From One Hundred and One Ways
Sometimes I can smell him, wind and brine and cigarettes and something else, curiously, like cucumber, when I step out of the shower. Out of a misplaced sense of delicacy, perhaps, he has never appeared to me in the bathroom, but whenever I smell him I dress myself slowly, making sure to hold in my stomach. I wring my hair and whip it back from my face, I clean the mirror of steam and stretch and strike a few casual poses in front of it. I lather lotion onto my body, first my legs, putting one foot up on the sink at a time, then onto my stomach, smoothing the cream in in small circles, and then my arms and last of all my breasts. I dress at a leisurely pace, pulling the underpants up and sliding into them with a swivel of the hips, snapping on a bra with all the strut and reluctance of a striptease. I may have spent most of my life in New Jersey, but the blood of a geisha courses through me yet.
When I first saw Phillip he was only a flicker in the corner of my eyes, gone even before I turned. Only gradually did he become bolder, moving out of the dusty corners to reveal his full form in quick flashes. Now he will stay in one place for hours. If I am reading I can look up at odd moments and he will be there, watching me. Often he will remain with me until I finish the book.
He is fond of small spaces. Lazy as ever and cured, apparently, of his wanderlust, he likes crouching in a fetal position under my desk, and he enjoys folding his long body into an improbably tiny package so he can fit into the fireplace with the violet moths. Less frequently he peeks out from behind the door or he stands picturesquely shrouded by the curtains, and every once in a while he lies on his side with his head propped up by an elbow. One day as I was reading, I reached for my iced tea and I saw him through the clear glass of the coffee table, his face pressed right up against it and his eyes peering out at me as if I were a goldfish in an upside-down bowl. He is always naked, he hardly ever moves, and his expression never changes. Even his eyes are still.
Although I cannot control the time or the frequency of his visits, because he is completely mine I almost like him better like this, silent and anonymous as my left hand. Behind the cover of my book I rub my thumb against the tips of the other fingers, feeling the shell-like hardness. I spread the hand open and look at it, palm up. In public I keep my secret clenched inside and when I lie in Eric’s arms at night, I am careful to hold my fist against my breasts so that I fall asleep hugging it to myself. But when I think of Phillip I like to feel my hand and gloat over the smoothness where the fingerprints used to be.
Maybe the lesson is that in the end, you can’t buck genes. In my family, being haunted by a lost love is not even news. I come from a line of women with a tenacious grip on the man in their lives.
Copyright 1999, Mako Yoshikawa
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