by Fred Nolan
She is clumsy and that makes him clumsy—
Lydia wakes, groggy. She remembers the campus, nothing else. Was she in her car, the ignition key somewhere? Or did her father? Yes, he must have.
It is morning again. There is full sun now, but here he is, pretending to read the kitchen newsprint, midday on a Friday. She says, ‘You made me sleep.’
‘That’s true. And who was the boy?’
No need to lie. The man can snap his fingers and she is out. Who knows what else he can do although he says that is it. Nor is he able to guard anyone else the same way. Not her mother, brothers, aunt. Only her.
She says, ‘He’s a student. He’s handsome. What? I’m going to die without taking a man to bed?’
‘Lydia!’ But that he shouts, with no other word than her name, means she was right to ask.
In a week, their first cinema. When their knees touch, it is skin to skin, the reason she wore the dress.
She turns Jacob’s face in. Her father should be asleep by now, she chose a late show on purpose. The boy’s mouth is hot—
‘You can’t do this. I like him. I’m nineteen, I can take a lover if I want.’
‘You hear how spiteful that is? I like him, my lover.’
‘Spite? It’s not spite, it’s how things are. If they smell good, look good, we take them home. If we fall in love, they stay. You might say it’s reckless, but it’s not spite.’
‘Not reckless. Hateful. Only a girl who hates her parents would say that.’
It takes a long time, well into the year, for Lydia to map her father’s abilities. A simple kiss, barely a brush of the lips, that is enough for him to stop it. But fingertips across the boy’s slacks, Jacob’s hand under her collar, the man allows them or does not know. Tonight they take to the couch in pajamas, each foot in the other’s lap. Their legs, mixed up. He presses at her callouses and she tickles the funny hair on his ankles. They—
In four days she says, ’What do you do when he puts me to sleep?’
‘Nothing. I wake up and you’re gone. Every time, it’s no different.’
‘You wake up? You mean—’
‘I guess you do it to both of us now. That’s new.’
‘I didn’t know we were speaking about this. Because that’s what grown ups do, they speak about things.’
‘You’re right, and I’m asking you straight out, like adults. Do you know how dangerous it is to lay both of us down?’ But never mind, she is speaking like a prayer, and that brings on an idea. She shapes the plan for months. When a year has passed since their first class together she says, ‘I have a way.’
He is kneading at her calves. He does not care for plans anymore, or for this plague of sleepwalking. Lydia knows she is losing him. She says, ‘This is for us. You’ll like it, but you have to listen.’
He calls out: ‘No more listening, to either of you. I love her. You hear that, you stupid witch? You can’t stop us anymore.’
He paws and paws. At last his hands trespass above the knee, toward the thick of her hamstrings. Briefly she enjoys the fingers at skin and muscle—
‘I won’t ask again. And if you say no, you won’t like it.’
‘I don’t like it now. Anybody but him. He insulted me.’
‘A year in. After one year of toying with him, he toys back. And that’s a reason now?
‘What about before?’
‘If you loved your family.’
‘You say anyone but him. I say he is all I want. We are at an impasse and I am giving you a chance. The next time you put us to sleep you will regret it.’
‘You think this is what I want? I can’t just turn it on and off.’
It is easier to slip in gestures here and there. Her father is not attuned to her eyesight like he is to her aural and tactile senses. Lydia and Jacob stroll, point, consider, decide. Today, a month after her ultimatum, they set a trap on the rail bridge.
It is not built for pedestrians, not anymore. An old, weathered thing, vandalized. No handrail, if there ever was a handrail. You could misstep even while awake.
The plunge is three stories, to a dry creek bed. A crippling injury at best. More likely they will die. It is unsafe for her father to put them under and he calls out instead.
Lydia does not hear; the disease of listening is his alone. Otherwise the privacy is fair, if not absolute. Hikers pass thirty meters by, although none seem to notice. Because Lydia and Jacob do not expect to live they undress, drop clothes from the side.
They are frightened, sobbing, hands all over. Her skin is warm to the touch although it is gray to look at. Jacob licks her ear but is not sure what to do with the rest.
‘Lift me.’ He cradles her with both hands as Lydia fits him in, an arm behind his neck.
During the act, lovers moan with tragedy and, in this case, they deserve to. Her father makes the call before he silences them. An administrative voice says, ‘Los Fieles police and fire. What is your emergency?’
‘My daughter fell. It’s the I-10 railroad track over Halston Creek.’
‘Are you still on the scene?’
‘Not yet. I’m on my way.’
He ends the call—