Magali and I crossed the street to the Richardson’s. Nine o’clock in the morning: a good time to get rid of things. A thread of sun peeked through the last clouds of a six-month winter. I shivered, but needed air. Shed the mittens, the socks and the pantuflas. Peel off the hardened shell. Would the exposed flesh be tender, or brittle?
We set up our stand on the Richardson’s lawn, and Magali opened her case. I worked on folding and pricing a load of blankets. The prices seemed high; I corrected them. I wrapped the shawl around my shoulders and wearily looked across the street to my bedroom window.
Magali strummed five pensive chords, and I followed them. She is a kid, but her music is wise. It gushes from a depth; it takes over; it consoles. Not only me. This morning, in our bedroom, Antonio mixed old tears with his when—or will you? Magali’s music wafted through our closed door, shielding her from us. And from each other.
Now, here—it brought me out into clean, new air. An incantation.
The lady came looking for shoes, her white hair blazing in the morning light. Was it white from age—or did she hail from a melanin-deprived land? Tall and lithe; deep blue eyes lighting her face. She painted landscapes year-round—the cold doesn’t faze me, she said. When painting sunrises in winter, she propped a makeshift easel on the steering wheel. She had to work quickly before her fingers numbed. I shook at the thought of her ensconced in the frosted bubble of her car, creating beauty while Antonio and I lay shrouded in our bed.
She rummaged at our table and hummed a melody over Magali’s chords. She asked whether my Chucks were good for a hike on that May day. She held up two sweaters—the olive and the orange. “Which one reflects the light better?”
I shrugged under my shawl. “You are the artist.”
She bantered, I listened. Magali’s second chord pushed forth. I asked: “Did you tell me your name? I’d like to look up your work.”
“Soleil,” she said.
She slipped the flaming sweater over her tank top. The weave stretched thin at the height of her chest. She stooped, laced up the All Stars. “Perfect.”
She gave me three dollars and a kiss on the cheek.
Magali’s music plucked and whispered. Soleil tiptoed on the notes, and a few paces away stopped at a stand bedecked with rhinestone necklaces and faux furs. She picked up a boa the color of wheat. The tufts and feathers glistened. They brushed the curve of her belly.
Magali stopped playing.
Soleil looked around, as though empty. The boa slipped onto the table, and she ambled away.
After a while of silence, I walked through the crowd to the table with the furs. I picked up the boa. I opened my shawl, brought the tufts and feathers to my neck.
Velvet, velvet, velvet.
I function. I just do. I sell. Answer questions. Label old clothes. Move things around. Time is old and slow.
But around my neck, the boa breathes.
Then Magali’s music comes to me. And there is a warmth. “Perhaps you would like to see my paintings.” Soleil’s hand lays comfortably on my arm. She is smiling at my mouth—or at the boa. I turn towards the music. “Maga, take care of things? Can you figure out lunch for you and—?”
“No problem,” she whispers.
“There is money in the box if you—”
The chords come in waves, louder. Maga gazes, unseeing.
The music pushes. It points the way.
I take Soleil’s arm. We rush.
The crowd parts.
Soleil kicks off the Chucks and pads her house soundlessly. There is one large room, high ceilings, windows looking out on bleached fields, the sparkling lake. The walls are covered with tapestries. Not much in the way of furniture. The shaggy rugs are the kind that makes me sneeze.
Soleil walks to a stereo and turns on guitar music. She brings up the volume, and everything pulses like a heart. “This old house,” she says. “It is like being inside your daughter’s guitar. What’s her name?”
“She has magic in her fingers.”
She leads me to a table covered with paintings, gazes at a point on my abdomen. “You are strong colors. Perhaps you’ll like this one.” She hands me a watercolor of a granite wall dressed in roses. The flowers droop, they drip with intoxication. They are about to bring the wall down.
I look out the window towards those mountains, where Antonio is lying. I step back. The music vibrates on my throat.
“Or perhaps you like this one?” The roses are now lost under a pile of purple mountains, ocher fields, snowy hills. Soleil’s strong hands shine in the morning sun. Her skin has red patches as from turpentine baths—do painters still clean their brushes with turpentine?
