Before the wind picks up, I take off my pants and open the front door. The winter air sets like jelly. Every hour from sunset to eleven congeals to a standstill, until the sparse streetlights haze out in beatific orbs. I tilt my head from side to side and feel the hairs on my legs rise like tiny erections. I take the steps two at a time and my heels skid a little on the cold, greasy wood. The driveway arcs down in a grey snake. I see the length of my daring in metric.
At the bottom of the steps I wince as stones needle at the soft arches of my feet. I shuffle, displacing gravel into a tolerable cradle. Each step reminds me of a new surface. Human surfaces; vulnerable and hysterical.
Skin, hair, calluses. Wrinkles, nails, teeth.
I step as lightly as I can along the newly shoveled gravel. The slick dark creeps up my bare legs, breaks in waves against my thighs and pools icy in my groin. I breathe sharply and shrink inside myself. Everything is bigger at night.
For something so black, winter air rushes like fire into my lungs. I fix my eyes on the concrete gash of road, cross my arms over my stomach and grip the hem of my shirt – roll it up – up my chest like a condom in reverse – over my head – pop!
I’m unprotected; transmittable. The air hits so fast I don’t even feel it. I freeze my eyes onto a nearby tree. Moonlight traces the edge of a single gumleaf, and I can smell the Vicks memory in that particular sprout.
In winter when I was nine I had a chest infection. I woke up coughing in the late evening and walked out the back door. I could hear my parents watching tv, so I snaked along the back verandah to the window. The lounge room was yellow and lamp-studded. The tv flashed and stamped blond violins but I couldn’t hear its screeches. I shivered in my flannel pyjamas and I needed a wee. The back of my parents’ heads looked like strangers from this side of the window – Mum didn’t look like the woman who stroked my face with cool fingers when I was hot; Dad didn’t look like the man who made a lot of cheese sandwiches but talked little. I pressed my nose against the cold glass and watched them for a few minutes – half-turning their faces to speak, sipping wine, scratching their arms and necks. From this side, I couldn’t understand their ordinary movements. When the chill began to ache my bare feet, I crept back to bed.
A brick rears up and stubs my toe. Fuck.
The sound of my voice brings me back out of the tree, out of the memory. I blink. I am dissolving. I pad down the driveway, my breath growing quicker and my fingers dancing gently in the air. I smile at my nude flamenco. The cold goes faster, joyful, it makes me grin and suck it in through my teeth. I’m dancing as I
through the bushes by the roadside.
The dirt is ancient and there’s the smell of plant flesh. My movements are primeval tai-chi, each arm ripples through the air like animals. I curve my chilled buttocks to a rock and scrub my heels into the ground, digging twin holes down through the leaf mould to the deep stuff, the proper dirt. I dig my heels down to the stuff that smells like blood and death and birth and I cover my feet with it. Then I rest my legs still.
Scars, pimples, bruises. Veins, creases, sweat.
All noise stops mid-air, grows frosted. Sparkles.
I breath in
hold the breath
halt the stiff crackle
Silence has a pure clear whine.
Footsteps grow loud along the path and I freeze like a clever animal that won’t be seen in the night. I match my raw surface to the plants and the dirt, and the footsteps pass. I am invisible; blended.
When I was fifteen I dived into a river that was the same temperature as my body. When I surfaced, breathless, I was disappointed to find my friends and the world just as I had left them. I thought I had disappeared.
I look at my watch and the domestic action breaks the spell. I’m in the bushes, sitting on a rock, with no clothes on. It’s time to go back inside. I uncover my feet, creak my body upright.
Pores, earth, stubble. Twigs, blisters, scabs.
I smile down at my body. I’ve taken off all my clothes, but I’m still wearing my scarf.
The walk back up the driveway is filled with half-numb toes. Edges of objects have grown sharper, more densely packed with reality than I would like.
The house is hot and yellow, I step inside and for a few minutes I’m drowning in custard.
When I was twenty-two I ran deep into the sand dunes in the middle of summer and buried my hands as deep as they would go. My back burned in the glare, my chin gritted against the bones of old rock and shells. But my hands were cool, dug in deeper than the sun could bother. My body went limp and I spanned seasons.
My pyjamas are soft and indifferent. I flick on the kettle. My feet are so cold, like a phantom toe has sprouted between each toe. I reach down to rub away the dirt, and they feel like fakes.
Glasses, makeup, jewellery. Shoes, clothes, skin.
When I was thirty I took off my pants and opened the front door. I saw the length of my daring in metric.
The kettle boils and clicks off. I straighten, bring my hand to my face, and breathe in the archaeology of that smell.
Photo By: Pekka Nikrus