference.)  He would have no need of it overnight, surely, or the next day his classroom day: Intermediate Latin(which he’d not taught in enough years to require more than a little homework), first, then second level Shakespeare (which he would simply wing). Besides, Damien, on evening shift, was left-handed, as were two on the midnight crew, he’d discovered. They’d appreciate the design, the configuration of the pouches and loops, his stone mauls with the special grips.

And without it, he could travel fractionally faster.

Without consult of a watch, he knew … if he set off now, he would meet his replacements in the second level grand roundabout, and if he hurried, he could make his turn on to the encircling stone staircase and be halfway up and along when they passed below him. Too far apart to stop for talk. There’d been no surprises or setbacks at the site; his progress there would be self-evident. A thumbs-up and a wave from him would do.

No doubt one or two in the group would recognize his focused haste, would grin at the thought of the friendly ribbing question they’d not be given the opportunity to ask.

There was somewhere he’d rather be.

 

His luck almost held.

The corridors of the community’s center were always trafficked; he would encounter unavoidable conversation if he took the most direct route home. But he knew another throughway, more a meandering detour than a short cut, narrow and steep – another heck of a climb if you’re carrying something or not, Jamie often groused – and so less popular, less populated. Generally.

“Vincent!”  the twins called out, having spied him upon rounding a corner. Their already noisy tromping speeded up, stirring up quite a bit of dust. “You gotta see this!”

‘This’ was the contents of their pockets, a day’s worth of explorations. Luckily, Vincent thought, a school day, the otherwise-occupied time allowing fewer free hours and thus fewer finds to exclaim over or comment on. Indeed, the albino cricket in a pierced box was unusual; the dull, pitted knife forged from an iron half-horseshoe definitely keepable if not serviceable. The absolutely huge peel of bronzed mica they’d harvested, big enough for a mirror, for a magic mirror, was back in their chamber and needed his seeing to believe. Later, he pinky-swore, his promise of after supper enough to send the boys on their curious, earnest, indefatigable way and him leaping the next staircase up two steps at a time.

The laundry was but two corridor turns ahead. And just beyond the laundry, one of their common washrooms no bathing pool, but quick-running shallows beneath a waterfall sluicing within a rounded drape of flowstone. Dubbed The Car Wash by the tunnel children, it was a forceful shower. Step in even filthy with grit, dust, and the particular sweat resulting from arduous labor performed at 56 degrees, step out doused, scoured, and rinsed.

Early on, he’d arrived home with still-damp hair. Catherine had walked gladly into his open arms but he sensed … something behind her smile and sweet greeting kiss, almost a … (and oh, it wounded him to name it, even now when he knew better …) disappointment. A suffered small loss at least, though of what he was unsure.

Until he asked.

Use your words, he’d implored.

And after an astonished moment, after a slow-breaking smile had overtaken her (in retrospect, a rather triumphant smile), she had.

Even with their bond, words were necessary.

Even with their bond, words could be … breathtaking.

Could you she’d ventured from where she sat on the edge of their bed. Her voice was hesitant at first, tender with consideration, but never un-strong, never unsure. Would you shower here instead? I love how you come home from work the way you smell of earth and mineral, the streaks of dirt on your face marking the hours of your effort. I want to unlace your boots and your vest, take the hem of your sweater in my hands and free you your hair your skin

 She’d risen and advanced on him, demonstrated, divesting him (literally, she would later chuckle against his shoulder), inching the knitted wool up and over his head, then his undershirts, all of them one after another. Each layer gone sent a ripple of thrill through him. His hair she brushed back from his face, back over his shoulders, her palms stroking down over his deltoids, his biceps, his forearms, skimming then along the waist band of his jeans to their straining button fly, her thumb deftly loosing the uppermost stud. (An embodied presence warned him – Unmanly to faint.) Stroking, stroking … up from his belly, over the planes of his abdomen to the hollow of his sternum, her fingers threading into the water-whorled fur on his chest.

She’d looked up at him …

Oh, Vincent, every moment we’re apart, I want to know I want to take your whole day inside me. The tunnel’s dark places, the flicker of torchlight. Your trials large and small, your wins

 He remembered smiling at that last – he’d wanted to know the same – but then she stopped talking and instead

She drew near, nearer

His paired step quickened.

