by Nathaniel Eddy
Entice by Carolyn Laidley Arn
You are nineteen and soft though becoming firmer. The shell you carry along your back thickening, all mineral and fed by angst. One day you’ll learn to retreat there, a place to hide away in the dark, but you’re not there yet. You’ve spent the summer scooping ice cream from three gallon tubs. Such flavors! Butter pecan and pistachio, stracciatella hiding slivers of chocolate chips. You like peppermint best, the cool sugary burn. After these months your arms have become like heavy machinery, dogged. From the counter window you watch the dirt movers pushing gravel into new roads, the skidders clearing trees. This whole mountain opening in one enormous yawn. You check your biceps from the dirty mirror hanging in the staff closet. You feel for growth, watch muscle rise against
the sleeve of your shirt. There’s a bucket on the floor, a gray mop still damp from the night before. Loose ringlets string from the head, the smell of wet dog. You apply lipstick and comb the braids from your hair. Outside the day is in collapse. A few cars pass on the road, windows down. Hands gliding on currents of air. Are they waving to you? This place is empty now, a husk. Open trails spill down from the peak as if riverbeds void and dried. You notice the wild color of summer fading from the grass, ochre lurking somewhere there. Soon it will be cooler, the stacking of frigid nights. You imagine the slopes overrun, the little figures gliding downhill like swarms of bees in black and white.
You fall into place behind the others. The room is wide and beige and flanked by tables. Behind each some agent of an activity, a club. Frisbee and choral, model United Nations. You put your name down for nothing, fill your pockets with candy and mints. There is a large courtyard in the shape of a horseshoe, a thing for which this place is well known. You’ve seen it on postcards, in the brochures that had piled on the table at home. Students spread among the grass and lean into trees and you sit there with them too. Nearby a preacher calls out your sins. Vanity and greed, the temptation of flesh. You haven’t been touched in months. There are no hills here and the wind is forever at your face. You imagine the breeze a hand brushing your cheek, tucking loose strands of hair back behind your ears. You let it trace a finger down your neck and to your breast and you feel yourself becoming flush, flashes sparking between your legs. In the dorm you are never alone and begin to ache. Your roommate has hung a few posters on the wall, her favorite band. Kittens playing with string. There is a picture of a boyfriend in a silver frame. He reminds you of an apple, his face dense and fully formed. You can taste the mealiness of his fruit, such disappointment in the bite. When you first met she called you by the wrong name and you never bothered to correct. You are not you now, a mask pulled over the head. You stop attending class, abandon Milton and the 101’s. Instead you take long walks along the river and watch the crew teams practice for the regatta, the slap of paddles as if striking flesh. Such misdeeds. You don’t recognize the trees or weather here, can’t understand the pattern of words that bend in strange cadence. In a week you will be gone.
You move to the city, rent a small room in a flat shared with five others. It is winter and cold and sometimes arriving home late at night you slip into your roommate’s bed. She is soft in ways you never knew. You learn the slant of her neck, the sharp contours of bone, discover the triangle of black hairs clustered low on her back. You run your fingers there making little whorls. You trace letters into words. You write your name, spell out those other things not ready to speak. Years later you’ll run into her, make small talk, hear about the husband and kids.
“And what about you?” She’ll ask.
“What is there to say?” You’ll say. “I’m good, I’m well. I’m hanging on.” You’ll tell her you need to get going. You’ll say we should do this again and exchange numbers. Call me, she’ll say. A few weeks later you’ll leave a message after an automated recording. You’ll never hear from her again.
You take a job working catered events, passing trays heavy with portions of bite size quiche, the skewers of satay. After service you all gather with your cigarettes and leftover wine, trade stories on the night. The brush ups, the come-ons, all cinched suits and faces running mascara. There’s a retirement party, forty years and a commemorative plaque. You work a wake for a dead man whose Cessna split midair like some model airplane hastily glued. You serve portions of cake cut from a frosted propeller. Clips of kamikaze pilots screen in endless loops. A widow someplace here and you spend the night searching out her grief, watching for eyes heavy with pills dealing in anesthesia.
Your mother says you are treading water. Curious, you think. Your father dead now four years, found motionless in the grass. You keep silent about the imprint of his body still pressed into the cushion of a chair, don’t mention the water glass turned sallow and slightly fogged. These visits home always fraught. She makes you tea, thin with a wedge of lemon. Her hand tremors on the pour. You perch on a counter, watch her move about the kitchen. The habits and routine. Kettle partly filled and returned to an unlit burner. A canary there waiting to sing. She wants to read your cards, pulls a magician, the nine of cups, shares with you what’s in wait. She asks to see your back, pulls your shirt up high. You listen to the sound of a dull knife scrape along your spine. Flecks of keratin collect in her open palm and drift like motes of dust suspended in the sun. She sings into your ear. If not for you, my sky would fall… Looking back you’ll wonder if she had it right. Later outside you pass the garden, overgrown and full of weeds. A trestle partly upright and split. You watch your mother on the other side of a window in the kitchen. You watch her whisper some incantation. She holds a jar to the light.
