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Water Music by Sarah Sorenson
published in Volume 9, Issue 1 on March 1st, 2002

The scent of the world overwhelms me.

Three months ago, he took me to the circus. The smells were unbearable. Animals, people, lard-fried food - but I couldn't take in the excitement of the greatest show on earth. Instead I looked at the people around me and begged them

with my eyes to see that I was going down. Down and down and down. That this man next to me with his crow's feet and ice blue eyes was holding my hand so tight that the red marks from his fingers lingered there for hours. I was marked and tagged, for safekeeping.

The smell of the rains permeate his house. The floorboards start to squeak when the dark clouds come rolling in. The floral wallpaper takes on a moldy smell, like kindergarten paste. I trace the flowers over and over. There is a painting above the piano: "Woman and Child". Every painting seems to be called that. I stare at them, sweet in their naiveté, the child suckling at his mother's Rubenesque breast. I stare at them until they both start to take on grim, dark expressions. Leave the Child on someone's doorstep, Woman. Buy tickets to the Bahamas and don't come back.

He brings me breakfast at 7 AM. Lunch at noon. Dinner at 6 PM. Animal at the zoo. Big eyed, too thin, pacing. Pacing and pacing and pacing. He has given me a pad and paper. I write letters home in long, drawn out cursive. They aren't mailed, of course. But when they're written, they look back up at me with satisfied black eyes, and I know that I tried. I try. It's not like I've forgotten. No way have I forgotten.

He comes now and stands in the doorway. He is concerned. He is worried. I have not eaten in days. I cannot bring myself to. Not that the food isn't delicious. He could have been a chef, before, in another life. He asked me to write a list, way back in the beginning, of all of the food that I loved. He went and got them all. I had written down things that I would never eat; no one would eat those things. And his disappointment, when I laughed at him, turned to tears. His whole face crumpled when he realized what I had done, and he went to his room and cried. I sat in the window for many hours. Then I composed a real list.

He. Him. He. I don't think I'll ever use his name. No, he's Him with a capital H. He is whom we talked of at campfire ghost story tales. He is the Stranger With Candy. He is the man who hijacked a plane and parachuted away with millions of dollars. He is He.

It was all because of my eyes, he said. All because of my eyes. One is blue; the other is brown. There's nothing wrong with them; my vision is 20/20. He said that he saw them, bright and clear in the sun, and that they spoke a bible about me. Those eyes must have whispered gruffly, "take me, take me, take me."

He stands in the doorway and asks me if I would like to take a drive. There is nothing like those drives; they are the air that I breathe. His house is situated where mountains loom in the distance like a gray and purple beacon: "Just cross us! The other side! The other side! Eden on the other side!" But we drive away from them each time. I watch them grow smaller and smaller in the distance: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. Objects in mirror are much further away than I could ever imagine.

Yes, I'll go for a drive with him. I always say yes, and he always asks anyway. We make sure that my hands are behaving. We descend the stairs, carpeted stairs. I have sat upon these stairs for hours trying to figure out the pattern of the rug that covers them. I have inked my name permanently on each step, just small enough that he won't see my initials. I was here. Just know that I WAS HERE.

Once we reach the driveway, I am more of an animal. I'm a rabbit sniffing the air. It rained three days ago. The neighbor has cut his lawn. The other one has added more chlorine to his pool. I can smell it. The chemicals sting my nose. I smell that they had a pool party, a barbecue, that sullen teenage girls were forced to stay home and visit with the relatives. The parents fought that night over who broke one of their wine glasses. They still haven't decided who it could have been. Then their sleep turned into the sweet smell of magnolias, the wormy smell of dirt.

He puts on my seatbelt for me. When he turns on the engine, it sounds like normal life. It is always black until we feel far from the house. Then the world comes back into sight like a brilliant flash fire, and I have been blind for thousands of years. A million trillion years.

On the very first night he played the piano. He may have begun with Handel, and then turned to Liszt, and then to Mozart. It ended sadly enough, as A Minor reverberated through the emptiness. I had no choice but to listen, no choice but to lie there helpless to the smell of lilacs and magnolias drifting through the cracks, the thundering of the keys and the heat, sharps and flats and naturals. He played so loudly; he must have thought that I would scream. He must have thought he had to drown me out. Instead I had nothing in me to drown. I had already sunk; I had already fallen to the bottom where the blind fish are and I am not sure if I will ever resurface.

On today's drive, I ask him if he will drive towards the mountains instead of away from them. The peaks are whiter than ever. I wonder how many months have gone by. I ask him if he will take me to the other side of the mountains. Or the top of them, just so I can look over. Or the middle, just so I can feel the gravity. Or the foothills, just so I can feel progress. This is becoming a ritual. Each time he acts as though I have never asked before. It is always No.

I could break a window. Knot the sheets into a rope, shimmy down the side of the house. I could set fire to my room. I've learned how to loosen the binds on my hands. It is as if he makes them loose enough so that I will learn. I will eventually learn how to slide them off, and then what will I do? An experiment. What does the animal do after realizing that it could be free? Some make a mad dash for it. They foam at the mouth with the anticipation of freedom; they gnash teeth and strike out. They roar and stamp their feet. But most of them? Most of them slide the chains off and then lie down with their heads buried between their declawed paws.

He can't have anyone unless he steals them, ropes them like a bull, and stashes them in a tower room like Rapunzel. I hate you, I've said. He withered and crumpled and cried: But I love you. But I love you.

When the drive is through, I don't go to my room. I go to the kitchen, lean against the counter, my hands free. There are knives in the sink. There are scissors on the counter. He watches my eyes. He walks as if he were Jesus across water; he seems legless; he floats to me and presses his thumbs against my forehead. His breath ruffles my hair. Someday, he says quietly, just seeing the mountains will be enough. Someday, he says, I will be enough. His breath is like nightshade and poppies and peonies. His words are a bad dream that goes on and on and on. I could never really hurt you, he whispers.

He trembled on the day he took me to the circus. His leg was pressed into mine; his hands were holding mine so tightly that I could not feel them anymore. The nerves in his thigh were twitching and jumping; I sat next to him like a statue. I thought you'd like this, I thought you'd like this, he said often. He held my hand as we fed an elephant, as though we were on our first date. I saw you once feeding birds in your backyard, he said. I thought that the birds would just land on your shoulder, like a Disney movie. I thought that the clouds would part and a rainbow would take up some of the sky. You made the world spring alive, he said. His eyes were bright and about to overflow. And I opened my mouth, and I screamed. I screamed and screamed and screamed, and noise did not come out. I held his hand tighter and tighter, my mouth wide and my throat dead.

I could never really hurt you. I could never really hurt you.

I don't reach for the knives; I don't bite. I close my eyes and reach for his face with my fingers. The eyes are damp. Lines run the length of his forehead. The middle of his nose has a small, crooked bump. His lips stutter and snag on his teeth. When I kiss him, his body dissolves and puddles. Night air, mountain air. I kiss him hard and full. Someday I will be found. The rope around my wrists will have become part of my hands. When the snow is gone from the peaks, I will plant daffodils below his window. I will break his Handel albums over my knees. I will make birds land on his shoulders. You loser, you sorry son of a bitch. I could never really hurt you.

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