“Apprentice”

She wants me to hurt her now when we make love. She wants to be bitten and scratched, insists on it, drives me to do it until sometimes I make her bleed. But is it merely blood? It bursts from her skin, blossoms bright red before darkening, so yes, blood is what I see. I wonder, though, if it isn’t milk to her, food for a hunger I don’t share and struggle to understand. She shouldn’t want what she wants, I keep thinking, shouldn’t ask me to do the things I do to her.

She loves outdoor work, raking, pruning, digging. The other day I watched from an upstairs window as she raked beneath our big trees – maples, poplars, and hemlocks – an area not quite wooded, not quite lawn. She wore her red and black checked autumn coat, her hair tied back in a thick bundle that rolled and swung behind her while she worked. Her rake swept with sure, powerful strokes, tumbling waves of leaves, sticks, and pine cones into a growing heap as she moved back and forth, slipping from pools of sunlight into islands of shade.

What flowers she grows, my god! The beds surround you, leap at you when you step out the back door, day lilies, roses, snapdragons, coreopsis. In her garden she’s bright-eyed and decisive, trails of sweat streaking the blonde down of her cheeks as she bends and stoops, the earth splashing open under her mattock blows, to be prodded and shaped according to her vision.

I do my part, as she directs, her willing apprentice in that zone of innocence. But my true role is that of amazed audience. I’ve come to love the flowers, the whole bursting choir and each single bloom as it raptures and withers. Stand quietly, examine a flower, and you’ll soon disappear into it, lose yourself in its singular beauty, its utter clarity of purpose.

Sunday afternoons I work in the basement, building bookshelves or tables, restoring old ladderbacks and rocking chairs. I’m wholly myself there. My tools are sharp, my screws, bolts, and nails sorted by size and type. I work confidently, my heart light, at ease.

When she calls me from the top of the stairs, I know what she wants; we often make love during those quiet hours. I listen, leaning against a pillar, my arm wrapped around it. She speaks briefly, her words unremarkable. But her voice, its sound alone, sings to me.

I confess I’ve started looking forward to making her flinch, to hearing her cries. What right do I have, after all, to design the flower I might wish her to be? Better by far to be her stem. Or less than that, simply the breeze in which she sways. If the blood I draw is the milk she needs, then I must give it to her. I want her touching ecstasy, feeling fully alive, infinitely loved.

Still I linger in my workshop before I go to her. My hand rests on the light switch, part of me wanting to stay there under that bright fluorescence, with my tools hung on the walls around me, each to its purpose, each in its place.

Douglas Campbell

About Douglas Campbell

Douglas Campbell’s fiction has appeared in publications such as Able Muse, Vestal Review, Northville Review, and Potomac Review. Douglas lives and writes in a little town in southwestern Pennsylvania.