I understand the way this kind of love works: It ferments in the expensive wine bottles that I labeled in silver when she began to court me. It’s written in every syllable of every letter, in every smoothly completed sentence. In every period. If I ignore it, it will not go away. It is not as timid as fear. Not as brazen as indifference. I can forget her for a time, reminded only by a book she left for me, a poem on a scrap of paper, the 10th letter in January. I think for a moment that she must be long gone…and the next day a letter comes.
I understand this love: I am not a part of it. I am the subject of her sculpture. I am the woman in her novel who carries healing herbs. She charts my astrology for the year. I need not move. I am her still life.
The law of nature is the law of balance. The law of energy is that it cannot be created. By existing I balance her. I cannot destroy her energy, but I can change its form — and in so doing, release it into random heat.
One day she will know that systems that do not follow the laws of energy must invariably fail. That love that is not balanced becomes heavy, burdensome, until seeking its own equilibrium, moves into entropy. And she will be relieved.
Brigette has a sports car. Small and deep gray and expensive. She drives two and a half hours to see me. And I don’t care. I go to college in San Diego and let my mind wander in long echoing lecture halls rowed with desks for right-handed students. Brigette is elfin. A little too short. A little too solid. And a little bit cute. She likes to talk about being Irish. She likes to work her hands over clay with too much water. She brings me pieces of sculpture that will always have a little to do with me. A purple rubber fish dangles from my key chain. Brigette gave it to me. Magnets stick to my refrigerator in the shape of chili peppers. Brigette put them there. Charcoal sketches of nude women hang on my living room wall. They were there one day when I left for school. Brigette. I didn’t ask or remark. Or say good morning.
She calls me Fish because I’m Pisces. So is she but I call her Brigette. She says two fish will clash. I tell her she is right. She laughs. She says let’s go dancing. In Hillcrest there’s a bar. She buttons a white shirt, wears black jeans and kicks. We drive in her car and I stare into unfamiliar streets past the billboard with the car I swear I’ll own someday. It’s not like hers. It’s bright red. It’s convertible. She says, “And you shall have it.”
Women are smoking in the bar. The air is summer damp and the sounds of pool balls being knocked across green felt clunk as if under water. I hate disco. Brigette asks me to dance and I do because I can. When I was younger someone said, “You are the one they watch.” So I lead. And Brigette is eager to follow. She slides her hands around my waist and looks into my face, “Ah, Fish…” she croons. I am uncomfortable and look to the side to watch others dance. I learn from them: the woman in purple elevator shoes rocks back on her heels at the down beat making it easy for her body to follow. “THIS (heel) is what it SOUNDS (heel) like, when DOVES (heel) cry…” I try it. Am stiff. Try it again. Then lost and dancing. Brigette is anyone, trying to match my beat. I pretend to be unaware as she concentrates and when Prince is over she excuses herself. I lean into the bar and order a gin and tonic. The woman behind the bar pulls out the tonic hose and squirts it clear over the top of the glass, missing it entirely, all the while pouring gin until it’s full. When she has finished flirting across the room, she pushes my glass of gin towards me and throws in a lime.
So, the gin is my excuse. I’ve been alone for six months with only Brigette’s visits to entertain me. I told her no on each occasion. She has not given up. So tonight, I relent. We make a bed on the floor because I sleep in a single bed under the window that looks over La Mesa. At Christmas time the whole town lit up and I played Bruce Springsteen’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town while I stared out this window with someone I love. I tell this to Brigette as we lay blanket upon blanket on the floor as if preparing for a well rehearsed ritual. But we haven’t done this before and I don’t wish to acknowledge that we’re doing it now. I try a segue. “Tomorrow I’m going on a boat to watch the orcas.” “Can I come?” she asks. I tell her no. That I don’t want her to watch me watching. Which I know she will do. Everything I do is interesting to her. I don’t understand why. Somewhere in the nervous jumble of this moment we land on the blankets and I am lying prone as if to hide my eyes from what she is doing: her fingers, ten of them, begin at the soles of my feet, “My dancing fish,” she whispers, trail up my calves, indents behind my knees, over my thighs, hesitate, continue.
There is an envelope in my desk full of Brigette’s letters. Many times they arrived in my mail box and I scanned them briefly then left them there, tired by the volume of words and pages. Someday, when years have passed, I’ll read them and know the purpose. Maybe understand her and feel compassion. Now, I only wonder at her willingness to be blind. The day I go back to Laguna Beach, I visit at her request. “I have a surprise for you,” she says. I see her apartment for the first time. It’s small and overflowing. A work table sits under a window and the walls are lined with books. On the table is a sculpture partially covered with a damp, red cloth. Feet and legs emerge from under it as if in sleep. I am captivated. She is a master of this craft. And also, the sculpture is me. Or her love of me. Does she intend for me to have it? Something so close to her heart that she will cherish but I will only contemplate?
She steps in to embrace me and I recoil. She lets go. “Shall we run on the beach?” I ask to distract her. “As you wish, my Fish.” But we don’t go. “Oh,” she says, “I had forgotten…” She pushes me down on an old couch and sits beside me, “Would you edit my latest version?” She hands me the manuscript I honestly attempted to read a few times. “Of course,” I tell her. She moves closer and her arm slides behind me. I go to the bathroom and come back to sit farther from her. She scoots closer and her hand lands on my thigh as if I am her natural other. “Brigette,” I say, “I don’t feel that way.” “But what about that night…” she protests.
“I drank too much. Let’s run.” Again, she says, “As you wish, Fish.” This time we will leave.
“What was the surprise?” I ask. Brigette’s eyes fall on the sculpture for a moment then frantically search about the room. She reaches for a book of Neruda poetry left on the table. “Here,” she says with quick, new confidence, “I thought you should read this.”