I Worst of All


lovers-handsNo, it was not you I was thinking of when you caught me.


I didn’t answer you last night, because to give such an answer is no answer. It merely opens the floodgates to more questions. None of which should be asked, or answered. If a man finds his lover engaged in some private pleasures, he should enjoy it, or leave it alone–– but not dog her with queries.


You’ll say I wouldn’t be writing this unless I wanted to. Either I should reveal, or stop, but not delay. Though, in what we speak of, delay is everything. All right then, who was I thinking of last night? How to answer? No name would be accurate. You see, if I had been thinking of you––which I wasn’t, even you are not always yourself. There is also the fantasy of you. Don’t accuse me of surrounding myself with smokescreens––– I’m not, only where there’s fire, there’s always a little smoke. But I sympathize, I know no one is more frustrating as a rival than a ghost––


Should I even write to you about this? I am reluctant to put weapons in the hands of one who ––who knows–– may one day turn enemy? That’s how it is, with desire, it goes from fire to ice, all vapour.


There was a moment before we ever touched. You leant in, caressing the chains of the choker I was wearing, rubbing your finger, slowly and unhurriedly against the delicate knots round my neck, stroking the pulse in my throat. I closed my eyes, I didn’t want you to touch me. It was enough to imagine that every link was a secret, hidden part of my body. The efflorescence, the flowering out. If I broke away, rushed away from you that night, it wasn’t that I didn’t want you. I wanted to delay, both the pleasure and the pain.


As a little girl, the secret nature of pleasure fascinated me. All children must know it, even if they choose to blot or forget later on. It is so intrinsic to being, like breathing, that there is no need to talk of it. The pleasure of rocking against my own heels, as I sat listening to rhymes or stories, or counting. Or, in solitary moments, delving into the throbs and tingles, to find my fingers sticky, salty, of the sea. The odour, hypnotic, unlikely. And then, also intriguing, the pale shine on my fingers. Like that which came out of the tiny white shells I found on the beach, prying their tight mollusk lips open. One pearl, I always wanted to find just one pearl, but I never did, and how many lives I crushed, trying.


But there you are, on the other side of this page, still insisting. Who, who or what was I thinking of last night? Shall we continue with rhymes? The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. The last for obvious reasons, as I suppose we all came of age hearing worn old jokes about lonely nuns in convents. But the candle stick maker would do. So would the butcher or baker, if they caught the eye. Strangers do well, I would say. But not just any stranger, and there are degrees. There’s the beautiful, careless stranger you look at twice, then forget about. And then, there are such crossings, rare, that stay with you a long time after. On the windy island, the man with eyes like a husky, looking at me. His two wolfish dogs on leashes pulling him away while we swept by each other, with the sound of the waves lashing, the yellow-beaked gulls floating and screaming. They can smell blood you know, and mine was gathering like storm clouds. It was so intense, so anonymous––


Not always are the strangers so seductive. Sometimes, it’s their rough gaze that compels, at other times, their oblivion, or suggestiveness. The woman in the corner of the tavern, with the look of a guttering flame. A couple on a train, he, tall and lean and bearded, like an old time explorer, accompanying a woman with a turquoise scarf tied round her long silky black hair. All of us, trying so hard not to look at one another, it was almost painful.


Eccentricity excites too. The man with a short heavy cloak fastened with a silver button, like the livery of an extinct army of which he was the last surviving soldier. Or, a beautiful blind man, with eyes like shocked irises, rescued from traffic by a man in rags–– so vulnerable. Or New Year’s Eve, a man in evening dress, his breath like plumes of frost, kneeling to an old drunkard lying in tears on the road. Yes, his tenderness moved me. But I have been equally moved by the coldness, the graveness of others. A woman with a chapped pout, shrugging.


I list these souls, as they have become a secret cast, actors in my mind’s theatre. I have read that you cannot make up a face. Even strangers in a dream, those are faces you have seen before. Is that true, I wonder? I have made up many, indistinct perhaps, as an unrestored painting in the back of a dim gallery. But I have made them up, or if not, they are a result of these faces, noted, seen. So that might be an answer to your question–– that whoever I was imagining last night was half myth. I prefer strangers, that is.


And then? you ask, tired of my circumlocutions. Then? Then, anything goes. Slow, a rising tide of gestures. Or swift. The ones who strip me so expertly, with such otherworldly, lightning speed that I look down in amazement at my own sudden nakedness, feeling as she must have, in the woods, by the sea, a dark prisoner, when Zeus came upon her, ravishing.


But since it is my fantasy, I must be the chasing Zeus or Brahma, the attacker, too. But however wild these demi- gods get, I hold them in check, as I want to. I hold their bridles in my fingers, the slapping reins. Sometimes I give pleasure, or take, in ways that outside of fantasy would be impossible. That’s what a fantasy is for, to do the undone, the undo-able.


But of course, fantasy has a life of its own. It is impossible to control, and may grow reckless, ruinous–– consequential. I don’t mean when I fall asleep, into nightmares, when I run to escape shadowy figures who jump over walls, chase me through labyrinths, around the violent city. No, I mean when fantasy itself is so incendiary, other people catch fire.


