A hand grabs her shoulder! She sucks in a shriek and holds it.
But it’s only her buddy, Nicole. Nicole has a knack for shaking her up.
“Got me again,” says Beverly.
Nicole grins. “Got you out of your head, is what I did.” Setting off eddies of energy in the quiet café, she puts her camera bag on the floor, her latté on the table and enjoys a loud, sighing stretch–too loud as far as Beverly is concerned, especially in public.
“I have a lot on my mind,” says Beverly.
“You always do.”
Beverly sidesteps the jab. “I’ve got only five good students this term, my son never calls, that damn divorce lawyer—”
Nicole interrupts. “Let’s take a trip.”
“I need a vacation. So do you. We could go to…” Nicole pauses, as if waiting for inspiration. “Indonesia! Yes,” she says, as if it’s settled, “Indonesia.”
“Just like that?”
Nicole grins. “Why not? It’s so cheap there, we could stay two months.”
Beverly feels a draft inside her, as if a door has opened. That’s when she notices the lint on her sweater. She picks a speck off her sleeve… cuff…pocket…
“For heaven’s sake, Bev! You want to waste your life picking lint?”
“Sorry.” Nicole reaches across the table for Beverly’s hand. “Listen, this is from the deepest, knowing part of me.” Her eyes bore into Beverly. “We should do this.”
Beverly resists. ”I can’t just take off on a whim.”
“Why not? You’re off for the summer, I’m wrapping up my film.”
“I may not be teaching this summer, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be free.”
Nicole gives her a smug, I-rest-my-case look. “Exactly.”
Beverly doesn’t have to ask what Nicole means. She inches toward a cliff, dragging her feet all the way. “It’ll cost too much. I can’t be away so long. I’ve got a new course to plan. I—”
“Come on, Bev.”
Beverly stands at a dizzying edge. She knows she’s missing something. What? She can’t say, but Nicole seems to have it. “All right!” she says and jumps.
* * * *
Six weeks into the trip, they’re in Padang Bay, Bali. Beverly strolls barefoot on silky grass to a white chair in a garden by the bay. The water glistens, honeysuckle scents the air, waves carve crescents in the sand….
Beverly startles, as if from a dream and finds herself sprawled in the chair with Nicole sitting beside her.
Nicole gives her a questioning look. “Is this the same woman who’s always thinking?”
Beverly tries to sound serious. “That must be someone else.”
Just then, Ketut, the waiter, serves breakfast: red papaya, banana pancakes, coffee with sweet condensed milk. “Good good hello,” he says, smiling with his whole being like a baby.
His openness is contagious. Beverly greets him with the same whole-heartedness and likes how it feels.
When he leaves, Nicole grabs a chunk of papaya with her fingers and points it at Beverly. “Remember when you wanted to plan each day so nothing would be left to chance?”
“I’d still be doing that if you weren’t here. You’re the one who’s floating; I’m just tagging along.”
“No, you’ve relaxed a lot. You–” Nicole stops mid-sentence and seems to be listening.
Beverly braces herself.
“Want to find out?”
“If you can float by yourself. We could split up and—”
“You mean today?” Beverly goes into full resistance mode. She is controlling less and feeling more, but can’t imagine being that free by herself. And in a foreign country, no less.
“I was thinking of a week.”
“A week?!” Beverly suspends a fork-full of pancake in mid-air.
“Yeah. We’ve got two weeks left; we could spend this week apart and join up for the last.”
Inside, Beverly stands at another edge. Part of her digs in her heels like a scared child and cries, I don’t want to go. Don’t make me. But the part that wants to change is stronger. “Let’s do it!” she says.
“Great. Some alone-time could do me good too.” Nicole gazes at the bay. “I’ve relied too much on you to handle the practical stuff. I need to do more of that for myself.”
“Damn right.” Beverly packs her words with resentment. “I thought you were too ‘spiritual’ to concern yourself with such mundane things.”
“Ooo that hurt,” says Nicole. “But you’re right. I’m really sorry.”
Beverly almost says, It’s about time. But doesn’t. “So what’s the plan?”
“I want to go back to Mataram. For more photos. And you?”
Beverly doesn’t know if the drumming inside her is fear or excitement. “Ummm, maybe I’ll go to…” She can’t think of anything but an answer comes: “Ubud?”
“Good choice. How about we meet there in a week, that’s next Thursday, at two o’clock in front of—”she checks their guidebook—“the Lotus Café.”
