Devotion

She prayed every morning. She’d wake up with eyes crusty and fingers cramped. Her hair was always tangled into neatly crafted bird’s nest, as if she had carefully placed each strand. Her clothes left marks on her skin, imprinting her arms and legs with the seams. Crawling out of bed, she’d faced the corner of her room where the paint was peeling. She liked to believe the sky had been so desperate to touch her, it was slowly clawing at the wall from the outside. She prayed every morning. Not to a god, or a deceased loved one, not to anything in particular. Facing the peeling corner, she’d kneel and run her hands through her hair and suck in as much air as she could reach. With clenched fists, she’d exhale and close her eyes. She prayed every morning.

After each prayer she’d stumble into the bathroom where she’d comb out the nest, wash the crust, stretch the fingers, and remove the clothing. She always faced the mirror sideways, never letting herself see the parallel image. She saw herself out of the corner of her eyes. He always knocked on the door when she took too long. She liked to think he was worried about her, afraid she’d fallen into the toilet, or drowned in the shower. He knocked loudly seven times, slow at first and then quicker with each added minute. She’d crack the door, and he’d peer in. Shared glances shot through. Eyes and warmth were the only connection between their two bodies. She’d come out, and he’d kiss her cheek, placing his lips on the crease of her smile. She’d lean into him and kiss his chest.

She prayed some nights too, but the midnight devotion was a shared one. She came home with eyes soft and fingers loose, hair parted and straight, skin rounded and firm. She’d stand in her corner and remove her clothes, let them drip off her body and slide onto the floor. He’d appear from the darkness of their hallway with sweet breath and radiating skin. She’d face his navel, and treat it like a prayer, on her knees, inhale, exhale, eyes closed. She felt complete. She felt in tune with her breath and her sight and her touch. She felt control over her body, over the muscles in her legs and her hands and her lips. She felt grounded. After her prayer, he always held her hand, lifted her up and kissed her forehead.

He’d scoop her onto the bed. She’d roll over and bury her head and hands in the pillows. He’d put his hand on the small of her back, letting her adapt to his warmth. He’d know she was ready when she turned her eyes toward him. Her feelings always expressed themselves in the separation of her gestures. She’d look at him from the corner of her eyes, sustaining a gaze that held fervor. Then she’d bend her knees and draw her weight atop her elbows so she was resting on her side. A stature that held seduction. It was here that he removed his hand, just to replace it on the curve of her waist. He was always amazed at how perfectly his hand fit in her curve. It was almost like her skin had formed to the weight and thickness of his fingers.

She’d hoist herself up and sit slouching with her stomach folding, and the tops of her shoulders pointing in his direction. A posture that held avidity. He’d play her like an instrument. She could feel his fingers strumming. But she was not an object; she was the music. And sometimes the music melted into the sheets, the back side of her body making contact with each thread. And sometimes he’d melt into her. A body with two backs, two breaths, one rhythm. With two backs, she didn’t have to try so hard to hold herself up straight. And with two breaths she didn’t have to breath so carefully and so quietly. And with one rhythm, she felt connected to someone. She felt connected to something. She felt connected to the bed and to the sheets, to the floor and the walls. She felt connected to the corner of peeling paint and the sky. She felt connected to his body, his hands and his chest, to his hair and his neck. She felt connected to her body, to her fingers and her stomach, to her knees. She’d grab his back, and he’d grab her hair, and they’d be enveloped by this feeling of connection and mutual delectation, ending with a surge of satisfaction.

After their breathing slowed, they’d sleep like drawn curtains hanging on either side of a window; not out of disgust or lack of enamor, but to avoid the fire emanating from their bodies. To touch with such hot skin would prevent sound slumber. Her body curled up facing the peeling corner. One hand was always slipped under her pillow, while the other rested next to her cheek. Her knees were pulled up towards her belly. Her feet lay on top of each other. She would hear his nose whistling. She would feel his body twitch, his mind in that foggy state between awake and asleep. She’d unraveled her body, and sit up in bed, glancing at his almost motionless limbs. Quietly, she’d swing her legs over the side of the bed and stand up. She’d pick her clothes off the floor and dress herself before crawling back into bed. Getting back in was like entering a warm bath. It was overwhelming at first, but soon her skin adapted, and she was comfortably wrapped in its heat.

Sometimes she slept in intervals. Those nights, she’d never reach a deep enough sleep to make it straight through till morning. Her clothing was too itchy, or the blanket was too heavy, or her limbs were too lively. Whatever it was, she could not stay asleep, so she lay awake. Her eyes would wander, noticing the shadows within the darkness of the room. She’d focus on her breathing, trying to match it to his. But sometimes she’d do the opposite, and breathe out on his breath in. Other nights, she slept right through till daybreak, not walking up even to roll over. She wouldn’t remember falling asleep, that moment when she’d just lose control of her eyes and her thoughts and her breath; the moment when pure sleep would take over. She’d lie down and willingly be consumed by this relentless heaviness. Her eyes could only see the dark side of her lids, and her breath remained slow and steady, unconcerned with the pace of breaths around her.

She wondered if he noticed, noticed the nights when she’d lay on her back with her arms crossed, almost like a body in a coffin. Those nights she couldn’t sleep, so she tried to keep her body calm and quiet, tried to force each muscle to rest. She wondered if he noticed the nights when she would just pass out, not say “good night” or put her clothes back on because she was too overcome with fatigue. After those nights, she’d wake up as if cold water had been thrown on her, gasping for air, almost like her slumber was so deep it was close to death. The gasp was a reach for life, to fill her lungs with the sweet air that hovered in the room. Sleep was never constant, but it didn’t matter once she woke up, because every morning she was met with a prayer.

She prayed every morning. She’d face the corner of her room where the paint was peeling. She’d face the corner because it didn’t point at her. It didn’t close her in because it was always reaching out. She was comforted by corners. Corners completed rooms by connecting walls. They gave boundaries to sight. Corners composed spaces, cradling the edges. Corners could be folded and stretched, painted over and covered, but they were still corners. And she liked that. And she liked the peeling paint, the pale yellow flakes that fell every so often. And she liked the door cracked open, and the way her clothes clumped together on the floor. And she liked the heat of the bed, and the heat of his hands. And she liked the corner. And she liked that he never asked, never wondered why, never rose an eyebrow, never rolled an eye, never uttered a question, because he already knew. Every morning she prayed, and every morning he knew why. And she liked that.

Jessica Carlson
Age 17, Grade 12
Brooklyn Friends School
Silver Key

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