She brought the bruises on her face, a cluster of tiny oversummered plums, with her across the country. The other bruises, the ones inside, I’d think about after she had gone.
Dee is standing before me in my front yard. We haven’t seen each other in six years. When I tell her she looks great, she waves her hand, as if shooing a fly, and says I’m full of shit. Dee, I’m serious, I say, lowering my tone so she can hear that I’m serious: Really, you look great. You look the same as you did.
Dee pinches a fold of skin from her waist between her fingers and says: I’ve gotten fat. See, that’s fat?
I tell her she’s crazy, then remember how much she hates that, and am about to rescind my statement when she throws her head back and laughs loudly. I guess she has become less sensitive to the crazy thing.
I had met Dee at a nightclub when she was seventeen and I was twenty-one. She had registered as exotic on my radar for several reasons. She was stunningly tall. She was Croatian with cat-eyes. She talked as if whispering through feathers. There were those things and there were other things which are harder to put into words.
Dee was now twenty-nine and I was thirty-three. We had both grown up in New York, where Dee still lived. I had been living in Taos, New Mexico for the past seven years. We both had been married and divorced, and we both had daughters: hers was one-and-a-half, mine was five. On the drive back from the airport, Dee had asked me how long I had been married for and when I told her almost three years she was impressed. That’s really good, she said, as if I had scored a high grade. Almost three years is not a big accomplishment, Dee, I had told her. She said she had been married four months and she thought almost three years was an accomplishment. If almost three years is an accomplishment, I said, then what do you think of people that are married for thirty or forty years? Gods and goddesses, she had said, and smiled.
Dee and I have three days together. It will be the first time she has been separated, overnight, from her daughter, so she made the trip an abbreviated one. I told Dee we would squeeze a lot into the three days. We would drink and go dancing and hike and go out to eat and bathe in the hot springs and enjoy each other fully. Dee had gotten nervous when I said that and I quickly added: As friends. That put her at ease. Even though our romance is long-past, sometimes I still think of Dee that way and the possibility of something happening between us over the next three days makes me feel warm and curious.
We are sitting on folding chairs in my front yard, which is littered with cigarette butts, two busted strollers, the torn flap of a pizza carton, several empty dust-caked beer bottles, and a fresh crop of yellow-headed dandelions. Dee and I are drinking white wine from brass goblets. I had wanted beer but Dee said she didn’t like to drink beer until later in the day, it was a little after noon, but she would be okay with white wine, so we got two bottles of Pinot Grigio. Dee was staring at the mountains, which enveloped us, the town, and I was staring at Dee and remembering that night, years ago, lying on our backs in the grass in the park, which felt like the center of the universe. Then, we were young, we were lovers, and the center of the universe seemed mutable, seemed to follow us around, or we it. I am thinking about that night, specifically, because of what Dee had said to me earlier about stars, how they were now different for her. Different in form and number and meaning. Mostly different in meaning.
These mountains give me a safe feeling, Dee says, still staring out, sipping from her goblet. I look out at the mountains, which I see every day but don’t always notice. They are cast in a lavender-gray mist. The sky is a charcoal rub of gray and blue and indigo. It looks and feels like rain.
Dee rotates her goblet and examines it. These are great. Where’d you get em?
Yard sale. A set of six for six bucks.
They’re great, she repeats and takes another a sip. I feel royal when I drink from it. Then she asks me: Do you still drink a lot?
Is that the reason you got divorced, continues her line of questioning.
One of the reasons. And you, do you still drink a lot?
More than enough. But I’m not as bad I used to be. What I’m saying is . . . my shyness. I don’t need to drink to have to talk.
Dee laughed, and her teeth seemed especially large, like those of a beautiful horse.
When Dee was younger she had trouble speaking in social situations, unless she was drunk or on drugs. Sometimes we would be out at a party or gathering and Dee would sit quietly, head down or eyes surveying the room, a great distance away from whatever was happening or being said. She had once told me: Those situations are really painful for me. How do you do it? How do you know what to say, or why you’re even saying it?
I had told her I was a better bullshitter than she was, that’s all. I think she appreciated that I had put a positive spin on her social silences.
