And so I find myself in the middle of our reunion wondering what it is about her beauty that convinces me to avert my eyes, as if something about her threatens me. Perhaps the sharp light captured within her own eyes reminds me of singing knives — she notices every movement, so when she spots the fly trapped between the window screen and the glass, I believe I can hear the air split as though it were a vegetable being chopped.
With Ashley here, I wonder why the music disappeared so many years ago, and I try to persuade myself it is something easy enough to forget. I want to ask her to dance again, like we used to, but she’s married now, and while never explicitly stated, one knows her dancing with strange men, even men from her past, is strictly prohibited.
So many years ago Ashley dropped out of journalism school to model. She quickly landed high-fashion magazine spreads and became one of Europe’s most intriguing women. That is, until she lost her left arm in a terrible high-speed boating accident in the Red Sea. She tells me they found an arm floating on the surface, but strangely enough it wasn’t hers, and none of the other passengers involved lost anything.
I imagine the flashbulbs of countless cameras, how those instant hammers of light forged and sharpened the swords of her vision. If anything, being in front of a camera didn’t steal anything from her soul, instead it attracted her closer to the surface.
“Now when people stare at me,” she touches her shoulder at the point of it’s severance, with two fingers, the way a person holds a cigarette, “I wonder if it’s because I’m missing an arm, or because — as even you yourself have admitted — I’m beautiful.”
There’s a strange feeling of disgust that washes over me. I hide it by bringing my coffee cup to my lips. Before I wonder if she’s seen me she asks, “What’s bothering you?”
And I answer with the only response I can, the only answer she expects from familiarity: “Nothing,” and here we are again, trapped beneath the weight of old thoughts hidden by clear glass, watching them form and take shape but never break through and touch each other.
She’s wearing a sundress, the first one of the season. The strap above her good arm slinks down. She doesn’t adjust it. “You know,” she says and looks away from me as if in deep thought, “They say after a near-death experience, you come away realizing what’s important, as if you never knew to begin with, as if ‘what’s important’ is some sort of revelation. But I’ve always known, just never had the courage to take action.” She catches me staring at the dark folds between her dress and skin. She waits until I return my gaze to her eyes. She continues: “And floating there, in that cold water, believing I came away unscathed from that accident, I understood I’ve grown close to apathy. There’s a strange sensuality to it, losing all motivation. It doesn’t make you disappointed — you come to expect it, like a long, dear relationship. I was hoping it’d make me sad to know this, but it didn’t. It doesn’t.”
I can hear the fly shiver against the window screen.
“Care to dance?” I ask her, because what else can I say?
Ashley stands without the help of her arm. I can smell traces of childhood olive groves on her skin as she takes my hand and pulls me from my seat. There’s no music playing, but she holds me near and so we dance to the rhythm of requited distances. Here we are, dancing, like I’ve always wanted. The strap of her dress falls to her elbow. She holds my hand and straightens her arm as if to say, “Spin me.” I watch her turn, the fabric drops farther, and in the descent we are young again.
—Mason Schoen is a creative writing graduate student.