It’s decided. Beverly packs after breakfast and in a fit of bravado, leaves the guidebook with Nicole.
* * * *
A bemo, one of the vans used for public transport, is about to leave for
Klungkung, a city halfway to Ubud.
Nicole gives her a good luck hug. “You’ll be fine, Bev. Just relax and trust your gut.” Beverly boards the bemo, climbs over baskets of produce and rice, and wedges between four people and a chicken on a bench built for three. Suddenly, it’s moving, Nicole is waving, and Beverly is being borne away. Away from the only person in Asia who knows me, the child inside her whimpers. Nicole gets smaller…and smaller…and disappears.
Inside the bemo, alien faces stare at Beverly. Outside, colors stream in a sickening blur. She sees a tense woman with anxious eyes and clamped lips in the window. That’s me! she realizes.
Beverly only sees that face when she catches herself unawares. Normally she feels attractive. She may be forty-eight but in boots and jeans or a tailored suit she can be stunning, like a brunette Meryl Streep, she’s been told.
Someone is tapping her arm!
Beverly contracts and a noise like a quack comes out of her.
A wizened old woman leans close and says, “Yuuyuuess!” She has a joyful grin and red betel-stained teeth.
Yuuyuuess? Beverly repeats the strange syllables, then grins. “Yes,” she nods, “me U.S.”
The blur outside the window turns into bicyclers with firewood piled on
their heads, sway-backed pigs with low-slung bellies, shimmering rice fields, palms with papayas. She takes a deep, calming breath and imagines a happy reunion with Nicole in the Lotus Café. Maybe I’ll have apple strudel, she thinks. With ice cream.
She changes bemos in Klungkung and reaches Ubud without another panic attack— until she faces the row of cheap Indonesian-style guesthouses on Monkey Forest Road. The old Beverly would have arrived with reservations at a Western-style hotel or at least consulted a guidebook. The new Beverly will have to trust her gut.
The Lily Pad, the first place she checks, smells bad. Further down the street, a sign reads: “Kerta, beautiful view of sunset.” A smiling young man shows her a room. It looks clean. The terrace faces a serene rice field. There’s even a flush toilet and a cold water shower.
“Thirty-five thousand. And we give big breakfast and all day tea.”
That’s only three dollars and fifty cents. “I’ll take it.”
As soon as the man leaves, she raises her arms for a triumphant stretch. I did it! she thinks. This is great!
But when she looks again, the rusted twin beds, scarred table and dangling light bulb don’t seem so great after all. By the time she unpacks and goes for lunch, her confidence is gone.
Everyone in the restaurant is laughing and talking. Everyone but her. She feels trapped behind a wall. After lunch, she walks around town dragging the wall with her and returns to her room, exhausted.
She’s lying on the bed, huddled in a corner of herself, when an imaginary Nicole pokes her. “Poor Bev,” she says with exaggerated concern. “If I were you, I’d feel really, really sorry for myself.”
Beverly has to smile. And when the hotel man sets a thermos of tea on the terrace, she goes out to greet him.
“Mata hari,” he says, pointing at the setting sun.
“Mata…eye, hari…day,” he explains.
“Mata hari,” she repeats. “Eye of day?”
The man nods happily and wishes her a good evening.
She sits on the terrace, sipping tea. Clouds turn crimson then copper and gold. And as night closes over the eye of the day, her own lids slowly lower.
* * * *
Beverly wakes from her nap to a violet sky, a cool breeze, and a rousing appetite for dinner. She dreads another lonely restaurant ordeal, but when she leaves her room, the biggest full moon she has ever seen is sitting on the horizon. And it’s green! The breathtaking sight interrupts her misery-making long enough for her to remember Nicole’s parting advice: Relax and trust your gut.
She walks to the road with no idea of where to go. Imitating Nicole, she pauses to see what she feels. Unlike Nicole, she worries she won’t feel anything. When she manages to relax, a silent tug draws her to the right, towards the outskirts of town.
It’s dark but the moon turns the road luminous green. Balinese men squat in doorways, travelers stroll, dogs prowl. She passes an outdoor café and feels like having a drink.
But I never drink alone, the old Beverly says.
So? says her new self.
She orders arak, a tequila-like drink, and leans back to float with the moon. The arak glows warm, the moon glows cool and life seems good.
