Green how I want you green

Short story

/ by Ana Schnabl

I didn't even want to go to the pre-Christmas party. I only went because I was forced to do so by my sense of decency. I expected the food and music to be as bad as every year, the CEO to be drunk and to embarrass the employees with his grotesque dance moves, and that snowfall would be heavy enough to make the drive home annoyingly long. All my predictions came true. Already at nine p.m., two hours after arriving, I was leaning on a doorframe, bored out of my mind and chatting with a co-worker about her children. Kindergarten, school, expensive toys, expensive extracurricular activities. I was responding on auto-pilot, with exactly the kind of empathy befitting an attractive childless woman; it’s not that children don’t interest me, but the lady with whom I was talking was determined to focus on everything average and mundane, as if she’d never really observed her children. I had emptied a glass of wine and nervously fiddled with its stem.


 

When she started talking about an outbreak of measles at her youngest son’s kindergarten, my eyes caught a figure who stopped at the hall’s other entrance. Ten, maybe fifteen feet away. I discerned a man in a black turtleneck and denim pants, with a bottle of beer in his hand. Intrigued, I turned my face towards him. The co-worker’s noisy narration became hushed, a mere murmur. When the man raised the bottle high up to drink, his curly black hair gathered at the top of his head, revealing his face – there was a scar running along his left cheek. He emptied the bottle and started to read its label. I stared at his forehead and the thick black eyebrows resting beneath it, waiting for him to straighten up again. The co-worker kept talking incessantly at my face, while I was asking myself whether the man was aware of my persistent gaze. I was enamoured by his casual aloneness, I’d always wanted to be like that. When he looked back up, his piercing green eyes turned directly towards me. Penetrating me. He had been aware of me. I shuddered.


 

I indicated that I was hungry and that my glass was empty to the co-worker, who had by now begun digging up her husband’s past and started for the buffet that stood in the middle of the room, as if it was a lifeboat. I glanced across my shoulder. The man in the black turtleneck followed me, his lips, perhaps unwillingly, formed a smile. I was gasping for breath and felt a tingling in my pelvic region that travelled down my legs, all the way to my feet. If I’d allowed myself to relax completely, my legs would have given out. I’d started the evening composed, albeit cynical, and three hours later stood by the buffet overwhelmed by the power of a single gaze. I giggled at the irony of it and tried to cover my confusion by piling canapes upon my plate. When the plate was covered to the rim, a deep voice washed across my neck and ears.


 

‘You seem to be really enthusiastic about these’.


 

I turned with a start, the canapes tumbling over and almost falling off the plate.


 

‘Saddened, rather. I don’t know what I’m doing at this party, and emotional eating just seemed like a good choice’. The green eyes stared at me unflinchingly – I noted that they dropped down to my breasts a couple of times, coming aflame as they did so. It seemed that the man would never respond and that the intensity of his face overwhelmed all his psychological processes. Once he finally laughed, I noticed a gap between his front teeth.


 

‘Maybe I could help, I have a few emotions as well that need comforting’. He started playing the game at once, with above-standard weapons, and caught me off guard. I’d forgotten already how to escalate, and my face turned slightly red with embarrassment.

The effect of his words had dwindled a bit as he said, ‘I haven’t seen you around here before, miss’.


 

‘Eva’, I said.


 

‘Haven’t seen you around here, Eva’. Again with the savage gap. It was as if, by using my name, he’d already touched me. I smoothed down my dress and hair with my free hand. A sub-conscious action: Indicating where he could continue.


 

‘I’m a correspondent, I’m rarely around the office’. I did my best to make my voice sound casual.


 

‘Oh’, he said, taking another beer from the table, ‘that explains it. I’m holed up on the third floor most of the time, sorting through photos’. I noticed his strong hands when he uncapped the bottle. They seemed awake, an extension of his body into the room.


 

‘What’s your name?’ I asked and snatched a glass of white from a waiter passing by.


 

‘Well, I’m not Adam. Lev, rather’. Although I tried to contain my surprise, he sensed that I shuddered and took a shallow breath. ‘Something wrong with the name?’


