from Four Corner of Night

   I awake into darkness and the disorientation of irregular sleep, and Tamara Shipley fills my head.  She has been waiting for me here in consciousness, where I do not want her to be.  I don't remember dreaming about her, or having nightmares, but here she is now, in the night, in reality, right where I left her, not willing to give me even a moment's peace before she sets in. 
    Where is she, really, at this moment, I wonder, as I lie beneath our warm comforter.  In a field somewhere, dead, her body temperature adjusted now to the ambient air, her skin pallid and mottled with lividity? In a box, buried alive?  For a flashing instant, half a breath, I feel the blackness and horror, the protracted suffocation.  Or strapped to a cot in the basement of some crack house, her skinny legs spread and bloodied, her eyes half closed in her pain and semi-consciousness, young homeboys sliding into the room to watch her get done for the two-dozenth time, snickering, reaching out to give her a feel? 
    I sit up and sip from the water glass on my table.  Moonlight falls in across our bed.  I hear the familiar sounds of my house: the furnace blower kicking on to chase out the chill of night; the front screen door chattering in a stiff westerly breeze -- this is what awakened me, I think; my wife, Peggy, breathing heavily in the bed.  She lies on her side, her back to me, the position of easiest approach. I relax a little, lay back down and slide over to her, fit my front to her warmth and curvature.
    Sometimes when I do this her breathing pauses, then grows shallower and more rapid, a sign that she's surfacing. 
    She is a largish woman, but I do not mean by this that she's fat.  She is, I tell her, bountifully equipped, and add, in all truthfulness, that I find this deeply attractive.  She has a wide roomy pelvis, a pleasingly broad and padded behind, good muscular legs, a soft milk-white belly and breasts. She is tall, too, at five seven. 
    On this night, as I lie next to her, her breathing does begin to change.  As she shifts and waggles against me, I feel an old familiar charge.
     "S'early," she says. "You have to get ready?"
    "No," I say.  "Not yet."  The green day-glo numbers on the clock by my bed say it is just four-thirty.
    "Its going to be hard, isn't it. Finding that little girl."
    That she'd mention this surprises me.  She doesn't care to talk much about my work, but the story has pierced people, especially those with kids.
    "I don't think we will," I say.  "Not in time, I mean."
    "S'awful.  Horrible.  Her mother -- "
    "Shh," I say, pushing the hair from her face and then running my hand down over her back.
    "Mm," she says.  She is a careful and deliberate person, particular about things in ways I am still discovering.  But she is grounded, too, solid, and she has that ability to enjoy earthy pleasures in the way they need to be enjoyed, that is with abandon, with total exposure and release.
    We each help the other peel away our nightclothes, and then she pulls me toward her.  An image from a few days earlier floats back to me, of her lying face down with a pillow tucked beneath her hips, pressing her buttocks into the air.  The picture of it brings my blood to a pitch. 
    "How about that pillow thing?" I say into her neck.
    "How 'bout it," she says, and laughs in her throat.  She flings back the covers.
    I float above her then, in the waves of her heat, holding myself up with my arms to watch her moving against me, the rising and falling of her lovely, moon-white ass.  "Oh," she says. "Yes."
    It is not, I'm convinced, the carnality of the act itself, but its simple life force that brings the vision forth.  Tamara Shipley sits in a stuffed chair in the corner of the room, in moonlight, watching us.  I recognize her from the bright-eyed school photo we're circulating.  Only now she has hollows for eyes, dark and sunken and rimmed red.  Blood has dried and caked around her cracked lips.  Her hair hangs in wet strings.  She does not speak or even move.  She just sits, waiting for us to finish, and judging us, I feel, as if we are committing some cardinal sin, but forgiving us, too.  Forgiving us because we are only humans, and adults at that, far past the days of purity to which she so recently belonged, and immeasurably short of the state of grace into which she may well have already passed.

From Four Corners of Night, by Craig Holden, Copyright © 1999