Upon leaving the café, Beverly finds herself headed toward the center of town. She passes one restaurant after another–Dennis’s, Lilly’s, Canderi’s, Harry Chew’s. Each is inviting with tasty smells and happy sounds, but something draws her to Lilly’s. Beverly hesitates. It doesn’t make sense to walk all the way back. But it feels right. She retraces her steps.
She chooses a table, orders tempeh and rice, and sits back to observe the scene. Some Germans are swapping tips on bargains in Sumatra, a French couple is staring at a private gloom, a group of boisterous Australians is drinking beer and laughing. At the table next to hers, two Americans are sharing stories and a plate of French fries. Beverly leans to listen.
“The type I go for is passionate at first but ends up mean.” The speaker has a bubbly voice and springy curls that bounce to a lively beat. “Mellow guys leave me cold.”
The other woman, full-bodied with a thick, silvery braid, chews a potato and nods. “But they can be nicer.”
“You’re telling me? I think there’s a bumper-sticker on my butt that says, ‘Kick me.’”
The silver haired woman lets out a laugh. “Those stickers are hard to peel off but it is do-able.”
Beverly wants to join their conversation. Ordinarily, she wouldn’t dream of intruding, but now….
“God! These ants!”
“Huh?!” She turns to find a man at a table to her right, squirming and
swatting and smiling. He has swarthy good looks and sensual lips, and is probably no older than thirty.
“These ants,” he repeats, “they are all over me.”
She noticed him before and dismissed him as a Mediterranean macho type. “Maybe they like you.” She shrugs and turns away.
“At least somebody likes me.”
It’s only a flippant remark but Beverly hears deep longing in it. She looks at him now, at his humid eyes filled with delight and regret, and for an electrifying moment, stretches free.
“My name is Avi,” he offers. “That is short for Avido. It means
She braces for the typical traveler’s talk–I’m from da da da and do this and that, what about you?–but is pleasantly surprised.
“When I was born, I was so eager to come into life, my mother did not even need a mid-wife. So that is what she named me.”
“Lucky you!” She smiles. “It took me days to get born. At least my parents didn’t name me ‘Reluctant.’ I’m Beverly.”
“B’vaily,” he repeats.
“I like that.”
“The way you say my name. I’ve always hated it. ‘Bev-er-ly’ — it’s so plodding, but ‘B’vaily’ kind of sings.”
“So be B’vaily.”
She grins. “It’s as simple as that?”
And so they begin. In accented English, he describes his home in Sicily and his adventures in Bombay and Phuket. She tells him what it’s like to live in the States and teach at a community college. And every now and then it happens again, that feeling of stretching free. Talk is easy, time passes quickly, and soon they are the last diners left.
“I leave Wednesday,” he says as they rise to go. “I may see you tomorrow, yes?”
Beverly faces another precipice. Her old self would back off from the edge and tell him she’s busy. “Let’s see what happens,” she says.
* * * *
Saturday. After breakfast on her terrace, Beverly writes in her journal:
I met a guy who’s too young for me and totally inappropriate
but I like him. Am I crazy to see him? Or crazy not to?
When no answer comes, she goes for a walk. This time she feels drawn towards town.
Displays of silver jewelry, batik shawls and carved pink and green frogs line the street. As she strolls past a clothing shop, Beverly feels that inner pull she’s learning to heed.
An old hippy, in a long skirt and hiking boots, glances up as Beverly enters the store.
“Hi,” she says. “Weren’t you in Lilly’s yesterday?”
Beverly recognizes the silver-haired American with the French fries.
“The name’s Maggie.” The woman holds out a plump hand, ringed on every finger.
“Hi. I’m… B’vaily. You know,” she continues emboldened, “I almost talked to you last night. I liked what you said about getting rid of old bumper stickers.”
“Yeah?” Maggie steps closer.
“I’m trying to make changes myself, but it’s confusing. I don’t want to be where I’ve been, but I don’t know where I’m going. Know what I mean?”
“Do I?” Maggie rolls her eyes as if she knows too well. “The trick is to trust you’ll get there and enjoy the trip.”
As their conversation draws to an end, Avi appears. Beverly feels a ripple of excitement before she sees him. He seems aware of her too but acts as if he’s examining a shirt. She says good-bye to Maggie, greets Avi, and in unspoken agreement, leaves the shop with him.
“What a lucky day,” he says and his hand brushes hers.
They stroll side by side. To her own surprise, Beverly doesn’t feel pressed to make conversation or decide where to go; it seems enough just to be with this man and feel happy.
