I went back to her house and banged on the door. She opened it a little. She looked surprised.
“I’m a woman,” I said, lifting up my shirt and risking the catarrh.
She smiled.“I know.”
I didn’t go home.I stayed.
– Jeanette Winterson, “The Queen of Spades”, The Passion
She finally came into my stall that first night of May, wanting her future to be foretold. She wore a soldier’s uniform, stolen from a man’s wardrobe, hiding the soft form of her body. When I revealed to her that she would meet a love she would regret, she reached for my mask and peered into my eyes.
“Green,” she said, “like turbulent body of water.” She walked away without paying.
When the fairground closed down, she was waiting outside the cobbled street. She didn’t mind the cold air. She followed me home, tailing distances behind me, hiding in dark alleyways. On my door, she knocked only once, twice. I opened it. I asked her to leave if she was only looking for fun.
“The carnival has ended,” she said.
That was when the real night began. She entered and she stayed.
But she won’t stay that long. Her body says so.
It lies beside me curled and warm, naked under this sheet. Her boyish face sleeps tired and sweet as if from running, from night swimming, from chasing the bright carnivals away.
After this one ringing night, everything now falls silent. After the thundering of the world, lightning now resides quietly on our skin. No more cries when I reach for her lips. No more screams when I trace the form of her hand. No more trembling of the bones when I dig my fingers into her back. A premonition of the day after doomsday: After this one night of rumbling and shaking, crumbling and breaking, circles of this magnitude ripple back into an empty spot. Everything goes back to that moment when we are still strangers, that very empty spot, going on to that moment when we forever pretend to be strangers, that very empty spot.
Everything becomes clear now. The dawn is fast exploding and its waves reaching under the curtain, touching the lines on her webbed feet. Never has morning been so beautiful and detestable at the same time.
She stirs in that sleep, blinks away from the light and staggers out of bed. She looks at me. My presence is a question, the room is a question.
She gathers her clothes on the floor, easily slipping into her gentle fabrics and into that soldier’s uniform. It is loose on her small body.
Without a second glance, she walks out that large door and never looks back. From my window, I wait for her to turn her head as she disappears into that small alleyway beyond the morning piazza. I wait for that reassuring smile, that wave of goodbye. She never looks back.
The world is waking and everything rushes into that morning. My husband arrives an hour later tired and acrid from one of his travels. He looks at me and he wonders at such wetness and loving in my eyes. I tell him that I miss him. I hug him, close my eyes and think of her. He never knows the kind of sweet torture I found in her.
The following weeks are bare. In the afternoon, the odd silence once again fills this empty room. But it is never the same for her scent remains. My husband and I walk out into the streets of Venice, into a coffee house and sit on the farthest table, away from the window, away from any sights. We drink the same coffee, eat the same pastas, and talk about the same tales that plague foreign countries: the bitter molasses, the war of spices, the trade of opium and silks, and the sinking of the big ships with the world’s finest figurines. But he never believes the tales of this island, of its bright carnivals, of its nightly masquerades and of love happening over and between its canals. When I take out my cards and ask if he wants his future foretold, he sinks in his seat and sips from his cup.
Nights with my husband temporarily seal up voids. He only comes to fill that empty spot but nothing more. He does not know what real ends to reach, what real holes to fill. He moves but he does not shake. I can no longer look at his fingers filled with fat rings. In my lifetime, there have always been and will always be other men like him doing the same thing. But not like her knowing such emptiness, knowing such depths. I wait for her return.
The nights of waiting turn into weeks, then into months and into years that forget how sweet it is to be young dancing with the masked crowd under the laughter of the stars. “Life does not let anything flourish until its proper time,” she once told me. Life will deny me of the sweet tortures. It will deny me of her.
By this time, I now have children, a girl and a boy, who follow my every move with glowing eyes. They grow strong and beautiful until the time comes that they realize they are capable of dancing in the same carnivals under the same stars. The girl rebels and follows her heart. The boy pursues the footsteps of his father and ventures into unknown lands. By this time, their father now stops traveling, haunted by an exotic disease. He now only waits for the ghosts he made friends with in his journeys, sleeping all day in a separate bed.
I wait for his departure, and my waiting for her is at its longest.
I wait for her to come out from whatever alleyway she is hiding, also waiting. Always waiting. Then, she comes out, the face whose future I once foretold, who peered into my enamel mask and saw beyond my eyes. “Green,” she whispers, “like a turbulent body of water.” How I embrace the chill that still slithers down my spine at the thought of her whispering through my hair, saying she yearns to drown into the seas of my eyes. How she can’t wait forever for the fair ground to close down and follow me home. Still, she is hesitant, always tailing in the distance, knocking only once, twice. Not that she’s not eager, she says; she’s only afraid of where the real night begins.
I wait by door when the carnival is silent. I wait for whatever man’s clothes she is in: a white priest’s habit, a clown’s suit, the king’s cloak, a soldier’s uniform. And together we remove it. I wait for that singleness of our breath, the melting of our skin, the same rumbling and thundering filling the voids in our worlds. I wait for her to come.
By now, we are two old souls. She regrets, she says kissing my crumbling skin. She regrets not what happened that night many years ago, but what did not happen the nights thereafter. She tells me the tales of her travels: of the nights alone in different carnivals, of the singing calls of the gondolas, of the lands conquered by men, and of the love she abandoned. She regrets. And I close my eyes embracing her tiny withering body.
I know she will not stay. But her eyes will tell me otherwise. Surely not stay long but she will forever come back to this empty spot. I too will do the same. We will go away, come back, go away and come back again to this empty spot, multiplied and magnified like rings in still, calm waters.
We shall pass soon. We will go. But we will always go back to this spot. And we will become one of the ripples that make this place the source of unending.
Jeff Javier was a fellow at the recent DWG-ADDU Writers Workshop held at Ponce Suites.