 

‘No’, I lied because I wanted to extend the ritual of introduction, stretch it into eternity. ‘It’s just that it’s a very uncommon name. And even so, few can carry it well’.


 

‘Eva doesn’t suit many women either’, he said, hugging the bottle with his thin, sensual lips. He finished his compliment by running his gaze across my neck and clavicles that protruded from under my dress. By the rhythm of this excursion, I knew he’d noticed the tiny birthmark that I have between my clavicle and shoulder. The barely perceptible adornment had always been noticed by men. To show him my other marks, I unnecessarily flexed my neck while drinking from the glass.


 

I was worried that the charged nature of our conversation was becoming too obvious, and although I didn’t want to stem his appreciation of my body, I asked distractedly, looking at the ceiling, ‘Do you like your job?’


 

‘It’s okay, but there are other things I like more’. I swallowed heavily and heard a lump shift in my throat. Maybe he heard it as well, as he said matter-of-factly, ‘For example, I like hill-climbing. Sitting in front of a computer doesn’t hold the promise of a wonderful future’.


 

‘It doesn’t, no. I’m quite lucky in that I’m outside most of the time, out in the field’. My dishonest attempt at tempering the attraction tightened my voice and I suddenly sounded like my co-workers with children. I never wanted to sound like that. I always demanded freedom for my voice and my body. I was flushed, gasping for the air that I was sharing with the green-eyed man. I decided to take a risk. I’d started waking up.


 

I downed the wine in a single gulp and set the glass on the table. I used this simple motion to get closer to Lev; for a moment, only a palm’s width of space remained between us, allowing our scents to mix. So that he could take in my hair, I leaned over my glass and pushed it towards the centre of the table. He smelled of cedars, a stern, piercing scent. I watched him from the side and saw him close his eyes and breathe me in. It was as if he’d sucked me in whole. It was all I could do to keep from laughing because of the charged feeling of triumph and I let out a grotesque little sigh that stopped the calmed the waves.


 

We exchanged glances. We’d told each other everything that had to be told.


 

‘I’ll be going now’, I said and let my words ring as an invitation. I was confident that the green-eyed man was already speaking the same language as I was.


 

‘I’ll walk you out, I’d like to go home as well’.


 

As we turned towards the exit, I saw a crowd of co-workers, men and women, where I’d been standing before, all talking at each other: Short, tall, fat, thin, single, married. As if without any secrets, bared in front of each other. I didn’t want them to see us leave together, so I lightly touched his shoulder. ‘Follow me in a few minutes. My car’s down in the car park’.


 

As soon as I came to the staircase, I leaned on the railing and rubbed my face. I was bursting with desire. I knew that a thought should have flickered somewhere, but nothing happened. In the stuffy concrete stairwell, I was reborn, my limbs, my freckles, my nipples, my back, my butt and my thighs felt every gust of wind coming from the underground car park. I was running out of words, had run out of cynicism that propelled me through my life. As I breathed in the cedarwood, my desire eclipsed time, everything and everybody in my life.


 

In the tight dress that covered my knees, I skipped stairs downwards, my coat reacting to the beats of my steps. Once I reached the car park, I stood by the ticket machine – a position I considered reasonable, and one that could also fool any passers-by. I stood there for almost fifteen minutes, when I started to feel foolish; our agreement had only existed in my imagination and in my insatiable body, the green-eyed man wasn’t looking at me the way I’d imagined, all that happened between us was perhaps just him indulging me. Tears welling up behind my eyes, I wanted to immediately step out of the deluded middle-aged woman mise-en-scène. I rushed towards my car and nervously fumbled for the keys in my bag. When I stopped at the car door, a deep ‘Eva!’ shot towards me from the other side of the park.


 

Lev started to run towards me, but slowed down after a while, probably becoming aware of the situation, of the co-workers who could stumble into the car park at any time. The scar on his cheek glowed dangerously in the pale light. I laughed so hard with relief that the figure in front of me fell out of focus.


 

‘Sorry, I was held up by the editor and couldn’t tell him you were waiting for me down here’, he spoke, rapidly, even urgently. ‘I’m glad you’re still here’.


