A Self-Told Story, A Stone
Katherine Forbes Riley
IT WAS A FEELING I hadn’t experienced since I was a young woman. Then I remembered it sweeping me like a tidal wave, but now with all the gathering of years it had grown even stronger, and more threatening. Now it was capable of destroying a world.
Not, however, that I could ever allow that. I’d destroy it first, if it came to that. But what I imagined was a space for it to flow. I pictured it perfectly. A tiny window, a brief and regular event undisturbing of my highly slotted life, but rather completing it.
Of course I’d read this story before. Although I couldn’t remember where, or what had happened in the end. But something had gone wrong for sure. Probably one had started wanting more. Or jealousy had come between them. Because of course they’d have to share, and for how long could that possibly be maintained? I knew it was an old story, a dead story, too often told, and yet now that it was actually happening it felt new.
What was it really? It was once a week. It was desire suspended, a battle nearly, as each of us struggled with the other’s mask and our own. It was half a dozen perfunctory words. It was a searing instant when the masks fell and a current flowed. Although perhaps smell was a better word, for it was like some kind of pheromone, some substance thick in the air between us and then shot like a cord through a single glance, headlong. It was the crushing loss of departure, after which the single glance was replayed again and again. It was a slow scabbing over, followed by times as the week progressed of not thinking of him at all. Of thinking myself cured, and despising the person I’d become. It was having an argument with my husband and feeling the current gather anew, until my desire was indistinguishable from my despair and all I could imagine was our bodies touching, our open mouths like fire, licking, lapping. It was despairing of the feeling ever fading, leaving me simply human again.
He’d smelled it too. My husband. When first it struck and I was felled, when I’d had to take to my bed and feign sickness—not feigning at all. Lovesick. When simply to exist it had seemed I needed more knowledge of him, when every minute he was more present to me than even the physical objects before me, like a filter slid in between. When my children, to whom I’d always provided full-body immersion, complained, Mommy are you listening? At which point I’d snap back and yet still not quite see them, while my husband looked on with an earth-shaken face and I lowered mine, guilty and afraid.
But as the weeks passed I perfected my mask. Until even as the current surged beneath my skin my voice remained composed. Now my husband said, relieved, You and I, we just have different perspectives. Married young, for so long we’d shared one. Then the kids had brought arguments—so many arguments—now suddenly he saw me as having a separate point of view. You’re so beautiful, he told me often now, and took great pleasure in our lovemaking. As did I, experiencing in that physical connection a near ecstatic merging of two into a single perfect one.
My neighbor, an older divorcee, had taken a lover one year, and suddenly she’d grown lovely, radiant. Now the lover was gone but I still saw her outside stacking logs in a bikini top, a high ponytail. I too was an older woman now. In my final flower, surely this was the last time I’d ever feel this way. But he—he was younger, seemed almost a child still. Heart pounding, I’d wonder, Has he thought of me at all? as the hour approached to see him again.
Sometime I’d think it was all in my mind. It’s fine, I’d tell myself, as long as that’s where it stays. Other times I was certain he wondered the same and then I longed to say, I love you, I have fallen completely in love with you, to lay myself bare to him before it was too late. Sometimes I was sure he felt me complete him; other times I thought he was running from me, and then I longed to say, No, I won’t chase you.
But weeks became months. And I came to see how little existed outside of me, how much less there was than I’d imagined it to be. After that only the feeling remained, and it too changed. Hardened by the pressure of keeping it contained, it became a stone, a story, one to tell myself in different ways as months became years.
Katherine is a linguist and writer in Vermont. A Dartmouth graduate with a PhD from UPenn, her academic writing appears in many places. Her creative writing appears in Crack the Spine, Storyscape, Whiskey Island, Lunch Ticket, Eunoia Review, Literary Orphans, Eclectica, BlazeVOX, McNeese Review, Akashic Books, and Buffalo Almanack, who awarded her an Inkslinger’s Award.