Retreat

by

Daniel Kolos

June 11, 2000

 

Pert breasts, a small, slightly protruding belly and a most perfect set of buttocks I’ve ever seen is all I remembered from that first night when I went to sleep in a crowded dormitory.  It was crowded not only by people of both sexes, but also with their scents, their sounds, their hundreds of belongings scattered around the floor and their thousand and one dreams.

None of these were strong enough to distract me from my vision.  How can a woman that old have such a youthful body?  And how can an old man like me remember only the five clumps of fat, those three sets of sexual handles, when I, as a teacher, have preached the wholistic approach all my life?  I have not felt like this since my youth.  It is not love.  Rather, it is like walking through a grand forest and finding among its thousands of trees the one which is by far the most majestic, the most outstanding, the incomparable king of the forest.

I saw her on the beach talking to another old woman.  Then they came into the water, swam past me and continued on to the deep water dock.  I did not exactly stare at them on the beach, but I looked and I should have remembered more than her breasts, belly and buttocks.  When she climbed the ladder to the dock, then I stared.  We were all naked to begin with.  Swinging breasts, hanging penises and dangling balls should not have aroused anybody’s interest in particular.  It is very likely that among the hundreds of naked bodies sunning on the beach, swimming in the lake or sweating on the volleyball court, it was probably only I who got hung up and attracted to this one particular woman’s features.  I chuckled to myself because it was usually the uppity, firm, bouncy breasts of young girls that attracted old men’s eyes and imaginations. 

I probably fell asleep with a smile on my face.

In the morning I remembered more.  That meant she was not just in my dreams.  It was a restful night.  My sense of balance had not been disturbed.  I lay in my bed, fully awake, wondering what it would be like to find her curled up next to me, breathing in the crisp, health giving morning air, her brain waves rejuvenating her cells and her organs, her perfect buttocks nestled in my lap.

Looking back at her with my clear morning mind, I could see her completely on the crowded beach.  She had long, shoulder length white hair around her red, sunburned face.  Not a pretty face, but an interesting face.  She looked younger than the crone she was.  I could see her long legs, still shapely, calves and thighs that walked, that swam, that held lovers.  I knew then that I wanted to be one of them.  I wanted to be her lover.  I saw her climbing up the iron ladder to the diving dock, her pubic hair softened by the water, tightly plastered over the folds of her lower lips.  She is frozen in my memory, bent over the deck, one foot on the last rung, the other pulled up under her small breasts just before it sets foot on the cedar boards.

How come I didn’t remember these things last night?  Where was my nose, my tongue?  It is as if a veil had come down and covered my imagination, formed a straight jacket around me and allowed only my hands to follow the contours of her soft, fleshy parts.

That night and that morning, was a year ago.  Yesterday I stood across the table from her at a cocktail party.  She was clad in a body fitting, ankle long dress held up by two thin straps.  Too thin!  They were waiting to be removed.  No, that’s my imagination intruding.  This was reality.  The dress was tight around her chest because when she bent forward, the gap did not reveal her breasts.  She picked up a smoked salmon curl on a cream cheese cracker with her left hand.  She waved it at me.  Her right held a long, graceful glass of white wine.  She wore neither a bra nor panties.  Two nipples simply announced that “We are here, whatever you want to make of us.”  She was obviously not apologizing for her small breasts.  Her small belly hung forward, again without apologies.  As someone said ‘Hello!’ to her, she turned around and the tight dress ran smoothly over those divine buttocks.  Michelangelo's David has a pair of those in cold marble.  This woman brought with her, from whatever past life, his artistic spirit sculpted right into her body.

If she highlights her own love handles like that, then it is not necessarily my randy mind that has singled out those blobs of fat from a state of lusty need.  She is simply making a statement, such as “I have a mind, I have a body, the one will match your wits, the other is bawdy.”  Not all that different from the military drill, “This is my rifle, this is my gun, the one is for fighting, the other is for fun.”  She exuded wholesomeness, or even wholeness.  If I wanted to fantasize about her, and then bring those fantasies into reality, I would have to match her wits.  I moved around the table.

“Hello, I am George,” I said and I raised my glass of red wine to her.  She had just swallowed the smoked salmon cracker and I noticed that her face was still red, offset by her white hair, mostly smooth skin that wrinkled only when she broke out in a smile.

