Your Eyes Are as Deep as the Ocean

Kissing him felt good enough that I wanted to continue. There was something soft in the way he parted his lips and moved them against mine, something more tender than most of the sensations I’d discovered in and on and after the bars of Boston. The lighting was more absent than present; the music made me more melancholy and sentimental than I would normally choose to be with a man I had known for only a couple of hours. And no one had touched me in so long. I was a body in need of reminding. 

Of course we met at a dance club in the usual way. This is the part of the story you already know, where I’m shimmying around behind a table, looking at the dance floor with a wistful gaze, throbbing with a life force at once both vulgar and glorious. I want to get into the frenzy but I also want to remain aloof. It’s enough just to watch, I tell myself. A tall blond in a baseball cap places a beer on our table as a pick-up line, and my friend acquiesces by forgiving his clumsy approach and smiling as though he’s just performed the most charmingly graceful maneuver. By default, the shorter guy leans in really close and asks my neck what my name is.

Or maybe it’s not just default. Later he will tell me that from the minute he set eyes on me, he knew he wanted to be with me, but he believed he didn’t have a chance. This fiction of intentionality, of fate, is also part of the script, possibly heartfelt but too familiar to mean anything, like the lyrics of the pop song that ricochet around us. After exchanging a few more dead phrases, we somehow end up dancing. We touch perhaps more frequently than necessary, glance out at the oscillating bodies and towering video screens when we need to avert our gazes, when looking at each other threatens to mean something. I notice only that he seems small and young.

Then it’s the famous final scene: say good-bye in the general two-a.m., help-I-haven’t-met-anyone, or help-I-have-met-anyone, frenzy in front of the club. It feels something like the end of a political rally without the stage and scaffolding—the way people search intently for their cars, the hurry-scurry of bodies which seems like chaos but promises at the same time to reveal a pattern, a logic, if you take the time to watch. I’m not really watching, though, because Tim is trying to prolong our conversation, stroking my sweater and asking me what it’s made of. “Chenille,” I tell him, mostly because I like the way it feels to say the word, and the next thing I know we’re all piling into his friend’s truck on our way to my friend’s apartment, and the night threatens to continue. You know how this goes.

We started to kiss on the couch and, as I said, the tingle was just enough to keep me interested. The quiet of the dimly lit basement apartment, after the roar we had just left, felt suddenly very intimate. My friend and her cap-boy disappeared down the hallway, and I stayed in the living room to fool around and wait for her while dodging Tim’s serious maneuvers, friendly enough with him but also careful that I didn’t end up making the noises that started to float down the hall. It had all happened before, pretty much like this. When Tim started tossing lines out like bait—I want to look at you forever; I could look into your eyes all night—it was like someone had outlined everything in the room with a black crayon, even our bodies. The world became one of those dioramas we used to make in grade school.

 I don’t remember a conscious intention to take control, only, at first, the sense that I wanted to break up the kissing with not-kissing, the union with isolation, perform an experiment to see how much one sensation resided in the other. While he was pushing forward on the couch to keep his mouth on mine, making the upholstery chafe against my neck, my fingers persuaded him backward and our lips came apart with a decisive smack like the release of a cork from a bottle. Into the silence that followed, as if from nowhere, this voice came out of me and demanded, “Okay, tell me: you were in love with someone, and something forced you two apart.  What happened?” I narrowed my eyes to punctuate my assertions. “She broke your heart, didn’t she?”

He seemed surprised, his dark eyebrows arching up and making him look young and scared, and asked me why I would say that. I told him I could just tell, that it was in his eyes. In a way, it was.  He had become a cartoon figure and I could read his character by the way he was drawn. He confessed that there was a young woman with whom he had been involved but their affair had progressed too quickly, too intensely, so both of them had gotten out of it. About four or five months ago, he said. I filed this information away for future use.

Bolstered by my accuracy, I felt myself shimmering and growing beyond my outlines, assuming the dimensions of a divine, gypsy soothsayer who could read Tim’s past and predict his future. It came easily, this performance, and proved to be remarkably intoxicating. He slid to the floor, on his knees before me, and I remained on the couch feeling gracious. I asked him his middle name. He told me “Robert” and I said, “Is that your father’s name?” He said it was and asked me how I knew. Again, I said something about how I could just tell. The impact was exactly what I had hoped for; he was looking at me, but also up to me, seeing in me a good witch or fairy godmother, one that he wanted to fuck. I think I was sexy and worthy of reverence at the same time. 

I wanted to give something to him. I wanted him to leave me feeling better about himself than he had before we met, better than he had ever felt. Perhaps I was reacting to the general post-bar malaise that afflicts so many who leave the house on Friday night looking for affirmation and return on Saturday morning with a renewed disgust for humanity and an empty wallet. I wanted Tim to feel good about people and life, to feel good about ME, to think of me enshrined in a sort of glow, maybe even to smile at the remembrance, not to regret or dismiss or scorn me for giving him precisely the sordid sexual encounter that he would inevitably grope for. 

I told him a story. I told him that I thought it wasn’t over with that girl, his love, that they would come together and that when they did he shouldn’t be afraid of letting himself go. We faced each other next to the couch in a dim light that could have been any time, or every time, on any day and every day. He just stared at me, but I wasn’t sure what he could see. I told him the love wouldn’t swallow him. I told him not to be afraid, that it would be good. 

When we left to walk back to our cars, he was tender with me, guiding me up the stairs from my friend’s basement apartment, just as the last gray fringes of yesterday leaked away to reveal today. The city was as filthy as ever, but dawn and our fatigue conspired to soft-focus most of its flaws. We ambled down a quiet street cluttered with debris, among which I noticed a dismembered red umbrella, and at that moment I was surprised to feel his hand in mine. He laced our fingers together.

The point of contact between our palms was shooting sparks, as if the spell I’d spun all night was a thread that pulled his heart down his arm to his fingertips and spilled it all over my skin. The story you tell from within is, after all, as strong and sure as anything in this world. I needn’t belabor the part where he insisted on having my phone number, or the fact that he never used it in the weeks that followed, not once. I don’t recall those details much anyway.

What I do remember is how he dropped my hand and smiled at me from beneath dark eyebrows now grown serious with belief, how the red truck he drove sparkled, I swear, like the only colorized image in a black and white photograph, and how when I looked up I could see the sun making its first promises of the day.


Annamaria Formichella received her M.F.A. from Emerson College and her Ph.D. from Tufts University. A native New Englander, she currently teaches in the English department at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. Her creative work has been published in the Knight Literary Journal, Toe Good Poetry, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Gyroscope Review. Her dreams include returning to the ocean and writing stories that hit the reader with a quiet crash.