“Look!” Avi points at a window display of Italian pastries, his eyes, round with delight. “We can go in, yes?”
It is Café Wayan, the restaurant of her lonely lunch. Now it seems invitingly intimate. Half a dozen tables and chairs and a billowy couch look out on a quiet garden. They choose the couch.
He sinks into the cushioned depths and rubs his hand.
She sits on the edge.
“I broke it,” he explains, displaying his swollen fingers. “A motorcycle
accident in Poona.”
She eyes the hand, the plunging neckline of his unbuttoned shirt, the flourish of hair on his chest, the gold chain around his neck and thinks, What am I doing with a guy like this?
“You like it?” Avi proudly displays the antique crucifix on his chain. “My mother put this on me the day I was born. I never take it off.”
Maybe he’s not so bad after all. “You seem so open,” she says, relaxing into the cushions.
“Perhaps. But being open does not mean I am happy.” He shakes his head, as if trying to forget what he remembers. “I can get really hurt.”
“At least you’re not afraid to feel.”
He smiles through shadows. “Do I have a choice?”
When they are ready to leave, Avi offers to pay.
“Thanks, but why should I expect you to pay for me?”
“It is not because you expect it.” He sounds bruised. “I would like to.”
But her money is on the table.
As they walk out, he asks, “Would you accept anything from me? Like maybe a flower?”
Beverly hears the deep longing in his voice that she noticed when they first met. This time it makes her uneasy, but she manages a polite reply, “I’d like a flower.”
When they reach the street, he wants to go to the Monkey Forest; she wants to be alone.
“We shall meet later?” he asks.
Inside, a familiar voice says, Tell him “no” and be done with it. “Let’s leave it open,” she says.
Without knowing where she’s going, she makes her way through a din of bemos and motorcycles, vendors’ calls and market stalls, girls with pails of water on their heads, men with fighting cocks tucked under their arms. Just when the din begins to feel like an assault, she arrives at the massive stone entrance of a temple.
Beverly pushes the gate open—something her old self would never do—and finds exactly what she needs: a deserted courtyard walled off from the noise of the street.
She enters, locates a bench in the shade and immediately starts arguing with herself:
I shouldn’t see him again.
But I’m attracted to him.
So why do I keep pulling back?
‘Cause I always pull back.
But he could be dangerous. Or crazy.
After a few more rounds, she tries what Nicole might do; she asks for guidance.
A breeze strokes her cheek…a bee buzzes an orchid…a mynah bird hops across the grass…. And as she waits for help, a fantasy Avi takes her in his arms and holds her to him. They are floating, floating and turning, turning slowly to light, light like dazzling sun on sea….
That’s my answer! she thinks. But when she seizes the vision, she loses it.
* * * *
After a light supper Beverly returns to her room, stretches out on her bed and thinks about meeting Avi. Somehow, it’ll happen. Somehow…. She slips into the arms of her fantasy Avi and soon they are floating, floating and turning, turning slowly to light–
It’s him! She had mentioned the name of her guesthouse but not her room number, and now he is there–really there, trying to find her.
She is wearing black lace panties. Nothing else. “Hello,” she calls, opening the door while wrapping a sarong around her body. “I was just wishing you’d come.” She revels in her daring.
“You were?” He seems happily surprised. “Truly?”
There are no chairs so they sit cross-legged on the floor.
She smiles–seductively shy.
He smiles–shyly seductive.
She studies the painted green floor….
He rubs his wrist….
She smoothes the folds of her sarong….
He rocks his knees till he finds a way to begin. “Can you do this?” He weaves his legs into a full lotus position.
She practices yoga but normally is too stiff to hold a full lotus. Now she can.
Without releasing his legs, he arches back, touches his head to the floor, and breathes.
She does the same.
He leans forward, touches his forehead to the floor, and breathes.
So does she.
Still in full lotus they move closer, grasp hands and arch back, poised in
Then she is in his arms. He is holding her to him, caressing her hair, kissing her eyelids…her mouth…neck…and she is floating, floating and turning slowly to light–just as she imagined.
As one, they rise and shift to the bed. Her sarong unwraps, his shorts and shirt fall away. It’s happening too fast.
He seizes her nakedness, she inhales his musk, their bodies meet and blend.
“Ahhh, B’vaily,” he sighs and hands her a condom.
She bends to kiss him, to lick and suck the tangy taste, and rolls the condom on him.
