I already knew how much I hurt for Lily, the mother of my missed and missing daughter, my beautiful baby daughter, but remembering that barely stoical child from the first time I sat in on Lily’s Bible study class reminded me of some of the darkness in our relationship. If I did the wrong thing or said the wrong thing, she became, not someone different, but someone not. She closed up and surrounded herself with an entirely officious aura. It seemed that anger and resentment was barely contained in the narrow vault of her body. One incident occurred at church, when we met a new convert, a single and promiscuous-looking woman. I had complimented the elegance of her dress. I can’t recall now what it looked like exactly, something whose lengths of fabric met over the stranger’s heart and clipped to an antique brooch. And, if I recall correctly, she responded with a sly wink. That day was designated for Lily to talk about her methods with the children and for me to talk about what I’ve learned while observing her classes. Yet, when Peter and Lilianna were called to the microphone, I ended up going alone. I had looked around the room for her and eventually saw her standing solidly by the frame of the door that led to the ladies’ restroom. After she made sure that I could see the blankness in her gaze and the floral brick of her mouth, she descended backward into the shadows of the hall. I ultimately made a fool of myself by talking about the necessities of the Holy Spirit, as if I had any idea how the divine realms operated. I was given, after some stumbling and stuttering, what I perceived as pity applause, and then I went to check on Lily.
“Lily?” I said while tapping on the door of a locked stall. I knew no one would walk in on us. Everyone always stampeded to the restroom after the final word of Father Joseph’s sermon. I heard the vortical noise of the toilet flushing and she promptly opened up the stall.
“What,” she said as she walked to the sink to wash her hands. I saw through the white foam that she was rubbing each side of each finger, twice. The soap was scented an inappropriately pleasant lavender. I stood watching, not sure what to say.
“Were you crying?” I knew it was a silly question, considering her face was dry and unmoved.
The synthetic laugh echoed against the porcelain tiles of the walls. I wouldn’t have known she produced the awkward syllable if I didn’t see her jaw open and close in one motorized motion. Keep in mind I had no idea that this behavior was spawned from my carelessly commenting on another woman’s dress.
She turned around and faced me.
“We like each other,” she said. “I like you. You like me. I don’t want to share you with anyone.”
“With who-whom are you sharing me?”
She didn’t explain; she wouldn’t explain. She was above mere words. I was expected to know, and while we stood there, looking at each other, I replayed what I could remember of the last couple hours until my mind’s eye landed on the glinting lapis lazuli of the brooch and the dress. I knew. And in her barely lifted eyebrows she knew I did.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I-I didn’t know.”
“What didn’t you know?” she asked.
“That you liked me. How…how—”
“Wasn’t it obvious?” Now she was on the cusp of tears. The fluorescent lights above us began to flicker so suddenly that I couldn’t tell if my sight was the culprit of the phenomenon or if it really was some anomaly in the electricity. Her face, then, seemed to be suspended from the mold and skin of her head, floating. I recognized her flushed lips, and her eyes that were made a trampled gold by the spasms of synthetic light. In and out of green and gold. The colors. Each one unsure of itself. In the darkness of her chest were the curving and bursting illuminations of a night carnival, her heart. I knew I loved her more than I loved literature.
The nature of her eyes might make more sense if I recount our second meeting: after my first Bible study class with her, I summoned the gumption—mostly by looking down at my brown, lusterless shoes—to ask her if she would want to go for a walk in the park tomorrow. “The crows are pleasant to watch,” I said. She told me she would be delighted, although her features didn’t betray any excitement she may have had. I took her cryptic demeanor as a challenge. One that I solved the next afternoon….
We had been walking in the shade of mossy oaks for some stretch of time, following the paved path before us.
“Looks like Central Park,” she said, swinging one foot in front of the other in the manner of an effete soldier. Light and dark blotches trailed across every inch of her body as she moved. I wondered if she took notice of this visual effect occurring on me as well.
She was somewhat ahead of me, so I half called, “You’re from New York?”
“I went there once, with my father.”
“I’ve never been,” I said.
“He’s gone now….”
“Oh, your father? I’m sorry.”
The quiet between us was especially poignant. The drone of the trees as they shook by the wind kept as constant as the ocean’s. If I had closed my eyes, I probably would have been unable to distinguish one setting from the other.
“May I ask what happened?”
“Heart attack,” she said. “Usual for his age, his diet.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I was always uncomfortable talking to people about loved ones they lost. That was all I could bring myself to say in those moments. But I made a conscious effort to say something else. What I came up with was equally as original: “He’s with God now.” But I myself had always found comfort in this notion. Something that has been denied to me ever since….
“Yes,” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was serious or sarcastic, which, in a way, disturbed me.
Squirrels cleaved to the bark of trees, some upside with heads bent upward, tails of white-tipped hairs spiraled against their backs. Rodent gargoyles keeping vigil. As we walked by, they retreated to the highest points amidst the silhouetted leaves. Their solemnity was broken by squeaks of distress. Lily paid no mind. Her constant waltz was so innocent, so pregnant with terse movement, that I wanted to surround her in my arms, but instead I audibly sighed as if to expel my urge, or at least keep it at bay.