IslaThat was the only night I ever spent in Nathan’s arms. I gave the full heft of myself to that embrace, just went limp and made my spine an outward arc so I could gaze up at the ceiling. Never once felt in danger of falling.
Spanish moss dangled from the rafters; the whole club felt like a jungle aflutter with beastly gyration. The band, who’d come down all the way from Chicago, played with a fervor their cool, smirking faces didn’t betray. Their congas fed pulsations to the floorboards. We felt the quaking rise up through our feet. That band and the sweat and the waggle of hips only inches apart, on every side, sent my husband and the two noisy babies I’d borne him deep into the back of my mind—not long and not for good, just for seconds at a time. Glorious, airy seconds at a time.
Now and then, Nathan leaned forward and let his lips graze my collarbone. Each time, my face flushed, cheeks aflame, and heat prickled every pore on my body. I’d recall his grin and how hungry it was, when he first spotted me in my black dress, looking for all the world like a sexy, sequined fish, the way the skirt hugged my hips and bloomed out at the knee. It was a risk, waiting for him out front, my hand poised to open the latch on our gate, before the sun even had a chance to go all the way down. But I was alone, for once—completely alone. I couldn’t help but make the best of it.
He hadn’t waited for the gate to open. He hopped it, eyes tearing straight down from my marceled hair to my scarlet toenails, and pulled us down, practically to our knees, to steal a kiss beyond the prying eyes of my neighbors. It was the only time we ever kissed square on the mouth. He told me, lifting me back to my feet, that I smelled like lilacs and home. He smelled like talcum and conquest. But I kept that to myself.
On the dance floor, what little there was of it, folks were watching. But folks were always watching, then holding forth on all the things they’d watched, days later, huddled over washbasins or whiling away a few minutes in line at the butcher’s.
I knew my name would burn up the telephone wires come the next day, but I let Nate kiss on me that night, every time he tried. I couldn’t help it. His lips had this way of humming a song against my skin, and all I wanted to do was hear it.
I should’ve known something wicked was coming. My Grandma Jo always used to say: you lose your shame, your death ain’t far behind.