Saturday, March 19

Four Inches

HIS ARM WAS draped across my chest, slightly stretching my skin with its weight, elongating my nipples and uncomfortable, restricting my breathing somewhat. In shifting his arm off of me, I felt the ring on my finger. There is only one finger for such rings. The ring was covered in angles and, unburdened – he stirring slightly – I felt the angles of the diamond. It seemed sharp against my fingertips. The curtains of the hotel room did an excellent job of darkening the room, of withholding the day outside. I could just about see the ring in the darkness, holding it up in front of me. I played a game, bringing the ring close enough to my eyes that it fell out of focus; I moved it back and forth, measuring the depth of my vision, finally assessing it to be a shade under four inches. I arose and found my dressing gown. My ankles were cool and the floor was cool; those white tiles common in Canary Island hotel rooms.
The unlocked balcony doors ground open and the light of the day, youthful and faintly blue, caused me to squint and shield my eyes briefly, before, beneath a smile, I said good morning to the world. Waking up on holiday was one of my favourite things. On the floor was a scattering of cigarette ash radiating from one of the discarded plastic cylinders my 35mm film had come in. Next to each chair was a champagne flute, tarnished from a night’s celebration and one wearing a crown of lipstick; a bottle stood nearby the uncrowned flute, a half-glass remaining. Wiping my mouth, I checked that the neighbours were not on their balcony before stepping forward and looking out at the sea. With my hands on the edge, I looked at the ring, resisting the impulse to once more raise it to my eye, but noticing the light collecting and exploding from the rock atop it. It seemed so small a thing.
He was still asleep but as I was getting dressed – assembling an outfit of half-worn clothes from about the room – he stirred and paused before smiling at me. There was a strip of light entering from the separated curtains.
Him—‘Where you going?’
‘Morning,’ I smiled briefly and put my trainers on.
He said—‘Give us a kiss.’
His kiss tasted of sleep and eight-hour-old champagne.
In the bathroom I tied my hair back and drank a few mouthfuls of water from the sink. The water smells different here. ‘I’m just going for a walk,’ I called. The water tastes different here. I brushed my teeth. He was asleep again when I left the room.
As the dining room opens people begin to appear from their rooms and drift toward it, picking up conversations as they go. A stray cat, having snuck past the security, rolls around in the gravel outside the pool’s pump room. As I pass the cat I attempt to entice it with my rubbing fingers, but it spies the ring, flicks its head disapprovingly and resumes rolling. ‘Fuck you, then.’ The hotel is built in the middle of an expanse of volcanic wasteland. It is perfectly isolated so that only the most serious of walkers would dare travel to the nearest town by foot, and even they would find themselves giddy and weak upon arrival. The hotel occupies a square plot of land. On one side is the sea; on the other is a ring of volcanoes in various stages of dormancy. I turned left, with no direction in mind.
I had not expected the proposal but given our ages and the length of our relationship – two-and-a-half years – I suppose it was inevitable. I had hoped for the proposal but did not think he would do it. I did not care who proposed. That is the age I am at now. It is a sad age. Maybe you are at that age or past it or nowhere near it yet; but it comes around. You’re just happy that someone does not find you repulsive and realises you are the best they will get. As a child I had these imaginations of what my husband would look like, but he does not look like that, nor does he act like that. He simply is. He, too, is aging. His gut is larger now, his hair greying, his wit is slowing. I would have liked to meet him in his prime. He would have been quite handsome and virile, I think. Now he can only come on my bottom, finishing himself off; enough for me to lie there, feeling it land on me and thinking of other things. He agrees with my father and amuses my mother. They have no complaints.
I feel the ring and rotate it back and forth around my finger.
My ring finger is beautiful; I am in no doubt about that. ‘You have such beautiful fingers,’ I imagined him saying to me last night when he slid the ring on. He was very well-dressed. Everyone clapped. The old people especially keen, nodding in glee, matching in their orange tones, leathery hands beating leathery congratulations. There were children clapping, too, not knowing why they were clapping but distracted from their folly by the commotion and clapping at me as though all my decisions leading to that moment had been correct. I noticed with some unease how his bended knee was not quite touching the floor, hovering perhaps four inches above it.
My knuckles are ever so slightly larger than the bones between them, over which my perfect pale skin is drawn tightly. There are a few fine hairs growing on them, almost imperceptibly. As a child, when I thought of my husband – in that foolish fairy tale way in which one is inclined to dream – the hairs on my arms and fingers were thicker, darker, and a cause of great concern, even then. I would bite them with my teeth, chewing the hairs and swallowing them, marveling at my digits’ corrected beauty.
I was very conscious of the ring on my finger. It seemed to me like a feather falling between two buildings, that drawn-out spectacle, as the feather descends so slowly, pendulum swinging, slicing through the air then kissing it better. When it finally comes to land, all of the expectation and grace is gone. It lies there, swept up by passing cars and dropped again.
There was nothing to see on the walk. I walked. In the distance were the unerupting volcanoes. So what if there was nothing to see, the pleasure was in simply walking.
My parents would be glad I was getting married, that is the sort of people they were. I try to deny myself that preoccupation with finding someone, getting married, having children, but they cling on to it, especially my mother. If I were unmarried and childless at forty, she would cry herself to sleep each and every night. That is how she goes. Another stray cat crosses my path and disappears into a line of quiet houses, white and square. Of course I do not want to make my mother cry. One cannot be alone forever. I might want children. With delicate hands I will scoop the come off of my bum and rub it into me—‘Help me with this handstand.’ I laugh. It is all quite amusing but at least I am engaged now.
The coffeeshop offers a wide cross-section of society (or at least the society that exists in my portion of the city). I sit there, the foam remnants drying down the inside of the cup, and study finger to finger for a ring. Sometimes I would be surprised by what I saw. The thoughts would poison—‘How comes them and not me?’ Not any longer. The weight was over.
The sun was beating down heavily and I was perspiring profusely. Sweating out last night’s champagne, that was coming through my pores, tingling on my skin and making it glow beneath the early morning glare. My feet moved mechanically, without me so much as looking where I was going. I was being carried by my body as my mind wandered separately. Occasionally I would catch myself fingering the ring, this alien object around my finger. I would have to get it tightened, so slender are my fingers!
It was after an hour of walking, and my clothes quite damp, that I came back to the hotel, recognising it and surprised, as I had been lost in thought. The lobby smelled of suncream. There was a group of newly arrived guests, their bags behind them like Russian dolls. I went past the smell of the dining room and feeling hungry. My left arm was heavier.
He was in the shower. I opened the balcony doors wide and removed my clothes before sitting on the sofa and feeling the breeze across my skin. The tap spun and the water hung. Part of me wanted to go in and make love to him in the shower; part of me did not. I sat there and looked at the ring some more. I thought of all the things it meant. He emerged with a towel around his waist and his hair shining.
The smell of hot foreign water—‘Nice walk?’
He did not care about my nakedness, I hoped he might smile, or remark on it, or even ask to come on my bum again, but he was busy selecting a pair of boxers from the chest of drawers where we had stashed most of our clothes; only my evening dresses hung in the wardrobe.
I looked out of the gap between the curtains, through the open balcony doors to the sun burning bright in the sky and the blue overcoming everything. I was hungry for breakfast. I hoped they had pink grapefruit. My ring finger was on my belly. The diamond sparkled. My belly moved up and down expectantly.

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