 

Now, unless he was caked in mud – as had been the very uncomfortable case the day before – he passed up the preparative ablutions to bathe at home, with her more often than not. Still, he thought, he should stop in at the laundry. It was their day; in the stone bin labeled with their names he’d find a stack of fresh clothes.

Those on chore duty had finished for the day; he was alone in the chamber. The scent of lavender and cedar oils lingered in the air breezing from the dryer chutes. The natural sinks swooshed and gurgled. Water streamed hot here, trickled lukewarm there, welled cool or icy-cold in the different basins. Catherine contended everything laundered here smelled like diamonds and opals. Below’s perfume, she declared, buying office-wear blouses that could be hand-washed instead of dry-cleaned. Three of the softest hung in one of the steam hollows now, billowing and luminous, blossom pink, bisque, fawn brown …

Into a purposed duffel, he layered his flannel shirts, his corduroys, his tucked-together socks, finding next Catherine’s favorite tunnel robe. He shook it out, held it up for inspection – it had been spectacularly stained the night before.

His breath hitched to a sharp stop; his vision blurred at the memory.

The night before

*******

At his arrival in the doorway, she’d turned from the rosewood library table they used both for study and for dining, for blissful, favored, too-rare suppers-in, just the two of them, a stoneware flask in one hand full of red wine, he would subsequently note – two finely-turned wooden long-stemmed goblets clutched in the other. Her smile had been unshadowed, assuredly glad, but then …

She righted the glasses, set the bottle on the table. On planted hands, she leaned back on the broad, polished top. (He would later, much later, recall the scent of lemons.) You’ve cleaned up, she pointed out.

Her dismay had been playful, even flirtatious – an almost corporeal, amorous chord resonated from her – but he was compelled to explain, to apologize. A pipe separated, he told her, full of oozy sediment. Surprised, he’d been caught in the glopping, was then mired in the silt on the tunnel floor, lost a boot endeavoring to slog out of the muck, executed a full-body, slow-motion slide into the molasses-colored puddle.

Of course, she first ascertained his well-being (and refrained from laughing, which was more than his coworkers had managed), but the corner of her mouth quirked … quirked in that way – her way – at once easing his worries that he would always be acceptable in her sight … and suggesting he might try just a little harder. He’d promised, after all.

“The mud was too much to wear home, Catherine.”

She nodded and sighed … sighed again.

The neckline of her robe a -V- deepening with each beguiling breath, he saw an ivory radiance, a rose-dark divide, wanting nothing … nothing more … than to dwell there … in that light, in that shadow.

He closed the distance between them in swift strides. His hand landing low on the small of her back, he drew her up and close; his mouth ignited roses on the cream canvas of her throat. Trailing two fingers down the valley of her breasts, he hooked a claw in the lapped fabric, opened the plum velvet robe to its satin sash. The lapel’s binding caught on her pearled nipple and he thumbed it away, the soft, heavy, warmth of her breast filling his cupped hand, his cupped hand cupping more the way he’d learned she liked.

They drew apart – just. Her chin … lifting, her lips … parting. Her breath a sweet-hot mix with his. In her gaze, his reflection – ravenous, fervid … and yes, self-vigilant. In her gaze a call, thirst and hunger and permission.

All permission

With but a single condition.

“Use your words.”

(Had she been hoping, planning, waiting to reissue his plea, his admission? A teaching moment, perhaps? It seemed to have brought her a delight deeper than he’d initially intuited. My delight and thy delight, he ruminated. He had much to learn, but was he not an enthusiastic student? A setter-forth of goals? An achiever?)

“Vincent! Words! I want to hear.”

Her voice was graveled, rucked up with need and the lusty jest she’d (somehow, simply) known saved him from confounding, stymieing circumspection.

(My desire and thy desire. The poem rushed in in full. Twining to a tongue of fire, leaping live and laughing higher. 3)

His spellbound stillness broken, he pushed the robe from her shoulders and in the act overturned the unstoppered stoneware bottle. One embroidered patchwork sleeve sponged up the garnet cabernet that puddled out. The two wooden goblets toppled and rolled to the far edge of the table. He sank to his knees before her on the thick rag rug of their kitchen chamber to breathe her in, to touch his tongue … to lave and taste and encircle, to suckle, to rasp – gently to insist – more gently still to lead and follow, lead and follow, lead and follow to the crest, the crest

Beyond deep-rumbling, pleasured growls, he’d uttered not a single word. But then – all sigh and song and intimate guidance – neither had she, save the husky challenge murmured into his bare shoulder as he carried her to their private bathing chamber.