You attend the wedding of a distant friend you knew from school, someone you’d once built a house in art class using popsicle sticks and glue. You take the train upstate, the scenery such a blur. There’s an expanse of lawn, a tent, rows of clustered white chairs. You’re wearing your best underwear. The ceremony plays a bit dull, tears in all the right places. Later there will be the chirping of cheap cutlery knocked against glass. Around you waitstaff deliver plates of tossed greens and chicken parmigiana, hand out flutes of champagne. Soon there is music, the electric slide, and you find you’ve drank enough to remove your shoes, to dance under spinning light. You pretend not to feel being eyed by one of the servers, to not notice you’re being watched. Leaving the floor you pass by her, brush against the uniform of starched whites. The scent of vetiver barely there.
Later she will find you on the lawn. Clippings of grass heavy with dew cling to your feet. There’s a party happening, other waitstaff, some friends. She drives you there, the night air so brisk. You’ve forgotten what it is to be taken care. Gravel picked up by tires sings into chrome. She tells you her past and it stretches back and beyond what you’ve ever known. Bits of youth, the indiscretions, a move to the city and off-Broadway plays. She tells you stories of wandering the Village, mugger money gripped tight. Of clubbing and the crushed up powders swallowed and snuffed. She says you wouldn’t believe and her laugh is a bark that makes you smile. You run a hand along her thigh, black polyester that snaps a spark.
“Ohhh, we might have something here,” she says. She takes hold of your wrist, feels around the knot of bone, rubs at it like a totem.
You’re all nerves and calm yourself with words, the lilt of your voice, a steady reassurance. You talk about your childhood, the ruralness in both place and feel. The cabin now nearly caved in, a wisp of what had been and your mother there roaming room to room as if some feral cat hunting prey. You tell her of all times having left, this urge to flee whatever place or choice or body you’d been trying to break in. The air becoming heavy, a chokehold, impossible to breath. To your mother these decisions pile in carcasses of disappointment. Each a smear of broken yolk. You feel the scrape of nails against your scalp. She runs them top to bottom and climbs them back in return. She does this again and again and you are quiet and close your eyes.
Later she wakes you up, tells you we’re almost there. There’s a wetness, road lines blur. The air has changed, has become loamy with rain and you watch the pellets slant into the light. She slows and turns down a dirt road. Pine trees reflect shadows of dampened bark, bruises ripening in the night. Things are dense and thickly wooded and you imagine these trunks as sentries standing guard, the strange specter of sword and limb. You arrive to a small house. In the kitchen you shake your hair, thick and matted with weather. A few others crowd around. They confide in whispers, some secret being spun, a note passed and folded. Do you love me? Circle yes or no. You recognize some waitstaff from the reception, their transaction with you over now. You feel hopeless in this dress. She leads you to the living room, drink in hand. Back in a flash, she says. She calls you pet. A boy crouches on the floor thumbing through some records and plays a song or two from each album before casting them aside. You follow along with the hits, watch a pair sway to Raspberry Beret.
You wonder about the girl and find yourself upstairs. Bedroom doors close on the hallway, those sounds you know so well spilling from somewhere behind. The room is dark, bits of skin flashing, vetiver in the air. You watch and feel nothing. You take it all in. This was coming, you think. This was in the cards.
In the bathroom you wash away your mascara, wipe it from cheek and mouth, erase the darkened lines penciled just below your eyes. You strip away your dress. From the mirror your body glows firm and pale. You turn and study the carapace growing larger from your back. You wonder at her reaction to that, if she would have rested a cheek against that fossilized lump or scattered the imprint of her lips among each scute. You flex your arms, the muscles still tight. A window looks out to a field stretching long into the edge of wood. Stalks of milkweed glow in moonlight breaking through inky clouds. They stand rigid, pods full and bursting and glistening like soft serve swirling into a cone. You imagine licking each one, the silky tendrils piled on your tongue, each a beginning, a potential, if only nurtured and cared.
Nathaniel Eddy lives and works in Philadelphia. His work has recently appeared in Longleaf Review and nominated for 2019 Best of the Net.
Laidley Arn is an emerging artist and real estate executive, educated in interior design who rekindled her need for making art. Her work focuses on abstraction of the built world and silhouettes from photographs she’s taken of human interactions in a natural setting absent of technology. Using playful colour and compositions, linocuts, stencils, texture and mixed media, active and exploratory layers represent complex environments juxtaposed with the simplicity of interactions with nature. For the past two years, Laidley Arn has been a regular participant in outdoor art shows and group shows in Toronto and she is the Vice-Chair of ArtistsNetwork.ca an organization that helps artists to be better business people. This is her first publication. www.carolynlaidleyART.com