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White in the moonlight we shiver, you and I, as the mud's dark kiss chills our toetips. Splashless in respect for the silence, we slide our gooseflesh into the black icy water, trying not to look at each other too much, relieved to hide our unaccustomed exposure. Our garments wait in a heap collecting sand.
What is this muck our feet are sinking in, seaweed and chocolate syrup? You, white as ice cream in a rootbeer float, dare to duck your head under. The ripples refract the moonlight: it dances along your back. At the quarry, breast stroke is the only stroke. Strokekick gliiiiide... a leisurely here-to-there, like a shark.
Someday, perhaps, I muse, I may not peer through this green water at your lithe curves-- your flesh so familiar under my tongue, my kiss is redundant. Now I long to clutch you slippery to me, to ruin you with my habitual touch.
If someone was on shore-- (an audience could hide in those shadows-- If someone was on shore, would he steal our clothes to see you hide yourself in your own clutch? Perhaps, some day, I will stand on that shore, in the shadows, and wait for two youths to strip and take the plunge. The jingle of change in their jeans as they drop will be like music to me then, the water like a collective gasp, their querulous search for clothing like applause.)
I try not to think of that bush that looks like a crouching man. It probably wishes me no harm. You swim like a fish. I'm getting cold. How deep does this quarry go? Maybe so deep huge leviathans dwell below our feet, waiting. I roll on my back and close my eyes. So like death, this cold. I listen as your smooth, controlled strokes steadily recede. When I look again, you're out of sight. Clouds have blown across the moon. I forget which way the shore is. But the quarry isn't large. There is shore all ways. I could call your name, but I'd feel foolish, like the teens with stolen clothes. My arms harden as the water sucks their warmth until they are not my arms, but artificial limbs I haven't got the hang of yet. I stop to grope for the bottom with my feet every few strokes. At last I feel seaweed, and soon after, the bottom. The best part is coming: the sandy towels, the warm socks, the kiss of cool lips.
Only I can't find any of this. It's too dark. I walk along the water's edge a long while. I must have walked twice around by now, right? There's that bush again, the one I thought could be a man. Is it the same bush? Maybe it's you and not a bush. No, it's a bush. Where are our clothes in relation to that bush? I don't think it's the same bush.
It had seemed so noisy when we swam, and now I can't hear you at all. You must be on shore now, hiding. The first words that pop to mind are "this isn't funny," but I don't say them, because, of course, it is. I'm sure you are wherever the clothes are. If you hid them you might lose them-- you, with the baggy sweatshirts to hide your breasts behind and the hair you like to peer from under. Which makes this stunt seem cruel for you.
I picture myself hitchhiking home in the buff, and sit down to wait you out. I don't mean to refuse you your malicious pleasure, but I can't think of any reaction that could heighten it. Except I could call for you-- but you wouldn't answer. Not if you were hiding. Because then you wouldn't be hiding and I would come get you and the clothes.
Time drips out of the sky and percolates into the earth beneath me. I can't tell if the distant purple smudge in the sky is the street lights of the city reflected off low clouds or a hint of sunrise. Maybe the bush has gotten you. Maybe you came ashore, you couldn't find our clothes, you sat to wait me out, and you fell asleep.
I weaken and call your name. My voice seems so loud, I hesitate half through your name, but having started it, finish. I can't tell if I shouted it or said it conversationally loud. I try again more firmly. If I can make you laugh I'll be able to tell where you are. But it's too quiet and dark and lonely to be funny.
I walk again around the beach looking for you, more thoroughly this time. My heart pounds a moment when I think I see you lying in your red dress but it is your red dress without you, draped over the knapsack with the towels. "I found our clothes!" Now I'm sure I'm shouting. "I found them!"
But why are you hiding then? You didn't find your clothes-- did you leave without me? I unzip the bag and dust the sand off my butt and out from between my toes methodically. Maybe you went back to the car?
I throw my pants on and don't bother to button my shirt-- what if you left without me? I have no idea where we are, really. I'm not even sure if I can find the car. Who would I find to ask the way this far from town. Even the birds don't sing here. I run down the path, past the big meaningless machinery, by the artificial ridge of piled pebbles, through the path in the woods, trip on a root and keep running, through the gate and into the road.
There's your chunky sedan hunkered empty under the nodding trees. I peer into its bug splattered windshield. Everything in there looks like a memorial shrine arranged in your honor. Where did you go? I'd like to go with you if I could. Maybe the bush like a man got you. Even now he runs his thorny twigs over you. Your flesh reddens under the rasp of his bark.
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