 

‘You just barely caught me’, I said and added mockingly, trying to assuage my doubts, ‘It must be fate’.


 

He laughed and came closer. The black cotton dress in front of me rose and fell. My palms were sweaty, dangling by my sides heavily, like wet clothes. My heart rattled, and something burned in my stomach. I’d already powered through all reservations when he’d spoken to me and was, at that moment, in that claustrophobic car park, only waiting for the closeness to become unbearable. I enjoyed it being unbearable. With every deferred moment, my power increased.

‘I’d been circling you for the whole evening, waiting for you to be alone’, he whispered. He took another step forward, leaving only fabric between us. He looked down at my right hand, held it in his left, lifted it to his chest and asked, ‘Are you sure?’


 

I rubbed my thumb twice on the wedding ring, trying to get some air between the gold and the skin. I stared at his almond-shaped green eyes.


 

‘Yes, I’m sure’.


 

Our lips touched, and our tongues found each other. Something in his body burned and burned.


 

When he’d left, and I was sitting in the car, I examined my neck for hickeys. Strands of hair that had slipped out of my bun were clinging together, wet, and my face was pink and pulsing. I moved my coat so that it covered the birthmark on my clavicle; it shouldn’t be flirting with anybody else. I leaned back in the seat and closed my eyes, and behind my eyelids images came to life. I saw what I’d only felt before: The hands, waist, chest, nape, scar, shoulders, back, ears and nose came together and formed Cubist paintings and dispersed into landscapes. I was getting shivers from everything I’d experienced and everything I still wanted to. It was a kind of paralysis, one that I knew there was only one way to escape. My fingers slipped under my skirt, between my thighs. My wool leggings were wet in the crease.


 

Once I’d finished, I corrected my lipstick in the rear-view mirror, fixed my hair, smoothed down my dress and coat. An acrid smell pervaded the car, so I opened the windows for the drive home. Never had December cold been so sensual.


 

I’d always believed that we’re shaped by every pair of hands we encounter. Today, I was returning home after a new pair. If he woke up and turned on the bedside lamp, my husband would be sure to see the change. If he kissed me, he’d taste another man, if he hugged me, he’d smell my dissipating passion. During the drive home, I should have buried the Eva who burned with possibility and resisted order, this insufferable human contrivance. I should have cast off the layers of intimacy that I’d never be able to articulate. The car park encounter would have only been a warning and I could have arrived back home as a wife. But I didn’t bury anyone. Before turning onto my street, I stopped at the nearby bus stop. I pulled the rolling paper on which Lev had written his phone number from my pocket. I put it in my address book under ‘Peter, Designer’ and threw the paper out the car window. All I’d buried was evidence.


 

I slept fitfully. I tried to get my husband to touch me, to satisfy and soothe me, but he remained unresponsive to my whispers, caresses and grabs. I was overcome with resentment at the contrast between my restless body and his, relaxed.


 

I got up shortly after dawn, annoyed, and cleaned the kitchen and prepared breakfast. I kept my phone in the pocket of my nightgown all the time, repeatedly mistaking vibrations caused by either the furniture or by running water for vibrations that would indicate messages or calls. I knew Lev would be careful enough not to message me in the middle of the night, that he was aware of all the details of my predicament, but I was still hounded by the fear that I’d never get to feel him again. The brief contact between us wasn’t enough, I wanted to drain him like an oil well, stubbornly and relentlessly.


 

My husband only woke up at noon. By then I had come to wholly inhabit the contradictions that branched like sewer pipes beneath the surface of my day. The confusion had passed like a summer shower. I was fast. Maybe my speed was the projection of the power of my desire. Maybe I lacked modesty. He entered the dining room with sleep in his eyes and his hair tousled. The shirt that he’d slept in had stuck to his chest and black pubes protruded from behind his loose-fitting boxers when he sat down. He spread out on the chair beside me, his legs fanned out, his arms draped over the back of the chair. He was expecting me.


 

‘Eva, I know what you wanted tonight. I’m sorry, I’d gone to sleep with such a headache, I was so tired that I simply wasn’t able to turn around and …’ ‘I understand’, I said firmly, interrupting him before he could finish his sentence. I didn’t want to hear the words he was going to say. They’d just be a rehash of what I longed for.


