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Night Traveler

by Jacqueline Gum

It wasn’t my first affair. Not even my first affair with a married man, although this was totally unplanned. Aren’t all affairs?

He stepped on my foot in a crowded elevator, turned to apologize and when our eyes met for the very first time, we knew our fate was preordained, if only briefly. We confirmed some time later that our hearts fluttered precisely at the same moment. A simultaneous flush in our cheeks confirmed the supposition.

And then, not surprisingly, events moved rapidly for us. I accepted his offer for lunch that very day and have no memory of the conversation; but my sense of him remains vivid. My mind’s eye saw an exceptional man, savvy, bright, and articulate. He possessed humor, and a depth of emotion that most men would be embarrassed to admit. He was dignified and carried a confidence about him that was enviable. This man was not your bar-variety dilettante, he possessed intellect. He seemed prudent and displayed a unique sagacity for a man his age. He was only forty-five. His mind was extraordinarily sexy, and intellect for me has always been incredibly erogenous.

Yet he carried somewhere with him, about him, an inexplicable aura of sadness or non-fulfillment. Was it the middle-age hunt for life’s meaning, or was it the slow realization that happiness had become an exasperating quest?

At fifty-three, I had come to terms with that particular reality. I had found a certain peace within that had sustained me. Divorced for five years, I had successfully dodged any commitment, convinced that involvement would eventually entail the deafening sound of the other shoe dropping. In that regard, my divorce had rendered me deaf. There was strength in knowing that I was all I would ever need.

I had overcome the fear of being alone and was content with my own company. It was the physical longing as I gazed into his deep brown eyes that overwhelmed me without warning. I just wanted the feel of him. I suddenly wanted to be surrounded by him, all of him. I wanted his skin to touch mine, everywhere. I convinced myself that I had no wish to become a part of his soul. I was no threat to his current life, I told myself, because my core was closed to real emotional attachment, of that I was quite certain.

Theoretically, my intentionally ingrained independence was an adequate shield against need. Permanence was never discussed, never an issue; it became merely a wish and no more than my wish at that. So it was a surprise, this bond, like none other I have experienced. The shock of its impact has been so powerful, so poignant, that I am still, almost two years later, gasping for air. Desolate for lack of his company, I wouldn’t trade the occurrence for a happier ending. It’s only the dream I find so troubling. Caught between longing for sleep and resisting slumber simultaneously, I wrestle nightly.

The dream seems born from one particular afternoon just after lovemaking. Our bodies were still damp from the sweat when he pulled me to him. He was on his back, propped slightly by a pillow, his right leg gently prying mine apart, finding its way in between them, not minding my wetness against his thigh.

Rolling into him, we became seamlessly intertwined. His hand found a spot under my soggy and tousled hair as he pulled my head towards the indentation in his chest and it settled there, seemingly home. My hand reached under his arm as my fingers curled forward across his shoulder. I can still feel his hands gentle and soothing across my back, evoking the sigh of a sated woman.

I think he was totally unaware of the words he uttered just then. “Oh yes,” he said, “that’s it, you just feel so right, this just feels so right,” sounding comfortable with the sense of me and pleased to have satisfied me so utterly.

I didn’t want to ever leave this place — a place of peace and beauty that carried an otherworldliness only total submission can bring. His face bore an unreserved contentment that I knew had been so long elusive. It was half a smile, not gentle. Rather, it was assured, feeling in charge of this little thing curled into him like a kitten.

Slowly, he opened his eyes and stared into mine. And I could see he’d experienced a moment of clarity, where he was able to let go and exhibit tenderness with the sure knowledge that I got it, and I got him. I was somebody who could finally cherish all that he was.

Afternoon sunlight slanted across the tangled gold sheets, reminding me that this encounter, mid-day on a Wednesday, was merely an affair. Would his feeling for me vanish walking through his own front door with a customary “Honey, I’m home” kiss for his wife? Could it be painless to break the connection — like the sudden loss of power when a plug is yanked from an outlet?

His goodbye makes it seem so. The farewell was couched in the age-old adage; timing is everything... if this were only the right time. Exactly as our first luncheon, the conversation remains blurred. Only the sense of loss remains intact. I suspect that he was unprepared for passion to massage his long-stilled heart back to life. It is why, for me, the current still flows, uninterrupted by disconnect.

These past months, I’ve been visited by a dream almost nightly. At least, I think it’s a dream. I feel myself detach from my body, shoot through a web of stars marbling the sky and into his arms. He falls asleep on a couch sometimes, for I find myself there, in his arms.

I’ve never seen any other room in his house, just this office space with a wide mahogany desk, computer monitor alive with a screensaver face of his son and bookshelves sagging with bound collections. And him, asleep on a brown leather couch. I float down to him and settle there, encircled in his arms, breathless at the sight of him, the feel of him. I can never resist reaching up to touch his face and kiss his eyelids. When he starts to awaken, I have to force myself to leave. When I wake from this dream, always with a jolt, I’m in my own bed — as if my spirit had forced its way back into my body. It seems so real.

This dream is vibrant, alive, and so very rich in color and feel. He is still unavailable. I cling to each memory, afraid to forget. Lost, he’ll slip into oblivion, banished to a corner of my mind, forced to ferment in captivity. Forgetting those soft brown eyes, his deep resonant voice, or the smell of him would be unbearable. He exists as long as I remember.

I’ll travel again tonight, in my dreams, touching each falling star beneath me, as I slip into his arms once again. I’ll try to lie contented, fill my head with his scent, and resist the urge to swallow him. But when he begins to stir, I’ll know he can feel the weight of my head on his chest, and the flicker of my eyelash as it grazes his skin.

He remembers. And as long as he remembers, I exist.

Copyright © 2008 by Jacqueline Gum

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