I have keys to a house on the other side of the Rhone. We just have to get there.
I continue to read ‘Against the Grain’. Des Esseintes is now collecting carnivorous plants. They are gradually driving him—and me—mad.
Me, closing the book: Fuck this!
You, a little cross: No, keep going.
Me: I can’t. No more. This guy is too weird. He’s becoming a bad influence.
You: Come on. Keep going.
Me: No, seriously, I can’t. It’s unhealthy.
Me, emphasizing: Allow me to remind you, we stole Salome because of this book. I’m not going to let it turn us into…into botanists.
You, not understanding my commitment, half-laughing: Botanist. That’s our new epithet.
Me, bringing the book to the open window, releasing: Oops!
Des Esseintes and his crazed obsessions bounces and spins on the pavement behind us.
You, breaking hard, pulling to the shoulder, truly angry: That was a gift!
Me, taking a breath: This is our first argument, isn’t it?
You, repeating: That was a gift!
Me, a dark whisper: fine.
Rising from the seat, swinging the door open, I return to ‘Against the Grain’.
The book is splayed on the pavement, it’s cover ripped, spine dented. I sweep it up, find it opened to the last page we read.
I return to you, and take up where we left off, reading to the bitter end.
Both of us BURNT from the road.
We dip down out of the mountains of the Ardeche, cross the Rhone river, drive up switch-backs to the hill town of Mirmande.
I leave you at the house and search for dinner.
You are out in the garden, drawing beneath the fig tree.
The fruit is unripe. Clumps of green orbs tight to the branch. I feel a pang of sadness that we will not share this taste.
Half-naked in the heat of the kitchen, I cook a chicken and bring it to you.
We share a plate, pulling the flesh from the bone with our fingers.
I return inside, and pull a habanero pepper out of the pot from the meal. I place it in a dish and bathe it with olive oil.
Me, dipping a piece of baguette into the oil, passing it to you: Here.
I tear a piece of bread for myself and taste.
The olive oil coats my tongue. The pepper’s burn rises on the spine of the bread’s crust, settles in my throat.
The heat radiates subtly outward to the chest, forehead, finger tips. I float thankfully above the furnace of my body.
Me, tearing you another piece of bread: Sorry about the book.
You: No. You were right. It ends poorly. I like his taste in art, but Des Esseintes can’t be our role model.
Me, grabbing your hand as you reach to dip a finger in the oil: No! It burns too hot. Use the bread.
You, grazing my nipples with an index finger: And does it burn too hot here?
I bring my lips to yours, brush them lightly. Pull back. Look you in the eye. Caress your ear lobe. Don’t speak.
We go inside, lie down. You drizzle the oil across my chest then lick me, bite me. The pepper’s burn remains on my flesh.
I bring you on top of me, bring your breasts to mine. The opening pressure of penetration, your gasp, as I bring myself inside you.
You are in the fetal position rocking against me. My finger tips graze your back.
The wind comes up, blows at the curtains at the French doors, cools our bodies.
We rock like this. Tender. Delicate. We are overlapping, joined, one.
Me: Are you happy to be with me?
You: It’s all I want.
After, I get up and walk outside and watch the clouds coming up the valley, the hard grey line of rain progresses across the fields.
I turn back to look at you.
Your arms are stretched behind you grasping the bed-frame. Eyes closed, your lips slightly parted. The rise of your pubis.
You, not looking: Come back here. We need to do that again.
Rain clatters on the red tile of the roof, sweeps beneath the lintel onto the room’s stone floor, and we start all over.