- Chance Meeting, and: Skin Dipping, and: Asylum, and: Cotillion: Interval, and: Cotillion: Morning After, and: Cotillion: Danse Macabre
Chance Meeting (from Belle)
I hovered in New York to perform my story but can no longer recall the name of the theater (perhaps the Aphrodite?), though its curtains were the richest red in velvet I can remember.
The son of my niece’s dear companion had fallen beneath a wagon and was trampled. He lay dead and cold. Did I say it was winter? The ground quilted in cindery snow
when we went round to view his coffin. Entering the room, I smelled the grief before I saw it, and then the boy in his plush boat of ebony, the mother beyond tears
and a caped photograph artist setting up his camera box, as the family owned no images of the child alive. So often I have stood before the lens and flash pan
like a condemned prisoner, sometimes in my finery, feathered hat, even a trophy saber from the Hostilities, and I was so self-satisfied, a heroine,
I then thought, of a just cause. I remember the boy’s face was brushed with some powder lending him the hue of nutmeg, and I have seen not a few recently departed, [End Page 20]
but this time I was shaken to my center. Tremble of the lantern’s flame, shuffling of the mourners’ feet, clink of a cup touching its saucer as if to say farewell.
Then a man whose beard was so vast and white I could not imagine his age approached and asked was I the former Miss Boyd about whom so many spoke.
It was later whispered he was Walt Whitman, the poet who trails scandal behind him like a swimming mallard its wake. His hand was rough as parchment, and he said only,
“We have seen too much, my friend,” and then passed from the room. That evening I watched the snow fall fresh on hardened whiteness and thought our stories
layer and overlap like weather. What do we know? However, regret is useless and unnecessary, though I could not forget the russet of the boy’s cheek—
nutmeg, artifice—peppermint and flowers to mask our mortal scent and always summoning us like a prompter in the wings: the wry, enticing smile of death. [End Page 21]
Skin Dipping (from Belle)
He wanted to kiss my legs: it was that simple. In a poplin riding skirt and blouse of brushed cotton, I was all brown—the sun, the cloth, the dry summer. The river ran low under the willows, their leaves like spear points, and wheat tipped with embers on a hillside urged us on. (Metaphor is my vice, but words protect me.) My boots were Mexican, stylish, too tight, and I sat on a downed elm for relief. The horses dallied by the one grass patch, and he drew the boots off slowly, an acolyte inventing rituals. His hand touched my calf, trailing over the skin with amorous intention, and he whispered—I had never heard him whisper—”Belle, I would give rich acres or years of life to caress this sleek limb,” and it must have been the sun, though we’d already had a tilt of warm port, and I said yes, and then it was the knee, his face rising with a smile. When we entered the water— I in my shift and him in a singlet with buttons he claimed were mother-of-pearl—he stepped first into the shallows, but I plunged deep, fish-supple, into the slow current’s cold. How many minutes was it before we twined all honeysuckle vine and strange flavor— scent of musk and . . . was it cooked peach? I never again doubted the powers of skin and what our shadowy places keep secret, but he spoke not once of wedding or shame and died at First Manassas when a Napoleon in his battery “exploded for no reason,” [End Page 22] said the missive from his captain, “except perhaps, as often happens, it was just his time.”
Asylum (from Belle)
The waterclock of the rain on the window was all the timepiece...