Sootie

She sits on a silk cushion, her head lying sideways on pulled-up knees, her arms thrown out in an open embrace. He catches sight of her as he parks outside the craft bakery where Berfu has saved him a baguette. The woman’s eyes are closed, and her lips frame an incipient smile. Her contracted body and the smooth curve of her spine stir distant memories. In a tall-windowed sunlit studio, he is once again an earnest student of modern dance, warming-up to Jarrett’s jazz piano. His teacher Sootie, a raven-haired free spirit and embodiment of desire, casts him in her company’s first show. As they all bow in a shower of flowers, Sootie gives him a bouquet of red roses and Oriental lilies.

Berfu brings him back with dancing eyes, a smile and knowing Levantine small talk. He buys the last baguette and pauses at the door to study the silent effigy seated on the sidewalk. An embossed gold-lettered card hanging from her ring finger says she’s a bronze Beaux Arts nude of Catalonian provenance. He squats before her, and strokes the warm silky patina of her forearm and the cleft where a thumb curls into her palm. At a nearby table a woman observes him from a corner of her eye, frowning as she sips coffee and taps on her cellphone. He writes a check and maneuvers the statue into his car, covering her for modesty’s sake with a light cotton throw. He drives home across sea-islands that guide broad rivers into the Atlantic.

That evening, a lurid sunset turns gray cirrus pink against the lavender sky. He settles into an armchair on the verandah overlooking the salt-marsh, dips warmed baguette into olive oil, and sips a heady Malbec. Sootie rests on a patch of lawn, arms outstretched, embraced in the shade of a water-oak and a palisade of rushes at the water’s edge. As the last light fades and a cold mist rolls in from the marsh, he wanders across the lawn and sits beside her. Her arms and back are mottled with watermarks that mar her ebony perfection. Lost in thought, he dampens a napkin with virgin olive oil and massages her black bronze body. He is caressing a bygone love, and her smooth inanimate contours seem responsive under his shivering fingers. As he burnishes her breasts and the planes of her thighs, he’s startled to see that Sootie has raised her head from its sideways rest upon her knees and is looking him in the eye. He shudders, and she seems to catch a breath. The sudden cry of Canada geese flying overhead in perfect formation jolts him into the here and now. His trembling slowly gives way to torpor.

Disconcerted, he goes back to the verandah. His limbs are heavy, and his eyelids droop as he fends off drowsiness. Time passes. Bullfrog crescendos gradually die out, and now and again firefly flashes punctuate the darkness. He can’t quite see in the gloom, but Sootie seems to have moved. She’s no longer sitting on her silk cushion, her open arms inviting embrace. She’s risen onto one knee, and now splayed fingers bring her to her feet. She’s coming across the lawn, black as night, unbidden and inevitable, like a dream. She sits before him, and draws his knees up to his chin. He lays his face sideways, stretches out his arms, and succumbs to her caress. The scent of roses and Oriental lilies envelops him as he embraces her pulsing life and his own terminal stillness.

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