“You owe me now, Vincent.”

These debts he would gladly amass; these debts he relished repaying, should it – if only it would take a lifetime.

******

Though it had thoroughly soaked in, cuff to collar, the wine stain, he noted, examining the sleeve in the light of a blazing torch, was undetectable. Perhaps these mineral waters were magical. Or, more likely, someone on laundry duty knew just the treatment to employ. Either way, Catherine would be glad to have it back. Nothing was as soft against her skin, she’d declared, except your kisses, except your touch, except your breath, except the fur of your belly, the sweep of your hair. With a tamped-down groan, he refolded the robe to a neat package, fit it in the duffel, drew tight the bag’s strings, situated the strap over his shoulder, fairly galloped out.

She was home.

Ahh. A good sign, a very good sign. Her purse hung from the finial of the old oak sideboard that flanked their entry. Her briefcase leaned against its hazy, beveled mirror The book she was currently reading – on her commute, during lunch – lay on one of the cabinet’s display shelves. She was learning, she said, to truly leave work, to be comfortable not pouring over files well into the night. Learning (as was he) to let go. But so much was new, the change she’d accepted so sudden (a circumstance with which he empathized), the responsibilities so different, the effect of her actions more immediately consequential … sometimes she did need to study.

(The pages of his slow-crafted Latin syllabus fluttered in a quickened breeze of should beforelifting off, taking flight to a far, far corner of his mind.) 

But not this evening. The legal casebook was closed on a bookmark – a receipt, he couldn’t help but notice, from Annie Artuso’s, his new favorite among those bakery establishments near her work. The tres leche cakewith strawberries and french vanilla filling had been

 (Orgasmic? Catherine had teased after his third blissful bite. Unable to take the joke, he’d protested, Not even close!)

Had she

He’d just opened the book to the serrated slip of paper to read the (hopefully) confirming print when, in the mirror, he caught movement. He raised his gaze to meet hers reflected. Silly of him, he knew, to blush, but she did bear an expression of … un-surprise.

“For later,” was all she said. However, her summoning smile … her disappearance into the corridor leading to their bathing chamber the cast-off silk and lace he bent to retrieve from the floor as he hurried after her … spoke more delicious volumes.

And of now

He was only steps behind her, one of the thirsty Egyptian cotton towels she’d brought below wrapped around his waist, but already she had thrown hers off. Exquisitely naked on their bed, she was on her knees sitting back on her heels. Candlelight caressed her, illuminated all the places he intended to, her alabaster skin rosy from their heated soak.

(The bathing pool, the waters being warm, had less of an … effect … on him than did the cold swimming under the falls, but recovery did take some time – a phenomenon he’d felt necessary to explain early on. She’d nodded sympathetically through his sober narration, afterward taking his hand, pressing it to her cheek in all seriousness he presupposed, her only response, Shrinkage. Yes, I’ve heard of that. They’d both hooted with laughter (a first for him, their physicality a sacred experience) (and, in truth, she’d had to start it.)

She reached out for him now and he stepped closer.

(Recovery, immediate and unabbreviated Full-dress, she’d once remarked.)

“Tell me again,” she murmured, stroking his flanks. “What do you call this?”

Ecstasy, elysium. Rapture.  But that wasn’t what she meant.

“Your … this,” she prompted, her hands playing over the ledge of muscle ranging from his hips to his groin.

Her touch speeded his heart rate, unsteadying him. He found it necessary to brace himself with a deep mental inhalation, and the ridge popped more prominently out.

Did she truly expect him to speak? Her arched brows, the bold glint in her eyes, her smile – half-charming, half-commanding (and entirely undeniable) – suggested so.

He owed her, after all.

Pay up. What could be sweeter? Perhaps he might find out.

“It’s often referred to as the lowermost abdominal muscle,” he began, having summoned up a (jittery) mental diagram of anatomy (and his game).The pedantic tone he assumed was unnervingly familiar, and not just to his ears, either, judging by Catherine’s unsuppressed grin, but his only hope if he were to play through. (He would prove … ummm up to the task.) “But it’s more than that,” he went on. “A set of developed core muscles, direct and indirect, tied closely with low body fat …” (Here he allowed a tinge of pride to color his narrative. She told him he was beautiful, and there were moments he believed.) “… each layer of muscle contracting in its own direction, each pushing against the layer above it so that it’s raised.” 