At the bookstore, a blowing wintry day, the streets filling with snow and ice. The young man who works at the bookstore, thumbing through chapbooks and anarchist pamphlets, glances at me as I walk in, to the sound of wind chimes at the door. When I ask him a question, he answers, pouring his eyes into mine, offering to show me the way to my book. He takes me, through the scent of old books, to the back of the store. The high wooden cases sagging under the weight of countless, mysterious volumes. It seems deserted, but it isn’t. Behind the last row of bookshelves stands another man. Older, in a tweed coat, slowly turning the pages of a book. I nod to the assistant, he leaves. I walk over to this other man, pretending to look at the shelves. But it is a charade. I know him, he is an old acquaintance, someone with whom things ended messily. He tilts his book towards me, faintly smiling. An old book of erotic drawings. His finger traces the line of one of the drawings, of a woman’s body, slowly. I retreat into the shadows, amid the books, where no one can see me but him. With one hand holding close my coat, I reach down with with my other, hidden hand. He sees nothing but my face, my hand against the furs.


As the woman in the inferno said, we read no more that day. Or at least, not for a few minutes. After, I took down a random book, paid for it with trembling fingers and left. Both men turned back to their books. Walking out quickly, I found myself lost in a flock of other men in wide-brimmed black hats, leaving the synagogue. The book turned out to be on the art of war, not the one I had come in looking for, not the meditations.


What else shall I tell you? Where else, you ask. Again, there is a forked answer to that question. When it comes to fantasy, one is usually at two places at once. Brothels, woods, it’s a dream after all. That is where the imaginary body coils and entwines. And the flesh itself? Soft beds, cold floors, rocking trains, the wild fauve colours swirling by. In corners, where I’ve been forced to be quiet, where not being allowed to moan or cry out loud has been like stopping one vent of the volcano, to make erupt another. In a rush, fully clothed, or completely naked, languorously. Depending on the severity of the urgency, whether in a frenzy or slowly.


A friend of mine had a lover, a philosopher, who had a penchant for churches, confessionals. Another friend told me she always would, wherever she was, before meeting a man she desired. So I won’t make a fool of myself, she said.


A man I knew once told me the same thing, that he followed the same course of action. So as not to go into a dangerous situation with a loaded gun, he said.


True, guns do have a tendency to go off. The woman in the train, through the Italian Alps. Arched Persian eyebrows, a stern, severe demeanour. She was a violinist, or so suggested the case at her side. We were the only two in the compartment but we exchanged not a word. She kept knitting, in black wool, through the shadows and falling darkness. Click, click, click. I fell asleep, and when I flicked open my eyes, to the rattling of the train, I found her, as you found me last night.


The bud, like a rose in a rainstorm, quivering, puckering open and shutting its sultry, hungry mouth.


Is it so different from other solitary pleasures? Bathing in the dark early morning, scenting yourself, combing your hair, dressing. Or lighting incense, listening to music. Eating, drinking, smoking alone–– the pleasure of being alone. Listening to the birds and hearing the wind rustle through the flowers and leaves. Enjoying a glass of wine, or beer, or pure clear water. Tearing the smooth green silk of a lake, by diving into it. Or swimming out, into the dark cold body of the thrashing sea.


I find the throb, the origin of myself, as I have done, since I was in the womb. There for nine months, solitary, but already vivid, alive. The first flicker, the first touch and shudder. My secret, before I knew the words to hold such secrets in. My secret, with no word. My cry, unheard. Or did I kick, and make my mother gasp––


I have reached toward myself to get over anger, disappointment, pain. To soothe frustration, loneliness, boredom. To be the lover who has disappeared. Being condemned to death by my body, why should it not be my body that consoles me? The salts of my body overwhelm. Never to diminish this–– this possibility of undamming my desires, of living, of being. Of knowing, not denying, the loneliness of my own sexuality, that is the very cosmic loneliness of existence, and its vague balm.


Shame? Yes, I have felt it. But it is the shame an addict who knows she will not give up the habit might feel, ultimately insincere. Like the Mexican nun who signed her confession, yo la peor de todas: I, worst of all––


Of course, there are times when I want to, but can’t. That is a frustration that feels like death. Frustration mounts, to ride itself nowhere. Not the full-blown rose, not Vesuvius–– just failure. I feel a storm shaking my limbs, but the hurricane never hits. Something clouds me with guilt, distracts and disrupts me. Then I’m a desperate castaway, exhaustedly rubbing damp branches that make no smoke, no fire. As a lover might slip through your fingers, now so do I, slip unhappily through my own. I feel useless, dead. The way a bitter spirit is, trapped.


Such depressions fade. And again, I become she who desires herself. My mouth opens, my head like lightning. My fingers, my hair. I become sticky, odorous as a tropical night. I leave my fingers like that, as if a lover might want to kiss my fingertips later, surreptitiously, in a crowd. Musks, the sea, blood––


It is all about blood, after all, isn’t it? The goddess in the ancient manuscripts who turns red when she is excited. Naked, she tramples Kama, the god of desire. She holds an arrow, stretched on a bow. The shaft of this arrow is strong, its flight made of leaves, it is tipped by a red utpala flower. Her two other hands hold a flower-hook to pierce and a flower-noose to snare. She shoots flowers into the hearts of men and the vulvas of women.


Little knob of flesh–– warmonger. Causer of chaos, destruction, apocalypse. How many bullets have flown because of you? No general, no foot soldier, has been covered in as much blood.


In a dream, I part my thighs to find a hooded cobra straining painfully out of me.


I saw a Buddhist nun once, in a mountain village, trying to charm a snake outside its cave. Her long unruly hair down her back, her shoulders bare, she raises her arms and sways. The huge cobra rears up, flattening and flaring its hood. It sways to her rhythm, but then it lunges sharply, tongue flashing. She has to kiss its head three times, to undo the curse of the drought. Again, again, it tries to strike. Unflustered, she goes on––