“Lean your head into the water.”
The bathroom, larger than my childhood home, stinks of old beer and vomit. Matt has cleared away
most of the plastic cups before we go in, but he can’t do much for the stench.
“Sorry I don’t have any shampoo, I need to go to Wal-Mart, but I figure we can just rinse out the dirt
and at least get some of the burs and twigs out. I can’t help you detangle it though. That would take
time we just don’t have.” He chuckles softly.
Besides my weird tendency for gloves, my hair was what most people remembered me by. It’s thick,
dark and obscenely long. As shy as I am you’d think I’d have cut it just to keep the attention down, but I
love it. My one vanity. My one beauty.
The running water in the tub is warm and turns a brownish-green color when I put my head under
the stream. Matt leans over me from behind to help me rinse. Under normal circumstances a scenario
like this would be my worst nightmare, but Matt’s complete absence of awkwardness is overwhelming
in the closed space and powerless to block him, I can’t help but go with the flow.
“How do you know so much about hair?”
I want to say, ‘especially long, kinky, curls like mine’, but I think it might be a little rude. In any case I
think he picked up the context in my tone and replies, “ My Mom had really curly hair. I mean like, really
curly like yours. Hers wasn’t as long though. I used to help her wash it.”
He falls silent, lost in a memory. I am immediately grateful, because the vibrations that rise through
his chest from the tenor of his voice are rolling into me, we are so closely pressed together. It is delicious
and maddening. Besides, I know with just as much certainty that I know I’m safe I know he doesn’t want
talk about his parents, and I don’t want to upset him, though I am really dying to know.
That’s the thing about being empathic. You know a lie from the truth and you know when a secret
exists, even if you never know what the secret is.
With him so close, his chest pressed against my back, his fingers lost in my hair, I am in danger of
losing myself again. The heat and electricity between us is still pretty high, but as long as we are doing
something it seems manageable.
He’s quiet for a while, and I don’t want to snatch him out of his reverie with small talk or some
stupid question, but the silence in the bathroom is beginning to take on a life of its own and I am acutely
aware of how alone we are in the house. The room takes on an intimacy that my Sunday School self
can’t take when my shields are down so I began to hum.
At first the song is soft and light, but after awhile I let it deepen letting the repetition lead the
rhythm of my hands. It doesn’t take Matt too long to pick it up. He doesn’t hum along (Thank God) but
he does allow his fingers to follow along. We are where rhythm and memory meet, an old magic that
connected people before language and lies; a time of heartbeats as drumbeats.
We work in tandem and know just when to stop. We rinse until the water runs clear and then he
hands me a towel and leads me into the living room.
“Wow. Some party,” I say. Paper cups and plates are strewn everywhere. When it was clean I am
sure the room was the kind of country comfortable that his obviously wealthy parents tried to fake to
look like they were down to earth, but the vaulted ceilings and marble floors ruin the effect. Still, there
are family pictures on the mantle and tables. A stuffed rabbit and deer’s head let me know that the
family hunted, but that’s a given around here. I guess they made it clear the family didn’t just eat their
prey they put ‘em on display.
“Yeah,” he sighs. “I’ll clean it up tomorrow. This isn’t the worst it’s been. Believe it or not I’m not
much of a partier. I just got roped into throwing this one.”
That is hard to believe given the bowl of salsa that’s turned over on the carpet and the silly string
that dangles from the deer’s antler.
He leads me to the couch and swipes off the cushions full of potato chips and snack crumbs. He sits
on one side of me and hands me a comb he’s snatched from the bathroom while he takes the other and
starts picking out burs. This is turning out to be the weirdest slumber party I’ve ever been to.
The silence settles around us like dust after an explosion. The only sounds are the faint creeks of
crickets outside and the snap of tangles against the teeth of the combs. “It’s really quiet here.”
“I know. Hmm, what kind of music do you like?” he asks.
“Oh, I don’t mind the quiet. I’m used to quiet spaces.”
“Yeah, but I’m not.” He shifts uncomfortably. “What kind of music do you like?”
“Ella Fitzgerald,” I say a little too quickly. Shoot! It was a reflex. I should have said Pop or something
recent, though at the moment I can’t think of anything recent. I guess I didn’t have much time to do
“Really, I thought you were gonna say some boy band or hip-hop group.”
“No, I’m not really into contemporary music.” Hopefully he thinks I’m just cool and mysterious.
Most people love the music of their childhood or the music that was played in their home when they
were children. Even if you’re the kind of person who hates country, if your Mom had a thing for Conway
Twitty, you’re going to have a little Twitty in your record collection. I guess they’re cd’s or mp3’s now.
“I think I got something here.” He walks over to the record player and flicks through a list of songs
on a device and falls on “Take the ‘A’ Train” by Duke Ellington.
