She calmly unwound her scarf, baring her throat like the white flesh of an apple. She was almost late. The lecture had begun by the time she sat down in the middle of the room. As the professor pontificated on the Aeneid, she removed her jacket. Her sweater was blue, the color of Moroccan tiles, bright as the base of a candle flame.
The professor described how Aeneas met Andromache, his voice as relentless as the tide against the hull of a ship. The room was warm. The students began to drift, eye beams catching the ceiling, the window, the spaces between their own fingers. Anything was more fascinating than this lecture. Anything was a way to stay awake.
She lifted the hem of her sweater, arms crossing in front of her face as she pulled it over her head. There was a flash of bare stomach before her shirt settled against her skin again. Aeneas’s fleet was caught in the whirlpool of Charybdis; brilliant blue sleeves slipped free from each of her arms. Her skin was the color of cold milk. A few heads turned to look at her bare, dimpled shoulders, at her vertebrae marching into the low back of her white sleeveless shirt.
The pedagogical journey had reached Dido’s cave. The professor looked up at the clock at the back of the classroom, and looked down again at the students at the precise moment that the white shirt came over her head and dropped to the floor. The professor did not pause in his description of the death of Dido. He did not look at the ivory carving of her collarbone. He did not look at her breasts, at the one dusky nipple slowly contracting like a winking eye. The other nipple remained calm, and so did the professor.
He read alod Virgil’s description of Dido’s funeral pyre, and only then could the students detect the slight flush that rose from the base of his throat up into his beard, spreading across his cheeks like lamplight through cupped hands. She unzipped her skirt. It whispered down her lifted hips, down her legs, and settled into a pile of charcoal on the ash grey carpet. He did not look at her knees under the desk as he explained the narrative function of Anchises’s funeral games. He did not look at the soft kiss of her thighs against the wooden seat.
The other students did not look either. They did not look at the pale blank panel of her back, at the balance of her forearms on the desk, at the snub-nosed slope of her breasts. Everyone sat perfectly still. Everyone breathed almost in unison. The professor continued to speak, watching the face of the clock on the back wall, until the period slowly shuffled to an end. “And for next class, books seven through twelve,” he said. His beard twitched faintly. Class was dismissed.
If the inner workings of the heart were like the inner workings of the ear, there would be a tiny hammer in each of our chests, hitting a tiny anvil and setting off the stirrup, which would kick a small drum that would beat — thump thump. You could see the miniature bones in an X-ray. “There,” the doctor would say, pointing with one wise finger. “Can you see where the stirrup is fractured?” And then he’d make a cheesy joke about not riding horses for a while, and you’d laugh and pretend to be less worried than you were that your heart was actually broken.
There would be tiny cochlear loops in the heart, too, and if you spun around very quickly, your heart would ring. Your balance would come from the heart, and it would explain why you felt like you were going to fall down when your love left you. When you rode the elevator up a tall building, your heart would pop a little bit. If someone put their ear to your chest, everything would match up perfectly: the sound of your heart would travel from your ossicles to theirs without the slightest hesitation.
If the inner workings of the heart were like the inner workings of the ear, I would give you my anvil and put it deep in your coat pocket so that its tiny weight would lend you gravity.
In some instances, the body does not respond in the prescribed manner: a kiss slows the pulse, the desire to touch manifests in not touching, knees press together instead of apart. The body struggles to be alone, even as the heart yearns for closeness. Some people were cut out for intimacy; others of us take the most literal definition of making love, shaping it with our hands, plunging in to our elbows. We carve shapes with sharp clavicles, with teeth, and the first push inside is by nature an end, though in this case it is a means too. We are not meant to be conjoined like this — one body bucks another like a skittish horse. The blood begins rapidly to cool, dropping like mercury as we approach the peak. Afterwards we fall, stones to separate sides, clinging to the edges of the bed. Each kissing our own pulse, the thin, paler skin at the wrist, instead of letting our knees touch. The strangeness of each other’s body keeps us apart. The love we make is incomplete. Unsettling. Undone.