The priestess places the anthropologist’s
palm over her bellybutton.
The anthropologist splays his fingers and
presses them into the priestess’s soft skin one at a time.
The priestess brings one knee up and puts
her hand on the anthropologist’s wrist.
The anthropologist moves his face closer
to the priestess’ neck and inhales deeply. Then he exhales
so his breath brushes her skin.
The priestess smoothes the top of the
anthropologist’s foot with her big toe. She looks at him as
if she has something to say, even though she doesn’t.
The anthropologist allows the shape of her
hip to mold his palm.
The priestess allows her lips to open
Their movements create a new swaying
pattern in the hammock, while the flashlight beam makes an
elliptical pattern on the wall, an orbit disordered by
She stops caressing his lower back and
abruptly pulls away. “You only want to sleep with me
because you know you are going to die,” she says.
“That’s not true!” he protests.
“It’s my fault,” she says. “I never
should have told you first.”
“No no, really it’s good that you told
me. I would have been mad if you hadn’t.”
“No you wouldn’t have. You would have
been dead either way. But now I’ll always wonder.”
“I’d fall for you anyway. I’d fall for
you even if I were going to live forever.”
“Do you promise?”
“Promise not to kill me and then you’ll
“So that’s it!” She folds her arms over
her bare breasts. “You only want to sleep with me to save
She turns to face the wall, and he
follows, wrapping his arm around her. Now he’s in the
uncomfortable position of having to convince her that
sleeping with her is more important to him than his life.
It’s really a game, a lover’s game, since they both know his
life has lost all meaning outside the moment. He has only
now, and the continual forking toward now’s end.
“When I was a boy, I dreamed of traveling
the world,” he says. “Then I did it, several times over.
Now I wonder, even if you released me, where would I go?”
She puts her hand on his arm. “When I was
a girl, I dreamed of someone telling me stories.”
“That was me,” he says.
“The story I remember was full of light,”
she says. “The words were light. I could see that the
words were light and that the light was all around me but
none of it was directly on me. The light shined everywhere
but on me. When I moved, the light moved, too. Once, I hid
behind a tree and then popped my head out, trying to trick
the light into shining on me. I finally gave up, telling
myself that the light was everything but me, the light was
the world except for me. Was that the story you told me in
“No,” says the anthropologist. “The story
I told was about a whole world of darkness that had just one
small piece missing. The missing piece was felt but not
seen, a hole that all the world’s light seemed to drain
into. If the world could find its missing piece, it would
then be complete and bathed completely in light. Meanwhile,
the world moved around its missing piece, slowly defining
its location but still unable to see it, until the missing
piece became the most important part of the world.”
“Oh,” says the priestess. “I must have
dreamed of another storyteller then. Sorry.”
The anthropologist traces her areola with
his finger, then crosses gently over her nipple, as if to
cross it out and remind himself not to go further. He does
anyway. He lets his finger mimic a water droplet as it runs
down her breast, then down her stomach, where it pools in
the soft hollow between her hips.
The priestess turns back to him. She
allows her fingers to roll down his arm and across his lower
back in tiny rivulets.
“You see?” she says. “This is a kind of
note-taking, too. Only better.”
The rain taps at the thatched roof and
drips off into the mud. Notes are being taken. One day,
thinks the anthropologist, the rain will stop and the world
will tell its story once and for all. Meanwhile, there is
only the desire for it.
He glides his fingertips over the
priestess’s damp inner thighs and down beyond the flashlight
He hears only her breath now, her sighs
and small gasps. This begins to unnerve him, because it
makes it seem their conversation has ended for good and the
sequence has begun that will lead inevitably to his death.
He wants to touch her somewhere that will make her talk,
dirty or otherwise. As his hands travel over her body,
seeking the magic spot, her breath only quickens, and words
seems further and further from her mind.
It occurs to him that he has roamed the
world as he now does her body, searching for the world’s
g-spot, if by “g” it’s meant “gab” or “garrulous.” He’s had
no better luck with the world than he’s having now with the
princess. The problem is that the throes of desire make
talking impossible, or unnecessary, or insignificant. Or
maybe we just forget.
It’s a problem with the construction of
the world, he decides, and he wishes he believed in someone
or something to blame for this.
He can’t stop it from happening any
longer. He’s gone too far. He’s been pushing up against an
invisible barrier, and now the barrier will either break or
spring him backward into oblivion. He wants it to break.
He can’t think of a reason it shouldn’t. He can barely
think at all anymore. He wonders at how a world that once
seemed so full of possibilities has narrowed itself to just
two. But mostly, he feels the surge of desire that he will
gladly let carry him to his death. He understands that this
is how you die; you fight it, you accept its inevitability,
and then you finally crave it so much you leap into it.
There is nothing now he would rather do.