Monday, March 12, 2012
--PEOPLE KEEP SAYING WE KNOW EACH OTHER
...I had this story, "Ovation" published in the print journal, Black Fox Review. It's one of my favorite stories and I so adore Ruthie...
Before she died, Ruthie wanted to go skinny dipping.
She paid a man from the home named, Jay, to take her. They rode in the van with the bad shocks and she watched her skin bounce, heard it slap, her dermis the color and texture of tortillas. In the rearview, Ruthie saw herself as a series of shudders, a broke down woman with white dandelion seed hair strapped into a wheel chair unit. When she leaned forward she could pick out the sparkly bits of sliver-blue in her irises. Her eyes were the thing that had changed least over the years. She knew she’d never been beautiful, but Levi had gushed about her eyes. At first Ruthie thought he just wanted inside her skirt, but Levi never stopped remarking on their light, said the colors shifted in the sun, said it was like panning for gold. And so she’d believed him.
“Are we almost there?” Ruthie asked. It had been decades since she’d been so excited. Her stomach gurgled. She felt giddy and girlish.
Jay leaned over the headrest, his breath smelling awful of cigarettes. When he shot her a look, Ruthie knew not to ask again, not to push her luck just yet.
Levi was deeply muscled with skin like cooled lava, the first black man she’d ever befriended. He stared at her constantly and this made her feel as if she were being excavated. His consistent attention wasn’t overly sexualized, though. He just seemed very interested about her.
Levi worked on the other side of the lake doing landscaping for the Wheelers and one brave day Ruthie rowed across, tied the boat to the dock, and called to him.
His gaze went immediately to her eyes, gleaning something she was unable to discern. Sweat twisted down his neck, into his chest like inky rain and she was ashamed by how desperately she wanted to lick it off. Ruthie was not that kind of girl; she was a virgin and had only really kissed Tommy Pittman.
Levi smelled of mown grass and sour perspiration and Ruthie adored the aroma at once. She was exhausted with always having to be ironed and perfumed.
They talked for hours that day. And the next. And for days and days that summer.
Ruthie’s affection for Levi became dominating and exclusive. She knew she would never love another, but Ruthie soon learned that Levi’s fondness was simply that. He did not love her, not in the way Ruthie desired.
Levi loved a white man named Benedict.
To be homosexual back then, and to also mix races, was preposterous. Levi realized he was in a doomed affair, just as Ruthie knew she was now equally ill-fated.
Listening to Levi describe his yearning for Benedict was a paradoxical torture for Ruthie. He had opened up a place inside her that no one else could fill.
Levi confessed to Ruthie that he would meet Benedict on Friday nights in the hidden cove east of Storm Lake. They’d go skinny dipping.
“You should come!”
Ruthie laughed, but secretly she was holding herself back from having a heart attack. The thought of seeing Levi naked ran a hot blade of lust through her.
“Seriously, join us. We get there at nine. I’d love for you to meet Benedict.”
The days leading up to that Friday were impossible. Ruthie had decided she would do it; she would swim naked with her beloved and her beloved’s lover.
At the last minute, however, she chickened out. Convention got into her brain. Suddenly it all seemed ludicrous—her infatuated with a man who did feel the same. And to go skinny dipping with them!
Saturday morning her world burnt down.
Both Levi and Benedict had been found drowned, washed up in the cove with cattle rope strung around them, neck-to-neck.
Ruthie broke, actually felt something coming unhinged inside her, irreparable for all eternity.
That was sixty-seven years ago.
Now the river came into view.
Jay grumbled as he extricated Ruthie. “This is the worst idea ever,” he said, pushing her to the water’s edge.
“I paid you $1,000. Where else are you going to get that kind of money?”
Jay had fitted her with a life vest and tied a tow rope around her waist. He was ornery but strong and had no trouble lifting her into the water.
“Damn river’s ice cold,” Jay spat. He fed the rope some slack and Ruthie drifted out a few feet.
“Just do it.”
“You’re a nutty old broad.”
“I am,” Ruthie agreed. “But if you don’t keep your back turned for a full five minutes, I’ll report you to Nancy. I’ll tell her you hatched this plan, that you robbed me. I’ll see you ruined.”
Jay called her an antique female dog, but did as she requested.
Ruthie had worked her skirt off already. Next she undid the buttons of her blouse, and then she sawed a jackknife through the rope. She’d planned well, had even spent time sharpening the blade.
There. She floated. A current caught her at once. It was wonderful.
The waves sounded sloppy, like enthusiastic applause, an ovation.
She went under, which was perfect, because that gave her the ability to finagle the life vest off. When Ruthie came back to the surface, she was naked and Jack was a tiny bug on the shore.
She tilted her head back. She closed her eyes and listened to the water having its way with her. She did not protest. She felt Levi caressing parts of her no one had ever even seen, the parts she’d saved for him all these years.
And when some time later Ruthie went under for good, she heard Levi say, “Open your eyes, Baby Doll. I want to see your eyes again.”