“That’s good,” he said. “Now open your eyes and take a good look.” I opened my eyes and looked right at the eyes in front of me. Eyes are pretty amazing, I think. I once learned that all eyes are the same size. His were a chestnut brown with yellow and hazel specks around the iris. They reminded me of Louie, a small fish I once caught in the reservoir behind Mama’s house. It was flopping around in my hands and my mind thought it was having a seizure. So I took it deep into the woods and laid it down by the wishing tree so Mother could heal it. She didn’t want to do her job that day, so Louie died. I brought him back to the reservoir to die with his family; he just floated down the water quietly. I stayed until I could no longer see him through my milk coffee eyes. Now my eyes don’t see such pretty things of Mother’s. “You must stay inside,” he used to say. “The world out there is bad. It’s better in the inside.” So I stayed inside with him, watching walls change before my eyes, sitting in utmost silence that fills the smallest cracks of the room, where the cold from the outside seeps in to remind me of winters spent throwing snowballs and skating on one leg down Mother’s reservoir. “Distant memories will soon fade out my love,” he said. Soon. I didn’t tell him that soon will be longer than he believes. I remind myself of the memories everyday, forcing my mind to grip them like a suicide on a ledge. “You must let go of what once was,” he said. Back in the days they called that the beginning, when the sky was still blue and the sun still reflected on my pale skin. Days spent outside feeling the grass beneath and the clouds floating above. “We must move to new memories now,” he said. So I packed up my life in my little pink backpack and placed my heart in his hands so there’d be more room for his heart in my body. I lingered on the doorstep, listening to the doubts ramble on in my head. “Come now,” he said. With one tug I left that doorstep behind me, smelling the grass and the reservoir before I willingly walked away. Come with me, I whispered to them, waiting for them to jump onto my shirt sleeve so I can carry them with me. Clouds passed us by like the blurry paintings at the store by the candy shop in town. I wanted to feel the wind in my hair, but he said we must stay inside. I closed my eyes and imagined the wind landing on my face, making my skin red like the cherry blossoms on Mama’s perfume bottle. The car stopped and he swept me up in his arms and took me inside. My feet didn’t even get to touch the new doorstep. It was dark inside, with white freckles floating in the air. “Go sit down,” he said. The floor was cold. I could feel it on my skin. “It is time,” he said. “Just like we talked about for so long.” The conversations were distant memories in my mind. I tried to trace back to those times, to hear those words again so I could know what he knows too. But my mind was stubborn and the words didn’t come back to me. “Remember,” he said. “We have all the time in the world to do this now.” I couldn’t see him in the dark light so my fingers traced his face. It felt kind, but rough too. “Close your eyes now,” he said. There was more darkness, but back farther, farther in the corners, I could see some light. I let my mind wander there and land on a cliff, with the sound of the waterfall rushing down like thunder in the summer sky chasing lightning on the beach. I could feel my cheeks getting wet; it sent chills up and down my spine. His lips moved down my face. I pretended I was back by the waterfall laughing when the water splashed my face and clothes. “Don’t be scared,” he whispered. I wondered if he could smell my Mother’s grass and reservoir on my shirt sleeve. It was getting darker. I tried to open my eyes, but I didn’t know what it would see. “Stand up,” he said. I was stuck in my head. He lifted me up to my feet. The tingles stayed on my spine. “You’re being very brave,” he said. “I’m so proud.” His breath felt like fog in April, the morning after rain when the clouds would lay so low you can run through them as if you’re dancing in God’s backyard. “Are you ready?” he asked me. His hands rested on my waist. He pulled on my pink shirt, my favorite pink shirt. My skin felt cold. His hands traced the goose bumps on my stomach. His skin wasn’t smooth like mine or like Humpy the Hippo who lies on my bed back at Mama’s house. “You smell like flowers,” he said. I guess Mother’s lilies and roses, dandelions and daisies jumped on me instead. His finger made circles on the red dots on my chest. My goose bumps grew larger and my mind told me to cry. “Don’t cry,” he said. “It’ll be okay just like we talked about. Remember when we talked about love?” He pulled my shirt up and my arms knew to move over my head, like all the times Mama told me to bathe. My skin glowed in the darkness. He kissed my red dots with his lips. His hands pulled down my pants that I got for my birthday last year when we went to the zoo and I met Humpy’s real mother. “Close your eyes,” he said. “It’s better like that.” There was more darkness inside my eyes. “It’s going to be okay,” he told me. He knows, I thought. He knows it’ll be okay. “Don’t worry,” he said. He knows not to worry, I thought. He picked me up and laid me down. Now my whole body felt the cold. It wasn’t like Mother’s grass in the summertime. His breath was getting wetter against my skin, reminding me of the dew I used to touch. He took my hand into his. It felt so big next to mine. He placed it on his chest and I could feel his skin on my hand. He moved it up and down, teaching me to draw circles on the red dots on his chest. “Just like that,” he said. He smelled like the bench by the bus stop Mama takes me to so we can go buy grapes and tomatoes, my lucky charms and strawberry pop tarts. Mama always says the smell is bad for you. “Try not to smell it,” she always says. I held my breath, but his skin was closer now and I couldn’t hold it inside any longer. He moved my hand down his stomach and I could feel hair, like the hair you brush on your head. He took my hand into his again. He put it on something warm and closed my fingers. He breathes really heavy, I remember. I heard it in my ear. He moved my hand up and down. My hands started to hurt. He squeezed it too tight. Mama used to hold my hand tight. “Don’t let go,” she always says when we walked on the streets. I always looked up at the people walking by. “Don’t let go,” he said. He kissed my neck. “You’re such a good girl.” I felt something cold, but I felt warm too. I wanted to cry again. “We’re almost done,” he said. He can see my tears in the inside, I thought. I felt his hands underneath me. It tickled. He moved my hand up and down again. I couldn’t feel my hand anymore. “You’re doing a good job,” he said. “Keep your eyes closed. You’re a good girl.” His hands were still cold. I felt it in the inside. I felt them moving. He kissed me harder on my neck. And then he put his lips on mine. I’m sorry Mama; I have to smell it now. I wanted to let go of my hand, but he held it harder. “Just a little longer,” he said. He made it go up and down faster and faster and faster. He was breathing hard again. He had a lot of dew on his skin now. He took a really deep breath and let go of my hand. It was wet. “You’re such a good girl,” he said. I still felt cold. He laid down next to me. He still smelled. It was still dark. He got up. I laid there. Then he picked me up and put my favorite pink shirt and birthday pants on me. He took my hand again and wiped the wetness off. “You were very good,” he said. “Do you want to go home now?” I saw the blurry painting again, but darker this time. The car stopped. “Remember, be a good girl,” he said. He opened the door and kissed me on my head. He walked me to my doorstep. I heard him drive away. I stood there on Mama’s doorstep with my favorite pink shirt, my birthday pants, and my pink backpack.
Van Phung writes, plays, dances, skips, sings, eats, , speaks, fights, drinks, and works in Boston, MA. She also has a strange addiction to coffee and beans.breathes