Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Purity

Anna Smith


I walk across the university lawn in the late afternoon light. Seeing my best friend Tina coming my way, I duck into the entryway of the administration building until she has passed. She looks happy, and I’m not in the mood to talk. It is late October of 1978, my first year of college, Saturday night in Chapel Hill. I have never been so fat.

I go to the music building to practice my flute. In one of the small rooms in the basement I can be completely alone. I open my Taffanel and Gaubert exercise book and tackle a new page. After too many mistakes I slow way down, trying to encode my fingers with the correct motions.

That night I am supposed to go out with Marie and Tina. They have two things in common: very high SAT scores and me. I do not have very high SAT scores, but they hang out with me anyway.

After the Taffanel and Gaubert, I practice some Handel sonatas and then stop after exactly two hours. I know I have to meet Marie and Tina at nine PM at the Baskin Robbins on Franklin Street, but first I go back to the dorm to put away my flute. I stand outside the open door of our floor’s lounge and see Marie and some other girls in the midst of a Bible study. A beautiful blonde girl in a Carolina blue tee-shirt is saying, “And when the angel asks Mary Magdalene why she’s weeping, she answers, ‘They’ve taken away my Lord.’” The girl falls silent, as if to let that sink in. I recognize her as the one Marie has described as “fiercely devout”; she even makes Marie uncomfortable. According to Marie, this same blonde has said she is “completely in love with the Lord.” I know Marie to be awfully “in love with the Lord” herself, but not in a way that makes me want to gag. From the door I signal to Marie and point to my watch. She nods, then winks and goes back to politely listening. I put my flute in our room, then go to the library to return a book before heading off to meet them at the Baskin Robbins.

I love this little town. Unfortunately, all I have wanted to do since moving here is eat. I live in a hungry haze. Ah, the restaurants. There is the Carolina Coffee Shop, the pizza shop on the corner, and the Porthole, with those amazing rolls, more amazing because I am always breaking a diet to eat them.

This problem began when I came to college. I have always been a healthy eater, but soon I am eating so much I’ve put on a few pounds and have no idea when or if I will stop. My fantasy is to look like those girls with anorexia—like a skeleton, but I am a sorry anorexic, convinced that if I just try harder, I will lose those fifty extra pounds necessary to fit the anorexic profile and be back on track.

Nothing will affect the taste of pizza like a good starvation diet. I will hardly eat anything all day, go to my psychology, English, and music theory classes, and then go running in the afternoon. Some days I will be able to survive the diet and go to bed without eating a pile of food, but other days—watch out. I wander up and down Franklin Street, going from eating establishment to eating establishment. I’m a goner. I like to wear large peasant blouses and Levi’s. I believe Levi’s can contain me, curb my appetite, keep me from ballooning out and then floating up over this quaint college town—a blimp of warning to incoming freshman girls.
But back to food. I live in a girls’ dormitory. We have a small brown refrigerator. There isn’t much food in it—some dill pickles, carrots, iced tea. I believe the room should be kept pure, which means foodless. Unfortunately, I have a roommate, a girl from my high school who believes food is for eating, at least three times a day, every day. We walk to the grocery store and then carry the grocery bags back to our dorm, through fraternity row.

My roommate Marie is beautiful and virginal; she is a Christian and part of a group called “Campus Life,” a gang of hard-core Christians. I was a Christian in high school, but then parted ways with my Christian brothers and sisters—partly because of Paul’s letters (where he says that a man should be the head of the household, which meant the wife) and partly because I developed a fondness for marijuana. I can hardly smoke it since coming to college (I live in a high-security women’s dorm), but I smoked in high school and thought it a relaxing and friendly substance, hardly worthy of the hysteria around it. The worst thing about it is that it makes me want to eat for a few hours. While I never saw a reference to Mary Jane in the Old or New Testament, the general opinion among the Christian fellowship is that it is wrong to disobey the laws of the country you live in. Plus it leads to fornication. I’m not sure where in the Bible it says any of this specifically, but I have no desire to run the risk of having some Christian future husband (who would be head of the household) order me not to smoke further down the road. And the idea of not getting married is unthinkable because that would mean no sex. So I gave up Jesus. You’ve got to buy the whole package or nothing at all.

