The Northville Review
an online literary journal

Ted Chiles

I told myself it was déjà vu. My young student, waiting for a bus in a rain so hard and relentless that I imagined a film set – men standing on the roof of my car holding a hose. Claire, oblivious to me, trying to light a cigarette under the plastic bus shelter. But this wasn’t a film or a memory. This was the cliché, and I played my part – driving up and lowering the window.

She asked to stop at the mini-mart for cigarettes. Through the rain-streaked window I saw her carry a six-pack of beer to the counter, and I had the passing thought that Claire wasn’t very pretty, yet she was young and part of the ever-expanding world behind me. The rain didn’t let up as I drove to her apartment. Naturally, I went in. Over the first beer, we talked nonsense about art. We built tension with the second. She handed me a third, and I traced my fingers along her wrist. She stood in front of me, placed a leg on each side of mine and bent her knees, slowing falling forward. Taking the beer from my hand, Claire put it on the table and bent even closer. We kissed. I think she kissed me.

I reached around and slid my hands under her shirt to the small of her back, trying to feel the ink of her tattoo. The one I had seen when she leaned forward during exams, her thong rising from her jeans, a whale tail underlining the symmetry of wings. I ran my fingers over the bumps of her spine. Up, then down and up again before descending to the soft sides of her flesh, squeezed by her jeans.

Claire crossed her arms and then lifted her shirt. I briefly saw her as one of Magritte’s Lovers – cloth draped over her head. Her breasts small, still resisting time. I reached out and lay my right hand on the side of her left breast, lightly brushing her nipple. Her shirt fell behind, and she relaxed her legs and her buttocks, settling onto my thighs.

I looked at her face, surprised at features smooth and blank, and then looked back at her breast. What I saw clutching her was a hand belonging to an alien creature. Its loose skin wrinkled, discolored by age and framed by a flawless landscape. With my left hand, I pulled her toward me, hoping that contrast would fade. But the scales and crevices of my skin only expanded. My left hand moved up her back, and the dry skin of my fingertips lightly sanded her. I felt loose skin hanging from my arm, my neck and then the pressure of my belt on my stomach. Her legs pushing into mine, holding me in place, and what strength I had fell.

Lowering my fingers, I watched them fall to her hips. I thought of a leaf: dry, brittle with its last bit of color spiraling to the ground. I leaned back, increasing the distance, and she did not follow. Awareness of what she meant for me and, perhaps, what I meant to her flooded us both. With one fluid movement, she turned and sat next to me on the couch. I gathered up her tee shirt, fighting the impulse to cover my face and breathe in her scent. She dressed and offered a cigarette – which I took, closing my eyes against the flame.

About the author

Ted Chiles' stories have appeared or are forthcoming in several literary journals including Moon City Review, seven letter words quarterly, Waccamaw, Vestal Review, The Anemone Sidecar, and The Abacot Journal. Four of his stories were adapted and performed at the New Short Fiction Series in Los Angeles in September 2007. His story "Knife" won the 2008 Midnight Sun Fiction Contest at Permafrost. Living in Santa Barbara, California, with a poet and three cats, Chiles teaches Economics, the most dramatic of the Social Sciences.