 

He was untouched by my impatience and said good morning. He leaned forward, loudly kissing my cheek and going through my hair in a habitual gesture. He put his arms around my waist and tried to pull me onto his lap, so I’d sit on his rising morning wood, so I’d push my hands domineeringly through the legs of his boxers, so that he’d thoroughly feel my breasts, my belly, my neck and my vagina and then, once we judged our arousal was sufficient, enter me. I unclasped his veiny arms and shook free of the programme. I smiled apologetically, walked to one of the kitchen cabinets and took out the coffee pot.


 

‘Coffee instead of sex, okay’, he laughed. He always knew how to defuse an unpleasant mood, there was not enough darkness in him that he’d complicate feelings or ascribe them with excessive weightiness.


 

‘How was it, yesterday? How boring, on a scale from one to ten?’


 

‘With ten being unbearably boring?’


 

‘Yeah’.


 

‘Then I’d say seven’. Which was not a lie. Two worlds opened up, one in which I lived with him, and another that was only mine. ‘Helena kept bothering me with stories of her children the whole evening. I never know how to stop that woman’.


 

‘Is that the correspondent from the East? The redhead with the perm who kept ogling me at the first party?’


 

‘That’s the one’.


 

‘She’s just one of those people, you know, unsatisfied in their marriage, bored, distracted. Those who get so attached to their children if they can’t find a lover’. Lev’s perceptiveness, which was unusual in that it never sounded preachy, always managed to delight me, but it was on that Saturday morning that I first, without him being aware of this fact, became its subject. We live together but we’re ignorant of the fundamentals; what only a day or two before would have burned me, enough that I’d want to quickly fix it, had lost its power over me. My discomfort was fed by the possibility of being discovered.


 

‘It’s a good thing we don’t have children then, that we’re doomed to have lovers’, I added.

‘Yeah, see, contraception is a wonderful achievement’. We both laughed, each for their own reasons. I put my arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. A calculated sign of alliance.


 

The water boiled, so I put a teaspoon of sugar in the pot, immediately followed by a heaping tablespoon of coffee – one of the innumerable compromises that we’d made in the three years of our marriage. My husband leaned over the newspaper and read out aloud an article about cleaning the Ganges. India was our honeymoon, so we wanted to keep her close. The warm flow of his words was periodically interrupted by sips of coffee. Rays of sunlight extended through the window, danced on the table and painted our faces. A sense of security was developing, one I didn’t want.


 

The phone in the nightgown’s pocket finally stirred. Its vibrations made their way directly into my windpipe. I hid my embarrassment behind the coffee cup. The time was apt, I felt that the message was from Lev. My heartbeat filled my ears to the brim. I didn’t want to take out the phone in front of my husband, I was afraid of my reaction to the private message. My hands had to rest in a visible spot, so I stirred my coffee and looked for a crossword puzzle in an old newspaper.


 

Lev hadn’t heard anything. For a moment, his blond head bowed above the table, his broad shoulders and firm wrists seemed too delicate to be able to anticipate betrayal.


 

I finished the crossword puzzle and went off to the bathroom, dragging the palm of my hand across my husband’s shoulder and neck as if assuring him that I’d be back soon. That I wouldn’t go far.


 

I slammed the bathroom door shut behind me and excitedly sat down on the bathtub’s rim. I had trouble coordinating my fingers and, as soon as I took the phone out of the pocket, I dropped it on the carpet. The terrycloth muffled the fall. I breathed a sigh of relief and unlocked the screen.


 

‘Eva, I’d like to see you again. When can it happen’?


 

The wrinkles on my brow and around my mouth cleared up, tension fell off my shoulders, and for the first time that morning, I took a deep breath. Under my palms, my butt and between my thighs, the acrylic tub suddenly seemed soft. Despite having planned nothing, I rushed to reply.


 

‘I want to see you, too. Tomorrow night. I won’t have much time. The question is: Where?’


 

I became aware that the silence from the bathroom must have become suspicious by this time, so I flushed the toilet. I set the phone down on the rim of the sink, opened the bathroom door slightly and announced that I was going to take a bath.