*


Unfortunately, at nine o'clock, Tina and Marie aren’t at the Baskin Robbins. I have a terrible fifteen minutes of thinking about peach frozen yogurt. I have begun many a binge with this sweet sounding substance. It is like the frozen essence of innocence—the nectar of purity. So harmless, so peachy. But it sometimes leads to the desire to go eat a salad at the Greek restaurant, which then leads to a medium-sized sausage pizza, and then a return trip for more peach nectar (for purification) before heading off to the grocery store—the same grocery store where earlier that day I refused to allow the lovely Marie to purchase even one package of Pepperidge Farm cookies, claiming that it is better not to bring temptation into the room where we live. While on a binge, after pizza, I buy Mint Milanos, then eat them sitting on the bench outside the grocery store, before wandering further down Franklin Street to the final brothel before hell—the Dunkin’ Donuts. There I get a dozen fresh donuts and carry them across the street to the bus station. The bus station is usually closed up by then, so I can crouch in the shadows from the bushes outside and stuff the soft warm donuts into my mouth, like a small, happy animal.
I then waddled home through fraternity row, pausing occasionally to stare into the large yards, beneath the huge oak trees, into the softly lit windows, wondering what would happen if I entered one of their living rooms and stripped down to show them my Buddha belly.

Luckily, just as I was about to ask the ice cream guy for a free taste, Marie and Tina arrived. They didn’t want ice cream or yogurt. I watched in fascination as they casually turned down the offer of a taste. That was a normal interaction with an ice cream store? But I couldn’t pause and get into a wail over this because my closer to normal friends were ready to go. We were going to check out a bar.

We’d never been to a bar. Marie never drank or smoked anything, but she did have the same desire to meet guys we had. She’d found out at the women’s Bible study that it wasn’t unheard of for Christian guys to go to bars to drink cokes. We were going to He’s Not Here, a bar named after the Cheech and Chong routine.

We went inside and looked around. We all three ordered Tabs. The jukebox played “After the Gold Rush.” The place did have guys in it, but most of them just seemed interested in talking to each other. The three of us talked as if we were in the cafeteria, about the upcoming psychology quiz, about how many calories are in a beer.

After a little while a group of tough-looking girls in sweat pants came in. We recognized one of them, a girl named Maggie, from our floor. She was on the soccer team. I examined her teammates. I had spent several hours that afternoon deciding what to wear, then gone to the practice rooms to purify myself of this vanity. To repent, I’d worn even older Levi’s and a beige peasant blouse. This was the year when pink, kelly green, and khaki were the sanctioned colors on campus, especially for freshmen. It felt good that even in a small way I was dressing like a peasant, though, of course, no real peasants wore Levi’s. But next to these soccer girls, even I felt overdressed.

Maggie came over to say hi. She seemed shocked and slightly relieved that we were there. She had us join her team who, I noticed right away, weren’t freshmen and had Northern accents. They gave Tina and me some of their beer from a pitcher. I watched Marie get another Tab and wondered what it would be like to be her—someone who was happy to drink Tab and eat pretzels. She was by no means thin; she was about as large as me, and while she wanted to be thinner, she had no capacity for self-denial. She would really rather have a Tab than a beer. She would really rather have sex after marriage.

Maggie’s friends wanted to leave and go to a party on fraternity row. We started to walk toward campus. There were students walking with backpacks, couples talking on worn marble steps, a black Lab with a bandana around his neck. The wind was moving through the huge oak trees; fall was here. This was the first night that it had really felt like fall. It was the first time that year I’d felt the longing that fall always brings, but this time I was in a new landscape. In my old house, an hour away, my mother was there, alone finally now that I—her last child—had gone to college. Packages of Swiss Miss were in the kitchen cabinets next to cans of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. There was butter pecan ice cream in the freezer and cans of Hawaiian Punch stacked in the broom closet. I thought again of my mother and how much she’d driven me crazy since my father had moved out when I was thirteen. I’d been desperate to get out of that house—away from her and the strange men she dated—but now I would never be her daughter again in the same way. I’d wanted that, but now that I was experiencing fall for the first time somewhere else—and there was no familiar couch for me to lie down on, there were no familiar trees to look at—I felt sad, as if I were a ghost in a dream. The sound of the afternoon drums from the marching band weren’t the same drums, the cool air wasn’t the same cool air, the pink sky not the same sky. I was getting hungry.

Then Tina, as if she’d read my mind (and maybe knew this would destroy me, I thought) suggested we first go to Baskin Robbins for ice cream. I felt the need to resist sustenance, especially in front of all these cool Northern girls, who in their sweat pants and ponytails, seemed to care so little about how they looked. I felt I needed to lose about forty pounds worth of squishiness, the pliability that said, “I’m an ignorant Southerner. Let’s go eat peach stuff.” I would fight.

