Animals Under the Skin
by Tantra Bensko
I sat in my tent with the flashlight on, molding the sweet almond paste, which had such a lovely smell. It reminded me of being a child, my mother and I making marzipan together and painting it with food dye: little apples and pears. Of course, I’d since learned about the toxicity of food dyes and moved beyond the simplicities of innocent fruits. I was making naturally flesh-colored hominids.
I had read in books by Lloyd Pye about the particulars of hominids, those prehuman creatures that minded their own business until suddenly everything changed, civilizations appearing overnight out of the blue. The lizard people descended, say the histories of the cultures. The lizard people molded the hominids the way they wanted them.
I guess they liked breasts that stuck out more in front. Most people don’t know this. Perhaps it’s because people would be embarrassed by the knowledge. Pye says that female hominids are so large-breasted, they will swing their breasts over their backs when running.
Now, that’s a trick. I wish I could do that, rather than trying to pretend not to be holding my breasts when I run. I made candy creatures: the father, staring and slightly wistful, and the mother, who had her breasts thrown over her back, running.
Pye commented that hominid babies would be carried, and nursed, on the backs of the mothers. Now, that seems like a good idea too, as it keeps the hands free. So my little marzipan mother had her baby behind her, sucking her breast, and the baby was fully detachable.
Once I was happy with the candy sculptures, I admired them, and set them down in the corner of my tent in a zip-locked bag. I had been selling them at the Saturday outdoor market on the island, every candy a different concept, from the operatic to the anarchic, but I had kept some of the almond paste especially to make a gift for my handsome friend Byron.
I was pleased with them. I thought of him so often I wanted to give him something to show my feelings. But not like chocolate candy and roses kinds of feelings. Or whatever women give to men in polite society. More like laugh together at the strange little savage woman with humongous breasts kind of feelings.
I listened to the owl and tried to look outside the tent to see it, but it was too dark to see it well. I felt right, living where I could hear the critters so well, which was one big reason I had spent a lot of my life camping. I didn’t want to be forever separated from them by artificial walls where they had all been killed to allow us to take over.
The white face made it seem like the barn owl, which someone who had picked me up when I was hitching called a barred owl. I called it that to people giving me rides later on, and I hope they just thought I was getting over a cold or something. Barred owl.
I loved the sounds of the birds outside. The Canadian birds were much wilder-sounding than I was used to in the United States. I could rarely see them, though, as it was usually too dark in the forest when I heard them, so they remained mysterious, archetypal, and filled me with longing.
I went to sleep that night dreaming of Byron, such a beautiful young man who affected me so strongly. It was hard to forget about him to be able to go to sleep. It was like I could feel his energy inside of me.
My dreams changed, and had to do with something running all over me. With the odd movements, pressures, sounds, my consciousness started coming to the surface. I lay there half awake, hearing something moving around, getting lazily distracted by it, listening to it casually. Becoming more rational, I realized there most likely really was something in the tent with me and there wasn’t supposed to be. I sat up suddenly, and the sound stopped. I lay down and was quiet, listening.
Eventually, I heard something indistinctly and reached for my flashlight. I was squeamish feeling for it, hoping I wouldn’t put my hand on something live, with teeth, instead. Usually, I kept it right by my pillow, but I had been so tired I hadn’t remembered to put it where I had kept it for all the weeks I’d been camping in that forest. There were no other lights around, as it was just a very large forest, Crown Land, and I was the only person camped there, as it wasn’t particularly designated as a camp ground.
After long and tentative searching, searching, I found the flashlight, and shone it around, over my drawing pad, where I was doing sketches for the magazine I was illustrating about Tantra Yoga. Over my pile of clothes for a pillow, clothes mostly gotten at the free store on the island. Mostly stained, and not very flattering, true, but free. And then, I noticed the zip-locked bag where the hominids lived had a hole in it and the hominids were gone. Escaped!
