ISSUE 3 · FALL 2009




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Copyright © 2009

Roxane Gay

Requiem for a Glass Heart

ROXANE GAY

 

 

The stone thrower, a good yet flawed man given to overindulgence, met his wife on a beach, after a lightning storm on a night when the sky refused to surrender to darkness, and yet there were stars up above. He saw the small fissure her body made in the sand first, moved closer, moved carefully. Then he saw her, her body bathed in moonlight, her eyes shining brightly. He instantly fell in love because he could not believe what lay before him. Her beauty was so mystifying and entrancing that it pierced through his skin and into his blood and wove itself tightly around his heart.

He did not think about what it would mean to love a glass woman. He fell to his knees. He took her hand in his, turned the palm over. He gently placed his lips against the tender spot between her thumb and forefinger. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He prayed that when he opened his eyes she would still be there. When he did, she was.

The stone thrower’s wife instantly fell in love because the stone thrower was everything she was not. He was the first man who did not see through her. He helped her to her feet, and then they walked for hours and miles and miles more. He listened and enjoyed her husky voice as she told him all of her hopes, her dreams, her fears. She tried to keep some secrets for herself, but couldn’t. His propensity for indulgence was infectious. She laid herself bare and did not think about what it would mean to love a man of flesh.

The stone thrower and his wife courted for seven months and married on the seventh day of that seventh month. She wore a silver gown and diamonds in her glass hair. The stone thrower stood next to her, in front of his friends, their families. They vowed to love, to honor, to protect, to obey, although he did not yet know how he would keep his word.

When the stone thrower and his glass wife make love, she is always on top, her cool glass hands pressed against his chest. She covers him, leg to leg, breast to chest, face to face. He kisses her long, slender neck, the hollow spaces above her shoulder blades. He slides his hands along the length of her glass hair, then holds her face, tracing her lips with his thumbs. The stone thrower’s wife warms to his touch, just slightly, and though he can’t see it, he can feel her body respond. He enjoys the pressure of her glass thighs trembling against his and the way she breathes into his mouth, shallow and fast.

When the stone thrower’s wife comes, her body fogs in a random pattern outward from her heart. As she catches her breath, she can often hear her heart threatening to implode with the high pitched lamentation of glass succumbing to pressure. When she’s certain her heart won’t break, she rolls onto her side, and the stone thrower lovingly traces lines in the condensation he has left behind. Sometimes, after they make love, the stone thrower will light a candle, sit against the headboard, holding his wife in his arms, her glass spine arched against his thick, matted chest. He’ll look down at his seed slowly sliding out of her. He will ask her to lay herself bare further, to share secrets he does not yet know. He has become accustomed to seeing too much and now yearns to know too much. She will acquiesce, speaking softly, exposing herself in complicated ways. The stone thrower will smile. His wife will not.

Every morning, the stone thrower sits across from his glass wife at their glass table, and he watches as orange juice sluices down her glass throat into her glass stomach. It is a remarkable thing, he often thinks, being able to see such intimacies, being able to see the separation of her whole into parts. She’ll look at him, then to the distance, her cheeks growing warm while she remembers the night before. As they discuss the coming day, the stone thrower’s wife will reach across the table and take his hand in hers. She’ll trace the calluses, the fingers that are bent but not broken. He’ll squeeze back, gently, ever careful to not break her.

After the stone thrower and his glass wife share breakfast, he takes his glass child to school, holding the boy’s cool, translucent hand in his. He listens carefully as the boy tells him about his hopes, his dreams, his fears. With every word his son speaks, the stone thrower feels his heart expanding, nearly breaking the cage of bone protecting it. After he kisses the boy on the forehead, sending him on his way, the stone thrower will sometimes stand just outside the child’s classroom, peering inside, holding his breath, hoping that the other children will be gentle and kind, however fragile such hope may be.

During the day, the stone thrower’s glass wife busies herself with the work of living in a glass house. Room by room, she uses soft cloths to wipe clean every surface because her husband cannot help the things he leaves behind. As she wipes away the fingerprints and skin and stray hairs she smiles to herself and hums the waltz to which she and the stone thrower danced at their wedding. Sometimes, her neighbors will stop in front of the glass house and stare as they catch glimpses of her body’s glass contours beneath the clothes she wears more for their benefit than hers. They will whisper to each other and shake their heads.

What the stone thrower’s wife loves most is stripping out of her clothes and slipping into the world unseen. It is a sacred time, those hours between when her work is done and when her child and husband return home. She steals these moments for herself because her life is so transparent that she craves having something private, something precious. She crafts from these moments secrets for herself that she has not and will not share with her husband who sees too much and loves too carefully.