Unfortunately, every other person in this roving horde of females was up for ice cream. One girl ate two cones in a row. I suppose they felt they were entitled after hours of running all over the soccer field every afternoon. Then I remembered that I had run two miles myself that day. Tina, using her evil ESP, said, “It’s OK. You went running today, didn’t you?”
This comment packed a double punch because Tina wouldn’t dream of going running. She didn’t even own running shoes. She placed herself above these blatant attempts to have a good body. This was part of what made her superior. Something in me snapped. I felt resistance was futile—in truth I was a pig and a slob. But at least I was a healthy pig, which is more than I could say about Tina’s cigarette and dope-smoking, wicked cardiovascular system. I might as well be big and healthy, like these Northern soccer girls. I had a double scoop of peach yogurt in a cup and felt immediately intoxicated.

On the way to the party I managed to lose this clique of happy ice cream eaters as we passed the music building. Practicing my flute—the ready excuse. I didn’t have my flute with me, but they were all too high on Rocky Road to figure that out. Marie looked at me a little suspiciously, but let me go. Still buzzing from the peach yogurt, I wanted to be alone, so I could go back downtown and have a few snacks.

I walked around in the basement for awhile, lurking outside the tiny practice rooms. I figured I’d wait until the coast was clear, then head back to Baskin Robbins, but I got stuck outside a particular door where I heard a flute. Here was the perfect playing of “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn,” the Debussy I had just gotten the music for last week. I was riveted by the sound, hearing it above the neighboring piano and clarinet and the other flute playing exercises down the hall. I felt caught in a trap designed just for me. I knew then that I could never play a flute this well and I might as well change my major to psychology sooner rather than later. (I had started playing at the late age of sixteen. When other kids my age were enjoying the freedom of their drivers’ licenses, I spent the summer going to beginning band. I sat in a room with fifth graders and labored over fingering charts, then scales, then finally, easy songs we all knew, so we would know when we played them wrong, which was often.)
Somehow my desire—to slip up the stairs, out into the night, fasten my mouth around a shiny pink plastic spoon filled with peach frozen yogurt—was being interfered with. It wasn’t that I felt no desire, but somehow my wish to feed my face had been lifted up and shot through with other, more opaque longings. I thought of Debussy in a hotel room in Paris, of Shostakovich wandering miserably through the Moscow snow. Shostakovich led to a thought of Dostoesvky standing in front of the firing squad waiting to be shot, then miraculously, being pardoned. That was it—I was feeling pardoned by God, God in the form of this music. But then I remembered Dostoevsky was dead now anyway and for that matter, Shostokovich was dead, and so was Debussy. I would soon be dead. And with the jaws of the musical trap holding me tight, I realized that it did matter to me how I met my death. I didn’t want to be shrinking behind bushes, vainly counting calories in the shadows.

The door to the practice room opened and Keith Thompson emerged. Keith was a junior and even though his major was pre-med, he was one of the best flute players in the university. He had curly dark hair, brown eyes, and had grown up somewhere in the North. He played in the orchestra. I, on the other hand, like most freshmen, played in the marching band and—on the football field during half time—was forced to boogie to “Soul Finger.”

He seemed glad to see me, but slightly unnerved by the fact that I’d been listening to him. I blurted out, “That was so beautiful.” He asked if I wanted to come to his house, that his brothers were having a party there that night. He said there would be things to eat and drink, tacking this last bit on, as if he needed to make it sound more appealing.

Without meaning to, I laughed at the word eat. He looked at me cautiously, as if I’d accused him of some sexual innuendo. I then tried to cover by saying what I hoped were benign things about eating—about being hungry, about food being a good, good thing. He still seemed a bit uncomfortable as he used the cleaning rod and cloth to remove the spit from inside his flute.

We were practically in the yard before I realized that his “house” and his “brothers” meant we were going to a frat house. I’d never been inside a fraternity before. My parents were two of the few lonely suckers in the state of North Carolina who’d voted for Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. They prided themselves on being out of touch with the grown-up fun and games (TV, golf clubs) of their fellow Americans. I wondered if they even knew what a fraternity was. In my mind fraternities were surrounded by the same shadowy glamour as the Shriners, the Catholic Church, and the Republican Party—strange societies where special outer gestures and costumes symbolized even stranger inner mysteries. But now, in light of this new information about Keith, he certainly did seem clean cut enough to be a frat guy.

