- Strange Fish, and: 66 Quintara
It happens, now and then, that someone else’s bed is yours to use, to visit overnight, like the hosts downstairs, who have sent you climbing off with folded towels and smiling valediction but not the first idea of how to do it, how to throttle hip and cheek and shoulder at the prospect of these tight striped sheets, tucked spread, yellow lamplight on the pillows’ hulls— your body’s scintillating dread of all this coiled comfort: another life.
“France,” they’d said, and marveled at their daughter’s independence. A semester in Marseilles. Great family. Wine. Strange fish. Good classes, hard— everything detailed in email and by phone.
Here her absence hangs like muslin in the room, over wall space and posters, clock radio and neat book stack beside the bed, slung across the dresser, behind the closet door a shroud and now stirring faintly when you raise the window, turn out the light and slip between the cool, slick sheets to wait—wait until the street light shuddering in the trees, the whispered susurration of the tires, a furnace shiver, your own involuntary sigh— wait until it gathers and pulls away, like a curtain clutched in someone’s hand [End Page 122] to open up a view at dusk: primrose, moonvine, shadows ripening to darkness across the lawn.
It takes the corner, beeping obedience, and straightens out on Lawton, resolute, like a churchgoer tugging down her hem, purse latched, and starting up the steps. Everything looks lifted high in there, this glass-walled box of numinous, fluorescent light— the driver’s eyes seeing over the wheel, his ceremonial brim, a row of untouched straps swaying in unison, open-eyed, along the twin brushed rails, alert to every jolt and shudder of the route, the last one of the night. Above the window line, a litany of promises streams slowly by—for better teeth, spoken English, auto body work, restored hair—each one, in that moment before the driver picks up speed, a clearly lettered and illuminated text. Framed somewhere below, a single rider or none or three await deliverance, their heads still and sometimes bowed, like those of people kneeling. [End Page 123]
Steven Winn’s work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cimarron Review, Colorado Review, Florida Review, PRISM International, Southern Humanities Review, and Southern Poetry Review. He is the arts and culture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.