Fiction, Hyssop and Hermetics, Summer 2001

A Man of Shapes
a short fiction by Jai Clare

My lover visits me. He arrives unexpectedly. I open the front door to him and he stands a little uncertain, smiling carefully, smelling of the sea and a hot car journey.

He brings me postcards, saffron oil to glisten my skin, a lily, and a large silk scarf in blue and green, to tie about my body.

We walk into the garden chatting nervously, never touching; the white cherry blossoms like cotton wool buds remind him of home. He takes my hand, pushes me into the Acer trees. We are hidden. The sloping branches grab me, holding me for him as he touches my cheek. His mouth smells of fresh apples. If only he didn’t plunge through my life like water falling over rocks. I touch his arching brows, his small ears and delicate mouth.

The green and blue scarf, as he ties it around my bare skin, beautifies me. He bows it tightly at the back. I look exotic. His hands run down the silk as if he is trying to merge fabric with skin. He turns me around, pressing me into the tree, parting the fabric of the tied bow, revealing my behind through the triangular scarf. His hands tingle against my flesh. The tree branches bow to the ground as I am pressed against them; leaves on me, brittle twigs scratching.

My lover leaves before the day is over and before his marks on me have faded.

I have appointments in town. I ride the tube thinking of him, of him alone. A woman with long blonde hair passes me. I imagine him touching her hair. She stands by the door, her hair brushes my shoulder. The aroma of fresh green apples. She slips something into my hand and looks at me. I could follow her.


Emily smiles. In her living room, Emily is smiling. I know she is. Emily always smiles. Someone knocks at the door, and Emily kicks off her shoes and runs to it. As she runs, a thread from her cropped grey top catches on a splinter in the door. I know this is what she does; I have seen her. I can imagine every gesture.

Emily kisses her lover, though the title does not yet apply. The kiss catches the girl by surprise, but she likes it. Emily has been known to hand out her address on little bits of paper to strange girls, like me, on the tube. Her new lover is such a girl.

“I'll bet you have beautiful breasts,” she says, leading her to the sofa, where they make love and the new girl leaves before dawn. Emily specializes in girls who have never had a woman but want to. She can always tell. She can look women in the eye and feel their desire. This is how she caught me. They talk to her about their sexual histories, about how they love men but have longed for women too.

Emily washes her breasts in cold water, which makes her feel purged, then she smears fragrant white moisturizer over her breasts and arms; this comforts her. She fills the house with phantoms and talks to them as if they are friends come to visit. Sometimes she feels she should never have moved to this crucible of a city.

On the floor, she stretches out her right leg at a forty-five degree angle from her body and touches her toes, then pulls her arm over her head, stretching down to her left knee. She counts to ten. She ducks her head to her knees, loving the feeling of stretching along her side and back. She does this daily, almost without thinking, obsessed with her body and its arcs and flow of motion. Her dance teacher says she has beautiful lines.

Emily takes her beautiful lines out into the streets. London is a reservoir of faces to her. Strangers gaze at her blonde hair, at her litheness, and she gawks like a child at the faces, the bodies. These images she takes back home at the end of the day, where she wrestles with their emptiness and how all her encounters, whether corporeal or ethereal, leave her parched. Sometimes Emily feels all those empty people can see right through her and one day they will pick her up and squeeze her essence out into the air like helium from a balloon. Emily wishes she could walk above them all, on the roofs of London, picking out those to take home. Like a god, she thinks, like a god.

At the dance studio, they are already in action. The men are dancing and their movements and shapes awe her. She never likes to be alone with them. She watches discreetly from the side, looking at them and at herself in the mirror, until they finish, shattered and sweating, and she too can stand before the reflection of her body flexing into perfect shapes. Only then does Emily truly relax.

The men watch her as she limbers up. They watch all the women. Emily thinks that dancing is the most narcissistic profession. Sometimes it makes her afraid; other times she glows from the sheer physicality of it. While she is dancing, creating shapes and expressions with her body, Emily doesn’t contemplate the phantoms at home, the enormity of the city that somehow she tries to fill with her dreams. Or is it her loneliness she tries to fill? Either way, Emily carries her small-town rebellion into the fat city bursting with women to fuck. She tries to make it mean something. She searches for meaning in the faces of women.


The next evening, I visit her again, after seeing her getting off at Golders Green, but this time I bring my lover with me. I should wrap him up like a gift to Emily, for Emily’s pleasure, and for his.