“I suppose posture plays into it,” she murmured, all innocence. “And the act of flexing.” Too slowly she untucked his tented towel. Her smile widened. “Are you flexed now, Vincent?”

I’m trying to stay erect, he almost said. He laughed inwardly at his unuttered Freudianism, blushed overtly, he was sure, judging from her soft chortle and the heat that shot up from the core he did indeed have flexed – to hopefully remain standing. He shifted his feet farther apart. Now the corrugation of his thighs amplified. If she touched … him … he might well–

“So this muscle group …” she nudged, her roaming hands staying … north of no more talking.

His gaze directed over her bare shoulder into the halo of a flickering pillar candle, he obliged her. “Innermost, the Tranversus Abdomimis. A large, thin sheath that wraps around the belly between the rib cage and the hip.”

“Here?” she asked, exploring.

He snagged his top lip between his incisors.  “Yes,” he managed. “The middle layer … the Obliquus Internus Abdominis is a thicker version of the transverse abdominals that pulls in a different direction.”

Ummmm,” she murmured, and he fleetingly believed talk was done. “Go on,” she encouraged. No … insisted.

 “The topmost layer, the Obliquus Externus Abdominis, is the more visible muscle.” Father would be proud of his memory, his fortitude, his endurance. (Another Freudianism? an underlying presence crowed.) Then …

 “This?”

 Her hands

 Sweet angel of mercy, her hands

 “So those are the direct muscles,” she acknowledged. “What about the indirect ones.” Affirming she’d been listening, affirming a self-discipline he would soon be no match for. “Tell me.”

We will endure. We will

Beloved mantra, save me a few minutes longer. Surely, only a few

“The Rectus Abdominis here.  He captured one of her hands, held it flat to his belly. “The more developed they are, the more they push out toward, even over, the obliques.” He guided her hand down … down. “The Quadriceps Femoris, the upper front muscles of the legs tie to the top of the pelvis at the Crest of Ilium.”

“Is that it?”

(He expected her to laugh.)

 “The Extensor Spinæ, the erectors,” he got out before she did indeed chuckle, low in her throat and not behind her hand or with a look away, but with her gaze locked with his, the ribbon of their bond drawing taut and combustible. Later, he’d explain the erectors were those muscles that lined one’s lower spine.

Later.

*******

Spent. Flat on his back, the pronounced muscles she’d had him describe had relaxed; the laddery ridges were smoothed out. She rested a quieting palm on his heart.

“Do you know what I used to call that muscle group?” she asked.

He shook his head, having not quite gathered enough breath for conversation.

“My college girlfriends and I dubbed it ‘the hip dip’. Now I know it by another name.”

“And … that is …?”

“The -V- muscle. Yours … is spectacular. Singular. Like you.”

Singular. She made him glad for it.

She turned to him, rose to him from her nestle in the crook of his arm. The brush of her hair, the graze of her breasts, her kisses along of his sternum stirred … a reserve.

“And this …” Her hand drifted over the rise of his ribs to the flat plain of his abdomen where she toyed with the vortexing hair leading from his navel, the dense, arrowing line of coiled curls. “What I call … this

His breath was rasping up again. He had no name for it could he have spoken.

My happy trail,” she told him, following it on to glory land.

*******

“Your robe came clean,” he reported. “I stopped in at the laundry. It’s in the duffel … if you want it … if you need … to get up.” With lips fitted to the curve of her shoulder, he whispered … each phrase purred higher … higher … along the column of her throat, the last at the lobe of her ear which he took between his teeth.

She shivered beneath him (though with unmistakable pleasure) and drew up one knee. Not yet, said the press of her thigh to his flank. Above her head on the mounded pillows, her hand lazed open. He laced his fingers with hers, settled … deeper.

 “Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words, she murmured.

 Plautus. The Asinaria 835. Hoc agitemus convivium vino ut sermone suavi. Tomorrow’s Latin lecture. She must have read the notes he’d left on the kitchen table, the very table she’d had to clear the night before, before they, ummm, spilled the aforementioned wine.

