by Francesca and Miriam
Miriam's webpage: http://www.asan.com/users/pongo
Author's disclaimer: Nothing's ours but the words; everything else belongs to Pet Fly. Well, all right, Maya belongs to Pet Fly, but they can have her.
Author's notes: OK, so I'm having coffee with Miriam (a lot of coffee with Miriam) and I say, "You know, I never get what Blair saw in Maya, cause she was such a drip," and Miriam goes, "Yeah, I know what you mean," and next thing I'm doing my Maya impression, which is sort of like John Leguizamo crossed with Marilyn Monroe, and Miriam's laughing and talking about the feminist implications of Maya being such a damned awful vaccuum of a person, and then I say, "Hey, you wanna go write this down?" and she says "Sure" and so here you go and here it is. And we both feel a lot better now.
Among the haphazardly stacked books and unfiled papers, the detritus of his academic existence, the artifacts, the office supplies, the mundane tools of his trade: a vision.
She was different: she stood out from that, untouched by the dust that turned his fingers black, that made him sneeze. She never seemed marked by the ink that stained his fingers, that stained his shirts and never quite faded away.
She wore white.
And she was best seen by candlelight, the softness of it casting sepia shadows across her face, casting the rest of his office into gray, dusky shadow. Shadows falling on her breasts, her hips, the soft female flesh gliding, sliding beneath the soft white fabric of her dress, flesh moving in and out of the light. Revealing. Concealing.
She had laid out a feast upon the white cloth, light hands fluttering to serve him.
He had wanted to put his hands on her. To cup her flesh in his hands. A breast. Her hip. Arms, thighs: the warm female flesh called to his hands, and he knew what it would be like beneath him: cushioning, enveloping.
His hand reached out for brown ringlets, glinting gold in the flickering light. A coquettish turn of the head, dark eyes flashing, and he had stopped his hand. He had felt captured. Hypnotized. Entranced.
He ate and she talked, and her voice was more musical than it had any right to be, her soft accent marrying his English and her Spanish, the occasional Spanish phrase striking with the beauty of a grace note.
She wore white, and she served the cake without getting any on her fingers. She had fed it to him, and he had eaten eagerly from her hands, desiring the sweetness of it. Her fingers had danced tantalizingly close to his mouth, and he would have kissed them.
When the last bite was in his mouth, she pulled her fingers back: and he was still hungry.
His eyes roved over the clinging white of her dress, thin straps falling away from smooth, bare shoulders, teasing, seducing. And he wanted and he was conscious of wanting and he leaned into the voice that said "I love you," tasting the sweetness on her lips and wanting more and wanting her and reaching for her but she was already gone.
"I have never... You would be the first," she murmured in explanation, in invitation.
A wave of longing, enormous, terrifying, crashed over him, and he was wet and bending toward her, but his desire was now so great that it stood between them, a living thing that held him back, because she was just inches away, she was just inches away, she was just out of his reach, beyond his grasp —
— and he had the sudden, certain feeling that his hand would go right through her.
She was a ghost.
The candlelight seemed brighter, making her translucent. She was something you could only see by candlelight: she would disappear with the dawn, under the spotlight, in the cold light of reason or of day.
And the not-thereness of her chilled him, and he could not move, he could not touch; he had the sudden, certain feeling that his arms would close around empty air.
He drew back, moved away, and the bride was dressed in white, and the smell and the taste of the wedding cake was still in his mouth, and she was shimmering like smoke — suddenly, frighteningly insubstantial — and she was wax, soft and open, and he could bend her to his desires, because she was there to be bent to his desires, it was what she wanted, it was what he wanted, it was what he didn't want, what he suddenly didn't want to want.
And then the moment passed, and the feast had been consumed, and with the moment of consummation upon him, he fled. Fled the bridal chamber like a boy.
He told himself that it hadn't been a failure, that it hadn't been his failure. He told himself that he wouldn't sacrifice her — but it was him, really, wasn't it, that would have been sacrificed on that particular altar.
And he had the sudden, certain feeling that she might not have been there if he had looked back.
And he didn't look back until the next morning, when he was cleaning up the cluttered remains of dinner — throwing away the unmatched pair of cheap candles and the stained paper plates — the dried crust of frosting sluffing off onto the floor to be swept under the shelves of mildewed papers, still sorted into tentative piles and still unfiled.
And then he reached back into the bag, pulling out one of the mangled candles, and he thought about saving it as yet another artifact. He collected them, these remainders of things that were always already irretrievably lost to him. But the candle wasn't it — she was the part burned away, the part he couldn't keep or save. She was so much less tangible than that, elusive even when she was there. If she were there.
And that was the problem. He had run away, fearful that his hand might have gone right through her, and so he would never know for sure. And he let go of the candle, dropping it back into the bag, noticing that there were bits of candle under his fingernails, that there were impressions like half-moons left in the wax.
She had worn white and she served the cake without getting any on her fingers. She hadn't been touched by it. She had stayed clean. Some people can do that.
And he hadn't touched her, and he had wanted to so badly, but he had never managed to make an impression, because you couldn't make an impression on someone who wasn't there, who was as elusive as she was. And he had tried, but she had always receded from him, and however much he stretched out his arms she always floated just beyond his grasp, just past his fingertips, untouchable, a chimera, a fantasy —
Or had that been it all along?
