The smell of hot wood coming from the rafters, and the grey spider webs like yarn stretched across the windows. Through the bent arms of the elms I saw my parents’ house across the street, my mother trimming the bushes with the hedge clippers while my sister picked up the discarded branches and threw them in a pail. Tommy tugged on my sleeve.
I turned to him and said, “Okay, let’s see it.”
The “it” was what my sister called “the equipment” (as in, “You’re not a boy, you know. You just act like one. But you haven’t got the equipment.”) A mechanical word for something that seemed so earthbound: that fleshy mushroom with its little cap I could have picked in the woods instead of seeing it spring out of Tommy’s white underpants. Beneath it the little sack was dimpled and cleft like a spore I’d seen growing on the trunks of trees in the northern forests where we camped every summer. It seemed so public, this outward facing thing, this little animal (tame and compliant, responsive to petting) compared to my own private and hidden self.
I lay upon the old rollaway bed—a crinkle of plastic, a box of Christmas decorations beside me, the green tinseled rope spilling out of the top. Tommy studied me carefully, as if he were looking at something under a microscope. He wrinkled his nose in concentration.
“Okay,” he said, climbing onto the bed next to me.
“Well…it’s not what I thought.”
I didn’t know what he’d thought, what he imagined it would be. I’d had no idea myself, before I sat on the toilet seat one day with a hand mirror, of what it might look like. Nightly bedtime explorations yielded no map, no fixed idea of what landscape my fingers traveled gently, blindly. It seemed to change with each journey, like a magical portal that appeared, disappeared, reappeared somewhere else, and I was a woodland explorer who could only stumble upon it by happenstance or fate. My body was a country one would enter always a foreigner, a tourist wanting to see and experience everything but never coming close. I would end up running out of time or stamina, and leaving while there was so much left to do.
Yet since the hand mirror incident I’d also seen my own body echoed in nature, in the hidden curls and turns of a seashell, the dark clefted recesses in the trunks of trees, the soft, glistening body of a snail. It was as though my body contained all the forms, all the templates that nature herself used in creating tree, shell, snail. The original form, the Eve of the physical world. So it seemed unfair to me when I read that Eve had been created from Adam, and not the other way around. For while my body swelled and swirled in an abstract collage of all things natural, Tommy’s body seemed to be an instance, a freeze-frame of a particular idea contained within me. It was no more complex than a finger, with none of the finger’s jointed abilities. But I still found it beautiful, the pink-brown skin soft as moss, the gentle ridge circling beneath the cap, the tiny eye closed and lined with sleep. Tommy’s entire body was beautiful. We took off the rest of our clothes and lay touching one another, studying one another, looking behind knees and under arms the same way we overturned rocks down by the river to see what mysteries were contained beneath. Our games usually ended in restless boredom, a quick jump into the next thing (kick the can, or starlight moonlight, or a walk down to the store for candy) but this one ended in a kind of slow withdrawal: getting dressed, quietly going downstairs (trying not to wake his mother, who worked nights), a drink of Kool-Aid in the kitchen before I headed back across the street.
Becca Sanders lives and writes in Minnesota.