“Yes, I know,” she said without raising her voice or showing any emotion.  “We met at the nude beach last year and had an interesting chat.”  She just stood there and I searched my memory about an interesting chat but there was only this vague recollection about a group of naked women talking about writing and publishing, and I, being a writer and publisher, stopped and joined in the conversation.  “And my name is Linda,” she added.  I did not remember Linda being a part of that conversation. 

“Are you a writer, then?”  I asked.

“Not tonight,” she said and her mouth and eyes widened into a smile.  “Tonight I am a seeker.”

“Would I be interested in what you are seeking?I asked hoping to stir the conversation toward my own not so alternate motive of searching for a partner for the night, if not for the rest of my life.

“I certainly hope so,” she said and picked up two salmon crackers, handing me one with a cocktail napkin.  “I don’t know what I’d do if this tray of salmon disappeared.  I would have to go somewhere else and continue to seek truth, wisdom and pleasure.”  She brought the cracker up to her mouth, her tongue scooped out the rolled up orange meat from its soft white bedding.  I watched it slowly disappear into her mouth.  The green hue of the scallion poking out from that roll remained a frozen frame of time in my mind’s eye.

Linda’s girl friend turned to us, the fellow who had spoken with her having excused himself. 

“Oh, my shoulders are just so tight!  I wish I could get a massage.”  The two women just stared across the room with an air of expectation.  I glanced in that direction to see if a masseur was actually manifesting out of thin air.  But nothing happened and neither of them said anything more.  How do events become so surreal so suddenly?  A sense of awkwardness crept into the space among us.  I could give her a cursory massage, I thought.  After all, a friendly massage is as pleasurable to give as it is to receive.  I have enjoyed massage for the past thirty years and I certainly know how to give one.  What stopped me was that I didn’t know this lady.  That thought, however, only lasted a second or two.  I’ve gone on wild trysts with women whom I didn’t know either at the beginning or at the end at our intimate but brief acquaintance. 

“I can give you a short massage,” I finally volunteered.  Dali could have easily captured this frozen absurdity in the midst of a mass of moving, talking, clinking group of people.  The moment I uttered these words, animation resumed among us.  The woman turned around and backed into me.  Linda turned to the table to fill up her wine glass.  I placed my hands on the woman’s shoulders and gave a small squeeze.  Her buttocks backed into me some more which was a problem because that is how I get excited very, very quickly.

“Let’s sit you down on a bench,” I whispered in her ear.  Her rear end action must have been an automatic response because the moment she heard my suggestion she disengaged and shifted her buttocks onto a nearby bench.  For the next ten minutes I gently massaged her shoulders, up and down on either side of her vertebrae, around her shoulder blades, the full length of both her arms and up into the base of the skull where the neck muscles become tendon and attach themselves to the skull.  After a few minutes she took off her shawl and dropped her halter top.  Her shoulders and most of her back were bare and available.  I didn’t look to see what she looked like from the front. 

Linda was engaged in a conversation with a couple who were younger but looked far older than she did.  They were our hosts, charming people.  They attended my workshop earlier that day in a part of their garden they called the Grape Arbor.  It was an ideal setting for the topic, “Intelligence of the Heart.”  The woman came over to the bench, put a hand on my shoulder, gave me smile and left.  I heaved a sigh, gave the shoulders beneath me another, final squeeze and stepped away from the bench.

Nonononono - nooooo!!!!!  Don’t stop!,  Don’t stop!  The pain’s not gone,” she protested.  My patient reached out for me and grabbed my pant legs and pulled me back to her.  She buried her face in my belly and moaned:  “Please continue, Please continue!  PLEASE CONTINUE!!!”

“Did you learn this insistence from your daughter,” I asked her, referring to the nine years old girl who came to announce  in the midst of the massage that she and her friends will be setting up their book club by the creek where the belvedere was equipped with lights, “or did you never lose it form your own childhood?”  I cradled her head for a few seconds, but when I tried to move it she clasped her arms around me and made like she was panting.  Linda appeared and they both burst out laughing.  The woman rose, turned and walked away - or almost did.  She turned around, gave me a big smile and said,

“No, I didn’t learn that from my daughter.  That was the real me.  Thanks.  It was great.  But it was tooooooooo short.”  Then she left.

