Cumulous (excerpt)

Hope L. Justice

Let’s say it started sometime in a three bedroom, one story house, the ceilings low.  Perhaps in a living room with wood paneled walls.  A picture of Leon in his navy uniform, no smile on his face, though still handsome.  There is a deer clock, a picture of Gramma Hewitt, and three successively sized butterflies.  The room has no overhead lighting, but the gold carpet gives the appearance of brightness.

There are three boys—you could say young men.  Lee is tall, almost six feet and too thin.  There are dark purple circles beneath his eyes and shaggy black hair.  Looking too much like his father on the wall.  Handsome still.  Robert is taller than Lee, hair a little curly, and dark black like his brother’s.  He’s wearing a cap with no logo, mesh breathing holes in the back, eyes so dark they look black.  The structure of the face is different, but it is clear they are brothers, handsome in uncomparable ways. 

Kevin is different though.  His hair is dirty blonde, nearly shoulder length and feathered in the front.  His skin is light, some would say too pale, which only compliments his green eyes more—a sharp gaze like the bridge of his strong nose.  He is wearing a red and white striped shirt and white and blue Pumas.  His glasses are large and tinted, giving him the appearance of a trouble-maker, and I guess you could call him that.

Anita couldn’t take her eyes off him.  Sure, she had the rounder face of youth, of innocence.  And so thin.  But her long, wavy black hair and dark brown eyes and high cheeks made her nose stand proudly, making her face impossibly beautiful.  Her skin was smooth and dark, copper in the winter, though a much deeper shade in the summer.  She knew this winter-skin made her eyes look bigger and darker, like a deer’s.  So she pulled her hair around her shoulders and chin to show herself as a palate of brown.  When she walked into the living room, without a purpose seemingly, Kevin could not take his eyes from her small frame. 

No one can ever be sure, but perhaps this is what he and later, the birches had seen:

She is small.  Petite in her skinny stretch jeans, so dark blue that the paleness of her pink sweater is striking.  The tops of her off-white winter boots are scrunched low, showing the shape of her magnificent calves, conditioned by years of softball practice.  Her thighs are thick and curvy, and though her jeans are dark, when she moves delicately on the balls of her feet, the muscles in her upper legs will shift under the material of her pants enough for Kevin to know her legs are perfect.  She is short, and her legs are not long and graceful in the way her daughter’s will be, but they are shapely and thin and strong, and that appeals to him over long-legged girls.

And the upper body is flawless.  Her stomach is tight and flat.  He can see that through her light sweater, clinging to her innocently.  Her breats are small, but perky and perfectly round, somehow making her chest seem muscled as well.  He knows that if he were to slip his hands beneath her shirt and unbuckle the snap of her bra, her breasts would not lower, or sag, but  would stay perfectly lifted and full. 

Her sweater was not low cut, but v-necked to casually show the rise of her collarbone, and her smooth dark skin.  The triangle at the base of her neck would fit his mouth perfectly.  Her shoulders were narrow, even with her hips, which were not broad, giving her the appearance of a dainty dancer.  The material clinging to her biceps was proof enough that daintiness was an illusion.  When she reached up to remove something from the highest shelf, he saw her back muscles shift and strain, her biceps forming little knots beneath her sweater. 

But the face.  That was what caused his breath to come sharper.  Eyes as big and beautiful as a doe‘s, her body thin and strong like one, but soft and innocent.  Her eyes nutured him.  Such innocence.

He did not care to remove his eyes from hers.  Did not care if she saw him staring.  If her brothers saw.  He knew the instant he saw her that this was the beginning.

She knew when she could not shake his gaze that the bumps along her arms were speaking prophecy.  Something was coming.  From this man so different and light.  Eyes so green they looked like summer.  When she walked from the room without saying a word, she rubbed her arms to calm her rigid skin.  Yes, something was coming.

***

Think snow.  And surrounding trees, branches tangled, laced together like the fingers of lovers.  So close.  You’d think the branches inseperable.  The bark of the birches peeling back, layers of memory chipping away like paint.  Maybe a flaking piece would tell a thousand stories, of love or loss.  Or it’d tell one story:

That night surrounded by Birches the bonfire had frosted young hearts and later in a three-bedroom house, hope had left stalagtites dangling from their mouths the moment the other had silently whispered the other’s name.  The snow flakes are swollen falling against Anita’s eyelashes, sticking pleasantly for too brief a moment before they melt against the warmth of her face.  Warm.  Like Kevin’s hand pulling her along, smiling back over his shoulder, parting bare bushes away from her like a curtain for her to step through unscratched. 

The ground is painfully luminous as she watches her step.  A stump.  A fallen tree.  A rock.  Her breath is misting air quietly as inflated flakes fall heavier.  The air whiter. 

When Kevin stops, he removes his khaki hat, placing it on Anita’s head now decorated by melting snow.  Black hair dotted white, like the winter sky at night—stars against a pulling darkness—constellations speaking only one story.  Her cheeks and nose are rose-tinted, making her brown complection more beautiful. 

Stillness all around them.  The snow is falling more rapidly as Kevin reaches his hand out, brushes damp strands of hair from her face.  The world is quiet.  The birches are listening intently, watching, brushing fingers. 

When his icy skin cups the edge of her chin and urges it upward gently, her lips part slightly in anticipation.  She tastes melting snow on her lips.  His hand sweeps across her jawline, neck.  Then he leans in slowly, and the snow seems to stop falling.  Flakes frozen right where they are.  As still as stars. 

As two pairs of lips finally meet, they are both quivering, though they are not too cold.  You could say that this was the beginning.  The start.  Maybe the birches would remember it that way.

Kevin and Anita are not aware that the snow has begun to fall around them so heavily it blankets them from sight.  They are nearly invisible in the snow.  And when they part at last, Anita will notice only that the world looks brighter.  She will exhale trying to keep her chest from filling.  The kiss had done that. 

She was the first to love him.  The birches would say that too.