Kumi perched on one side of a quilt-covered pedestal, naked. Easels were pulled around her in a semi-circle. Students, both earnest and lackadaisical, staffed the easels, peeking out, squinting, thumbs raised, brushes or charcoal poised to capture her. A small heater brushed warm air against her; she was not cold, even in this wide-open room. Only she heard music. She saw dancing in her head. She was not bored: she was choreographing her next piece.
The high-ceilinged space smelled of linseed oil and wax, graphite, and eraser rubbings. All of the bottom edges of the newsprint pads and canvases turned black from charcoal dust that settled in the rails of the easels. The soles of Kumi’s feet were also black.
Octavio came to this class weekly, not enrolled, but the teacher let him audit the class for a year. He had studied the architecture of buildings but found it told him very little about the people who wanted them. Studying the architecture of bodies was more interesting. The rotating models inhabited the edges of the spectrum: the wrinkled man, made up of lines, who was not shy about his dangling member; the obese woman who could be created from overlapping circles; the tall, flat-chested woman with dyed black hair who was all angles; the young, smooth-muscled young man who also took classes periodically; and Kumi, the dancer. Her face was serene, her limbs alert, her life written into them. Her eyes leapt away and beyond the materials to an unseen stage. Movement leaned into her body even as she sat or stood or lay so still. Her body was obvious and present; her mind was on a journey far away.
Octavio noticed her bones. Kumi had very few curves, so he drew what was underneath and inside. He was almost ashamed. He did not know her but felt he knew too much about her. He drew her structure, her patterns, her rhythms, and her small feet. It was his last drawing before he quit the class and went to join Kumi for coffee, both of them fully clothed.
Kumi perched on the edge of the quilt-covered queen bed, the morning sun lighting her sideways, shifting through her nightgown.
“It’s time,” Kumi said softly, pulling back the comforter
Octavio rolled over, twisting up the sheets, and picked up his alarm clock to confirm. Yes, it was Thursday. And it was 7:35. Kumi would be late to teach her city class at 9:00. She never learned to drive and didn’t want to, preferring her own movement. Nine years of the routine. He liked spending two extra hours with her, roundtrip, in the truck, driving slowly down the dirt road, then onto the speeding highway.
“It’s time,” she had said, something that always unnerved him. She only said it on the days when she taught. He felt it was something best said when one was about to have a baby, or when one was expecting important guests, or when one had resolved to attend a funeral of one’s beloved. His body felt heavy and rounded and strong. But sleepy. Gravity kept him in bed another three minutes.
Kumi was light, too easy to carry. Octavio worried a desert wind would carry her away. She would not carry a baby, ever. He knew she would never let herself get heavy enough. He wasn’t even sure she knew how to do that, or if heavy, gravity, weight, or stones were in her vocabulary. When they once had spoken of a desire for children he saw it would always be just a desire.
Their top-floor apartment creaked in the summer heat. The floorboards squeaked as Kumi got up from the bed, tugging back the bed sheets, leaving him there, exposed. He heard the bathroom door shut and click closed, the light and fan flick on, the shower door open. Then, water splashing down. He pictured her in the waterfall, turning to a willow, slipping through the holes in the drain. He bolted out of bed.
“Don’t say that anymore,” he said from outside the bathroom, pounding on the door, naked.
The waterfall ceased. Kumi opened the door in a short, cotton robe with her hair wrapped in a towel. Octavio stood there, still. Their faces were close, aligned, level.
“Were you talking to me?” she asked, touching his sturdy hand, picking it up, holding it between her own thin fingers, placing it first on her breast, afterwards arranging his palm and fingers solidly on her waist, a ballast. The ache inside him trembled and broke, warmth spread through him. He felt her hip. She placed her hand lightly on his upturned forearm, and put her heels together as if ready to plié. He stood still, immobile, her anchor.
Alisa Golden has taught bookmaking and letterpress printing at California College of the Arts and around the San Francisco Bay Area since 2005. Her poetry and prose has been published most recently in Blink Ink, Split Rock Review, and Gone Lawn, among others. She is the author of Making Handmade Books and the editor of Star 82 Review.