The woods where we first had sex was also the place where they found his body. Originally there had been no clearing — only high oak trees lined close together, their tops swaying in the breeze. We would bring my grandmother’s checkered blanket and try to find a spot between the trees where the ground was even enough to set up a makeshift mattress. By the time the incident happened, that part of the woods had begun to be logged. Our neck of the woods had been converted into an open, semi-circle of dirt and spotty grass. That was where he was found. Half-covered with dirt and grass. No trees above to shield his wiry body from the sun. That’s the first thing I thought of when I heard that it had happened — his body lying there in the direct heat of an August day. Bloated and bleached. Burned.
The second thing I thought of was the curve of his neck as he would lay on his back, eyes closed, chin tilted slightly upwards, listening to the sounds of the trees. The way he used to turn his head to face me, and how I would look straight back into his gold-fringed eyes, unafraid, because I loved him.
His body was mangled when they found it. The foxes, his father says, putting down a thick-rimmed glass on the mahogany table. Two cubes of ice chime against the rounded glass. I watch the amber liquid reverberate and settle, like waves crashing into a seawall. His father runs a hand across his long face. He is an old man, with sunspots on his skin like a potato.
Before tonight, I had never been to his house, which is large with three floors. It was a place he did not like to be. Or, atleast, a place he didn’t like to bring friends, he told me. If that’s what I was. A friend.
The eyes of his mother rest on the small of my back, which is crooked like the letter S. She has noticed the way that I do not cut my meat like they do, the way I do not talk like they do, the way I am uncomfortable around mothers.
I know that they do not want to believe that their son, Mark, slept with me, a girl almost half his age. But he did, and now he is dead.
The room is a rectangle and we are sitting at another rectangle – the dining table, within it. Along the length of one wall is a fireplace, on the other a mirror. Reflected in the mirror, I can glance at the framed pictures on the fireplace. There is Mark – with his father. His mother. There he is in a suit. In a sweater. Hair blowing across his face.
His father clears his throat again. It feels like the hundredth time that he has done it. He has transformed it into its own word. A response in a conversation that only he is having.
Under the table, I play with the hem of the black dress I am wearing.
His mother places her napkin on the porcelain plate. I hear the rustle of her skirt as she stands up, carefully pushes in her chair, and walks to the kitchen. After a moment, the father throws down his napkin and follows her.
There is murmuring in the kitchen. Someone starts washing the dishes angrily. I can hear them clashing against the walls of the sink.
“She’s so young,” the mother hisses. “She is just so young.”
I was on a horse when I met Mark, so I must have looked taller.
It was raining. The earth was wet and the air smelt like dirt. He was on the other side of the road, a wet mop of blonde hair weighing down on his forehead, a cigarette between his lips. No hood up against the rain. I knew he was watching me, and I felt myself being watched. There was a sharpness beneath his stare. It was something I had felt before, an agreement a child, grown up too quickly, feels with adults.
But I was on a horse, so I was taller, and must have looked much older.
I can remember getting off the horse, and having him hold it by the bridle. Some comment he made, about girls who grow up on farms. I can remember that I was shy. That when I took off my helmet he took it from me, gently, and turned it over in his hands, bemused, as if he were looking at the clothes of a doll.
Those same hands that would crawl down my bony legs only days later, legs perpetually scarred. I like the way your knees touch, he would whisper, pressing his palms into my knobby knees. I like your curly black hair, while weaving his fingers into my dark hair, grabbing the back of my head. Your eyes, I would hear him whisper, closing his own. I would feel his breath hot against my check, each breath coming quicker and quicker. I would open my mouth to speak, but my mouth would be dry, and, at last, no sound would come out. I would feel an emotion like fear, but not quite fear as his hand massaged my neck, pushing me downwards. My limbs would become tingly, like a feather stroking my hands and feet.
I was eleven when we met, he was 18. That’s not so bad, relatively.
“She’s just so young,” I could hear Mark’s mother state, this time almost hysterical.
“She is a young adult. She can hear you,” Mark’s father responds in a low voice, steady, as if he was trying to calm her down, to keep a lid on the situation.
I let my forefinger slide against the cool silver of the fork. I caress the scalloped side of the porcelain plate. I hear Mark’s father returning to the living room, his steps creaking on the dark wooden floors. I let my body slide out of my seat, like rainwater off a jacket. I fall into the soft puddle of the carpet. Under the table it is dark and disorienting.
I crawl out from underneath on all fours out of the dining room. The hallway leading away from it is carpeted, swallowing all sound. I find the main doorway and let myself out. I have forgotten my coat on the rack and my shoes underneath the armoire.
Outside, the air is crisp and I smell firewood and drifts of firewood envelop the damp night. I do not shut the door.
I imagine the shot, the splatter. The dirt. His hair. The woods. 5 years of my life, blown to bits. How unhappy he was. How heavy.
Then I am walking quickly, following the concrete road that snakes along the woods. The brightness of the moon behind me casts a shadow ahead of me, and each step I take I step into the shape of a girl projected in front of me. The world is silent except for the slap of my bare feet against the concrete slabs beneath me.
I think about how my hair is dark and curly because my father, who I have never met, is turkish. I think about how I have a limp in my left foot, just like my grandmother does. I think about how my arms are bony and long, like everyone said my mother’s were. As I near the cornfields bordering my grandparents house, where I have lived most of my life, I think about how I used to crouch between the long stalks and listen to the sound of their leaves rustling above me, like the waves of the ocean, and watch the tops swing like pendulums in the wind.
How as it grew dark, I would imagine the stalks grow into giant stalks, stretching limitless into the night sky. How the sea of cricket roared.
I’ve always loved walking back to my grandparent’s house on starless nights, seeing the house lit up, top to bottom, looking like the bright windows and hull of a sinking ship, glowing and falling slowly beneath the dark watery depths.
When I enter the house, it is completely dark. I walk into the kitchen where he and I sometimes used to sit and talk, for hours into the night. The house is quiet and damp, like a tomb.
I float through the kitchen as if I were a ghost.
Early that first summer, I would tiptoe past the kitchen and peek into the living room, where my grandfather would sit in a green armchair beneath a yellow lamp, looking at pictures of naked women.
Later in my adolescence, my grandfather replaced the magazine pictures on the living room table with a small tv and video cassettes.
Sometimes, as Mark would bring me home, we would walk in on him, sitting with a beer grasped tightly in his hand, watching the naked women. He would see us come in, and drunk with ecstasy, he would exclaim, — Ihr Kinder, Ihr kinder!”
I walk into the living room now. It is cold and empty. The TV is gone, as are the cassettes. My grandfather is dead. The house is silent. In the dark, I feel my way to the green armchair. I think of Mark, enclosed by layers and layers of thickly packed dirt. He is beyond my reach now.
I think of my shoes tucked away in that house, my jacket slowly swinging from the wind from the open door. I think of the water running over his mother’s dishes. Where her hands might be placed now.
Somewhere, upstairs, my grandmother is breathing. In and out, in and out, like the sea.
I sit down on the cold tile floor.
L. Smith is a recent graduate of Barnard College, where she majored in English Literature. She is still figuring out what exactly she wants to do in her life. In her spare time she enjoys learning languages and walking around cities. She currently resides in New York City, although she has never quite felt like a New Yorker.
© 2023, L. Smith