A Crooked Man
My former student stiffens against the sheets when I kiss the soles of her young feet and find long scars like twin rivers spanning from toe to heel. I trace the lines of her unyielding body, deepen the shadows on her left thigh, pressing down as if her skin is made of charcoal. We are new together.
Finally she speaks of the past. Upon graduating and leaving me behind it was months of stocking shelves at Safeway and walking to and from work along the beach until one morning when she sliced open her skin with a box cutter—those cuts to her feet, as well as two wobbly lines on her forearms, stretching up to her elbows. Leaving bloody clumps of sand behind, she crashed into the waves, swimming straight to the bottom and hoping the weight of the Pacific would release the pressure of my own aching memory.
She tells me that she was shy and intense in my class. I don’t admit that I had not learned her name until Christmas break. But now she is so voluptuous and sure with me that it is not hard to think of that other young girl as a stranger.
When bandages were no longer needed and the scars could be covered up with long sleeves, she sought me out again. She slipped back into my life, cool and brilliant, lingering next to my desk one moment, then flaming white-hot, pressing me against the supply closet with my face very close to hers. But I am certain—especially now that I stroke the thin ridged scars under my thumb, and she shivers closer to me—I am certain she will leave again; now that she is freed by making me complicit in her great sin.
Unburdened, she will go on alone, as they all do in the end.