EyetoothDouglas W. Milliken
Then, a little later, Diane came into my room. I remember that almost like it was a dream. First I heard the latch click. Then I watched the door creak open. I did not say or do anything. I sat up in bed and watched as the door slowly opened just enough for Diane to sidestep into my room. Her eyes were wide and bright and her hair was a ringlet mess. All she had on was a hospital gown, her bare feet shushing across the floor as she sort of crab-walked toward my bed, like she was trying to sneak up on me. Even as our eyes were locked. For a moment, I worried that she’d hurt her head in the crash and now this was the only way she understood how to walk. But I knew: this was just a game. When she reached my bed, I lifted the edge of the sheet and she climbed in with me, her little limbs—so much smaller than mine—wrapping around me as I eased down and held her, and she said hello and I said hello and then I kissed her, and it was then that I noticed that her top eyeteeth were gone. “They got smashed out in the crash,” she explained. “Just those two teeth. I don’t know why.” I squeezed her tighter and cried a little because I was suddenly having to face the fact that I loved her teeth and since her teeth were part of her, I must love her, and it was true—I loved Diane—but I didn’t know it until just then. I guess I’d never loved a woman before that. I loved Diane and I loved her teeth but now her two eyeteeth were gone. They’d been beautiful. Incisors like an animal’s. But I did not cry for long.
I know it’s not fair to not tell you how I met Diane, how I felt something strangely changing within me whenever I was with her, how I finally allowed myself to touch my mouth to her wet and waiting mouth. But you’ve seen me just now ambushed in flames and you’ve seen me with a plastic tube inside my urethra. You can ask everything of me, but I can only give so much. This detail—the original choice that led me to this house, this bed, this tiny woman hugged close to my chest—I’m keeping for myself.
But I will share this: for a while, Diane and I held each other in my bed, and I think it was only then that I finally believed I was really out of the storm. It’d been days since the crash, but I’d spent most of that time asleep—and dreamlessly, too. It felt like only a few hours had passed. I was buried in snow and surrounded by fire and wind and torn, blackened steel. Then I was in a bed. I hadn’t known how scared I was until Diane found me and pressed her body against mine. I hadn’t known my body was a fist. But she slipped into my bed and all at once, my muscles relaxed their days-long clench. It left me breathless, this letting go. It came as a shock for me to realize how much I needed this woman in order to feel safe. But I let that go, too. If only for now, I allowed myself to be loved and feel safe, and feel grateful in that safety.
I don’t know how long we laid there like that. I guess at some point I must have fallen asleep again or maybe was just imagining in a vivid, passive way. In either case, we were back in the plane and I was seeing myself as Diane saw me, slumped asleep against my window while everyone else panicked and the plane arced inexorably down. As dream-Diane, I watched myself sleeping and thought that I should wake me: amid so much chaos, I shouldn’t be asleep. But then I-as-Diane changed my mind. It was a kindness to let me sleep through what surely would be my death. I touched the hair lying lank against my temple. I let me soundly sleep. Then the pines met the wings and the plane shattered across the mountain.
I came out of my dream to the sound of Diane whispering, “Joquil Hernandez…Hildie Romero…Pedro Bucarelli...” All the way down the list. These people who risked everything in countries of danger, risked their lives to make art—to speak in a voice and medium singularly themselves—then risked their lives again to share their voice in a country much safer than their own, risked everything, lost everything. What did we risk alongside them? What did we lose by surviving what they did not survive? What did we gain? I’ve never asked Diane if the crash was anything like my dream. It doesn’t seem important to know.
Horoscope at the Discount Tire
What Became of Us All
Keys for Atomizing Your Life
The Green Umbrella