|I write. It's how I make my living. He said that was one of the things he liked about me. He said that he was too busy for writing down words, but he wanted them around him, accessible. I looked to his hands, which were strong and callused and seasoned with the work of his trade. Giving him the power to cut and shape the world in ways that I could never do. The furniture he made was fine art. Sitting in one of his chairs was like having his hands on my body. I had two of them, facing one another in a room with lavender walls and soft lights and a rug woven like tweed.
We shared friends and ended up at many of the same parties. I could feel him looking at me even when he was in next room. We had never been alone. It would seem improper. Improper because my thoughts were wrapped around his thighs and arms and bright clear eyes. My breaths became deep and long when he entered the room. I wanted him inside of me. I could feel him just there. Improper because I had dated his good friend Jeff Kanton for a couple of years. Jeff and I had a mutual parting of the ways. Nothing dramatic or exciting. We decided we were better friends than lovers. Our relationship was based more on the right side of the brain than anywhere. Foreplay consisted of reading the paper and then discussing one of the articles, bringing it to a rather heated pitch and then throwing ourselves into bed. Unfortunately, we had to continue discussing the article and tying in orgasms at the same time and it became sloppy after a while and god forbid if it was a slow news day.
It was shortly after Jeff and I stopped seeing each other that I first met this man, this furniture maker, this dream. I bumped into Jeff at one of our favorite coffee haunts. Jeff was standing there with him. He seemed magical and real and solid and sensual and intense.
"Emma, how are you?" Jeff gave me a light kiss on the mouth.
"Fine, I'm fine." I was afraid to look at this man with Jeff. Afraid I would never be able to look away.
"Working on anything new?"
"Mostly doing edits of some old stuff.
"Emma's a writer," Jeff told him.
"I see," he said
"Emma, this is Alan," Jeff finally said.
"Alan, the Alan?"
"I guess," Alan said.
"The Alan that Jeff went to school with, that saved him from a bunch of guys that thought eyeglasses should be ground into a fine dust, not worn. The one Jeff went cavorting and beer guzzling with through college," I said.
"It's nice to meet you." I held out my hand. He took it and lightly stroked the back of it. Studying it.
"We both make a living with our hands," Alan said.
"Alan is moving here. He's been studying with a master designer in Florence for the past year."
"You make furniture, right?" I said in a whisper. Trying to remain upright. Wanting to be alone. Wanting not to be alone. Wanting him with me.
"I design and make it."
"That's wonderful. I would like to hear more about it, but I need to dash. Maybe, we can talk about it at Haddie Nickel's party. You will bring him won't you, Jeff?" I left suddenly because I felt sweat running down my legs. At least that's what I thought it was. I had never been so struck by anyone in my life. There was a mix of the visceral and the cerebral.
That is how Alan and I met and even though Jeff and I were no longer together, there seemed to be a code. A code not to be with another man's woman even after the affair had gone south. Even though I never belonged to Jeff or anyone else for that matter. This code thing, this damn code that no one talked about, but everyone shows they know about it by disapproving glances, raised eyebrows or conversations conveniently containing the word shouldn't was a definite impediment to having intimate associations with this man. And perhaps the best and simplest thing to do would be to talk to Jeff and Alan about the whole thing, but there didn't seem to be any precedent for that either, not that I needed one, but for some reason I just didn't do it, hoping there was a time limit on how long a man would abide by such a senseless code. Being honorable is one thing, but being deprived of sweet pleasure is quite another.
So, at these parties, Alan and I would step past each other looking but not touching, speaking without breathing, laughing without a joke. There was a casual swagger to his walk. Like he was never in a hurry to get places. That time was made for clock watchers and red faced people waiting impatiently for their lives to move faster than their thoughts. He was tall, lean and slow with his words. They came out of his mouth with definition, purpose and a deep abiding respect for each syllable. I watched his tongue flag lightly between his teeth as he talked, envious of the words sliding from his lips. As the parties progressed later into the night and as the cognac was being poured and the food was settling and remnants of rich desserts lay on the palate, lingering, wanting to absorb more, he would come up behind me and brush those lips past my ear and asked if I wanted another. I would slowly lift my glass toward the tip of the bottle and smile. The liquid amber with aging and spirits ran into my glass.
"Tell me when," he said.
It went on like this for months. Parties and friends and seeing him. I felt I would explode, if I couldn't find a way to explore him, reach into his deepest most private world and implode with him. He must have been affected as well. Haddie told me that his furniture was taking on an unique form. A leg of a coffee table had the same curve to it as my calves and the back of a chair resembled the lift of my shoulders. The stain he used to tint the wood was the same deep reddish brown color as my hair. My unruly hair, that looks better messy than styled. I keep it cut fairly short for that very reason. He once told me that it complimented and framed my luminously oval shaped face perfectly as he brushed strands of it away from my eyes. I never thought of my face as luminous or perfect, but I wasn't going to argue the point with him. It was nice to be looked at through his eyes. They saw me in a way that I couldn't see myself or wouldn't. He brought that to his work, his lovely furniture. What a supreme compliment. I was thrilled. I wanted to see it for myself, but I didn't dare go into his shop.