That’s when I realized that Linda had also disappeared and I stood there confused.  Another glass of wine might clear my brain, or cloud it enough that I won’t have to worry about what’s happening.  I held the balance between my own self respect and self doubt, between the apparent silliness of other people and the probable integrity they might have and hold.  I chatted with people, refused several trays of cheese and crackers, fat, salty olives, and whatever else was being circulated among the guests. 

My erstwhile patient reappeared, sat back onto the bench and engaged me in conversation.

“I don’t know if I should go to bed and get a good night sleep or go and dance the night away.” 

Since I didn’t respond, a voice behind me said, “Dancing will refresh you far more than sleep will.”  It was Linda’s voice.  I became animated again and suddenly had an opinion:

“I’ll walk you over to the dance and you can make up your mind in situ.”  The two women looked at each other and I glanced away not to interrupt whatever non verbal communication was passing between them.  When I turned back, they were already walking through the gardens towards the dance area.  I walked after them.  We left the din of the cocktail party, but could not shake the testosterone filled sounds of the concert under the main tent.  Down and down towards the lake we made our way through a sylvan path and found ourselves in a different space altogether.  What we saw was not the dance we expected, although it was a dance. 

A high pitched, thin voice was belting out a strange hybrid of New Orleans jazz and Haitian Voodoo trance chant.  The singer, an older black woman in a sequin dress whose colors were fading on the other side of twilight, swayed somewhere below us.  Her drummers and musicians stood on the quay off to my right.  The audience danced on the beach that resembled a natural amphitheater.  Linda immediately disappeared among the dancers, her peach, body hugging dress having turned dark gray under the moonlight.  The other woman and I sat on the grass at the very top. 

We did not sit apart for long.  I leaned over to her and asked if I could resume the massage.  She didn’t say anything, just moved right off her buttocks and settled them right in front of me.  As soon as I touched the muscles above her collarbones, off came her shawl, her halter top and a moment later the top of her dress fell on my outstretched legs.  I don’t know how long I massaged her, but when I stopped she did not protest.  She pulled her dress up, replaced her shawl and excused herself.  I never saw her again.

I could neither stand nor sit still.  The drum beat went in a complicated rhythmic 8 which I simplified for myself like this: 
Tum, tum; dim-dum, dim-dum; tum, dum-di-da; dim-dadada (silence), where ‘tum’ is a whole beat, ‘dim’ and ‘dum’ are half beats, ‘di-daare quarter beats and ‘dadada’ are also quarter beats that are followed by another three quarter beats of silence.  I was drumming on my thighs and the rest of my body was dancing except for my head which was turned up to the moon.  I was intently watching the gathering clouds from the west encroach upon our only source of light.  Occasional distant lightning went off like flash bulbs from the paparazzi.  The wind had long ago blown out the torches set up around the amphitheater.  When the music stopped, wine was passed around.  Linda and I found one another.  A collective protest pierced the night air as the rain shower caught us in the open air.  People fled, mostly laughing.  Linda and I stood in the rain talking.  I usually look people straight in the eye when I converse with them, but I was looking at Linda’s bare shoulder as a pool was forming in the hollow of her collarbone.  She did not have tense muscle problems.  When the hollow filled up it occurred to me to offer her half of my jacket.  She accepted it, then remembered that she had hidden a small bag with a shawl, a flashlight, a bottle of water and micky of scotch in the bushes above the beach.  She motioned me to crawl under the overhanging branches and I followed her as into a cave.  The ground was still dry.  She placed her shawl around her shoulders, took a swig of water and passed me the scotch.  It was Glenlivet.