 

‘Okay’, said my husband, ‘then I’ll get dressed and go to the store. It’s sure to be totally empty at lunchtime’. He sounded cheerful, the way only ignorant people can sound. ‘You’re wonderful’, I yelled. The hall reverberated thickly with my excitement.


 

When I closed the door, the phone’s screen lit up again. ‘You can come to my house, of course. I’ll send you the address tomorrow at noon. Delete this now’. The messages were being sent by a determined and experienced man, a man without reservations, a man who’d done this all before. A man who didn’t allow principles to make his life difficult.


 

Another message jumped at me: ‘I want you. I want everything from you’.


 

I stood in the bathroom naked for a few minutes, aflame, then filled up the tub and stepped in. Before sinking into the water, before the foamy water enveloped my midsection, I grabbed the phone: ‘You’re getting everything’.


 

Then I deleted our exchange.


 

My Sunday standby duty at the office ended as early as four. I’d said that I’d come home late in the evening; that as a beginner, I was supposed to follow the articles all the way to the printing stage. My husband was supposed to prepare dinner for us and before that spend the afternoon at the local climbing centre. The arrangement seemed watertight, but to test the waters one last time, I nevertheless called him at about three p.m. I complained that there was a surprising amount of work and that my co-workers were being annoying.


 

I breathed out my reservations before leaving just like women in labour breathe out their pain. The encounter with the green-eyed man had become inevitable. When I’d checked myself for the last time in the toilet – whether I’d removed all the hairs growing around my belly-button, whether I was bloated, whether my mascara had already started to crumble, whether I had bad breath – I stood for a long time looking at myself in the mirror. Never before had I looked like that. I realized beauty was heavily indebted to freedom, and freedom to risk-taking. I liked myself.


 

I got into the car breathless with excitement, shaken by the promise of ecstasy that was waiting for me across the town.


 

I turned into Lev’s street slowly. I used my right hand to tap out a message on my phone, saying that I’d arrived. The houses were uncannily alike – white, tall, narrow, with red roofs –, but only Lev’s had an orange fence. I parked the car at the end of a playground’s driveway and waded into the snow. I wrapped my scarf around my chin, bent forward and crossed my arms: The demeanour of a close friend, never an adulteress. I stepped onto the first stair of the front yard and took off my hat. At the top of the stairs, the door opened.


 

I felt his green eyes pierce the layers of clothing I was wearing, felt them suck in and appropriate my every move. Although I was wary climbing the icy staircase and although cold was assaulting my temples, I had become aflame by the time I reached the door.


 

‘Eva’, he said when we came face to face, ‘come on in’. He stepped aside and gestured toward the living room. It occurred to me that the show of pleasantries would cease the moment the door would close behind me.


 

‘Lev’, I said and tried to think of a reasonable follow-up. No pleasantries would work here.

He placed a hand on my side and silently followed me, his fingers already playing around the seams of my dress. They pressed on the muscles of my back and circled gently, rising towards my shoulder blades. If he wanted to pierce me, I’d have let him.


 

‘Anything to drink?’


 

‘Just a glass of water please’. The words came out as if my tongue had turned to charcoal.


 

‘How about a glass of wine?’


 

‘That’d be fine too. White’, I said and sat down on the sofa. Drinks, food, music – nothing but fluff, which I was having none of. While Lev rattled around the kitchen, I moved the slit of my dress to expose my calves, knees and part of my thighs, giggling as I did so.


 

‘I’m glad you’re at ease’. He set the wooden platter on the table and sat down so close to me that he had to move the hem of my dress that had spilled over the seat. I wanted him to mess it up. Tear it up.


 

‘I’m not sure I am, you’ll have to help me’. I spoke as I’d never spoken to anybody. I’d already shed my shyness in the car. Let it rot, I thought.


 

‘How can I help you?’ His voice dragged breathily.


 

His shoulder covered mine. He put his palm on my thigh and kept it there for a second, as if making sure one last time. I wanted him to mess me up. Tear me up. Although his fingers were motionless, passion trickled, pulsed into me.


