“White Matter” by Natalie Enright

Here is a sneak peak of Natalie Enright’s White Matter, a story of love and loss, which will be published in our Spring 2013 issue. Natalie read the piece at the release party for Forum‘s Fall 2012 issue last Friday, video from which can be viewed below.

White Matter

by Natalie Enright

His alarm sounds loudly. She barely reacts. She was already awake. The sound of waves crashing outside their window and wind swirling reminds her of a childhood memory; a day at the beach when she lost her beloved stuffed animal. The memory ends as soon as it begins. It was just an image of a little girl in a bathing suite crying next to a woman holding her hand. The smell of brine precedes the sun peeking through the open window of the tiny room. The smell comes through the screened window down the bedroom wall across the carpeted floor and up the mattress lying on the floor, up the other wall and out the window back to the ocean. She is never up this early.

He exhales as he lifts the blanket off his body and then lifts himself up and to the edge of the bed, then turns the alarm off on the floor. The blanket folds over back towards her and a breeze from the open window kisses her exposed thigh. He stands up and leaves the room quietly. She throws the cover over herself and slips underneath. The bed is cold without him. Her body follows a current of sheets moving towards the foot of the bed. She finds a spot still warm from where he was lying and rests her body in the space he left behind. She is listening to him getting dressed and then him moving his things down the hallway to the front door. She wonders if he noticed that she was awake. She feels the undertow of her sensitivities and hopes it will pass and lead back to sleep. Instead she resurfaces to the edge of the blanket at the head of the bed to listen to him leave. He opens the door and carefully carries two bags with him. His keys jingle as he turns the lock and then she listens to his footsteps fade away. It’s too early to say goodbye.

Twenty minutes pass quickly. She lay still except for the flutter of her eyes opening. She considers lifting the blankets and getting out of bed. But covered in blankets trumps starting the day. She rolls over on her back and stretches her arms over her head. It’s too late now to try and find sleep. She moves her eyes back and forth between looking at the white ceiling and the open window above her head. Her hands rest next to her body and she tries to hold her breath so that she doesn’t move at all. She imagines lying in a coffin–still, forever. Finally her lungs force her to take a deep breath. She gasps for air loudly and when she exhales all the sound leaves out through the window where it came. She’s struck by how apparent the silence is and how it makes her feel uncomfortable. She cups her hands over her ears to hear her heartbeat, but there is no sound. For a moment there is total silence. No waves crashing. No birds chirping. No wind swirling. Motionless, she waits for something to happen.

Then she sees him walk into the room. This is unexpected.

She tries to remember something while their eyes catch each other. He pauses for a moment. She can’t tell if he’s surprised to see her awake, but she knows better than to ask him why he’s returned so soon. She feels an unexplained empty space in her chest where her heart should be and a bubble of air trapped in her throat. The room is still silent. Her eyelids close slowly. When she opens them again he’s closer to her, slowly removing his jeans. She watches him take in deep breaths as he looks at her–as he looks past her and searches for something to say as if he might find the words behind her, tucked in the space between her and the wall. She searches his face and notices his eyes filled with tears. It’s unbearable to watch him struggle. In two years, she’s never seen him overwhelmed by any emotion. Now she knows and her eyes fill with tears at this revelation. Before she can catch them, the words tremble off her tongue and fall to the floor.

“It’s my mom, isn’t it? She’s dead.”

He nods his head yes and lifts the cover to lay in the bed next to her and grabs her just as the tears rush from her. Suddenly all the sound rushes back into the room. The vacuum that removed all the air sends it quickly back again. All the sounds–the ocean, the wind, their breathing, their heartbeats–it all rushes towards her and explodes against their bodies. She is overwhelmed by tears and convulses as she struggles not to breathe. But her body is unwilling to let her go and forces her to be present and take in air. He pulls her in closer. The moment drowns her and she unravels in his arms.

After awhile she’s shipwrecked and the sobbing pauses. Her chest deflates into her body. She feels lifeless. Her eyes stay closed and buried into his chest. Everything seems unreal. She searches for something tangible to ground her–something real and far from this moment. Without any thought to what conjured the sensation, she presses up against him. She focuses on how warm he is. She touches his face and opens her mouth to kiss him. His lips are soft and his moist tongue touches hers gently. Their hands meet and she puts his between her legs. She knows he can’t resist if she’s wet. Instinct overpowers logic. They’re merely human now, with carnal desires. She rolls on her back and lets him climb on top and enter her. He holds himself up over her on his forearms and breaths heavy as he slowly pushes into her. She keeps her hands around his face and clenches her hips around him and pushes back into him. Her chest becomes warm and she hears her heart thumping. Her breath is heavy and smooth. Lungs fill and empty like waves crashing on the shoreline and then running back to the sea. Her hands run down his back. The muscles stretch and contract. His back is warm and moist with sweat. She pulls him into her and rolls on top of him. She uses her hands to press against the mattress and slightly over his head. Her pelvis pushes harder into him. He lifts himself up and kisses her warm breasts. The sensation makes her arch her back and drop her head back. Sea breeze passing through the window brushes her face and cools her flushed cheeks. He grabs her waist and pushes back into her. Nothing proceeds this moment. Time escapes them. They continue to follow the rhythm until they are both exhausted and satisfied. He wraps his arms around her. She lays her head on his chest with her legs tangled with his–panting and still. The breeze against their naked bodies cools them. She listens to the waves throw themselves against the rocky shoreline and charge up towards the sky to catch the wind swirling above them. She closes her eyes again and sees that little girl crying on the beach but this time no one is holding her hand.

Natalie Enright is a CCSF and SFSU English Literature student by way of Kenya, Africa. She lives in your closet, so she can eavesdrop on you and write fictional stories inspired by your secrets.

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