Surely she didn’t mean for him to–

“The kitchen is too far away.” He would not leave their bed. Not with her pulse quickening against his mouth, not with the dewey heat both reminiscent and blooming at their loins. As if in bonded accord, she drew her toes up along the length of the back of his leg, her bent knee, the possession of her thigh locking him close.

He knew he smiled, felt his being smile. She hadn’t meant–

A languid shift, an artful arch of her spine … and his locus was drawn down, his gaze …

(Naked, the poem came to mind, as simple as a hand, smooth, earthy, small … transparent, round) 4  … to the contour of her waist, the broadening of her hipbones, (moon lines and apple paths) (subtle and curved) in the champagne-colored light. To the display of her breasts, their full swell courting his fondle, the petal-soft nipples stiffening before his eyes. He imagined the tensed peak fitted again within the cleft of his lip, his tongue insistent against the pearl … the dense fragrance of sunbeam and flower – answer flaring from her body. 5

His hunger great, growing … greater.

Her breath trembled in, rushed out. The respiration shuddered the delicious length of her.

She wanted. And he would make it so. He had – and would give her – more.

His fingers were still threaded with hers.

If only she would turn him loose.

More, Vincent.”

What? Had she Could she read his thoughts?

“More words. You owe me. Remember?

For a moment he was dumbfounded.

And for yet another. Hadn’t he already uttered (a remarkable) several? Transversus. Obliquus. And then the report of the well-laundered robe?

She brought their still-clasped hands down, disengaged her fingers, urged his open palm to her breast, fastened it close with hers. Lush sweet promise filled his senses, the strong beat of her heart.

The shimmer of laughter.

Courage easily finds its own eloquence, she quoted.

Plautus again. Plautus had once said so, though he doubted the Roman dramatist had delivered it with the same (tender but, well, cheeky) expression on his face as did Catherine.

All right then. “Catherine, you are …” Beautiful. Beyond dreams. Unpredictable. “… feeling your oats, as Father would–

 She cut him off, pressing hard two fingers to his parted lips (and from the cup of her breast his caress moved – not reluctantly, for there was no part of her he did not delight in, but somewhat modestly … somewhat anticipative to the slope of her hip). (Brace yourself, his shadowy, prescient, internal entity coached.)  

“Father has nothing to add to this conversation,” she grumbled cheerily. Between their abutting bodies, her hand roamed … lower … “And that’s not what I’m feeling.”

Once more, evermore, he was dumbfounded.  And gladdened.

Noticeably so. 

 “Catherine, when you touch me–”

“Yes.” No question in her tone, her answer was a bold and hungry challenge tinged with blithesome dare.

Ahh. Ahhhh.

 A certain light at last slanted in. 6

He urged her to lie back. That certain light bathed her body.

He adored her.

Before he’d been all words (both too many and too few). His heart’s truth had dwelt in the silence beneath them, when what had seemed unsayable between them went as deep as the abyss.

Now he would adore her.

In deed …

and in word.

He would never tell Father, certainly none of his students, but poems committed years ago to memory served him well on this impassioned occasion. Granted, some if not most of the remembered stanzas came from poetry collections kept in Father’s reserve, those volumes shelved highest, lodged behind a tattered row of pure dullness, in theoretic protection of the too-young and impressionable until such a time which for tunnel girls and boys making midnight forays to the darkened library was about thirteen years old. That late? Father had exclaimed when they’d finally discussed the special collection (and the more modern additions to it he felt necessary.)

Game though it was, a lovers’ game, he performed rather more than adequately, he judged, given Catherine’s blaze and staggered breathing. They were learning to make fire after all. 7

He began at her ear, at the pale shell of her ear, his words soft-spoken there, all yearning wish and answered dream. All taste and scent and pulse.

You are the one I am lit for, he told her. I am the bush, I am burning, I am not consumed. 8

License my roving hands, and let them go before, behind, between, above, and below. 9

At the ridge of her scar: “And all her face was honey to my mouth, and all her body pasture to mine eyes.”10

At the corner of her lips: “We aligned mouths, we entwined. The interlock of tongues, the charms of arms. I shook at the touch …” 11

At the advance of her bosom (no longer in just his imagination) 12: “How soft your breasts, Catherine … how glorious the weight in my hands. And when I lay my lips between those glories, 13 I glory at the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth 14

And so he progressed, lightly, from the hollow of her throat to the creases of her wrists. Slowly, over the ridges and valleys of her ribs to the cap of her knee. Every landmark … noted … by tongue and by touch … the delicacy of the inside of her elbows, the shallow well of her navel, the plateau of her belly, the concavity at her hip bones. (Only you, she would whisper later (for at the time she was inarticulate) (paradised, she would call it), only you can make pelvic girdle sound like something I’m glad to have.) 

the gate of her thighs.

