eve dreams (novel excerpt)
An excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Skin of Glass.
Eve dreams she’s naked and nailed to a wooden cross on the side of a hill. The rest of the hillside is planted and staked with symmetrical rows of grapevines. The sun is setting straight ahead of her and the cloud-filled sky is a tumultuous gothic wash of purples, golds, mauves, and deep blues. It reminds her of the sky on the holy pictures she collected when she was eight or nine years old and stuck between the pages of the prayer book her grandmother in Illinois sent her. To the right and down the hill there’s a small clearing with wooden tables and benches where a group of people is having a party or a picnic. She recognizes the voices: her mother, her father, Nana and Jack, and her cousins, aunts, and uncle. Ethan and Jesse are there, too. They’re talking and laughing among themselves, paying no attention to her. As the sky darkens, they light some small candles.
Eve isn’t cold and she doesn’t feel any pain, but she can’t bear being so exposed and powerless.
When the sun finally sets, there’s no moon. The only light comes from the candles, which begin to flicker wildly as a warm wind moves toward the table. The wind snuffs out first the candles, then the voices. When Eve can no longer see or hear anyone, calmness settles over her. She slips free of the nails and glides, like a bird on a current of air, away from the hillside, away from everyone, into the darkness and something unknown.
Eve wakes up suffused with the memory of flying and of freedom. But she’s stuck fast, pinned like a butterfly to the bed, where Ethan’s right leg and arm hold her down. She thinks the phone might have rung, looks at the clock, tries to adjust her legs. It’s only eight thirty. And it’s Saturday. She closes her eyes and sinks back into sleep.
The ringing phone wakes her again and Ethan stirs, allowing her to move his arm and leg so she can get out of bed. She grabs a T-shirt, pulls it over her head, and hurries down the hall, brushing hair out of her eyes.
“Hi, honey.” Her father’s voice is low. “Did I wake you?”
“It’s OK, Dad; I should be up anyway.”
“I just wanted to confirm I’m picking you up at six-thirty tonight.”
Eve is instantly wary. That’s the time he always picks her up for dinner.
“Were you out last night? I called but your machine picked up.”
She can tell he’s making an effort to keep it casual, but her muscles still tense and she grips the phone tighter. “Dad! Are you checking up on me?” Of course, if she weren’t keeping things from him she wouldn’t have this problem. She makes an effort to soften her tone. “Hey, where are we going tonight, anyway?”
“Your choice, honey. I’ll see you at six-thirty.”
She hangs up. The weight of his concern feels like a force of gravity, anchoring her to the ground, making her clumsy and slow.
She stops briefly in the bathroom, opens the medicine cabinet, and looks at the bottle of Valium. Then she closes the cabinet door, pads back to the bedroom, and climbs into bed beside Ethan. Now awake, he nuzzles her chin with his beard, kisses the hollow of her neck.
“Who was it?”
“What did he want?”
“He wanted to talk to me. If the two of you are so interested in each other, why don’t you just get together and stop using me as a go-between?” She regrets taking out her frustration on Ethan as soon as the words leave her mouth.
“You know I’m not interested in your father,” Ethan says, evenly. “I only ask out of self defense.”
She sighs. The tightness at the base of her skull means the start of a headache. Ethan lifts her T-shirt away from her breasts and lightly licks a nipple until it hardens. He’s in the process of pulling the T-shirt over her head when the phone rings again. With another sigh, Eve takes hold of her shirt and pulls it back down. As she starts to get out of bed, Ethan reaches an arm around her waist to keep her there. “Let it ring. Daddy Dearest can wait.”
She pushes his arm away, gets up, and walks back down the hall. She returns a few seconds later. “It’s for you.”She pulls her terrycloth robe from the hook on the back of the door and heads to the bathroom.
In the shower, Eve lets the hot water beat against her neck and shoulders, as she examines a nickel-sized dark purple bruise on her hip that flares dramatically against her milky white skin, trying to remember how she got it. A smaller bruise on her right elbow, where she smacked it against the doorframe, is already fading. She’s been so uncoordinated lately. She tests the outside of her thigh for soreness, then takes a long time washing every part of her body.
When she shuts off the water and pushes back the shower curtain, she finds Ethan braced against the sink, staring at her. He’s wearing the dark blue bathrobe she gave him for Christmas, which he keeps in her apartment. He’s holding a mug of steaming coffee that he hands it to her without comment. She turns her body sideways as she steps out of the shower, hoping he hasn’t noticed her latest bruise. She accepts the mug and takes a couple of sips before handing it back and drying herself off with a large white towel.
As he watches, she wraps another towel around her wet hair and puts her bathrobe on.
“Do you want to know why she called?”
“I don’t even want to know that she exists, Ethan! Why would I want to know why she called?”
“She’s the mother of your child. She has 24-hour access to you. She has my fucking telephone number!” As if from a distance, Eve listens to herself losing control. She yanks the towel away from her head and throws it on the floor. She grabs her brush and furiously tugs at her tangled wet hair. The day has already slipped away from her, spinning off into a gloomy darkness, yet she’s powerless to dial down the stridency in her voice. She can’t ask Ethan to stay, even though that’s what she wants to do. Her face sets in a hard, closed expression.
Ethan goes into the bedroom, where Eve hears him getting dressed. She’s still brushing her hair when he reappears in the doorway. “I have to go.”
“Of course you do.” This is the one Saturday of the month Ethan doesn’t have Molly. Correction: the one Saturday he wasn’t supposed to have her.
“I’ll call you this afternoon. Do you want me to pick something up later for dinner?”
She shakes her head. “I’m having dinner with my father.”
“Ah.” He nods.
She looks at his reflection in the mirror and feels the air between them thicken, the space between them expand. She wants to touch him, to say something, but she’s stuck to this spot and he feels too far away, already gone.
She hears his footsteps on the bare wooden floor, the thud of the front door closing. She puts her hairbrush down, opens the medicine cabinet, and takes out the bottle of Valium. She washes down two pills with the cooling coffee from the mug Ethan left on the counter. As she swallows the rest of the coffee, she closes her eyes, leans against the edge of the sink, and tries to remember what she dreamed about this morning—something good, wasn’t it? Something about flying.