 

‘You’re extremely beautiful, Eva’.


 

In the past two nights, so many stimuli had flown into me, real or imagined, that at that moment, I felt them as if they were boiling. I was spilling myself onto him, the stranger with the deep green eyes, and felt him becoming looser. I sensed an assault in the works.


 

Lev’s fingers suddenly turned up my dress but stopped where warmth turned to heat. I pressed my lips to his and got tangled in his hair. The first few kisses were soft, we had to memorize the softness, the texture of the flesh. We gazed in each other’s eyes, brow to brow, in a foolish game of belonging.


 

‘I’m usually a better host’, he said, his breath turning to lust in my throat, settling in my stomach and raining towards my thighs, ‘but I can’t wait any longer’. The kisses erupted into bites.


 

‘I can’t either’, I whispered as his fingers darted between my thighs. I pressed them together on his hand and rocked up and down, left and right so that we’d approach climax together. Just before we’d reached it, I jerked his hand out.


 

I unbuttoned his shirt while his face kept sinking into my cleavage. His mouth moved around the bra and pushed it down. A green glance towards me. ‘You’ve got beautiful breasts. I knew they’d be beautiful’. I smiled and then immediately gasped. He was taking my breasts in his mouth and hands and lost himself between them. He sprinkled kisses on my midriff, moving downwards. Once he landed, I threw my head back. His tongue was sharp and blazingly precise. It burned.


 

I grabbed at him savagely, hungrily. I wanted to get under his skin, wanted him under mine. I managed to reach the top of his pants and pulled him up. Onto me. He must have realized that I needed nothing more, that senselessness was already dancing in my eyes. He deftly unbuttoned his pants and wriggled them off. His caresses dispersed but he remained in control of their effects as he leaned on my pubic bone in his shorts.


 

‘And you’re exactly what I hoped you’d be’, I breathed. I pushed his shorts down with my left hand, my panties with my right. With my hands still in the arms of the dress, I held onto him. His scar leaned against my cheek. When I felt him, I heard him, as well. I’d have drowned him if I could.


 

The clocked ticked past six-thirty. Lev was sitting naked, leaning on the coffee table with his eyes closed. His penis dangled between his thighs like a withered stalk of an office plant. His hands, palms upward, were next to his butt. The splash of sperm on my belly had dried up and the stains were beginning to itch. Cedarwood, musk, roses – all intense scents had evaporated off our bodies. Lying on the sofa, I kept looking at the green-eyed man, trying to say something. Anything. All I managed to get out was ‘Thank you’. I wasn’t sure he heard me, the look on his face remained as serene as before.


 

I got up and caressed his head before starting for the bathroom. My nakedness failed to rouse the man who, for the moment when I carefully stepped over him, lied beneath my sex.


 

I stepped into the shower and examined the objects in the cabin. Bathroom tiles, the position of the cabinets and boxes, the colour of the lighting – there was nothing that would allow me to enter the story of the man I’d spent the last couple of hours with. Once I’d prettied myself up and made sure that all traces of the Sunday afternoon were rubbed deep inside me, that my body was neutral again, I explored other rooms on the first floor, tracking any motifs with added value. Tracking meanings. I wanted something to take back home.


 

I returned to the living room where Lev, still naked, had sat down in an armchair. The muscles of his arms, legs and abdomen were draped on the chair, their definition gone. It was only then that I noticed he had a belly-button of the type I’d always found funny, an outie, looking as if still sprouting the umbilical cord. Although his eyelids were half-closed, his eyes remained piercing. He ran his palms across his body, lewdly stopping at the penis. Announcing how much more he could and wanted to give me, but the sight made me laugh.


 

‘I’m sorry, I’m a bit beside myself’, I lied, ‘this is an extremely unusual situation for me’.


 

‘Unusual in all senses of the word, I hope’, he quipped. Even then, after passion had been realised, a conversation couldn’t develop between us. He was blocking it. Suddenly I found myself strangely grateful for his firmness.


 

‘Yes, in all senses’, I answered. ‘You’re good, crazy good’.


 

‘So are you, Eva. As soon as I’d seen you from across the room, I knew you were’.


