Sara herself did not know the people throwing the party, but she went to the house in the woods anyway.
He was darkly charming. Very dark. In other words seemingly land-based, mineral in taste, slick like black mud. He carried with him a small something wrapped in a blanket. The blanket was gray and thin, as if it had been well used, well loved by a baby. He had folded it with some care. It reminded her, at first, of the burrito wrapping instructions she’d seen at a Tucson restaurant. Anyone can learn to wrap a burrito. Anyone can wrap a baby blanket.
But around what? He went about the business of being at a party like anyone else—being dark, being of the earth, being not particularly washed but charming nonetheless. He ate a chip, dropping a bit of the dip to the floor. He shook hands with other new residents from the artists’ colony. He talked to a man who seemed to belong here, was perhaps from town. But all the while he held this little blanket.
Sara often felt feverish at parties, or like a ticking bomb, as if she were holding her breath and could only be there so long before she would burst and die. The feeling was worse than usual that night, though the beer had already done something to the back of her neck, and if she drank enough of it, and a second one, she would perhaps, as they say, loosen up. Would she need to talk about what she did, about being a poet? After all, it wasn’t like home, at Trader Joe’s, where she remained aloofly cheerful with the rest of the Hawaiian shirts. Where, by dint of her money job, she could hide her true self.
Had anyone asked him about the little bundle? Maybe it was some kind of injury actually, something that required discretion. Sara shook her head—she was muddled! Of course it couldn’t be an injury: it was outside of himself. But it could be a kind of device to help with an injury, she pleaded silently, impressed from an emotional if not logical perspective. It could be a sort of organ, an artificial organ that pumped and excreted fluids.
Try as she might she couldn’t help but be fascinated and frightened, and to study the man holding the blanket. Carhartt pants in of-the-earth brown, worn through time. An oil-slicked jacket, rugged boots, a kind of Middle Eastern checked scarf, lashed around his neck, half falling. And his hair, not thoroughly or recently washed. But still fetching somehow, even as it stood up a bit on one side. It carried some sunlight in it, some hope.
She drained her beer. Now they were talking together, laughing, as if they were old friends. They laughed and spoke, and she kept her eyes away from the blanket he held to his chest with tender, paternal insistence.
His voice was awkward, not out of ignorance or foreignness, but as if he didn’t use it much, because he was different, had slipped from the norm into his own universe. The dips and the languishing in the words, the sentences—that’s what she liked. She found herself simply talking about anything, asking him unnecessary questions. She laughed, giddily, unnecessarily, at herself.
There were other things to like, as well. The peculiar vulnerability of his gaze, as if he were near tears, as if he were whispering, trust me, lay down with me. And the way—here, at a party!—he stretched, beddy-bye time, unfurling his one free arm, curving his back and then becoming tall again.
It was late. The lights in the house were now confined to corners. There was still wine in a couple of bottles in the kitchen, and someone had left a half-empty six-pack. The other people in the house were vague shadows. And here he was asking if she’d like to see his studio—for he, too, was an artist, a sculptor, this a grand new world for her, the poet from Trader Joe’s.
The room was filled with elaborate and indefinable equipment. It was an industrial space, a converted barn or garage, the walls streaked with black and rust, the floor pooled with oil. He took off his blackened, ancient coat, somehow maneuvering the gray bundle so he never had to let go. Underneath he wore a black shirt, big for him, smeared in one place with white paint or Gesso.
Upstairs in the loft, the bed turned out to be the only place to sit down. From the floor nearby, he picked up a jug of homemade wine. A neighbor had made it, he told her, pouring the dark, watery wine into green glasses—the bottom half of Rolling Rock bottles, cut and polished.
Soon his breath, like hers, was of the homemade wine. She adjusted herself on the bed, fidgeting. They had become quieter. It was almost inevitable. But there was this one small thing between them—wrapped in a blanket. What is it? she whispered, again. For she had asked before, and he had just laughed.
Now he placed the bundle on the quilt between them and unwrapped it carefully. She was giddy, nauseous, anxious, aroused. What would it be? Treasure? But as the second fold unwrapped she was aware of a small shape underneath, a shadowy delicate shape. He lifted the last fold, and there it was.
A white ferret. It had been a white ferret. Its head was stretched forward and its pink gums and the bottoms of its multiplicity of teeth were exposed, a small whine or grimace. The neck was twisted, boneless, and the rest of the body had hunched and frozen. The legs and the hands of the thing—for they looked like hands, tiny hands—were bony and rigid and somehow also like twigs, birds—anything but what they were, what it was, on the bed, between them!
As if they understood something together, as if now they must trust each other, he looked down, tenderly wrapped up his bundle again.
Would she be going, he asked.
The night was black; her entire body thrummed with blackness. It was as if someone had shown her ugly pictures of herself, or as if she were not herself, had no real life of her own.
Now his hand was on her leg, and now his hand was unbuttoning the top of her jeans, then unzipping them. His palm was illuminated and rough against her belly, her hip, tugging against the tightness of the fabric. The two of them accommodated to one another; she was making it possible for him. The little bundle lay on the plywood shelf, near the green bottle glasses, and darkness came in like someone was throwing gallons of black water from the skylight, splashing her, soiling them, and their hands fumbled against clothing, fumbled and crept and slunk in to feel skin. Everything came off now, except her socks, and she felt like a small animal there on the quilt, as he unlaced her, as he separated, pushed at her legs to spread them and then, his whole body a question, entered her, made her squeak with pleasure.
Here, in this strange part of the country, fog came in the morning, a white purifying mist. She descended the loft stairs, his body a felled tractor and her body weirdly light; she’d become smaller. She cinched his black and white scarf around her waist to keep her pants from falling. She couldn’t find her shoes anywhere, so she rolled up her pants and tiptoed out into the white dawn, placing one then the other bare foot on the cold wet grass of the field. And there were fieldstones, and there was mud, and she ran, like a little gazelle, rid of herself, all the way back to her apartment on the other
side of the compound.