by Lauren Harwyn
‘You wanna fucking help?’ she snarled, leaning one rakish arm against the long, wooden handle. A rag kept the broken halo of her curls back from her eyes. Sweat made its itching path down her neck, into her face, under the blazing sun.
‘I’m looking up this app Steve told me about.’ Adam was still wearing his flannel shirt and sweat was slowly seeping through the armpits and chest as he stood there, biting the edge of his lip, disappearing into the black square in his palm. ‘It’s got all these gardening tips, like the best ways to remove certain plants, natural weedkillers.’ His voice faded away and Eve wanted to laugh-cry-scream as he silenced back into that cybernetic world, his thin hips tilted invitingly, exasperatingly relaxed in the heat.
Something about him, she still wasn’t sure what; it was like he was always getting ready to burst into bloom and she’d stare at him, looking up from her desk in their workspace, wondering when it would happen, what it would look like. She just felt like there was something missing, something neither of them knew about, but was lurking just beyond the veil of their understanding, their ken. An old word, she’d fingered its meaning on the onionskin pages of her grandmother’s massive, archive’s dictionary after watching The Sound of Music; ‘so many things beyond your ken…’ She’d resented the way Rolf seemed to like Liesl’s ignorance, excited by her naiveté. It was the first time she had felt afraid of not knowing, being lured into something she wasn’t prepared for, scared she might trip down the first steps of adulthood and see sneering Rolf at the bottom, waiting to catch her in his arms.
From the Old English cennen or German kennen;
verb. to know.
noun. the realm of one’s knowledge.
If she was honest with herself, if she could untangle herself from the identity of her church, of eighteen years of the Virgin Mother, the way he stood now made her ache to sink her teeth into him. The hang of his paint-spattered work jeans hit her just right. She wasn’t capable of blushing like the girls in romance novels and she could think of only once or twice when she touched upon the hunger inside her. A night and a rushed afternoon in which the Virgin’s blessing-raised fingers didn’t slam into view, sending her lilting passion to a shuddering halt.
She wondered if that’s why she liked it; temptation. Not the satisfaction of desire, not plunging into sheets or pressing into bathroom tiles, but the smooth muscle under a rolled-up sleeve or the nape of his neck collecting drops of shower steam before tumbling, tumbling down… A moment that was unattached, safe – not yet sacrilege. Not yet worthy of guilt. It felt like a Catholic schoolgirl’s infantile flirtation, which reminded her of Liesl and Rolf all over again.
But she wasn’t going to live in that dark world of ritual and myth anymore. Out here in the red dirt, raising welts on her palms, stripping Bermuda grass from its arterial tracks, she was breathing and alive. Standing next to this man who was hers, who was even now, in his extremely frustrating way, trying to make her task easier.
He felt her watching and a smile quirked the corner of his full lips as he scrolled. She let the shovel jar back into the hard clay, juddering her elbows, dug the pain into her arch as she pushed the blade in deeper, leaned back, rocking out roots and stones, turning them over to the air and the drying light.
What if he had already burst into flower, she wondered nervously as she heaved. What if he was done, petals spread to pollination and photosynthesis and she was the one curled up tight, her core still dark and hibernating…
Her ankle turned on the next stone, but she righted herself before she could fall over.
‘Okay?’ he asked, stepping closer.
‘Yeah, I think I hit a—’ but before she could explain about the hard curve of subterranean rock, the emerald body slithered, quick as a ribbon in the wind, across the nascent earth of their backyard, sidewinding until it reached the fence and disappeared into the grass.
They ran after it, hobbling over the uneven earth, holding one tight grip across the distance, steadying each others’ step.
‘There!’ Adam exclaimed, pointing out a shimmering undulation over a low patch of chickweed.
They watched it twitch grass blades until it was out of sight, holding hands. Her heart raced.
‘That colour, right?’ Their eyes met and his amazement caught a laugh in her chest that burst wildly out. The sound was unbridled and infectious and he met it in the air, rolling guffaws tumbling from him, bass and oceanic.
‘Want to take a break?’ she asked. Eve gave the Madonna in the neighbour’s birdbath a distinctly sacrilegious salute as she followed that boy’s hip-hugging jeans into the coolness of the AC.
Lauren Harwyn is an intersectional feminist and writing witch from California, USA. Ms Harwyn earned her BA in creative writing from Mills College, Oakland, attended Scottish Universities’ International Summer School for creative writing and has been published by Witty Bitches, Northern Light, Soliloquies Anthology and The Walrus.