written by Clive Collins | illustrated by Marianna Gefen
The bed we bought from Sears, a sale, a snip, and it became to us the all but boundless sea, an ocean even, on which our bodies, those separate ships that did not pass in the night, but met, came alongside one with the other, grappled together, rocked together, joined, conjoined, a nautical act of union upon the white-sheeted waves our urgent, urging legs and arms and hands, our twisting, twisted torsos, rucked up, ourselves the winds, the storms of passion, until, calm again, they lay becalmed again and, conundrums both, emptied and replete, replete and emptied.
Weekday mornings we were merely ordinary after the night’s tempests. We showered separately. You shaved alone. I remade my face behind the locked bathroom door. You would be gone before I was ready to return to the world, the daylight, sunshine, clouds, wind, rain, snow, mist: the turning seasons that seasoned the turning year. To different, too indifferent, worlds we travelled then, subterranean towards our separate shores, then aerial roadways leading us between tumbling clouds. Inside our waged boxes all the worlds we knew turned to paper and the seas, such as they were, to ink. I ate bread and cheese. I don’t know about you. What did we drink?
At night, upon the stormy sheet-topped mattress we drank ourselves, slaking unslakeable thirsts on each other’s self-secreted salinities. How far, how fast, how frequent the voyages we made upon our so cheaply purchased sea, its waves turned wine dark, in parts, by the bottle of Merlot we upset between us. No message in it, except the sounds made by the dark red staining juice emptying out upon our sea-foam sheets. “Flotsam or jetsam?” you said. I, not caring, countered “Circe or Calypso? Your choice.” “Calypso then,” you said. I reached for the box of tissues, wiped first myself, and then the sopping sheets. “This handkerchief — well, these tissues, are my island, and I shall hold you here enchanted seven years, or one at least. Opinion is divided.”
It was one. You began to stray from me, hunger for your Ithaca, Penelope, your son. You worried there might by now be suitors for the wife you had abandoned. These sudden cares — or were they? — scuttled you. I ran aground on rocks of jealousy and badly holed, my vessel foundered, too. Our tides of passion turned low, ebbed from us, trawled up in nets by a vindictive, waning moon. The sea ran dry and died. The seabed thus exposed became again what it always had been: a bed we bought from Sears, mattress, frame and head, on sale, a snip.
We sleep, when we sleep, together and apart. I measure out my space in mean half-inches, mark my boundaries, defend the borders you may not pass. The wine stains look like blood to me now. No matter how I wash them, the damned spots will not come out. All that sails between us are insolent, insulting barges, occasional fire ships and long-lost, ghostly galleons.
About the artists:
Marianna Gefen is an illustrator and graphic designer. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia and having spent many years in various cities around Germany, she now makes Madrid her base.
Clive Collins is the author of two novels, The Foreign Husband (Marion Boyars, 1989) and Sachiko’s Wedding (Penguin Books 1991). Misunderstandings, a collection of short stories, shared the Macmillan Silver PEN Award in 1994.