All Things Must Fall
Alicia A. Curtis
The air here smells of ocean and lightly battered crab cakes. It reminds me of one day in late summer when I was eight years old.
It was strawberry, I remember. A great melting gob of it against the cement and my mother's white, sandaled foot. A look of disdain crossed her face, her mouth a scandalously red smear of rebuke. I expected to be hit and held my cone out like a knight brandishing a pocketknife to ward off a dragon.
But the blow never came.
The catch in her throat still resonates in my ear. And he hurries past. A well-dressed man, my father, he does not even glance our way. The black arch of his shoe gleams as the cab door shuts. In his wake, a whiff of baby powder and allspice.
The air stilled and I was enveloped in heat. Curdling milk and strawberries. My mother didn't move. The thin film of sweat on her forehead grew thicker and one drop coagulated with another until a rivulet of perspiration trickled down her left cheek, strands of blonde coiling and glistening against the moisture.
The burnt leaves of a sycamore cast shadows on her face. Her eyes were turned towards their dark edges. They, in turn, were fluttering slightly in the exhaust of the cab as it pulled away.
One leaf trembled loose and fell towards the trunk. This slight movement seemed to break my mother's trance and she shook herself. The leaf still gleamed in her eyes when she turned her gaze back on me.
Neither of us spoke.
The smell of crab cakes grows stronger as we hit Miami. The dark curl of turnpike recedes. Before us, the city rises stark and lit. Dunnel turns the dial to 93.1 and starts howling along with some dance tune. My disapproval at the music earns me a sneer.
And I am not ready to be home.
Just this afternoon, we were driving and Dunnel was glinting gold in the late-day sun. It was the time of day when everything is colored the dull sheen of an old postcard, palm trees swaying the muted green kitsch of a 50s pleasure trip. I expected to see intact nuclear families zooming by in station wagons. I closed my eyes and saw my mother hobbling down Park Avenue in expensive Italian sandals.
We almost hit a BMW. Dunnel yelled. I swerved.
We argued through the sunset. I caught a flash of purple over one of Dunnel's particularly creative expletives and he grew sulky until the dance tune proved a salve for his frayed nerves.
Now, all around us, sports cars carrying old, successful men and their firm-thighed lovers are whizzing past. My old Datsun is hemming and hawing. A car full of young, rouged women pulls up and three pairs of darkened eyes focus on Dunnel. He is a blonde god, out of place in my squalor. Their eyes, beneath the mascara, are bright.
Dunnel has fallen into a daze, staring out the window as the lights whirl past. He is still humming dance music but I think he is close to falling asleep. His chest is rising and falling slowly and I reach over and squeeze his bare knee. He jumps slightly, turns toward me with an arched eyebrow. I smile.
I check the exits. Still a few miles before 95, then up the highway to Hallandale Beach and a mewling cat. Dunnel stretches and decides to be amused by me and pats me knee in response. Murmurs a sleepy note about getting home.
And I am remembering him bathed in one stretch of moonlight, completely sober, the blonde curls of his chest fluttering in the warm breeze. A palm tree flashing across the window and casting shadows on his closed eyelids.
The city is growing larger. This is the side of Miami I love best, the dark sprawl of it that rises like jeweled velvet from the Florida night. The first time I saw it, I wanted to pull the entirety of it into my chest and let it decompose, let the yellow and white of the city hollow out my insides. It still enchants me now. Even during the day, a curl of ocean blue against the washed out sky can make me quiet.
But not Dunnel. He is not a quiet man. He howls and curses and steps on lizards because he never notices the impact of his lumbering frame. In the Keys, the first night, he crushed a gecko and I cried for twenty minutes.
But then he made love to me and it was actual lovemaking, not the bashing sex he tends towards. He undressed me with a graceful delicacy, his short fingers curling shudders out of my chest. He pulled a piece of hair from my mouth and brought it to his own, the look of concentration on his face almost as pained as that flattened gecko. And he put one big palm on my stomach and pressed.
The scrape of his cheek against my newly shaved skin sliced through the whole of me until I came and cried out and shuddered beneath the weight of him. And he palmed my hair and called me lovely. It wasn't until much later that I rose from him and walked out to the pool. The night was lush and tree frogs chattered to each other, telling private stories. I dipped a toe in the pool and hummed a bar from Tosca, watched a pallid gecko scurry by. The night was full of silence.
Now, noise. Miami crashing over me and Dunnel asleep and I, close to screaming at the traffic that boxes us in. All of these cars with their little objectives so counterbalanced to my own.
We will get home and we will feed the cat. And Dunnel will light a joint and we will have rough, jarring sex. And tomorrow morning, I will serve my lover coffee in bed.
And I will tell him about two young boys I saw in the Keys. How they were eating strawberries by a too-small pool and laughing in the silence-soaked night.
He will mutter some sleepy affirmative. He will roll over. I will stroke his hair and name him lovely.
Then, I will get up and call my mother and ask her if she's bought any new shoes.