His first instinct was to catalogue — to classify her, to analyze the attraction, to figure out what she was, what it was about her. But in the end it was nothing he could put his finger on, nothing that set her apart, nothing that was different enough to explain his heart pounding, or the shimmering blurring of her image when he tried to picture her the way he saw everything else he could analyze. It was like the worst kind of dream, and as he tried to focus on it, she seemed to shift and never come into the frame. And so he looked harder, concentrated harder. Be objective. Figure this out. But it was like staring into a void, being sucked into that emptiness that couldn't be analyzed. Something that was too far away to see and not far enough to objectify. And he asked again, was that what you wanted? Was that what you wanted from a woman?
And the question hurt to ask, and he persisted in looking into that void, repeating that question as if the answer would just come to him, as it sometimes did in dreams.
But it hurt him not to have her, and it hurt him to know that he wouldn't have her, and it hurt him to not know why he wouldn't have her, because she had seemed to want him, she had seemed within his grasp. But she was miles away now, ever receding from him.
He wondered why he didn't try harder to keep her.
But to go to her would have been to fall through her, to pass right through her like a ghost.
And the bed was solid beneath his back, and through the curtains that he couldn't bring himself to get up and close, he could hear the voices of Jim and that woman, Jim and a woman.
And he realized, with a sudden clarity, that he was going to cry, really cry, because it hurt, dammit, and he was in bed and this wasn't a dream. And he couldn't cry because Jim was there, just outside the door, solid and real and making dinner from the smell of it, and there was no privacy to grieve. And knowing that, he still couldn't stop the first roll of tears down his cheeks, and the doorway and the curtains and the small glimpse of kitchen were starting to blur and so he looked up at the ceiling, at the blank white screen of it, and it held no answers. And he cried and couldn't stop and knew that Jim could hear him in the next room, probably on the next block, and he was suddenly past crying and into sobbing and rolled over against the pillow to muffle the sound of it.
"...Chief?" and Blair looked up, and Jim was there, leaning against the doorway to his room. Jim was there, and he was offering him noodles. And he couldn't bear to look up, because Jim was right there, and he couldn't bear to have Jim see him crying. Because Jim had never had this problem, because Jim had had women and held women and never seemed to cry over it. Because women were there for Jim, were there now for Jim, and didn't disappear when you turned away for just a second, when you didn't look right at them and concentrate on looking. Jim didn't have trouble looking at women. Jim could see women without a Guide. Jim could see and Jim was there.
Because women were there for Jim. Because Jim wouldn't have left a woman with her dress slipping and her cheeks flushed in a state of clear wanting. Jim would have been there. Jim made an impression. Women responded to authority. To six odd feet of authority. To the hard planes of him and the way he leaned casually against doorways like he knew how strong he was and he could relax into it. Like he was holding the room up and not the other way around.
Because Jim was so solidly there, framed in the doorway.
Because Jim had never been anything else, had been solid from day one, from the word go, and he could still remember what it had felt like to be in the middle of a conversation — okay, so it was more like an argument, but he could do argument, it was his metier, he was on solid ground there — and he had been almost smugly on his own turf when he had been shoved off it, slammed against the wall, and the talking was, like, obviously over and he was suddenly in a place he had never been, a place where people fought with weapons other than words. But words were all he had, and Jim had nailed him to the wall with hardly an effort, and so he had just talked faster and louder and had somehow won that argument, but it had cost him a bruised back and the more painful realization that there were worlds other than his own, a fact he had known but not known, which was pretty humiliating for an anthropologist all in all.
But every action was an invitation to an equal and opposite reaction, wasn't it? and he had been curious and he had always been a quick study and so he had shoved back, and he could still remember the solid bulk of Jim and just how much effort it took to move him, just how hard he had had to throw himself at Jim to move him out of the way of that oncoming truck. And he could remember how Jim had felt beneath him: too hard to cushion his fall, but warm and solid and alive and there underneath him.
In a way that no woman was there. In a way that no woman could be there, had ever been there for him. Oh, and god help him! women were insubstantial, ghostlike, and Maya had on those deluded terms been utterly perfect, the queen of them all, the queen of his dreams, and he had loved her because she was so utterly, utterly untouchable, because she was all the other women, all the women who had haunted him. She was every woman he had chased, and caught, and fallen through, screaming — so beautiful because barely there at all.
And was that what he wanted from a woman? Was that what he wanted? Was — was —
— was a woman what he wanted?
And self knowledge crashed over him like a wave, enormous, terrifying, and he was sweating, because it had, in fact, come to him in a dream, in a vision. A vision of a man in the doorway.
And he had dreamed of a man in the doorway, before he knew who he was, before he knew who he himself was, and the dream was so frighteningly familiar, now — now that he let himself see it, now that it was close enough to see and far enough away to analyze.
And women had offered him cake and smoke and mirrors, and but there was a man in the doorway offering him noodles, and he knew that if he were to touch (god, touch, he wanted to touch, was that what he wanted?) that his hand would not pass through or disappear in a haze of atoms but would touch. Touch. Touch bone and muscles and (god help him) hardness, a hardness completely contrary to the gossamer softness of women.
And he would touch, and he would be touched, and it would touch him, because the man in the doorway was as real as dust and ink and the rest of his life, and the man at the door would stain him, would make an indelible impression on him and feed him, nourish him, touching him not with ghostly feather lightness but with strength and power and — .
And he had never...and Jim would be the first, but Jim was offering him noodles, only noodles, because there was a woman in the kitchen, a woman that only Jim could see. And Blair looked up and let himself see Jim.
Wearing a black t-shirt and jeans and a hopeful expression that Jim hardly ever wore. And Blair knew he was going to turn the noodles down, turn that offer down, because it wasn't what he wanted. And he lay there, alone, and his cheeks were wet, listening to the low rumbling sound of Jim's voice and thinking about how damned hungry he was.