I was a fucking mess back then, Dee says, as if seeing into the nature of my memory. I couldn’t talk to people in a group, nothing would come out.
And now I said, raising my goblet in her direction, you’re going to be teaching a group.
Dee had gotten her Masters and was going to teach art therapy to grade-school children in the fall.
Do you think I’m doing the right thing, teaching?
As opposed to stripping, I said, making sure my smile was big and quick.
It was how Dee had put herself through college.
No, I’m done with that shit, she said. I meant . . . I want to be painting, doing my own art.
So you’ll teach and you’ll paint.
I don’t know. Depends on how much you need to paint.
Need to paint, she repeated in a dreamy voice. I like that you said need and not want.
I had also liked that I had said need and not want.
Dee held the wine bottle upside down and a few stray drops leaked out.
Do you think we need to open the second bottle, Dee asked, smiling.
We most definitely need to, I said, and went inside to get it.
Halfway through the second bottle, my mind went back to that night in the park, lying on our backs in the grass, and staring and staring at the stars for what seemed like hours or no time at all. She had called the stars snowflake fireflies. I had called them the freckles on God’s face. The freckles on God’s face, she had repeated—once, twice—then said: I like that. I like that and I’m not going to forget it.
I thought about bringing up that night and seeing if she had remembered it, no, seeing how she remembered it, but I didn’t imagine the memory of that night would be good or useful in any way, not now. Instead I ask her if she’s done with this guy, or if when she gets back….
She says she doesn’t know. She says he isn’t always fucked up—yes he was fucked up sometimes—but he isn’t always fucked up. I have nothing to say to that. I think of myself, my marriage, and know that I was, had been, fucked up in some ways but in other ways I wasn’t fucked up. I knew things were always both more and less complicated than they seemed. Still, confronted with the bruises, I see this man beaten badly, bleeding on the curbside, left to die. I see this and sip my wine then push this picture out of my mind.
It starts to drizzle.
Dee lifts her legs onto the chair and draws them in toward her body and locks them in an embrace. She speaks to me, chin resting on her knees: I thought you said it never rains here.
It doesn’t, I answer. I mean, not often.
Great, Dee says, I come and bring the bad weather with me.
Yes, Dee, I say, the climate revolves around you and you alone.
She smiles then releases her legs and stands up.
I eyeball her top to bottom and say: Goddamn, girl, you are really tall.
Should I sit back down, she says, as if I were insinuating that somehow her tallness was too much for me to bear.
No, stand, be tall, I like it. It’s nice to see.
Dee laughs and stands on tippy-toes, fully elongating her body in a stretch. Then she reaches for her goblet and sips, but it is empty, so she reaches for the wine bottle and seeing that there’s only a little bit left, she holds up the bottle and says—May I?—and I tell her by all means, and she pours the rest of the Pinot in her goblet and drinks it all in one swallow. She sits back down and says: I can’t believe we finished both bottles.
I can, I say.
Then she’s off and running on another track, her eyes bright and wide: We’re going dancing tonight, right?
Yea at the bar where I used to work. It’s Salsa night. Do you like Salsa?
I like everything she says. I just want to dance.
Dee looks up at the sky which has gotten darker.
If the weather’s like this . . . will we be able to go to the hot springs?
The hot springs were located outdoors, in the pitted depths of what was known as The Gorge.
Yea, we can go. But getting in and getting out . . . . how do you handle cold?
I hate it. It goes right through me. I can’t do cold.
Then we’ll see what happens. The weather around here is schizophrenic. Sometimes you get all four seasons in one day.
Forgetting that her goblet was empty, Dee picked it up and sipped then said, Oh yea, and set it back down. My goblet was still about half-full but I was nervously thinking ahead. Not just the wine but other things too. Three days wasn’t a very long time.
Then, when Dee suggested we go to the supermarket and get another two bottles of wine, I realized that hour by hour, anything was possible.
John Biscello is the founder and editor of Venus Envy, an art and literary magazine based out of Taos, NM. He is the illegitimate love-child of Charlie Chaplin and Billie Holiday. His blogs can be found johnbiscello.blogspot.com.