ISSUE  1   2   3   4   SUBMIT

The Sleepers

Magdalena Zurawski

The treetops entering the frame in the bottom right-hand corner
of the window and the clouds moving across the glass from the top left
-hand corner and the blue the gentle morning blue of the morning sky as
the background. I thought about where exactly I would make the cloud
stop to make the window into a very good painting. It had to be near
the top left corner where the cloud first entered -- the place where
the eye falls first. A good painting begins there my professor said
That’s where I would stop the cloud.

Somewhere a metal door squeaked as it opened and quickly slammed shut.
It opened again and the voice of a women called out don’t forget to go
by the post office and then a man called back I won’t and then a car
door slammed and an engine started shifted gears and faded slowly into
distance. The metal door fell shut again. Birds chirped and the
treetops were still for a moment in the bottom of the window frame and
another cloud moved slowly through the sky across the glass. L--’s face
was soft with sleep. Her body curled facing me. The breath gentle and
steady. Her hand was on my hip and I thought to myself he with his palm
on the hip of the wife and she with her palm on the hip of the husband.
Was I the husband or the wife? A lock of hair fell over her cheek. She
was asleep. I made more paintings in the window.

Then outside there was laughter in the distance. And as the laughter
came close below the window it stopped being soft and seemed to echo in
the room with us. And then a boy said What was I supposed to do? She
saw me take it. A plane came into the window frame and traced a vector
from just below the clouds to just above the trees. All the space was
activated my professor said. I was a good painter. And the boys were
still laughing in the room. L-- kept her hand on my hip. One shouted
You idiot. And then the voices moved away and left us alone. I was a
private painter. A bus screeched to stop. The voices of the boys fell
into a cave and disappeared.

And then everything was very quiet. L-- turned onto her back still
asleep and her hand fell from my hip. Nothing happened for several
minutes. Then footsteps. Hello John. Hello. How are you? Good. Good.
Say hello to the Mrs. We’ll do. The footsteps faded. Who was John? Who
was the Mrs.? In the window there were only the treetops against a
cloudless blue. The weather had deactivated the space. There were no
more good pictures. Only endless sky. Who the husband? Who the wife? I
was the painter watching my paintings fall apart.

And then I remembered the dream. L-- was the glass of water and I had
to drink her. But what was drinking? Taking a liquid into the mouth and
swallowing. But L-- was not liquid. She was person. She was solid and
asleep. But I had to drink her. The dream told me what to do. If I
kissed her. If I drank from her lips. Something would be happening. The
dream would have an effect on the real world. My professor would be
proud. The bed would be an active space. The bruise would go away. I
would have a face. Hello John. Hello Frank. If I could only kiss her.

I turned on my side. There were no more invisible paintings to make.
Only the girl to kiss. I looked at her closely like I had never done
before. I could see each eyelash brushing the tops of her cheeks and
the faint freckles. The light one at the edge of her bottom lip almost
camouflaged by the red flesh and the almost invisible freckles on her
forehead and nose -- ones I had never seen before. I looked at her very
carefully so that she would become my picture. I was her painter and
she didn’t stir. A good model. And then I remembered why I came to look
at her. Her lips. Lips like what? I tried to remember all the lips in
all the poems:

            Lips like roses. Like sugar. Like daffodils or daisies or blue
            phlox. Like roses of the world that lie unfurled. Lips like
            petunias or azaleas or antelopes or myrtle. Lips sweeter than
            Victorian Box. Softer than vermilion dusk or velvet spray. L--’s
            sweet lips. The boring lips of boring poems. No. No boring lips
            for L-. Lips like a river. Like a river where at the bottom
            there’s a rose and in the rose there’s another river and in that
            river another rose. Yes. Those lips. Lips like a bed of cotton
            and shadow where the flesh is grass where the flesh is not an
            empty house. Lips like wet river. Yes. Like wet river. But not
            like coral or caterpillars or rotting logs or sleeping fish. And
            not like curtains or luggage or shoes slick with algae. No
            seaweed lips or lobster lips. No lips smacking like a banker’s.
            No butterfly or bellybutton or broken sidewalk lips. No lips like
            Styrofoam or industry. Or lips like a zipper holding back
            sparrows. But lips like a river with a wound in it. A wound so
            deep it’s filled with more river. A river so deep that the wound
            is nothing but river. Lips like shadows along a wounded river.