I had so savored the idea of Byron being delighted with them. That soft smile of his, the way his voice would get all wet and sexy, slow and musical. I peered more closely, and I could see beneath the bag was a hole in the tent. That didn’t strike me as good news at all. I tried to shine the flashlight into the hole, hesitantly, wondering if the critter was still in the tent. The hole seemed to be large, and my skin started getting more clammy, my hair more prickly. My heart was speeding up, and... nada.
The flashlight went out. The timing was impeccable. I had no idea what was in the tent with me, but I was starting to suspect it was a snake.
A snake. So, I didn’t really want to feel around for my lighter, but I did. I would put my hand down to try to touch things, but at the same time, I couldn’t help trying to lift my hand off the surface to keep from touching a snake. Touch... touch... touch...
And finally I found the lighter and climbed outside the tent. I used it to see what I was doing, while I lifted the edge of the tent. I could see a hole underneath it, and was bending down close to it to see if I could tell what might be in it, and... nada.
The lighter went out. And would not start again.
Ah. Okay. So, I climbed back in the tent, in the dark, and hoped there was no snake enjoying my sleeping bag warmth.
The next morning, I looked around to see if there was anything amiss. There were my pencils, my books on the ancient enlightenment art of Tantra, everything I had brought with me to the island in my backpack... and no snake. I lifted up the edge of the tent again, gingerly, and there, inside the hole was a large slug.
A slug! I couldn’t contain my laughter. A slug! Much better than a snake being in my tent. I had no idea slugs could bite large holes in tents, in bags, and eat large amounts of candy.
I wanted to give Byron something else good for his birthday, and I didn’t want to buy any more almond paste anyway considering how hard it was to make candy while living in such an uncivilized manner. But I liked the idea of making something for him.
I left my hidden tent, enjoying the forest walk through the Crown Land, eased past the firehouse where I would cut through, and walked along the trail by the road into the townish part of the island. I ate berries all along the way, picking them straight from the vines. I got some duct tape at the store, and some new batteries and a new lighter.
I went to the beach early for my appointment with Cordial. I knew most of the guys on the island would probably envy me for what I was going to do with her. She was such an incredibly beautiful young woman, around Byron’s age, twenties. She was always so sensually enthusiastic about me, with a voice something like his, the way it would get sort of like sensual syrup, very slow, hypnotic, like a movie star.
And she was sincere, really interested in what I had to teach her about Tantra Yoga. We were supposed to have a lesson at the beach that day, the nude beach, the alternative sun spot to the larger tourist beach. The was almost a ghost island in the winter, but in the summer, tourists flocked to the tiny island, bikinis and coolers and umbrellas all over the tourist beach. I just had no interest in going there in the on-season.
There were more blackberries along the road to the beach, berries that sacrificed their lives for me, and I thanked them, acknowledged their lives, felt the energy vibrating from them, their enzymes still intact, their auras therefore adding to mine, rather than taking from it.
I got to the nude beach early, surely one of the best places in B.C. Such a warm family atmosphere, old men friends comfortable with hanging together at the water’s edge, children not afraid of their bodies, teenagers without the layers of deception of makeup and clothes and bras, middle-agers OK with being overweight, no curled hair, no shaven legs, no sprayed-on tans. Just regular people at home in their bodies, relaxing on the summer day, with many fewer belongings with them than the tourists needed to take to the beach.
The nude beachers were natural people who made their own wine and beer, heated their houses with wood, used composting toilets, watched each other play at the baseball games at the park, and seemed to require few places to buy, buy, buy.
One of my favorite places on the nude beach was the little impromptu fort built loosely of sticks in the corner of the beach, against the cliffs. I had met someone who was sleeping in there and gave him a long Tantra yoga lesson. It was one of my specialties, something I did very well and had made a living at.
I could go with the people into the merging of the human mind with all that was around us, the rocks, the birds, the past, the future. Other people. Ah... merging with other people. Such a nice way to soothe the lonely boundaries. While I was giving him that lesson, Byron had been on the beach with a couple friends, who left, as I knew he was sticking around, goofing off until I had time to go talk to him.