He draws her up into his arms and holds her. Then he is in her, moving fast and faster, and she is with him, a majestic bird reaching for sky, spreading her wings, rising with him, rising with every thrust—
Abruptly, she hits the ground. She tries to let go, to lift off and join him but her mind is too busy: What’s the matter with me? Why did I stop? Doesn’t he even notice I’m not with him? And the more she tries, the more she fails.
Then he is soaring, soaring away, and she is left behind.
Avi sleeps, his breath smooth and even, while Beverly flounders in a private hell. She is hating herself, her fear, the oblivious stranger beside her, all the oblivious strangers before him.
Avi stirs, starts kissing her again, swelling toward her–
“Not now, Avi. I’m not into it.”
He recoils. “Not into it?!”
“Not like I thought I’d be. I–”
His eyes ignite. “Maybe you think too much.”
She pulls the sheet up to her chin.
He stomps to the other bed where he left his clothes, dresses quickly and leaves.
Some time in the night, she goes out to sit on the terrace. There is a
book about yoga in front of her door and a note:
I leeve Ubud soon
exceped these present
from a friend
Inside the book is a white frangipani, the gift she agreed to accept. She reads the note over and over and sleeps, cradled in Avi’s presence.
* * * *
Sunday. Beverly sits on her terrace with her journal.
Something in me was opening with Avi but I think I got scared.
I miss him now, miss what could have been. I—
“B’vaily?” He rushes toward her, arms extended as if to enfold her.
He stops short of touching her. “I could not leave without seeing you.” He searches her face. “I am not sure you are happy to see me?”
She isn’t sure either.
He sits beside her at the table and stares at the field beyond her terrace….
She sinks into thought….
Suddenly, like a child who can’t wait, Avi seizes her hand. “Come with me to the Monkey Forest? It was so wonderful yesterday, I wanted you with me.”
On the way, they stop at the Wayan for fruit and yogurt and more talk. He tells of his last relationship, how he met the woman when she was weak, how he nourished and helped her grow strong, how she deceived him and– “Oh but I talk too much about me,” he interrupts himself. “It is not good. Especially not to talk about the suffering. It is better to close the door on that and talk about”– a blue butterfly glides by– “about butterflies.”
That’s interesting, she thinks. He walls himself off from pain, but I wall myself off from–
“Come on!” he draws her out. “We go now to something beautiful.”
They leave the blaring yellow of tropical sun and enter the hushed green of rain forest. Avi leads the way through a family of rambunctious monkeys, down worn stone steps to a stream in a crevice of the earth. As they approach the water, a bare-breasted native woman rises from her bath and turns modestly to dress. Another scrubs laundry and doesn’t look up.
“It is wonderful, yes?” Avi spread his arms as if to embrace the forest then kicks off his shoes and wades in. “We shall go on? This is as far as I came yesterday.”
Beverly holds back. She considers the dense jungle, the slippery rocks, the parasites that could infest the water. Better not, she thinks. But her shoes are already off.
And so they make their way up-stream. The rocks are slippery, the water may be polluted, but she is having too much fun to worry. They are frolicking children, brave adventurers, spirited horses, and every stretch, every leap feels good.
All at once, they come upon a clearing, rimmed by a cliff draped with
shimmering vines. A liquid rainbow cascades off the cliff, down opalescent rocks, into an emerald pool far below.
The sight fills her with awe. “It’s magical,” she whispers.
“Like a fairyland,” he says. And in one fluid move, he sheds his clothes,
climbs onto a boulder and leaps.
Oh no, she grips her face. What if he hits the rocks? What if the pool is too shallow? What if–
“Jump!” he calls when he surfaces. “It is delicious.”
“Me?” Beverly stares at the sheer drop. She wants to jump, wants to soar like Avi, but imagines stepping off the ledge and crashing into rocks. She backs away.
It feels like another failure.
Glancing around to make sure they’re alone, she removes her dress and
panties. Then slowly, burdened with disappointment and anxiety, she crawls down the rocky slope.
Avi laughs as she awkwardly enters the water. “I think my way was easier.”
It is late afternoon when they emerge from the forest. She needs to be alone to let the events of the day settle.
He doesn’t ask if he may see her later. “As you like, we leave it open, yes?”
* * * *
Beverly enjoys having dinner by herself but keeps wishing she had a woman friend to help her figure out what’s going on.