Her acceptance of him, her affirmation … time after time, even now … her welcome. He wasn’t confident his own words were enough. How might he phrase the rapture of ravishment, of ravishing? The intoxication of her desire, the velvet heat, the harmony, the heights, the transport of her taking of him?

Thy thighs are white horses yoked to a chariot of kings … between them is always a pleasant song. Thy legs are the trees of dreaming whose fruit is the very outage of forgetfulness. 15

Beautiful, wide-spread, fire upon leaf, what meadow yields so fragrant a leaf as your bright leaf? 16

I like kissing this and that of you. 17

At the heart of the bloom, the flutter of petals. The slow, slow discovery of secret echoes.

Yes. Oh, yes. He did love kissing her.

Of this loving he’d long dreamed too lightly; before her, untouched, he could never have imagined the cleave of the clasping and the sweet-flesh’d days. 18And after … Now the divine luminescence of her beauty, her courage, her unguardedness so absolute, so compelling

 A flood of sweet fire swept over him. 19 They were something that had never been, but were and would be. This he cherished. This he believed.

And he found the words – his own.

 

With a replete sigh, she rolled to her belly.

Alongside her, conformed to the curve of her, he rose on the brace of his arm. He tugged out an edge of the cream cotton sheet, the hem of the waffle-weave blanket, drew the linens over her, snugging and smoothing. Without audible protest but with knee and foot, she shoved them off again. Mirth-lines rayed at the corner of her eye.

She was not sleepy. Or yet repaid.

Silken-honey strands fanned her shoulders. He took a lock in his hand, skimmed along its liquid length with a fist, let it flow free from his fingers. Brushed her hair aside, exposed the nape of her neck. Leaned in close.

The hum of her dream, a rhapsody deep inside him.

“You are the risen sun, Catherine, the dawn of my life. You have loved me awake.”

He passed a flatted hand out and back over the breadth of her shoulders … “So vulnerable,” he whispered, “the weight of the world in their bearing. And so strong, so squared with mission, so willing. The ridge of your clavicle, the promontory of your scapula …”

… and drew the tips of his fingers slowly down …

“… the inward pull of the trapezius, the latissimus dorsi , the erector spinae that formthis … long … low … land. I like to feel the spine of your body,he murmured, “and its bones and the trembling firm-smoothness and which I will again and again and again kiss. 20

With his palm, he warmed the small of her back, with a thumb traced the sidelining indentations. “Sweet topography of the sacroiliac, the fossae lumbales laterales. Dimples of Venus, a goddess-gift these hollows.”

He shifted his weight’s balance, rising over her, bending to her, touching his lips to either shadowed depression. His hair swept her skin, skin that quivered with the contact – the vision wondrously overwhelming. “Body of a woman …” it came to him. “White hills, white thighs dark river-beds where the eternal thirst flows

Body of my woman 21

“White hills?”

Startled, he pulled back, tipped his head. Had Catherine spoken? Her head was turned on the pillow, her cheek flushed, her eyes (well, the one he could see) closed, her breathing deep but amorously elevated. (Enchanted, she would later describe her state, most definitely not asleep.) Her lips were slightly parted … but not curved in even the smallest smile. Everything signaled encouragement, contentedness. He returned (not to his task or to his efforts, but) to their pleasures.   

With both hands he cupped her–

“Your–” he began at the same time.

He would not say buttocks. The word was … homely. Unlovely. And hers were neither, nor.

Her what, then? He might easily describe the velvety heat in the bend of her knee, the powerhouse of her calf, but her

“My what, Vincent?”

 Now there was no doubt – she’d voiced his faltered thoughts, though the sudden cessation of his sensual soliloquy (Pride goeth before ? Father (who should certainly know) had regularly so admonished) and the freeze of his tactile journeying would be evidence enough to prompt her question, she a trained litigator after all. (Exhibit A, Exhibit B. Was Exhibit C far behind? Oh, Erato, muse of lyric, love, erotic poetry, fail me not! Not now!)