 

He stepped in front of me. ‘I’m rarely wrong’.


 

He caressed my arms and dug his hands into my waist, let his pelvis find mine and kissed me. I tasted cigarettes and the bitterness of red wine, red meat. I ended the kiss with a cute smack and a slap on the cheeks.


 

‘I’ll have to go, you know. I’m sorry. I’d like more’. What’s founded on a single lie can carry millions.


 

‘I know, we’ll have it. You know where I live, you have my phone number’.


 

I kissed him on the scar and started for the hall. He wrapped himself in a blanket and walked with me. He shivered and jumped from one bare foot to another in the cold hallway but nevertheless held my coat. As I was putting it on, I noted that I’d slipped into adultery as smoothly as into the coat’s arms. I turned and hugged him, and he immediately filled the hug with desire, he squeezed my butt and dug into my neck. He was repeating the first letters of the alphabet when I’d already spoken the last. I pushed him away lightly, opened the door and darted into the freshly fallen winter. I descended the stairs and waved goodbye to Lev just before he disappeared into the darkness of the house.


 

I sat in the car and started it. The car purred to life, and it was as if I were truly alone for the first time in a couple of days. My breastbone relaxed and counted regular beats. My only witnesses were the streetlights. Tall, quiet guys, I guffawed at the thought. I drove fast as I was in a hurry to get home. But not because of the time, not because I was worried. I realized I’d taken a lot, that what I’d done was worth treasuring; not memories, though, but something completely different. Equally immaterial, but heavier.


 

I turned into my garage undone, but calm. Like a lioness that had caught, killed and eaten her prey. I found Lev on the floor, surrounded by a long chain of tangled Christmas lights and dusty boxes.


 

‘Sweetheart! You survived! Was it horrible the whole time?’ He put his free arm around my calves and kissed my knees. He was looking at me expectantly, as if waiting for me to jump out of a cake.


 

‘It was fine after all. I even learned something’. I was surprised to find myself saying the truth; and between our walls, it sounded hopeful.


 

‘That’s great, it really is. I started decorating the Christmas tree after I came back from climbing. You’ve outrun me, I thought I’d be done before you were back. But now we can untangle this together’. Clumps of dust tumbled next to my feet. I stared at the knots, the long snake slithering around my husband. Even decorative lights had to be untangled and cleaned annually, in order for them to shine on the tree with some dignity.


 

I leaned down and kissed him on the nose. His hair smelled of moss. I threw my coat on the sofa and sat down next to him. My side touched his butt cheek. I grabbed the lights and scratched at the cable with my nails.


 

‘It’s not as simple as it seemed’, I murmured. ‘Maybe we could buy new ones’.


 

‘Don’t give up’, he giggled, ‘these are really nice, we wouldn’t find ones like this anymore. You don’t want the campy starry ones, do you?’


 

‘No, I really don’t’. I straightened up and examined my husband’s profile. Above his upper lip, I discovered a tiny depression that was not surrounded by any hair. This detail, this clearing, was the clarity I’d brought home with me. I threw myself into the task he’d given me.


 

The nail on my index finger soon gave up and broke. I feigned outrage and held my hand under Lev’s nose, wriggling my fingers impatiently.


 

‘Come on, blow on it, it huuurts’, I childishly stretched the last syllable.


 

He blew at my broken nail and I gazed into his puckered, red lips. He looked at me from under his brow, a hungry beast lying in wait in his blue eyes. I wondered how long it had been there. Pondered how I could have missed it. I beckoned it closer.


 

He lowered his lips to my hand and proceeded up my arm, all the way to my neck. He wasn’t just kissing me, he was chewing me up.


 

‘Darling’, I whispered and wrapped my legs around his body. Together, we fell onto the floor, crushing the Christmas balls underneath us. The plastic bits poking us, we yelped in unison. I didn’t recognize his voice. It was harsh. Strange, excitingly strange.

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Ana Schnabl

is a writer and editor, based in a lovely alpine town of Kamnik, Slovenia. She received Best Literary Debut Award for her short story collection "Razvezani". The same book is currently nominated for Best Short Story Collection of 2017.


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