And when I thought about her lips as wounds I thought suddenly if I
kissed L-- she would understand me and so it was easy that second to
kiss her and when I pressed my lips to hers they didn’t feel wounded
but were soft and didn’t stir and so I kissed them again. Again they
didn’t stir. And when they didn’t stir again I wasn’t afraid any more.
They seemed my lips to kiss. So I kissed them again and then once again
and then I wished they would kiss me back. And so I moved my bottom lip
just below L--’s bottom lip and I brushed my lip upwards against hers
and then both her lips stirred though L-- barely moved and she did not
open her eyes and before I knew it both her lips were kissing my bottom
lip and everything in the room and the street was quiet except for our
breathing and the quiet sounds of our kissing and the quiet kissing
echoing in the quiet of the morning world made me realize that the poem
had worked. I could save myself from the dream as long as I could find
the right words. As long as I could fall into the right river.

And part of the reason it had felt so good to fall was that falling
into L--’s lips was like falling into the peacefulness of her sleep so
that nothing around us was as real as the dream of us. I was drunk on
the warm sweetness of her skin and when I pressed my cheek against her
cheek I could only pull myself on top of her and match each of my limbs
to hers and press into her like a stone tower tired of standing hoping
to fall and disappear with perfect symmetry to perfect rest in its own
And I did fall into her and when I did L-- turned me over onto my back
and I was safe under the weight of her body and she kissed my face and
neck and she pushed my arms down and the more she pushed me down the
more I trusted that she wouldn’t let anything in to hurt me or remind
me that I was lonely and for a little while I forgot about everything.
I didn’t worry about the river or the bridge or the men in their cars
or what Emily would think or if I would ever learn how to write a story
where something happened or if the face in the mirror really was my
face or if I could tell someone the story of my imagination or if there
would ever be enough sentences in the world for someone to know all the
thoughts in my head or if the bruise would ever go away. I forgot about
the house and the dream and the glass of water. I just let L-- kiss me.

But even though I was safe and hidden under her body a feeling of
something that wasn’t there in the room came over me and I remembered
the heat of a certain day. I remembered that it had been around noon
that day. The sun couldn’t have been any stronger. And when I could
feel that day again I kissed L-- hard on the mouth and tried to keep
the feeling of that day away. The sun was so strong. I wanted to be
lost under her body but the sun was strong in the open part of the
yard. Everything seemed to disappear into its whiteness. I felt
covered in it. Trapped alone in a shroud of light and heat though she
was on top of me. And even though I dug my fingers into her shoulders
and clasped the back of her neck still I found myself suddenly under
the large pine cooling off in the darkness and though the branches
surrounded me and kept me cool they made me feel trapped and alone
again no matter how hard L-- kissed me.

But still I didn’t want to be alone so I took my shirt off and I took
L--’s shirt off and I could feel her skin against mine and for a little
while I didn’t feel alone. But then I opened my eyes and I saw the sun
coming in strong through the curtains. I wasn’t allowed in the pool
alone. I wasn’t allowed to swim alone. Even though it was so hot in the
room. I might drown my mother said. And then L-- unbuttoned my pants
and her fingers slipped inside me. I couldn’t stand the sun any longer
and soon all I felt was the water around me. I felt the water so much
that I stopped feeling myself. I wasn’t myself anymore. I couldn’t get
close enough to her. She couldn’t come deep enough inside me. I wanted
to be the water and so I breathed it in. I forgot who I was. I kept
pushing myself into her but I couldn’t get any closer to her. She
couldn’t come inside me. I wanted to feel her in my mouth but I started
to breathe and the chlorine burned me. I was choking. And then I was
bent and hung over the aluminum wall and the water came out of me. I
saw it come out of me. Her arms were tiny. There was not enough of her
to touch me. I was breathing heavy when she collapsed onto me and I
buried my face in her neck and kissed her softly and on her skin I
smelled the grass and the river and I felt my heart beating through to
her but still it was as if she couldn’t touch me enough. And then she
turned away from me on the bed and bit her lip sat up and stared at the
floor sighing once deeply. She stood up and put her shirt back on and
she walked out of the room down the stairs and didn’t look at me any
more that day but only looked at the floor and sometimes bit the side
of her lip and as we ate breakfast quietly together it was as if we had
never fallen asleep together or even looked at each other and though I
kept looking at her in the kitchen as we ate quietly she didn’t look
back at me once and I knew then that L-- wouldn’t be able to love me
but more than anything I wanted L-- to be able to love me because I
thought if L-- loved me I wouldn’t have to be unreal anymore. If she
could just look at me and be inside me the loneliness of the house
could disappear and the bruise could go away forever.