On the way back to her hotel she notices an inconspicuous sign that points to a narrow path off the main road: “Okawati’s.” Her gut says, Follow it. Her mind says, Don’t. She hesitates, then takes the path.
It leads away from the safety of lights and people on the main road into a dark, deserted field. It is scary, but she keeps walking. There are strange animal noises. Still, she keeps walking. Suddenly, a figure looms before her!
The figure turns. “B’vaily?! How’ve you been?”
The old Beverly might have said, “Fine,” and left it at that. The new Beverly says, “The question is ‘Who have I been?’ Join my new and old self for a drink?”
As they walk, an open-air restaurant emerges from the night. It glows with candlelight and hums with hushed conversation. They choose a secluded table and order a couple of San Miguel beers.
“I kept wishing for a girlfriend tonight.” Beverly feels exhilarated by her
boldness. “I need to talk.”
“To figure out what’s going on?”
“You got it.”
“Well here I am.” Maggie bows. “Tell.”
Beverly grins and starts her story. “I met a man.”
“Ooh.” Maggie perks up. “The one from the restaurant?”
Beverly nods. “You don’t miss a thing, do you?”
“He looked nice, really nice. Good for you.”
Beverly stares at the table. “I’m not sure if it is good. Anyway, it’s almost over.”
“Are you upset?”
“Not about him leaving. I knew he would from the start. But being with him has really shaken me up.”
“Sex’ll do that,” Maggie nods knowingly.
“Maybe. But that’s not why I’m shook up.”
“No, it’s because I’m opening.”
Maggie chuckles. “Honey, you call it your way, I’ll call it mine.”
“But it’s not just about sex.” Beverly strains to explain—to herself as well as Maggie. “It’s like I’ve been looking at life from high up and I want to jump in. It’s like… um…”
“Like jumping out of your head and into the body?”
“Exactly!” Beverly feels understood. “And I can do that with this guy.”
“Sounds exciting.” Maggie raises her beer ceremoniously. “To the body.”
“To the body,” says Beverly, clinking bottles.
“But I get scared.” Beverly rips a strip of label off her beer. “And I can’t decide if it’s just because I’m not used to being this open or because I sense something dangerous about this guy.”
“You can’t decide that, B’vaily. But you can know it.”
“But I don’t.” Beverly rips off another strip.
“You knew how to find a friend tonight, didn’t you?”
Beverly smiles and relaxes.
When it’s time to leave, they part at the main road, and Beverly walks to her room feeling all is right with the world.
* * * *
Monday. Avi shows up at her place in the morning and they spend the day exploring the market, listening to gamelon music, and watching a dance troupe. That evening, they return to the restaurant that has become “their place.” A narrow walkway leads from the dining room into the garden and ends at a platform with a solitary low table, floor cushions, and candles. This time they sit there. In romantic seclusion, they enjoy a sensuous feast of coconut curried spinach and fried rice, and lean together to watch the setting sun.
Beverly is floating again–with Avi, the turquoise sky, the perfumed air…
Abruptly, she stands. “I should leave.”
“Leave?” He glares at her like a beast.
“This is all a bit much for me.”
He looks away. When he turns back, the beast is gone. “I may come later?”
Back at her room, she sits on the terrace, goes inside, throws herself on the bed, gets up, paces—
She checks her watch. I’ve got to get away, she thinks. Before he comes. She decides to write a note and leave at once.
I’m sorry. I want so much to be with you, yet
can’t. Somehow this is more than I can bear.
Thanking you for all your gifts, Beverly
She tacks the note to her door, turns to go, and literally bumps into Avi.
“I was leaving,” she stammers, eyes fixed on her sandals. “I feel terrible but… I left a note.”
“Leaving?” He gets that wild animal look again.
She backs away.
He starts pacing the terrace with pounding steps.
“I’m sorry,” she says when he seems calmer. “I’m so confused, I don’t know if I’m running from you or me or…”
He walks to her. “Shhh, it is all right,” he says, touching his finger to her lips. “It is like that in me too.”
“It is? How?”
“I do not know. Can we not be together anyway?”
“We could walk.” He reaches for her hand.
She lets him take it. In silence, they stroll the main street, pass the shops and restaurants, and turn back at the temple.
“There is so much I want to say but—” Avi stops himself. “It is not fair. I am always the one talking and you are always the one listening. You give too much.”
“But I’m getting a lot too, just by being with you. We’re like a double helix. Know what that is?”
“A double healings?”
