Susan Neville


A glass elevator inside a hotel atrium. Music on the mezzanine, then silence as the door closes. This row of glittering numbers, all meant to be comforting. The soft, predictable chime as the elevator moves past each floor.
    I feel like a magician's assistant, the box moving through the air on hidden chains. Why am I descending? It wasn't my intention, surely. Outside the elevator door are plants and waterfalls, a blur of green. You're waiting on a floor above. And I can't seem to get to you.
    Beloved. Forgive me. I'm afraid there are limitations to what we can expect from one another.     


I'd gone to the costume shop to buy something to wear for you.
    I tried on wings and hair and masks and veils and sequined hats in order to surprise you. Angel and witch, white lace and whip, I prepared my face to fit each one before I looked into the mirror.
    I made my choice and returned to the hotel. That's when I saw myself inside a square of unexpected glass. And suddenly, I knew that I was falling.



I have so much to tell you. I'm wearing velvet. Can you feel it? Touch the throat of the iris in the vase by the bed. Touch any flower.
    When I was a child, my grandmother's yard was filled with phlox. She taught me how to sip the nectar from the flower's purple blossoms. You suck this tube, she said. It was soft as an artery. Just the slightest hint of sweetness on the tongue.
    There was a compost pile in the back by her vegetable garden. She grew tomatoes and corn and beans, and she canned them in clear blue jars. Do you hear my voice? My grandmother died while I knew I loved her, but not how much, and long before I realized how much alike we were. Every story it's taken me a long time to understand or even see has had as its theme some form of sacrifice.



The basement was cool and dark and shadowed and there was a ringer washer and the smell of bleach and a wooden laundry chute, and once my cousin showed her breast to me in that basement, and she told me how she'd let her boyfriend suck the nipple in the schoolyard.
    She told me how the girls would dance together during slumber parties and sometimes, in the middle of the night, how they would unbutton blouses while they danced, those same nipples rubbing lightly against her friends'. How soft they are, she said, and then how hard. 
    I can see the wooden slats from the chute behind her blond hair as she talked, the sunlight from my grandmother's upstairs closet, the hovering mounds of my grandfather's unwashed shirts. My cousin stood there with her blouse around her shoulders. How good the air must feel to her, I thought, how good it would feel to stand there naked to the waist like that.
    Sometimes your nipples get so raw, she said, they bleed. And there are times you'll need a bandage underneath your bra to keep the blood from seeping through a cotton shirt.
    She asked me if I wanted to touch them, but I didn't. We were in elementary school. She may have been lying.



Beloved. Your head drew back, you leaned against the wall. Show me how you touch them, you said to me. Of course I showed you.
    Like this, I said. Like this.
    We've been meeting in this hotel for years now, never once have I fallen like this, and never once have I said no to you.



The walls in the dining room were salmon pink and there were wooden puzzles and playing cards and notepads with fat pencils for my cousin and I to play with. And there were sconces with drunken-looking shades and electric bulbs with incandescent wires.
    The bulbs were shaped like candles, white-hot and glittering.  There were wires hidden in the walls, connecting the house to the garage and to the wooden poles out beyond the garden.


We slept in one bed. She smelled like chocolate or vanilla from our grandmother's kitchen. The walls of my grandmother's house were weathered stucco.
    Near the end of that summer, I would start to bleed. The summer pulled it from my body like a thread. That was, until I met you, the most erotic summer of my life. Everything I saw or touched was burning.



Tunnelled trees, the path, the blue slate stone, the sound of river.
    You've been waiting all your life for this, you said. No one will see.
    I tried to pull you deep inside my throat. No one would see.



Your hand on my right knee, the push of hips out like a wishbone so I thought I'd crack, the smells, the night before, still ripe and sour, we couldn't get enough of. My legs spread out like that and you with your head back, my other leg back up toward my face so the ankle reached around your shoulder and your cock pushed up way deep toward some center of gravity. And when you came, you turned me over on my belly and I felt your left hand push the lips around my clit and trap it there between the swollen flesh and bed, I started rolling. And you were there inside again, the congested feel of you inside the slick glove of my body, velvet, like the tube of phlox, I was shaking. No one will see.



And will you put this on for me, you said, and will it keep your scent for weeks and will it fade and will there be nothing I can do to help preserve it.



Have I told you this? I worked one other summer in a casket factory. Still unpainted, the caskets looked like cans for potted fish, silver, still sharp-edged. They moved on chains through stations where the seams were welded. The men hold flames that burned the eye if you looked at them too long.
    You know that I would look at them.
    They were the boats of Nod, they spun through the sea of the factory where they were made, the deep blue flames of the welders, the paints, the box spring where the mattress lay, the leakproof seams not as much to prevent the outside elements from seeping in as the corrosive fluids of the body itself from leaking out.
    I inspected corners for sharpness. I inspected the handles for the sound that they would make when they were raised by the pallbearers.
    Hundreds of them passed by me every day. At night, I still dream of rushing down assembly lines toward them. Underneath the dress, the silk, the costumes so carefully chosen for each time I see you, this. Nothing can keep us close enough together.


So tell me how you look today, and what you're wearing. What eyelash, hair, which pair of shoes. Tell me that you miss me, that you love me. Time drifts. Days go by, then months, then years. Go to the costume shop and buy some new thing to wear for me. Then tell me how it looks on you and how you feel.
    I've been to the costume shop a dozen times without falling through the floor. How did this happen? The costumes floating past, outside the green glass box, spinning up above my head, like lillies.  The grayish weedy green, and you waiting in the room to see me, the elevator descending through the floor, then blank, an opaque black, a dismal ash. The green is gone, I see my face.



My grandmother is dead, my grandfather, mother, and my cousin. My cousin's mother dead, and her mother's lover. My cousin's mother's husband and her father and my mother and my unborn children. I would love you forever if I could. Every time we meet, I want to tell you stories. Like something that turns in upon itself and disappears.