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Chapter 1: Light Bulb Nudity
He didn’t like people to see his body and when we were at school, he’d wear long pajamas and a robe, even in the drearily warm weeks leading up to summer vacation. And when we spent the summer before seventh year together, we’d turn out the lights before and his blush would be the only illumination, figuratively (though I could feel it on my cheek and down my neck and in the kisses across my stomach) and in the morning, he’d wrap himself tightly in the yellow blanket that I’ve now been meaning to throw out for five years. Five years and I should be past his awkward nudity, but I’ve wrapped it in the yellow blanket and hidden it in my closet, somewhere in between outdated fashions and imaginary friends.
Nobody loved him and so I loved him and his nonlove became love and his advantage. “I used to spend my summers sweating under my heavy clothing,” he said, as he nonsweated under the cotton sheets and the blanket. And I loved him more. “I never took off my shoes because my second toe was longer than my first and I was embarrassed,” and he kicked his shoes across the room and pulled off his wool socks and I loved him more and I loved his second toe that was longer than his first. “I used to count to sixty and try to beat the secondhand of my clock,” “Did you ever win?” “Yes.” “How fast did you have to count?” “Onetwothreefour,” and I believed that he could beat his clock. I found him staring at my own clock one morning and he lost track of seconds when I kissed him. It was the first time he had lost to a clock in six years.
When he lost, he was a better lover and my selfish cupidity, or was it lust or are the two interchangeable, made me strive to beat him in anything with the slightest hint of competition. I beat him at chess and we made love in the kitchen for the first time. We made love standing up when I beat him in racing to the bathroom. And when I beat him in waking up in the morning and beat the sun in rising, we left the lights on. And each time we made love, I continued to win and it became not so much making love, but another competition, another chance to beat him,
“Why do you never let me win?” he would ask and he would rub his sore body and sit shirtless on the front porch.
“Because I love you,” and my answer made no sense and I would wonder if I loved him or the sex or winning and I could never decide between the three. Perhaps the sex or perhaps the winning and the sex or perhaps all three and I would never know.
“If you love me, race me to the kitchen and let me win.”
And we would run into the kitchen and I’d beat him by at least five of the seconds that he once lost track of.
And he would pull me closer and breathe heavily, but only because trying to win exhausted him.
And he would kiss me all over and I would kiss him back and I would win and we’d be dancing upside down on the table, simply because he lost the race and he lost at kissing.
When he won at eating pancakes or won at running up a staircase, he did not become better, nor did I become worse. He became arrogant and I became envious. He became foolish and I became stubborn. He became a fighter and I became a fighter. He became and I became, but we didn’t become in the bedroom. The bedroom became a forbidden territory and the kitchen became a place to eat and the living room a place to read and the bathroom a place to shower . There was nowhere that didn’t become and nowhere to make love and so, we didn’t. When he won, we would eat in the kitchen and read in the living room, and shower in the bathroom, but not together and he would sprint from the bathroom to his closet before I saw an accidental slip of his towel.
I counted how many words he said in a single minute, twenty-nine.
“You’re doing it again.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” I was a liar.
“Counting my words. Trying to beat me. “
My minute started in three seconds, and so I paused for exactly three seconds before I responded.
“I do it simply because I love you and so, I count and count and count and count and count and count until your minute of speaking is finished and I love your twenty-nine words and I love that all of the twenty-nine words were meant for me and no one else in the entire world and that they are my twenty-nine words.” And my sixty-three words beat his twenty-nine and we left the lights on that night.
As our earthquake ceased to a countryquake, which ceased to a cityquake and then a single housequake, we would argue about the lights. Joseph Enterprises, Inc. did not invent the clapper until the eighties and effort was required to create darkness, as we used the summer to forget that we knew spells and to lock up our wands, trading in our incantations for sweet mumblings of nothing and our cloaks for sticky sheets and protective yellow blankets. On most nights, we tied at being tired and fell asleep with the lights still burning, forever changing bulbs in the mornings after. We went to the store and bought them in bulk and watched others buy four to our hundreds. We had boxes of light bulbs in the kitchen and boxes on our bed and when we made love, it was of the cautious sort. We treaded on eggshells that were actually light bulbs and never ate in darkness or slept in darkness or created earthquakes in darkness.
If he knocked over a box and broke the light bulbs, “I’m a clumsy fool,” and he would pull the yellow blanket tighter and grow ashamed of his body.
“You win at being a clumsy fool.” We wouldn’t sleep together for several days.
We read the obituaries each morning in the Daily Prophet, to feel better about the fact that we were alive and to feel sorrow about death to disguise the sorrow of our nonlove, or maybe it was the sorrow of our love. Each name became a person and each person, a guess at a story of love or of sadness or of apple pie.
“Glynn Osterman died of cancer on the fifth.”
“She ate a lot of apple pie,"
“She had eighteen grandchildren.”
“She always made them apple pie.”
“She married a man that she didn’t love.”
“Her husband didn’t like apple pie.”
“You’re obsessed with apple pie.”
“Glynn Osterman was obsessed with apple pie.”
“Glynn Osterman died of cancer on the fifth.”
And then, because Glynn Osterman was dead and could no longer make love, we would make love for her and bake a cherry pie, since the store was out of apples, or perhaps having a sale on cherries.
He always beat me at eating pie.