Direction

Once, a woman with kind eyes and a sun hat gave me directions in a voice so pure and sweet that I trusted her completely. I would have trusted her with anything; she did not ask for anything, but if she had, I would have given it gladly. She only said, Turn left, then turn right at the light, then keep going. Eventually you will see it on your left. I smiled and thanked her and she smiled back, a soft, comfortable smile that kept me warm and safe. I turned left, turned right at the light, then I was in a neighborhood of restaurants: everybody seemed to be out drinking on the street.  There was clatter and chatter and it was quite pleasant to walk on that street in the late afternoon with the sun red and lazy at the bottom of the sky.

The restaurants changed to industrial buildings: the stamps factory, then the cinderblock where they used to make shoelaces, then Ginsberg’s. The woman had said, eventually, a word that implied you might be walking a long time before you got there.  The factories faded into suburbs and I liked the way the land was divided into such quaint little plots.  You knew what you were getting into when you thought, house; you knew it also meant car, fence, garage, yard, dog. You knew what all those things were and that school was nearby, and children, and other houses, doing the same house thing, with their same house stuff.

It was beginning to get dark but the woman’s face—no, not her face, exactly, but the essence of her face—shone before me, like a moon. I remembered this place from when I was a teenager and Fruity and I would come down here to touch each other.  Everyone called him Fruity, I don’t know why, his name was Sam. At one point, I knew why, and we laughed about it. On the right there was that lake where we used to park; we always stopped just short of sex and it felt like driving circles around the lake for hours. The lake was the shade of a glassy green eye. I wanted him to fuck me, but he was like a house. I realized, when I noticed the lake, that I had been looking for it so keenly on the left that I had missed noticing so many things on the right. It seemed so great a loss that I almost stopped to cry, but it would be coming up any minute now, on the left.  Besides, I consoled myself, on the way back I could look to the right, not so much would have changed. But of course I would not know what had changed and what hadn’t; when Fruity and I came, there were no fish in the lake; now, there were fish, schools of them with their glisteny scales and gummy eyes—or had there always been fish, and had they frightened Fruity?

By now it was totally dark and I was in a place I’d never been before. The road started to curve around, and every so often the headlights of a car would swing by, then the car itself. It must have been very late, but miraculously, I wasn’t tired at all. I began to notice my body, to marvel at it, as if it did not belong to me, for it had not called attention to itself as it always did. For years, I had had a throbbing, relentless pain in my leg that I knew was psychosomatic because every so often it would switch legs.  Maybe, I thought—and I had to discover the thought just as I had to discover my body—I had already passed it, maybe it was back by the factories, or before them, just after the turn at the light, where the people filled the air with a hum like cicadas. I listened to the thought politely, and then continued on.

I was in a forest, and I loved forests. I had always wanted to live inside a tree and fish in the stream for trout. I could still hear the woman’s voice: it rang in my head like a telephone at night—dreamlike, persistent. Turn left, then turn right at the light, eventually you will see it on your left. Inside the voice was the woman’s body, and I touched it with my voice. The voice asked to tie me up. I said yes. I wanted it to. It used silk underwear to bind me to two posters of a four poster bed. Where had that bed come from? I wondered, but there was more silk inside my mouth.  We had agreed to a safe-word that I had forgotten. It didn’t matter. I trusted it.

I realized I had forgotten to look for it on my left. What if it had been there and I hadn’t seen it? I realized I had forgotten what it was. I kept walking. I came to a meadow. Then it was morning. There was a town filled with cats, then it was afternoon. Then a bridge. The bridge did not end. It was night and I was still on the bridge. But to the left was the ocean, and I loved the ocean.