The man smells of the sea, of cotton wool blossoms and packet travel tissues picked up from motorway service stations. Emily runs from the unexpected man and woman, towards the window. The back window overlooks an empty garden and a bus stop out on the road. She touches her hands, scratches at them, which she hasn’t done so often since she was a child. It’s not that she hates men, she tells herself; she finds them attractive; she finds them funny and exciting. Once she used to sleep with them. But this ...  This is different. This is an invasion.

The man has a lightness of eye, a gentle lifting of expression; he could even be said to float through the air as if unhindered by gravity. His pencil thin fingers agitate near his jacket collar. The blue and green silk material pokes from his pocket. His fingers pick at the material constantly, as though irritated by it. He holds his hands, when they are away from his pockets, in a curved shape. She could see them being carved by Donatello; how exquisite they look lying together, bent and tucked, like prostrate dancers or spooning lovers. The man’s teeth rest gently on his lip as he smiles. The shape of his smile is almost a parallelogram.

Emily looks from the girl back to the man, wondering if she could have picked the wrong girl on the train. Normally their sly glances—not believing they could actually be seeing a woman who sexually excites them—give them away. Emily plays on this. She practices being small and extremely pleasant and cute. She couldn’t have picked incorrectly, she thinks. Her eye is unerring. The scarf leaps from the man's pocket with a flourish. Emily has never before made a mistake.

The girl had been good the other day, she thinks, and sweet. She had parted nicely. She seemed used to being told what to do. But this? This is a challenge to Emily. She thinks that it has been a long time since she went with a man. The man is thin and bony and completely unlike a dancer; perhaps she can trust him. Perhaps she can cope with what is about to happen. She hopes she is strong enough to experiment as much as she imagines she can. Emily consents.


He seduces her slowly before me. He persuades her with soft words to loosen her clothes, to show her body, to spread out before him. She takes pride in his gaze on her. His lips taste her hair; he takes pleasure in the textures and the feel of it in his mouth. He is a man of shapes. Her face is fresh oval. From under the silk wrapped about her body, her flesh appears—her arms a trapezoid, her bum almost spherical. He likes wrapping Emily in scarves, round and round. He traverses her contours, creating more shapes, fleshy shapes showing through: diminutive triangle of pubis, rectangle of thigh, hexagon of belly, pentagon of breast, rhombus of back. He touches each shape, following the contour. Emily is smiling. The silk feels fresh and cooling on her skin.

He licks his fingers and invites me to kiss Emily on each available patch. The moist touch of my lips makes her moan. Her flesh is firm. I like watching him take pleasure in such a tantalizing girl. She is so full of life. He says to her, “Beautiful Emily, just beautiful.” Then Emily struggles a little and cries out as I hold her down, as my man of shapes fucks her.


He vanishes again. I return to the suburbs barely thinking of Emily and her small flat in the center of town, with her sublime Beardsley prints, her plump cushions, her dance shoes stuffed like toys into every space. She seemed fine when we left. I kissed her cheek. He kissed her hand. I thought, as she sat there on her sofa, that she looked sexually high. I promised we would see her again.

But I read about her the next week in the local newspaper.


Later, my lover visits once more. It is has to be the last I see of him, even though I cannot bear my life without him. I let him in; I let him touch me and I would be a liar to say his every touch isn’t a thrill. We make love in the garden again though the blossoms have gone and the trees look overripe. We pick the largest tree. He places me carefully against it. Bark rubs against my arms. I can hear the distant hum of machinery. I am quickly unclothed.

He bends his head to me and the aroma of green apples from his hair reminds me of Emily. I say, “Emily, the dance student, you remember? The girl I took you to? She died.” His tongue is still sticking crudely out of his mouth as he stops to look up at me, as if everything hasn’t just changed. “After we left her that evening. They think she ran out into the road in front of a car on purpose.” He looks startled and pulls away from me. I want him inside me and yet am glad he is affected. I wasn’t sure he would be. I will miss his mouth, his shapes, making love with him. “They say she made a beautiful shape on the tarmac.”

My lover returns to the sea, to gritty sand and created patterns with strangers. The white blossoms emerge as usual the following year. I keep all the scarves buried in the earth beneath a white cherry tree. I travel the tube less. I never catch anyone’s eye.


© 2001 Jai Clare

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