Most days, the stone thrower’s wife goes to a nearby park with wide open spaces and room to make big mistakes. She stretches her long limbs and stares into the sky. She marvels at the clear blue brightness above. She closes her eyes and says a small prayer. Then she runs. She runs because she is intoxicated by the sensation of wind against her bare glass skin. She enjoys the abandon of pushing her glass body and testing its limits and feeling the rough pavement and the cold slick grass beneath her bare glass feet. Her husband loves her but he worries. He wearies. He thinks her delicate. He fears that the slightest bump will transform her into sand. The stone thrower prefers to keep his wife trapped in the safety of their glass house where the dangers are not seen but known. She knows that the glass walls of their home cannot protect her. She runs.

After her afternoons in the park, the stone thrower’s wife finds herself sweaty and pleasantly sore. She walks home slowly, breathing deeply. She revels. Then she takes a cold shower, emerges, wraps herself in a soft cotton robe. When her son comes home, she will pull him into her arms, and listen when he tells her about his hopes, his dreams, his fears. He chatters away and she traces her child’s diaphanous features with her glass fingertips. The contact between their glass bodies produces a melodious keening that makes the boy smile wider. The stone thrower’s wife falls ever more in love with her child each day. Though it pains her, she accepts that the boy’s life is both a blessing and a curse. When her heart has had its fill of these precious moments, when she can literally feel the glass veins pulsing and threatening to shatter, she sends her child out to play with his friends until dinner. She needs him to be part of the world, to encounter that which is seen but not known.

The stone thrower’s son knows that he is a curiosity but he does not yet know why. In school, he sits at his desk, his glass frame draped in his school uniform. He is quiet but studious. He is kind but strong, like his mother. His is tough and stubborn, like his father. Though some of his classmates tease him, make faces at each other while looking through him, the stone thrower’s son has several friends who no longer concern themselves with that which makes them different, that which they cannot understand. To them, he is a boy who makes them laugh and chases them on the playground and who makes beautiful castles out of sand.

The stone thrower works hard and plays hard and provides well for his glass family. For eight hours a day, he works in a quarry, bare-chested and sweaty, throwing all manner of stone from the depths of the quarry to waiting trucks above. He is so good at his job that he often attracts an audience. Onlookers hover nearby, admiring the elaborate web of muscles enfolding his upper body, and the way he makes his labor seem so effortless. He does not mind the onlookers. He has become accustomed to living in a glass house.

When he finally gets home, the stone thrower sits at the kitchen table with his glass wife and their glass child. The family eats a dinner that has been lovingly prepared and the stone thrower tries not to look away from the intimate moments of his wife and son that he cannot share. He helps the boy with his homework, then together, husband and wife put the child to bed. Some nights, they hire a babysitter, leave a careful set of instructions for the care and feeding of a glass child, and then the couple goes out for a drink at a nearby cocktail lounge. His wife dresses in her favorite little black dress, relaxes against her husband’s strong frame, enjoys the pressure of his hand in the small of her back as he steers her to a table where they can see without being seen, hear without being heard.

On very special occasions, they will don their finery and attend the opera. They’ll sit in a private box above the orchestra, admire the ornate ceilings, the rich texture of the seats upon which they sit. The stone thrower’s wife will lose herself in the music, glass tears cresting her eyelids as she is transported to magical places. The stone thrower will try to enjoy himself, but with every note in every aria, his entire body will tense. He worries that it is a matter of time before a diva with perfect pitch and iron lungs will fill the opera house with a note so flawless that it matches the natural frequency of his wife’s body. He will be left, kneeling above shards of glass, holding his wife’s pulsing glass heart in his callused hands. The stone thrower is always quiet when he and his wife leave the opera, humbled as he is by the tenuous nature of a glass wife. She’ll ask him what’s wrong and he’ll look at her tenderly, and he’ll lie, and he’ll say everything is just fine.

.     .     .

The stone thrower, a good yet flawed man given to overindulgence, has a mistress he visits several times a week. She is a woman who is not made of glass. She is all flesh and bone, with a generous, meaty body like his. She is a different kind of mystery.

What the stone thrower’s wife hates most is stripping out of her clothes and slipping into the world unseen. She knows about the mistress. She watches her husband and the other woman sometimes, sneaking into the mistress’s apartment, padding softly across the thick carpet of the living room. She’ll stand in the doorway and watch as her husband holds the other woman in his large, callused hands, how he will be reckless and rough. Then she will walk home, leaving a trail of glass tears for the stone thrower to follow. The stone thrower doesn’t love his mistress, but he needs the moments they share, those moments when he does not have to see too much or love too carefully.