“This is one of my favorites,” I chirp giddily and sway back and forth in my seat.
“Mine too. When I was in 7th grade I wanted to be a trumpet player, but my Dad thought football
was the be all and end all of everything so the band was out. ‘I don’t want you getting the idea you can
become a musician,’” he finishes in a mocking voice as he walks over from the sound system to the
couch. He settles next to me and picks up a clump of hair and starts worrying a burr out. He’s close, but
we’re not touching so I feel a bit better about the current running between us. He excites me too much
to be safe.
“You can still learn to play the trumpet. If I close my eyes I can see you right now with the brass in
your hand. You look good.” I smile and cut my eyes at him. He smiles back, the warmth from it lapping
out and over me like he’s a campfire.
“I guess.” He is quiet for a moment. “Maybe he was right. I was All State last year. Scouts call the
house all the time,” and then he was wistful again, the fire cooled. I let him have his moment and
continue to pull the twigs and burs from the endless tangles of my hair. It was a mess. A frown creeps
up into my face and lingers.
Matt catches my eye and frowns at me in a mocking way. I have to admit, it makes me giggle.
Without saying a word he turns my back towards him gently and puts the comb to my scalp, just lightly
scratching around my hairline. I close my eyes and almost melt into him. What I wouldn’t have given for
a little hair oil. I’m an ice cream cone on a South Carolina summer day. I am bacon in a skillet. I am not a
girl. I am not myself. I am a quivering, eye rolling, weak kneed mess.
I have my moment and I’m glad he can’t see my face. He’s still close but the current is just a low
buzz between us with the comb acting as a buffer. I catch myself.
“Do you remember the story of David? From the Bible?” I ask. He is closer still now and I can almost
feel his heart beat through his chest.
“What do you remember about it?”
He draws in a deep breath, while he searches his brain. “Uh, little guy kills giant with a slingshot,
grows up and gets down with Bathsheba.”
I chuckle. “That’s it?”
“Ok. Well, I guess you’re a guy and that’s what you would remember, but David is one of the most
widely known bible stories because he was one of Gods’ favorites. And do you know why he was his
favorite?” I say this in my most teacherly voice.
“No, but from the direction this conversation is going I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”
“David was God’s favorite because he was full of praise. He was a songwriter. A musician. The book
of Psalms is full of his stuff. God can grant you victory on the battlefield or the football field in your case,
but he can’t make you love him. You have to decide to do that. That’s why I think God loves art so much.
Listen to that.” The Duke has segued into “Black and Tan Fantasy” and the trumpets are rising into a
“No. Close your eyes and really listen.” I turn to face him and hesitantly brush my hand over his
eyes. I take a deep breath and grab his wrists and hold them in my lap. He stiffens, but doesn’t move. To
my surprise the current doesn’t overwhelm us but keeps steady and intense, a low rocking like being on
a train. “Okay. Now tell me what does this song make you think about.” At first his breathing is ragged,
and the tingling builds in my spine again, but he relaxes.
He is quiet for a long moment. “Cigarettes. Silk Stockings. Like the ones you see on pin up girls.” He
takes in a deep breath. “Wanting. Desire.” My palms start to sweat. “Shining Wingtips. Red Lipstick.” I
am holding my breath.
“And?” I ask in a shaky voice. The church girl in me must be dead. She’s nowhere to be found.
“And this,” he says and opens his eyes and stops just short of crushing his lips against mine. I can’t
breathe. I can’t think. The electricity shoots out from every pore and I am a live wire. My brain is all
static and incomplete thought. Like two facing mirrors his need projects on me and I soak it up only to
stoke his desire in a never ending cycle I at once fear and hope will never end. I have no power to stop it.
It turns out I don’t need to because just as I am about to fall backwards onto the couch and further
into Matt’s arms the doorbell rings and fear suddenly becomes the dominant emotion in the room. It’s
sticky, yellow-green and slick. It makes my mouth go dry.
“Is someone looking for you?”
“I.I told you. I don’t know,” I manage to get out in a stammer.
“Stay here. Crouch down so no one can see you.”
I nod and slump. From my vantage point I can’t be seen from the front door, but there is a mirror
above the mantel that reflects onto the foyer so I can see who it is.
From the clock on the kitchen counter it is nearly 3:30 in the morning and whoever is calling, it isn’t
social. The bell rings again. Even though I know it is impossible, it seems to scream its impatience in the
Matt disappears around the corner and when he returns to answer the door I see that he has a
double barrel shotgun in his left hand, which is hidden behind his back. Oh, God, I hope this doesn’t end
badly. He draws up to his full height and looks out of the peep hole.
“It’s a girl,” he whispers, surprised.