This night was unlike any other since I’d come to Chapel Hill. Usually, I kept food and social interaction strictly separate. Only Marie and Tina knew that I sometimes ate for several hours at a stretch. They had both tried to help in their ways. Marie took me to some Bible studies and Christian sing-alongs. Tina gave me cigarettes and—convinced my food problem was really sexual frustration—had tried to teach me to pick up guys. (Unfortunately, she herself wasn’t great at it. The truth was, that except for a few disastrous encounters with boys in high school, we were as virginal as Marie.) As Keith and I walked across campus, the wind moved through the oak trees in huge waves. I felt on the verge of some great opening, some great event that would change my life forever. I’d felt this opening before, especially since coming to college, but had so far managed to cram it full of food. Now, being with Keith, anything could happen.

The party was disappointingly civilized. He’s Not Here had been a much more lively scene. Keith offered to get me a beer, but I declined. I didn’t want to seem like a girl who drank beer, and also I had no desire to take in any extra calories, unless I really wanted them. Being with Keith had a magical amphetamine effect—I felt I would never need to eat again, except maybe gracious and gentle bites of fruit, vegetables, and brown bread, leaving many mouthfuls on the plate. I would eat slowly and patiently, an elegant still life, a rich pattern of fruity pastels and shadows.

Keith talked about the only thing we had in common, the flute. He asked me what I thought of our teacher’s playing, his emphasis on overtones. That lasted for maybe two minutes. I tried to think of something else to say, but it was hopeless. I looked around the room, partly wishing for a hint; maybe there would be a sign imbedded in the elegant woodwork that would bring forth conversation. There wasn’t.

Instead, to my horror, I saw Tina, Marie, Maggie, and the soccer girls. Marie was talking to a good-looking guy who, except for the little wooden cross hanging on a leather cord around his neck, was wearing the khaki pants and white button-down uniform of the brothers. Tina, Maggie, and a soccer girl came over to talk to us. Maggie and the soccer girl knew Keith from chemistry class. They seemed surprised to see me there. I introduced Keith to Tina. I saw her give him a look that meant she was after him. He seemed equally nice to everyone, oblivious to the fact that Tina wanted to seduce him.

Soon I was mostly talking to Maggie. Tina, Keith, and a soccer girl went out on the porch. Maggie asked me if anything was wrong. I asked her why she thought anything would be wrong. I said I was just bored and wanted to go. I walked out on the porch to say goodbye.
When I got there Tina was laughing—that easy, feminine laugh that guys loved. I wasn’t sure then, but it sounded like I heard Tina say to Keith, “See you later.” She then followed me into the dark front yard.

Tina and I had never had an easy friendship, but since coming to Chapel Hill it had been both better and worse. Because she and Marie were the only ones who knew that I ate so much, she had taken on an almost motherly role. Whereas usually she seemed to enjoy any chance to show me up, that night she seemed to know I was a mess and refused to kick me when I was down. But if she went after Keith, I knew it would be the end. For the thousandth time I evoked the Goddess of Anorexia and tried to imagine myself skinny, skinny, skinny.

But horribly, I only evoked my little aunt Belle, my great aunt who had died several years earlier. She was referred to as Little Belle because, sadly, my other Aunt Belle was stuck with the name Big Belle. Little Belle had no children and was an in-law; she’d married Big Belle’s brother. My sister had told me many times the story about Little Belle’s proclamation that, of course, my sister would have a fat stomach, because her mother had had a fat stomach, and her mother’s mother had had a fat stomach; it was a family curse. Little Belle being an in-law and having no children was doubly protected. In my vision, she was sitting at the pump organ playing “Wondrous Love,” her favorite hymn. Surprisingly, she paused to tell me that I might as well go eat whatever I wanted—there was no joy in being little. “Eat and grow large,” she insisted. “Thin may be in, but round survives.”

By now Tina and I were walking past the administration building. She interrupted my visitation from Belle. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to practice,” I lied. I was headed for Franklin Street, the pizza place to be exact.

“Do you want to go down to the pizza place? We could have a salad at the salad bar and then walk home.”

I didn’t know what to think then. Was this Tina, the evil one, facilitating my downfall? Or was this Tina, my friend, using the salad bar to keep me from going on a binge?

“Come on,” she said. She pulled on my arm. I followed her, and we made our way through campus under the rolling oak trees, those giant aproned grandmothers waving their arms. They were trying to tell us something very important, but they spoke a language we’d forgotten long ago.

