Emily is little more than a slip of a girl, a brown-haired thing who always dresses in old shawls, wrapping them around her as if to hold herself inside her own skin. I take her to the movies every week. There's a movie theatre down the street that shows old films for Sunday matinees. $1 a seat. Today, we saw Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Emily says that she wants to go to New York someday and have breakfast there. She says she likes Capote's style, if it was good enough for him to write about, it's good enough for her to reenact. Also, and she doesn't say this, but I feel it unspoken, she has a crush on Audrey Hepburn. I can't blame her, really. I have a secret crush on Katherine.
The streets are beautiful on this afternoon when we get out of the movies. The mothers are out pushing prams up and down the newly washed streets. The street sweepers come out early on Sundays so they can make mass. The grocer has all of his fruit out, and he leans against his doorjamb in his stained apron and he waves at all of the families taking their Sunday promenade and he calls out, "Bananas! Bunch 'o ripe bananas! Fifty cents!"
Usually we buy apples. Today, there's a shipment fresh in from some orchard just outside of town. They look shiny and fresh and sweet so we buy twice as many as usual: four each. Emily eats one on the way home. Then, she leaps to the front step of some stoop and shouts, juice trickling down one side of her mouth, "We're a couple of no-name slobs. We belong to nobody."
She doesn't add the last bit from the movie, that "we don't even belong to each other" because she knows it isn't true. We do belong to each other.
When we get home, I make tea. We have tea and the rest of the apples, then we lay on the bed seeing how far we can poke our bellies out and moaning that we have stomachaches. Then, Emily leans over and kisses me and I think how she tastes like apples and green tea and smells like dry leaves and mothballs.
We live in a dusty little apartment, a brownstone flat three floors up on the corner of Johannes and Fifth. It's a quiet little place and we stay mostly to ourselves. The neighbors leave us alone and we leave them alone. One mother on the second floor guards her daughter from us as if we're going to eat her. Her son likes us, though, and he comes to visit. We always have tea and sandwiches. He prefers ham and cheese and Emily likes tuna.
I ask him why his mother lets him come and he says she doesn't know. He says she's scared of us, anyway, so she won't come up to check if he's here.
Emily laughs and makes one of her patented scary monster faces. "Yesh, little boy, I am going to eat...you!" And we all giggle and make more scary faces.
And then he turns to me and asks, "Are you really evil like she says?"
And Emily gets real quiet at that because she has problems with her father who's the son of a minister. So, I answer and I say that no, we're not evil we just don't live the way she does and we don't love the way she does but love is good no matter where you find it and she just hasn't realized that yet.
And that's what I'm thinking about when Emily kisses me. And then I'm just thinking about her and apples and green tea and crinkly leaves and old shawls that smell like mothballs.
We met in college. We were both on the swim team. And she smiled at me every day until I got up the courage to talk to her. We learned that we both liked old movies and eating sugar cubes with our tea. Not in our tea, but on the side. She complemented me on my diving and I just smiled and said, "I jump good. Always have."
She told me she wasn't that good of a diver, but she could swim forever. She said it just like that: forever. And she asked me what the best part of diving was. And I looked her straight in the eyes and I said, "The falling. You see everything clearer during the fall."
Emily's father calls some Sunday evenings to pray over her, loudly, on the phone. Sometimes I answer and tell him she isn't here and then she cries a lot. Those are the times I think about what matters and what doesn't. I have medals from college. I also have a woman who tastes like autumn.
My medals have merit, my father says. Medals are to be expected. Emily and I go to the movies each Sunday. That is something to be expected. I do not tell him this because it is no use. He will not listen.
Next Sunday, Emily and I are going to the bay after the movies. She says it will be like ice and we will turn blue from the cold. I say it doesn't matter, we'll bring big blankets. There's this cliff I know of. We're going to jump it, shrieking and whooping as we fall. And we will crawl out, shivering and laughing and she will look at me, and say, "You jumped well." And a feeling of strange admiration will well in me. We dare to jump where they tell us not to.
Then she'll laugh and pirouette on the sand and say, "Lets jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's!" And I'll kiss her and promise her tea and sandwiches and she'll agree that's almost as good.
But now, this instant, the leaves are blowing past the window, glinting silver in the dimming light. I stand, watching them. And I whisper, rhythmically, "They are flying, now falling, now flying, now falling." And Emily, pressed to my shoulder says, "Yes. But did they jump or were they pulled?" And I know with absolute certainty that that answer is bitterly important.
I have this memory that comes back to me at times. And as I watch the leaves with Emily behind me, it resurfaces.
In this memory, they are jumping, my uncles are jumping. Off the cliff and down into the cold bay, swimming out to the raft. And I want to jump too, but I am so afraid: of the height, of the water, of their taunts. But, they cry out to me, forcing me on. And I stand there on the edge, shivering, dreading. Then, I leap - world pinwheeling out beneath me - a flash of bright sky, clear and cold - iced water surrounding me, seeping into me, silt and pods of sea grass - blue sky again, wet ragged hair in my face - my uncles, cheering.
They pull me to the raft. I shiver, I smile. My father gives me a look of strange admiration. "You jumped well." Exactly as he expected.
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