By chance we ran into each other while shopping at McClain's Bookstore and Hats. A comfortable place where books rule and hats are no longer an outdated accessory and the customers are encouraged to wear hats to purchase while browsing through the stacks and shelves loaded with best sellers, literary fiction, biographies, histories and poetry. It was the first time that Alan and I were not surrounded by people we knew. The place was public, but private all the same.
Anyway, I was standing in the How To section of the store, wearing a wide brimmed fedora when he passed by me. I didn't have to look up. I knew it was Alan by the faint scent of almond oil. He rubbed the oil into his furniture using his bare hands to apply it. He said the almond oil added an extra luster to the surfaces. I had started buying small amounts of the darn stuff just to smell it, to have that scent close by. But smelling it didn't seem to be enough, so I dripped the oil on lips, drop by drop, guiding my fingers in slow motion with soft slick ease around the perimeter, pushing them apart with just the slightest bit of pressure, sliding my fingers into my mouth and gently sucking the remaining oil off their tips. And just as I was taking in the full measure of that experience, letting my imagination run into other areas, some of the oil made it's way to my eyes. It burned like hell. I blinked until tears rolled down my cheeks. Perhaps putting the oil somewhere else would be more effective, but I would prefer to have a furniture maker figure that out.
So, there I was in the How To section trying to find a book on printmaking. The need to make something with my hands seemed to be the only way to calm this impending collision of my body and my heart. I wanted to build my own book from the bottom up. Get my hands immersed in a project that would keep them busy and make my mind work. I have tried other things. Meditation for one. It started out okay. I would sit in a half lotus position clearing my mind of all worldly things. And then I would see his face bathed in a sea of indigo and he was trying to speak and I wanted to hear and I would start shifting with a slight tilt back and then forward and then back again until I teetered off the meditation cushion making an awkward thud on the floor disrupting the rest of the class. The instructor appreciated my situation, but insisted that something more vigorous might be the way to arrest such restlessness. So, I tried running in the park, but I wound up looking at the trees and wondering what they would look like without their bark.
When I'm writing I'm free of him, but I can't write 24 hours a day. I need a release. I want to break the code. As I reached for the print making book he stepped up next to me wearing a t-shirt and an old pair of khakis, well worn, clean, easily undone. He asked if I needed some help.
"Indeed," I said
"Which book is it?"
"Printmaking and Binding"
His arm stretched up over my head. I could see the definition of his muscle and the blue veins popping out from his forearms. I looked at his face with the fine lines and stubbled beard and I blushed. He handed me the book and took a step toward me. Our toes were touching. I looked him in the eyes and asked "What book are you looking for?" trying to control my desire to melt into him like butter on hot corn.
"A book on breaking codes."
"Oh?" I said.
"There is a certain in-lay on a bed that I'm trying to re-master, but the designer left it in a code that I haven't been able to break."
"Let me help you look," I said. "And after you read the book, I want you to explain it to me in serious detail. Every intricate formula, every penetrating word on just how codes are broken. Maybe I could use it in a story."
"I can show you the in-lay on the bed."
We saw the book at the same time and our hands touched when we pulled it from the shelf. We stayed like that for quite a while. Hands touching, fingers interlaced, cupping the book, heads bowed in silence. Until, the footsteps and the clearing of a throat interrupted us. It was Jeff and he was wearing a black Bowler, looking like that figure in the Magritte paintings, stoic yet with amused awareness.
"I'm sure there is more than one of those books on the shelf," Jeff said looking at us like the cat that swallowed the canary, a couple of mice and a lizard.
The book dropped to the floor. Alan and I bent over to pick it up and bumped heads, the fedora went flying. Jeff started laughing. He laughed so loud that Ben McClain, the owner of the store, came to the How To section.
"In my store, when there is such an outburst, sharing the joke is the only way to appease me," McClain said.
"The joke is, these two have been dancing around each other for months. For my benefit, I guess, and the first time they make a physical connection it's a hard bump to the head in the How To section of your store," Jeff said.
"Maybe they enjoy dancing," McClain said, chuckling and tilting his large plumed hat back on his head, looking more like a Musketeer than a bookseller. He walked away.
"Change the dance, try a Tango," Jeff said as he left with McClain.
It was a defining moment. Alan grabbed me right there in the How To Section and kissed me. Our lips joining and caressing and exchanging delicious flavors.
"Dinner, tonight?" Alan asked.
"Yes," I said, not moving, just feeling him next to me. "How about coffee at three?"
He took my arm in his hands and kissed my wrist and then the crock of my elbow.
"In-lay before coffee?
"Definitely," I said.