That was probably the last time Tina and I had fun together. She stayed with me and tried to keep up with my eating. It was as if she ate to keep me from eating. We went to the pizza place and attacked the salad bar, fully partaking of the French bread, the little balls of butter, the creamy cheese soup. We then had meatball sandwiches (something new!), thick pizza, and three kinds of cheesecake. We ate Rocky Road at the Baskin Robbins before lumbering off to He’s Not Here where three guys with long hair and receding hairlines bought us beer. Alcohol made me forgiving. We drank and entertained these fellows by counting every calorie we’d consumed that day. We had to ask people in the bar how many calories were in a meatball, how many calories in strawberry topping, but people were happy to donate their knowledge for a cause. A tipsy bank teller loaned us her pocket calculator and the calorie reference page from her Week-at-a-Glance Book. Perhaps we estimated on the high side, but our new friends encouraged us to think big. The bartender finally announced the totals. Mine was higher by at least five hundred calories. The crowd cheered.

*

Tina and I started swimming at the indoor pool. Each time we rented the one piece suits and bathing caps from the university. We swam long, dreamy, chlorinated miles and came out wrinkled and quiet. One night when we were leaving the gym, we passed Keith. He whirled around when he saw Tina and called, “Hey there.”

She turned, and I saw her break into an involuntary smile. Then she must’ve remembered me standing there; she just waved at him. “Hey.”

He stood, as if waiting for more. She said, “I’ll talk to you later.” He waved and went inside. I don’t think he even saw me.

The two of us passed the library in silence. She said, more like a statement than a question, “What’s wrong.”

“Nothing. I just hate you is all.”

“There’s nothing going on with me and him. You’re being paranoid.” She stopped walking. “We’re just friends.”

“But you could, couldn’t you? You made sure you had the option. You wanted me to know that.”

“Oh, please. What do you want me to do? Just hang out with you all the time?”

I walked away.

*

I changed my major to psychology. As part of a requirement for my class in abnormal psych I had to work as a volunteer in the state mental hospital near Durham. I asked to work with the physical therapist.

On a cold November day, I took a bus to the hospital. I had to show my ID and be checked off of a list at the front entrance. I was fascinated by the place, but also terrified—not just of the patients, but of the hulking, creature-like staff. I walked through three long buildings—the unlocked kind—to the physical therapy unit. In the badly lit corridors, vending machines glowed. I sampled them, taking in the full spectrum of salty-crunch, chewy-sweet, and fizzy-wet.

The physical therapist, Jenny, was peppy and well-built. She chewed gum. I watched her help an old man who’d just had a hip replaced walk between some parallel bars. Aside from the fact that he didn’t say anything, I couldn’t see anything unusual or crazy about him, but I watched, wanting to learn.

Jenny chatted away to both me and the man, even though I was the only one answering her. It turned out that ten years ago she had lived in the dorm next to mine. She was engaged to be married to a research scientist. It seemed my job was to make small talk while she did the actual physical therapy. She sent me down the hall to the staff lounge to get coffee and donuts, and she never minded if I went back a second or fourth time. When there weren’t any more patients, she asked me if I wouldn’t mind cleaning out the whirlpool. I put on big orange rubber gloves and squirted rust-colored disinfectant on all the chrome surfaces; I used a big brush for scrubbing and a hose with a powerful spraying nozzle.

Over the weeks I noticed that most of the patients who came for therapy were old. Their physical problems seemed related to their premature burial inside the walls of the hospital—stuck joints, atrophy of muscles, erosion of skin. I ate wildly on hospital days and worried that some day I’d end up a patient there. I imagined how as an old woman I’d go to physical therapy and tell a young student how I used to live in the dorm next to hers. I’d blow her mind.

Then, during my third week at the hospital, a man in his early thirties wheeled himself in from the drug and alcohol unit. His brown hair hung around the collar of his flannel shirt. He was handsome, in a cowboy sort of way. Because he had one leg in a cast, his pants leg was ripped up to the thigh. As he waited for Penny to finish with a patient, we talked. He’d gotten drunk and crashed his motorcycle a few weeks earlier, ending up in the hospital to dry out. He rolled back and forth in his wheelchair, “I can walk with crutches, but I like the wheels better for these long trips to PT—for speed.”