He chanced a look up. Her eyes were still closed, but her grin, half hidden in the pillow though it was, was the very definition of sportive (spirited, frisky, naughty either, or, and all).

She waited.

Waited longer.

He didn’t need a mirror to see his expression (thankfully, he’d not made good on her offhand (and tantalizing) suggestion a week or so ago that it might be fun to position one just so) the rise and arch of his brows, the sure drop of his jaw … the dismay, the blankness the reaches of his mind so white-clouded and gauzy he could only feel his way …

At that last (Freudian again? His Relief theory of humor? Or Kant’s or Schopenhauer’s theories of Incongruity? If he remembered this moment, he’d research it … laterabubble of laughter rose, damping his gathering roar of (modest) frustration, granting him respite, a reflective moment.  Perhaps he should stop while he was, if not exactly ahead, then …

But the near-pulling-back of his caressing hands met with her throaty unh-unh anda bewitching twitch of her gluteal muscles (another term he found poetically lacking given the comeliness of Catherine’s– the alluring definition, the proportion, the symmetry of her–). 

“My backside?” she volunteered. “My posterior? My rear-end?”

No, no, and no.

“My rump? My caboose?”

He shook his head, hoping something … lovelier would jar loose. Where were cummings … D. H. Lawrence … Sappho … when he needed them?

“My booty? Oh, wait, wait. My tail-feather as in shake it?” (Which she did.)

“Catherine!”

Now she shifted, rolling to her side, hitching up on one elbow, releasing him to realign himself the same. Face to face now, thigh to thigh, her light-heart to his lightening one.

“Your turn,” she challenged, brushing his hair back over his shoulder. “Something literary. I know you’re searching.”

He sighed. Really, ‘white hills seemed the best he could dredge up, but there was no chance she'd allow a repeat.

“Come on, Vincent.”

Arse was Shakespearian. Bum, Chaucerian. Neither would do.

(Moreover, Father   to children about to receive an injection. Just a little jab in the bum.) No, times ten.

Can.

 (Unacceptable. Devin would say that at least once a day. Up off your can, little brother.)

 Duff. Keister. Hind-quarters. Seat.

Over the years, he’d heard these mild synonyms from one elder tunnel dweller or another but for Catherine’s … just, no.

Fundament,” he ventured.

“Blah,” Catherine responded. “Is that the best you can do?”

“Well, yes. Possibly so. Maybe.”

She twisted her lips in disappointment, and oh, he couldn’t bear that. Concentrate! he ordered himself.

“Fanny?” she suggested.

Fanny in America, meant … well, fanny. And, the name deriving from the Greek god Fannes, the creator of the world, might, therefore, mean bright, and thus might serve. But fanny in England and Australia meant (so he’d been told  – Devin, again, years before he ever traveled there) something else altogether. He explained his reticence.

“Show off.”

He inclined his head in acceptance. Dipped in for a kiss.

“Tokus? she trialed against his lips. “Or is it tookis?”

He drew back. “You mean tokhes. Yiddish for– From the Hebrew tákat, meaning–”

She coughed into her fist – to disguise her very obvious amusement. “Then how about … tush? Tushie?”

“That sounds like a pillow.”

She performed another beguiling twitch. “Well?”

“I can’t say that. Not to you. Not about your–

 “About my what?

Full circle! The eternal return.  They’d come back ‘round and he was no further along. (Though to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Duke Orsino, if play be the food of love, play on …) 22

“Cheeks?”

“No, these …” He brushed the backs of his fingers to the contour of her face. “… are your very beautiful, very rosy cheeks.”

She was not distracted. “Buns, then. I think of yours (Often? he wanted to ask but didn’t), all hard ridges and hollows. Hmmmm,  she purred and demonstrated, and indeed his maximus, medius, and minimus clinched in response.  “Buns of steel.”

Their kiss was long and sweet and slow and deep. And in the requiescence of the moment, something suitable materialized.

A good thing, too.

“One more try,” she murmured, so close in his arms. “You still owe me.”

Charming, treasured exactor. She chuckled at his naming, entirely satisfied, he thought, or she would be, if his one settled-upon word sufficed. Hopeful, he chanced it. “Derrière.”