But the man kept wanting to continue the lesson, our expansion into the world, the breathing exercises and clenching, visualizations, eyes turned up, stomach in, in the lotus position, bending, working on raising the snake said to be resting in the spine.
The goal of Tantra yoga was to raise the serpent of life force energy dormant in most people their whole lives. I was a heavy-duty spiritual teacher and could help people raise the snake. It was a life-changing event for people, brought them to new levels of themselves.
Yet, I wondered sometimes about the fact that according to the Tantric scriptures, Tantra yoga was originally taught by the Nagas, the snake people. Reptilians. Not a race generally fond of doing nice things for humans without an ulterior motive. Why would they teach us that?
They were the same ones who genetically manipulated the hominids, according to the ancient histories, to create humans. So we had the reptilian inside and the mammals inside. No wonder we were messed up. Strange creatures, humans.
I wandered out among the boulders. I loved it when the eagles would fly near, and as I sat on one of the rocks, an eagle landed on a boulder very close to me. I sat there staring at it, talking to it softly. What a thrill.
My favorite place in the beach was the rocky part, the most dramatic looking, where most of the birds would land, where nothing was visible but the ocean and the cliff, and the trees above. No humans. And, well, it was true, in this island of relaxed people happy with their bodies, I didn’t necessarily always want to be seen lying naked sunning myself, or swimming. Mostly, I didn’t mind, and had always been relaxed about nudity, camped around large groups of people without worrying about whether we were wearing clothes or not.
But I was forty-four, and had been ill for a while. I wondered at times if I had micro-organisms in my blood. There was a stealth mycoplasma well documented to be created by the U.S. labs for biowarfare, against the enemy. Or was the enemy the human race?
I tried valiantly all the time to put on a good face, be strong and hide my illness, but it made me so weak I couldn’t even have a normal job, a normal body, normal anything. And this was the beach people like Byron would go. Did I really want to lay myself vulnerable to criticism, to feel imperfect, old? Sometimes I lay on the beach in full view. Sometimes not.
And, certainly a private place among the boulders was the appropriate place to receive a massage from a beautiful young woman on a sunny summer day. When Cordial showed up, she had two other young ladies with her, also healthy, vibrant types.
They entertained themselves, talking together, going in for a dip, while Cordial gave me a massage in trade. She gave massages for a living, so I had high hopes. She was OK. Nothing special in her technique for really making my muscles improve. But her voice was like a massage, so sexy without being coy, so drawn out without being a drawl. She would say “yeeessss” to some random question, her green eyes hypnotic on the horizon, and I would remember the sound of it forever.
Having her see me naked, touch my body so attentively was hard. Every stretch mark, sag, wrinkle, cellulite, muscles that had atrophied, possibly because of the animal life in my blood, every bit of my outside surface, in other words, was an embarrassment to me, though almost everyone seemed to see me as beautiful, looking half my age. People couldn’t believe I was sick. I tended to fit in with young people somewhat, but always felt a bit of an outsider.
Her voice though made my voice mimic it. Her voice that was like Byron’s voice, and reminded me also of Byron’s best friend. All three of their voices were getting under my skin and changing me from the inside out. My body wanted to leap through my skin and answer their voices with their own voice. I wanted to be them at them, to mirror them and have them love me.
I felt myself moving more like her, under her fingers. My phrasing was getting more like hers. I was becoming her, or becoming Byron to relate to her voice. If only she could massage away twenty years of sun tans, twenty years of illness that made me live a life of eating berries, hiding in the woods from the harshness of civilization. Made me stay alone, made me hide inside my skin, inside the forest.
Tantra Yoga was the opposite of that. Tantric exercises drew the breath from the base of the spine to the top of the head, and back down. It was drawing the attention from the Shakti Goddess at the base to the Shiva God at the head, making them vibrate as one. Making the spine be the vibration between the two, a merging of the two.
Copyright © 2009 by Tantra Bensko