032. Cannot Touch. Julia Gerhardt

The sheets have to be bleached, that’s for certain. 

I watch him from the end of my bed staring at his fingernails, knuckles at his nose. “Need a manicure?” I joke, naked. I pull the sheet to my chest.

He shrugs and lets his arms hang in surrender to my impending inspection.

I slide toward him on my stomach like a seal.

* * *

I swam every day at the Santa Monica pool, lap after lap after lap, attempting to get to know my body better.  My friends told me the best whole-body work outs were yoga, pole dancing, and swimming, so I chose the least sexual of the three. I started swimming after college and continued for two years until the incident.

Like usual, when I had tired, I stopped in the center of my lane and curled myself into a fetal position, floating in the water. The residual energy of my butterfly strokes carried me with a lull and bob of kinetic motion.

* * *

Under his nails are thick lines of brown and red. I feel an instant ball of guilt. I place his hand down and stare up at the ceiling and it makes me feel worse, gazing at something so unaffected. I look back to his nails, ashamed for having marked him with streaks of something so earthy and hidden. I thought it was my lighter day, but the evidence is damning. 

* * *

Under the water, I pretended the heartbeat in my ears was a rhythm, pitter-pattering across the surface.  In my stomach, I felt a small eddy of nausea expanding and tugs from cramps.  I squeezed my legs to my chest, tighter.

* * *

I put my hand down over his and close my eyes. It’s not just the desire for sex that weighs on me, but the longing for it during a time where I feel my body is operating without me. A leaking faucet with no handles. How often do I exist with so little control? 

* * *

I exhaled what little breath I had left from my nose. Through blurry vision, the obscured bubbles rose to the surface as I sunk, my knees gently hitting the bottom of the pool. I longed for my body to stay there, but from the corner of my eye, I saw it: a thin, red rivulet, rising.  My feet kicked the floor and I burst up out of the water, my mouth and nostrils wipe and open, inhaling.   

* * *

He moves his hand out from under mine and brushes my hair back.

I curl my knees to my ribs and slide back until my head rests against his chest. “I’m okay,” I whisper to the hairs around his nipple.

“You are,” he says.

 I place my head over his heart and listen to the pumping of blood I cannot touch.

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