“Helix,” she repeats. “But your word is better. We’re like strands in a braid, helping each other, healing each other.”
“I like that,” he says. “It is never so equal for me.”
When they reach her terrace, he sits on the floor and leans against the wall. She nestles between his legs. The breeze is sweet and cooling, the dark sparks with fireflies and stars. She sways with the rise and fall of his breath. Or is it hers? Each movement holds a universe. There is only now, only always….
“I could feel like this forever,” he says, tenderly kissing her neck.
She is starting to float…turning slowly, getting lighter and lighter, slowly turning to light–when fear yanks her back.
“It’s happening again.” She stiffens. “I’m wanting to be with you and wanting to run away. It’s tearing me apart. We’ve got to say good-bye or I’ll drive us both crazy.”
He hits her with, “Maybe you already have,” gives her a brusque hug and leaves.
She is alone, alone with her grief and confusion, her excitement and longing. She didn’t know she could feel so much….
And then he’s back, rushing toward her. “I cannot,” he sobs. “I cannot.” He kneels before her. “Something in me is opening with you. I cannot close it yet.”
She thinks, He’s so melodramatic, like a one-man Italian opera, but feels her heart open anyway. “What is it?”
“I cannot take anymore,” he gasps, “the suffering, all the suffering. Help me?”
“I’m loving you,” she says. And means it.
Avi looks at her with gratitude. “You are my mother and my sister and my lover. You are so good. I love you too.” As if alarmed, he adds, “That does not mean I want to marry you.”
She thinks of retaliating with, I don’t want to marry you either, bastard, but takes a slow, deep breath instead. “I know,” she says, acknowledging what is true for both of them. “It means now, here.”
“Yes.” He clasps her hand. “You understand. You always understand.”
She leads him inside and they sit facing each other on the twin beds. He tells of the rejecting mother who sent him to boarding school, the sadistic nuns who raised him, the lovers who betrayed him. He loved them all, tried to help them and make them love him but failed. Over and over he failed.
“That is how I hurt my hand. It is the only thing I lied to you about.” He can’t look at her now. “It was no accident. I was so mad at this woman, I wanted to… to hurt her, but I hurt my hand instead. I smashed it and smashed it until it broke into pieces.”
“Why does every woman I love turn against me? I do not want to be alone,” he groans, “but I cannot keep getting hurt like this. And I must never get so mad again.”
As she watches, his face morphs into a gargoyle head with demon eyes! And suddenly she understands that he wants to kill his mother, to kill all the women who hurt him. A voice inside her screams, Even me, maybe!
But when she looks again, she sees only the pale, anguished face of a friend.
Avi seems to sense her fear. “I think I am crazy,” he whispers.
Beverly turns from her own fear to deal with his. It’s easier, at least for now. “Not crazy,” she says, “tormented.”
“But what is wrong with me?”
“Nothing is ‘wrong,’ but I think you hate your mother.”
Something in him seems to shift. “Dear God,” he says, “I do! I am not a man. I am a child. I keep thinking every woman is like my mother.”
He sits, nodding and looking into himself.
It is past midnight. “I’m going to sleep,” she says.
“I can stay?”
When she agrees, he thanks her and thanks her. “You are my best friend. There are people I have known all my life but in a few days you have become my best friend.”
Avi remains sitting on one bed, she stretches out on the other and switches off the light.
Deep in the night, Beverly hears someone creeping towards her bed. There’s nowhere to hide, no one to help. A hand grabs her shoulder. She sucks in a shriek, holds it—and wakes up. It was just a dream, but it feels important and she records it in her journal.
Avi is still sitting up, coughing away tears.
“Want some tea?” she asks.
“That would be good.”
She pours two cups from the thermos on the terrace and sets them on the bedside table. She drinks. He doesn’t. She drinks. He doesn’t.
“My God, I am crazy!” His words explode in the dark. “You know what I just thought? ‘She poisoned the tea.’ That is why I did not drink. My God.”
“We’re both crazy,” she says with a sad smile, “both trapped in old fears.”
He nods and comes to her bed. “I am so tired of it.”
“Me too.” She accepts him into her bed now, not as a lover but as an exhausted friend.
* * * *
Tuesday. Avi leaves after breakfast to prepare for the next leg of his journey. He promises to join her later. Beverly spends the day reading on her terrace, then goes out for dinner.