How strongly can they hold?
“Are you thirsty?” Soleil fans herself with a postcard, sending sweet perspiration my way. “Can I offer you some tea? Wine?” She crosses a beaded curtain into the kitchen. “I’m having white.”
I watch her fling cabinet doors behind the tiny, colorful globes.
“Sure.” I wander the room’s perimeter. I see easels, tables laden with art supplies, a few hard-backed chairs.
Soleil pokes her head between the beaded curtains. “Have a seat.”
I look around the room. Will Soleil straddle one of the chairs, wrap her long legs around it, her forearms on the backrest, her neck proud? Are the chairs for the models?
Does she paint nudes?
The music crawls on me. The boa sticks to my neck. What would I look like in one of those chairs, bare, and ready, and open?
Soleil stands next to me. She hands me spumante in a frosted glass. “I keep them in the freezer.” We cheer. The cold chokes me slightly. Soleil takes the glass back, holds both in one hand. With the other she holds mine. “Come.”
The guitar plucks as on tiptoes. On the corner window the lake shimmers. Soleil places the glasses on a low stool and sits on a large cushion on the hairy rug. I sit between her and the wine glasses. We take in the light of the Champlain Valley—the mountains, blue and blush and purple.
She reaches for her drink, takes a sip, places the glass back on the stool. She picks up my wrist.
“You have interesting veins.”
I rearrange the boa with my free hand.
“They are pure blue. Leading towards that brave heart.” She sets a finger on the vein, traces it slowly. There is a sliver of paint on each of her fingernails. A bit green, a bit blue. She curls up her fingers, lightly scratches the inner side of my arm. She gazes into my eyes. So blue. “Can I draw them?”
On the stereo, a Villalobos prelude glides. It broods darkly. It persists.
Her finger glides to my elbow.
My blood rushes, tickles my chest. It tumbles. From my abdomen, a wave of heat.
Soleil glances at the boa. “Are you cold? You’ll be more comfortable if you lean back.”
I prop my head and back on the large cushion, stretch my legs on the rug. A cloud of dust rises, and I sneeze. I relish the smell. All is maddening.
The boa slithers from my neck.
“May I see your belly?”
I close my eyes and try to relax. I feel her hover above me. She lifts my blouse so carefully, all I feel is the cool air.
A ribbon of warmth! Her tongue is drawing a belt on my waist. It moves like a snake.
Something soft and heavy meets my thigh. I reach over. It is her breast—sweet. Hot. Soleil pants! My thumb strokes her lightly. Under the sweater a lovely raisin pushes through. I drape my hand over her breast, sheltering the dainty lump within my palm. I press, and she gives a little gasp. I let my fingers slide, rest on her nipple. Soleil smiles, joyous—anxious.
I weave my other hand through her white hair. I kiss her bittersweet mouth, and understand my thirst. My fist closes around her hair. Her mouth draws a little grimace. I kiss it. I lick it. She laughs.
She plays with my waistband. “May I?”
I open my fly and she pulls my jeans down—enough for my knees to part a few inches. Enough for her to see my aching center. I shut my eyes. On the stereo the guitar tinkles. Slowly, quietly, playfully. My knees bend in a rush. Such cold has fallen on my hips!
“Oh, the wine! Let’s try to keep these dry.”
I help her pull my jeans from the wetness. There is a lax smile on her lips.
Then she comes to me.
Her tongue laps and I tremble.
Oh how I tremble.
On boa we lie. My body is warmed through and through, my skin sunburned. In my arms, Soleil is sleek and pure. I sigh.
“Like a lioness,” she says.
The guitar winds a long, descending scale. Rallentando, about to arrive.
It reaches the final chord.
On the neighbor’s lawn, Maga and I follow its last echoes. She rests her hands on the guitar’s waist. She seems exhausted.
I glance across the street. “Did you guys eat? Where is—?” Maga nods.
I breathe deeply. My shawl slips off my shoulders and lands on the remaining blankets. I place a sticker on it.
On the neighboring stand, the rhinestones and the faux furs flutter like victory flags. The blond boa glistens.
Velvet, velvet, velvet.