Her smile was encouraging, her sigh like applause. (Bravo, but encore, he perceived.)

“Yours is beautiful,” he went on, “round and firm and soft.”

“Isn’t that a contradiction?”

“No. You are all things, Catherine. Everything. Everything that is right and perfect in my life.”

“Ah my love, ah my own,she whispered and nestled deeper. “My love feeds on your love, beloved, and as long as you live, it will be in your arms. 23

*******

She sat up in bed, hitched back against the pillows at the headboard, stretched both arms out and up, folded them behind her head. “Where are you going?”

He’d pulled on the gray sweat pants she’d gifted him, had just tied the white drawstring tight. “To work.” Next on, a knitted henley, the blue sweater she liked best.

“Back to the job site?” she asked when his head cleared the second neckline. “Tonight?

“No, no,” he said, digging clean woolen socks from the laundry duffel after hanging her robe on the hall tree standing bedside. He sank to the edge of the mattress to tug them on. “To the kitchen.”

“I’ll come with you. I’m hungry.”

“Catherine … I have to completely rework my Latin lesson plans for tomorrow.”

“I meant that literally, Vincent.”

She laughed and he felt himself color, but it was a pleasurable sensation.

“What’s wrong with your plans?” she asked, slipping out of bed and into her robe and chamber slippers. “Plautus, right? I saw your notes.”

“There is no way I can– I won’t be able to keep a straight face, not after you quoted him … Celebrate with wine and sweet words. Courage finds its own eloquence.He waved his arm in the direction of their very rumpled bed and the color he’d felt rise in his face burned hotter. “Not, uh, not after …” he stammered

“Not after our rose by any other name game?” She shuffled to the bureau and took up her hairbrush.

In the mirror he saw her grin and it was hardly innocent. “Ahhhh! he cried. “Ahhhhhh!

“Don’t tell me. Your first level Shakespeare class … You were reading Romeo and Juliet tomorrow?”

(She knew. She knew he knew she knew, too.) (Well, Macbeth then, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)

 They must change venues and subjects – and quickly – before she quoted anything suggestive from either.

“Is there cake?” he asked her, having moved up behind her, having slipped his arms around her waist, having pressed his cheek to her hair. She leaned back in his embrace.

“I brought the tres leche you liked. You want desert first? I can make sandwiches.”

Second desert,” he murmured as bawdily as he dared.

I’ll follow thee,” she began, but he stopped her with a kiss beneath her ear (not that the rest of that particular quote applied at all, to anything), then gave her room at the dresser. 24

 

He waited at their bed chamber’s entry for her, one shoulder lodged against the stone.

“Vincent, just so you know …” She looked up at him (eyes big love-crumbs). 25 “We’re even …”

He took her hand, brought it to his lips. Blessed. He was so perfectly blessed. “For now, Catherine. For now.”

 

finis

____________________________________

1 William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet. Act II, scene 2.

2 Pablo Neruda. Ode to a Naked Beauty.

3 Robert Bridges. My Delight and Thy Delight.

4 Pablo Neruda. Naked.

5 Pablo Neruda. Love Sonnet XI (paraphrased).

6 Emily Dickinson. There's a Certain Slant of Light (paraphrased).

7 Margaret Atwood. Habitation.

8 Lucille Clifton. To a Dark Moses.

9 John Donne. To His Mistress Going to Bed.

10 Algernon Charles Swinburne. Love and Sleep.

11 W. H. Auden. The Platonic Blow.

12 Leonard Cohen. I perceived the outline of your breasts from The Energy of Slaves.

13 Robert Herrick. Upon Julias Breasts.

14 Adrienne Rich. Twenty-one Love Poems.

15 e. e. cummings. my love.

16 H.D. Sea Poppies.

17 e. e. cummings. i like my body when it is with your body.

18 Walt Whitman. I Sing the Body Electric.

19 D. H.  Lawrence. Love on the Farm.

20 ibid.

21 Pablo Neruda. Body of a Woman.

22 William Shakespeare. Twelfth Night. Act 1, scene 1

23 Pablo Neruda. If You Forget Me.

24 William Shakespeare. A Midsummer Nights Dream. Act 2, scene 1.

25 e. e. cummings. i like my body when it is with your body.

 

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