He is sitting on her terrace steps when she returns. She sits beside him. A woman crosses the field, balancing a basket on her head. Somewhere, a drum sounds. Avi studies his hand and rubs it.
“Does it hurt?”
He nods. “It does not let me forget what I did.”
She touches his fingers to her lips, wondering if she should, strokes his wrist, wondering if she shouldn’t.
He smiles into himself. “Ahhh, what you are doing, it is good.”
“What you’re doing is good too,” she says. “You can just ‘be’ without thinking all the time. Sometimes I can’t stand myself.” She twists a strand of her hair till it snaps. “It’s like I’m all head and no body.”
He puts on the kind of look that burns through clothes and eyes her up and down. “Woman,” he says with a playful growl, “you do have a body.”
She laughs and relaxes. “If you want, come in and I’ll give you a massage.”
“I want,” he grins.
She watches him undress. “You’re magnificent,” she says, admiring his
nakedness. “Like Michaelangelo’s David.”
He poses like the David, then self-consciously throws himself face down on the bed.
Beverly straddles his hips and places her hands on his shoulders. To her
surprise, they’re rigid. She breathes into the muscles until they release, rests her hands on his back… arms… legs… breathing, releasing. And as his armor dissolves, so does hers.
“If you like,” he whispers, “I will do you.”
“It’s okay.” She leans to kiss the deep recess of his neck. “This is good for me too.” Avi dozes and drifts, drifts and dozes. After a while, she rolls him onto his back to continue the massage but he draws her to him and wraps her in his repose.
Her body molds to his. She inhales his breath, inhales his sex scent. Then they are breathing as one, not two breathing together, but one breathing, one being, one.
He kisses her hair, the corners of her mouth….
“Ahh…” she murmurs. Or is it he?
Then he is there! Inside. Lulling her, lifting her, filling her. Thoughts pursue her but she slips away–turning and floating, she slips away…. And a wave rises up and carries them, carries them to a scintillating sea –no, not to the sea, they are the sea, are the wave, are….
* * * *
Wednesday. Beverly wakes early. While Avi sleeps, she has breakfast on the terrace and lets her mind drift. Is it only six days since they met? So much has happened–their chance encounter at dinner and the next day in the shop, his surprise appearances and re-appearances, the changes they have gone through together. Life seems so full, so magical. This is what I’ve been missing, she thinks.
She goes inside just as Avi opens his eyes.
He yawns and stretches luxuriously. “Good morning.”
“Hi. You look bright. Want some fruit salad?” She offers the dish she saved from breakfast.
“Is it safe?” He bursts into tears and laughter. “I am so natural with you. I have never felt like this; it is like rainbows in a rain storm.”
He eats, showers, and dresses.
There is nothing left to do but say good-bye. They hold each other for a long, swaying moment.
She doesn’t beg him to stay. He doesn’t offer.
“You have given me hope,” he says.
“And you’ve helped me feel alive.”
He steps back and looks into her eyes. “You will write, yes? I will do anything for you. Anything. If you ever need–”
Yes! Yes! she wants to shout, but shakes her head instead.
“But maybe one day–”
“No, it would never be like this again.”
“You are wiser than I am; I have no control.”
“And I’ve still got too much.”
Arm in arm they walk to the door, cling to each other one last time, then he wrenches free and is gone.
It’s over. She stands, gazing at the rice field, too empty–and too full–to move.
* * * *
And then it is Thursday. At 1:45 Beverly is outside the Lotus Café. At 1:55 she is pacing and spewing worry-thoughts: What if Nicole doesn’t show? What if something happened? How would I know? At 2 o’clock, she notices her anxious eyes and clamped lips and takes a calming breath. At 2:05 she’s grabbed from behind, spun around, and hugged.
Without a twitch of alarm, Beverly puts her arms around Nicole.
They enter the restaurant and choose a table overlooking a pond laced with white lotus. A waitress comes for their order.
“How about apple strudel?” Nicole says. “With ice cream?”
“That’s exactly what I want!” Beverly feels the thrill of resonance. “Sometimes I think you’re my guardian angel.”
“Maybe sometimes I am. But it seems you did all right on your own.” Nicole leans back and squints at Beverly. “You look great. And different.”
“Hmmm… like looser.”
“Good.” Beverly smiles and feels happy.
The waitress arrives with their order and asks, “Want anything else?”
Beverly savors the frosty, warm, sweet, tart, creamy delight. “Not me,” she beams. “I’ve got everything I want.”
–the end –