We sat next to the fake tree in the hallway. His name was Ed. He told me about being an alcoholic. He talked about it quite openly. He seemed to understand the whole problem: he’d quit going to meetings and lost touch with God; one thing had led to another.

And then maybe because he’d told me so much, I told him about how much I ate. I actually cried at the time. “Sometimes I wish I was an alcoholic. It would be so much less embarrassing.”

He laughed and squeezed my knee.“Watch what you pray for.” Then he looked at me for a few seconds and said, “You know, you’re a pretty girl. You’re not a bad-looking girl. You just need—” he paused “—I don’t know, something. To relax maybe.”

*

I ate a lot that Thanksgiving and Christmas. It seemed every time I turned around I gained another five pounds, though sometimes I would lose it again after a few days of Tab and cigarettes.

Tina started going out with Keith in January, but by then I didn’t want him anyway. I felt too big.

Then one night in the donut shop, I ran into Ed. I’d just bought a box of fresh ones and was headed over to the bus station front yard to eat them in the shadows. He was walking with a cane, and as I started to hurry past him without speaking, he caught my shoulder with the hook. “Hey there, Sweetheart, not so fast.” Then he must’ve remembered about my eating thing; he saw the box of donuts and pretended to be shocked. “Oh, no. You’re gonna stay right here and give some of those to me.” And while I hated to eat all those donuts in front of him, I felt relieved by his openness, his command of the situation. We sat in a bright pink booth for over an hour. He drank coffee and helped me with my dozen. I ate only three before he drove me home in his VW bug.

We began meeting there at night. I’d go there to study and drink coffee. He always made me eat donuts as soon as he arrived, even if it was a diet day and I hadn’t eaten anything yet. He called it my therapy. He said I should get out more and socialize. He flirted quite openly, though I wondered if he just did it because he thought it was good for me. I liked being with him, but guys that old were forbidden fruit.

So one morning when Marie asked me if I wanted to go on a retreat with her and the Campus Life people, I accepted.

“It doesn’t have to be such a big deal,” she said. She stood in the doorway of our room in her white terry cloth robe. “It’s just God.” She didn’t mention any details—like St. Paul, or Jesus for that matter.

I smiled. I wished I could see it that way.

We gathered in a parking lot on a Friday afternoon and piled onto the bus. Most people were in hiking boots, jeans, and flannel shirts, and a lot of the guys had guitars. Most of the Campus Lifers were attractive, correctly-sized people who looked like they could sell Jesus on TV and convert millions. Like me, there were a few oddballs—a slutty-looking girl with frosted hair, a fat guy with sideburns, a loud girl who told jokes—but everyone was friendly. They had to be; it was their religion.

As the bus climbed through the mountains, the air grew thinner and colder. We were going to a place called Windy Gap. In a large meeting hall, while a fire crackled in the fireplace, we sang hymns, songs by the Beatles and Bob Dylan, songs from Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar.

On Saturday night the time came for the unsaved to be saved. I watched as the new and renewed Christians walked to the front of the room. When one of the guitar players came to my row and gave me a special invitation to receive Jesus Christ into my heart, without thinking I told him I was already saved. Marie gave me a curious look, but at that moment it seemed true. This guy in his white button-down didn’t have to know the details. I didn’t have to join their country club to be holy. I thought of Ed and decided to call him when I got home.

It was already dark the next night when he came to pick me up. We drove several miles outside town, through frost-bitten fields, to where he lived on his mother’s land with a pack of dogs. He showed me the old woodshop where he made cabinets, and then the trailer where he slept. There were still Christmas lights along the top of the picture window.

He lit a fire in the woodstove. When he looked up, I must have looked scared because he said, “Whoa, wait a minute,” and came over to where I was standing. He touched my face, and then we hugged for a while. When we started kissing, I was aware that unlike the guys I’d kissed before, he seemed to know what he was doing. Different parts of my body were feeling desire. I discovered another mouth and stomach below my waist; my legs became arms to hold onto him. It was as if I had another self I hadn’t known about, and now this other self was tearing the mask off the one I’d pretended to be.

It snowed that night over the fields, the white flakes falling like Christ’s blessings, equally touching all creatures of the earth.

***

Anna Smith has previously published in Tri-Quarterly, Confrontation, Louisiana Literature, Phoebe, Yellow Silk, Iris, and other journals. She was nominated for Pushcart prizes in 2004 and 2005.

She grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina and currently lives and works at a center for
Tibetan Buddhism in the mountains of Northern California, and she teaches English part-time.

© Anna Smith

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012