String of Pearls

© 1997 Titirangi Storyteller

It is in the square, in the middle of our town; with the white clapboard church our mothers dress up for on Sunday, donning long white gloves with  tiny pearl buttons that close tightly around their wrists; with the church we spent Sundays gazing through narrow windows at the crisp wild day beyond; with the church we no longer belong in standing, towering behind us broad and tall and white, that I see it.  The spot.  Like a splotch of chocolate ice cream or a small splash of mud on my lover’s cheek.  I reach forward, extending my thumb to rub it away.  He recoils as though my finger were a white hot poker sent to burn him.  “Does it hurt?” I ask.

“No. No, it doesn’t hurt.”  He turns so I can’t see his face and runs across the green.  I run after him, blades of grass catching between my toes as my feet race along, air slipping past my teeth, into my lungs, chasing until I hold him in my arms.  We laugh and fall on the soft green blanket, kissing with wet tongues and curious fingers, whispering words only we understand.  My lips find the spot, hard against their gentle pressure, unyielding as they tenderly probe the foreign texture, a foreign taste, strong and bitter, so my mouth becomes cold and numb.  I say nothing.

In the night we sleep beneath the silver moon, its brightness illuminating his face with cold cold light.  It has grown.  The spot has spread across his cheek, small dark crystals reflecting the moonlight into my eyes.  “It is bigger,” I whisper.  “Does it hurt?”

“No,” he says turning away so his face is hidden.  “No.”  I sleep alone.  He sleeps with the spot.

No more kisses.  No more laughing.  No more running in the grass.  My mother says, “Daughter, come into the church,” as she buttons her gloves and powders her face.  “Come.”  But I run outside to dance in the sun, to feel its warmth on my back as I lean over the bridge and watch the ducks paddling beneath me, wishing he was here.

He is hiding.  He is hiding, but sometimes he comes out to play with me for a little while.  It has grown, cold and brown and hard, so I can’t see his face, only the spot I don’t want to see.  I say, “It must hurt now.”  He answers, “No,” and hides again.  I find him in the dark, standing with his face toward the window, his silhouette cut like glass by the light of the moon,  I see the shadow of his hands, his fingers gently stroking his cheeks, his lips, his eyelids, seeking a place the spot is not.  “No, it doesn’t hurt,” he says without my asking.   I know it does.

I stand alone in the square, facing the church, its whiteness, its tallness, its wideness, and look to see if there is a spot on it, or perhaps on the faces of the white gloved women, our mothers, as they climb the marble steps to enter the darkness they call light.  Their faces are shielded by soft powders, shaded by white silk hats, so I can’t see, but I know.  They have no spots.

Only he has the spot that is no longer a spot, but a face, a new face I can’t see.  “Lover, give me a spot,” I say, speaking low so my mother won’t hear.

“No,” he says.  “No.  It hurts.”

“I love you.  I want a spot, too.”

He stands in the light and turns to me.  I see his new face, hard, crusted.  I am blinded by the light, which cannot penetrate that surface, which hates the sun and shoots it back into my eyes like arrows.  He carefully unbuttons his old brown shirt and lets it fall on the grass, then his trousers.  He stands naked in the light, dark against the white of the church, darker than its opened doorway.  He has become the spot.  It is all of him, a hard brown crystal surface with small holes so he can breathe and feed it.  Small red rimmed holes.

I run across the square, up the steps of the church and enter the dark light.  Opening my mother’s handbag, I take out her gloves, slip them over my fingers, drawing them up to my elbows.  One by one I button the pearls securely into place.

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