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By Retha Powers
Warner BooksCopyright © 2002 Retha Powers
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePlanting by s smith The collective rays of the September sun bear into her back and shoulders. It is an intense, deep-heat treatment. Slowly her anger at Jack flows out of her, down her brown arms, into her fingers, and into the deeper brown of the earth. On hands and knees she labors, using the small shovel to turn the dirt. The smell of earth is like fresh-cut, raw potatoes. Subtle and sustaining. It is aromatherapy and the sun is the masseuse.
Small beads of sweat, like delicate pinpricks, spring across her forehead and along her top lip. Short breaths softly escape through her slightly parted lips each time she bends, stretches, and digs. With each release of breath goes another angry thought: Jack's words urging her to sell her grandmother's home; Jack's smug assurance playing along the corners of his mouth when he smiles. He is so sure that she will leave this place and live a life of urban bondage.
She develops a comfortable rhythm-bend, stretch, dig-planting bulbs of narcissus, jonquil, and gladiolus. She continues a rhythm developed by her grandmother, continued by her mother, and passed down to her. True, she and Jack do not live at this house and have slowly allowed the four-hour drive to become more burdensome. But knowing that the place was there provided a foundation for her. And she never misses a September planting her bulbs. She remembers the joy on Grandmother's face as the blooms and fragrance signaled the beginning of spring.
This year she has carefully prepared the soil, just as Grandmother showed her, adding just a touch of vermiculite so that the right amount of moisture would succor the bulbs. So intent on the digging and careful planting, she jumps when she feels a trickle along her side. She laughs as she realizes it is a rivulet of sweat.
Sitting back on her heels, she gently dabs the sweat on her brow by pressing the back of her forearm against her head. This only spreads the sweat, however, since her forearm is also wet. She enjoys the sun massaging her scalp with its filament fingers. She closes her eyes and silently blows out the last bit of tension she is holding. Sweat trickles down her back, slowly, like fingers playing gently along her spine.
A minute turning of the soil draws her eyes toward the damp, cocoa-brown-colored dirt. A pink, questing head lifts from the soil. Eyeless, it waves about before diving into a patch of dirt next to itself. She watches it as her sweat rolls down her back and meanders down her cleavage. Her shirt begins to cling to her as if shrink-wrapped. The worm's body, a rich magenta muscle, smoothly enters the earth. It hardly disturbs the soil, she thinks. She wishes, just for a second, that her efforts at gardening were so graceful.
Bending forward to continue with her planting, she pauses, not wanting to harm the worm or his mates. Funny that she had not considered them before. She sees another pink head rise from the soil, twisting about. She does not know if it is the same worm or a different one. Curious, she gingerly digs with her hands. The grains of dirt scrub her flesh with a gentle roughness. Soon she feels a rolling movement against her palm and freezes. Looking carefully, she lifts the dirt and lets the earth sift through her fingers. Two magenta bodies remain in her palm, coiling and twining together, seeking the soil. Their heads press insistently into her palm. Their bodies turn and stroke her hand.
Fascinated, she watches them contract then expand, moving until they, like the earth, slide through her fingers back into the fresh-turned dirt. What must it feel like, she thinks, to feel the soil all over your body? The worms writhe as if in extended ecstasy. They ride the dirt, rolling and turning endlessly. Their questing heads search and search for the source of their delight and they dive into the dirt with exuberance. In a minute they have sensuously wiggled their way back into the earth.
Sweat trickles from her scalp and rolls down her neck and over her breasts. The fecund smell of soil wafts into her. The sun has climbed higher. The crest of dirt shows dry, tan patches like an ocean shows whitecapped waves. The sweat travels down her stomach. It feels cold against her skin. She licks her lips and tastes salt. She savors its flavor.
Sighing, she takes off her shoes, pushing each heel with her toes so that the shoes fly away from her and thud against an uncultivated patch of ground. Careful to avoid the earth in which the worms have entered, she puts her feet into the cool dirt. She wiggles her toes in the soil, enjoying the rough crunchiness.
The sound of muffled steps causes her to look up, squinting into the sunlight. Jack is just a dark silhouette against the sky. They are frozen for one of those timeless seconds. Jack looking down at her, feet covered in the soil, and she looking up at him, made faceless by the bright sun's light. The quiet in the garden is like the hush of a cathedral. The sound of birds and the buzz of insects seem to intensify the sanctity.
To her surprise, Jack bends and puts down a bucket and a gardening shovel. In two strides he is sitting opposite from her. He begins to remove his shoes. She watches his hairy knuckles as his caramel-colored fingers loosen each lace. Once freed, the yeasty smell of his feet mingles with the loamy scent of earth. He digs his toes into the soil and leans back, resting the weight of his body on his hands. The black hairs on his toes are in stark contrast to the pale, ginger-colored skin on his feet. His feet, obviously, have been hidden from the sun for some time.
The cooling dirt and the twittering of sparrows carry the weight of words, the need for words, away. Through the dirt, Jack's feet creep toward hers. Their toes touch. Jack's foot rubs the gritty dirt against her instep. Sweat has sealed her blouse tightly against her back, and her skin is suffocating. She pulls the blouse over her head and tosses it away.
Jack's foot continues to massage hers with the rough dirt. He almost smiles as she throws her blouse away. Slowly his foot works its way until it rests on her calf. He looks at her, waiting. Smiling, she leans toward him, as if to kiss, then gently rubs her dirt-covered hands against his cheeks and over his neck. The dirt mixes with his sweat, creating muddy smears over his skin.
"Umph!" he says. Picking up a handful of soil, he sprinkles it over the top of her head, as if it were baptismal water. It tumbles over her face, onto her shoulders, down her chest, sticking to her sweaty skin.
Her response is to lie down and roll in the drying dirt. Over and over, back and forward, until she is dusty and muddy. His laughter cascades over her like sunshine. Her mahogany flesh prickles with warmth. She sits up and leans toward him until her face is resting in his lap. He smells of earth, and she sighs.
Lifting her face, Jack looks into her eyes. He smiles. With both hands filled with soil, he tenderly holds her face in his hands. He kneads the soil into her cheeks. She presses her face into the scratching grains of dirt, eyes closed. Suddenly she falls forward. She catches herself before she falls, palms digging into the dirt where Jack had lately been. Lithely he stands above her, offering her a hand. He leads her to the garden hose, smiling.
The cold water causes her to breathe in quickly. It flows down her scalp and over her body. She begins to shiver in the warm sunlight. Jack steps toward her, awkwardly holding the water hose, pressing it between their two bodies. It bubbles like a fountain under their chins, held in place by his chest and her breasts. With a free hand, Jack unfastens her pants. Wet, they fall heavily around her ankles. Water splashes her in the face as Jack struggles to pull his T-shirt over his head. The water hose gets free and scatters iridescent drops around them. She helps him shimmy out of his pants. His boxers sag with the weight of water. His member, languidly rigid, bobs against the wet cotton.
Picking up the lost hose, Jack turns and sprays her. Sputtering, she lunges at him, but he dances away, the hose again flying and scattering water around the yard.
The sun shines warmly on the flower bulbs. They sit neatly in a tray, waiting to be immersed in dirt, where they may thrive until spring calls their flowers forth. The water from the garden hose flows and creates a small lagoon. From inside the house the sounds of quiet sighs and the patter of water hitting bathroom tiles mingle and add to the occasional chirps of birds and the steady drone of insects.
Excerpted from Black Silk by Retha Powers Copyright ©2002 by Retha Powers. Excerpted by permission.
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