We talked.  It was neither inane stuff, nor deep philosophical meandering.  We spoke of personal things.  We were getting to ‘know’ one another in the best sense of the word.  We explored the meaning of being a ‘crone’.  My concept came from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book, Women Who Run With The Wolves.  Linda had read it.  She filled in her own concept with the physical characteristics such as being post menopausal, over 56 and self reliant.  I was smiling from ear to ear.  I don’t know if she could see me in the returning moonlight under the thick branches.  She spoke animatedly in a strong, loud voice.  I spoke softly, often whispering as if to keep our conversation private.  Yet, anywhere else I don’t give two hoots for privacy.  What was happening to me?  When I change persona like that, some self defense mechanism kicks in to evaluate the cause of the change.  At once I understood that Linda and I were close enough in body, mind and soul to make a night together worthwhile for both of us.  We were already reclining on the soft grass, my face inches from her nipples protruding from the tight dress.  But we were practically by the main walkway and another dance was in progress.  Individuals and couples came walking by from time to time.  The place was simply not private enough for me, although thirty years ago a sense of privacy would not have occurred to me.  In fact, on a Sunday afternoon, one of my first lovers and I were walking down a pathway at my university and we stopped to kiss.  In spite of the hot and heavy night we had previously, we stepped off the path and dragged each other down onto the grass and made love.  Did anybody see us?  I have no idea.  But no one stopped or commented on the performance!

“Let’s go back,” I said and we both crawled out from under the bushes, stretched and began walking back, up, to civilization and some form of privacy.  We walked off the property to Linda’s motel room.  She turned the key and we walked in upon an unusual scene.  An ample breasted older woman sat across the table from a thin young man.  They were staring at Tarot cards.  The bed was rumpled and there were obvious relics of love making.  A candle stood between the couple, its flame dangerously bent from the wind created by the open door behind me and the open window behind the table.  I closed the door.

Linda made the introductions:

“This is Marlene and Ted.  Marlene is the most experienced Tarot reader in the state.”

Before we even had a chance to do anything more than to greet each other, Linda had sat down on the edge of the bed and asked Marlene to do an Astrological Tarot reading for her.  It was the simple version, for Marlene separated the cards into three decks, one for the Sun, one for the Moon, one for the Planets.  Linda drew a card from each deck and, before I could see them, the two women were giggling and squealing with joy. 

“I knew I was going to make some major changes, but I didn’t know it had to be my lover,” Linda said to Marlene.  They both looked at me. 

Marlene said, “The nine of Pentacles means either that you choose the successor, or that you choose for success.”

“I was going back home tomorrow to pay him a visit for his birthday.  But I am confused, or too weak.  Things have cooled down between us, but you know, sex is like a habit.  I was going to turn up there and if he even gave me a warm hug or a semi-passionate kiss, I was going to go through the whole thing.  Who knows when it will happen again?”  The two women looked at me again.

“Tonight?I asked.

They looked at each other at this anachronism.  I obviously I had not yet adjusted my timing to Linda’s life.

“Do the Inner-Outer reading,” Linda commanded Marlene.  Marlene took another deck and asked Linda to shuffle it, took it back and spread the deck. 

“Take one with each hand,” she said to Linda.  Linda reached out with her right and drew the nine of Wands.  She reached out with her left and drew the Hermit.

Marlene explained the Astrological setting of all five choices Linda had made, a language I did not understand.  Then she continued with words that made sense.  “Your right hand represents reaching out, so it is the outer world.  Your left hand takes in energy, so it represents your inner self.”

“So the nine of Wands is like a hurdle that gets in the way,” Linda offered.

“Or a defense mechanism you use to cope with the change,” Marlene turned the symbol to advantage.

“Or even a choice among nine lovers waiting for your will,” I added without a second thought.  It was a conversation stopper.  The room was dense with silence.  After a while Linda’s nose wrinkled up:

“Do I always have to make such hard choices?” she whined.  The two women put their heads together and laughed again.  Linda drew a deep breath and continued, “I understand the Hermit.  That’s me.  I am a loner.  That’s why I never married.”

“Nobody ever asked you?I asked in amazement.

“Oh, they asked, they asked all right, but what did I have to look forward to?  Washing someone else’s dishes and clothes?  Not me!”  Linda drew herself up straight.  “I told my lovers I will sleep with them as much as they liked, but I will not marry them.  Those who didn’t like it left.  Those who stuck around enjoyed it.  The Hermit, that’s me all right.”

We chatted about independence for a while.  Marlene said she had none.  She had three children and a husband, a teaching position, a Tarot practice and an Astrology practice.  She had to go off to parties and retreats like this by herself to figure out where she was in the greater scheme of life.  Her lover stood up and stretched.  “I think I will go back to my family.  They have likely returned from the dance and my wife will miss me.”  He left.

“Can you do my reading?I asked.

“Which one do you wish to do first?Marlene asked.

“Inner-outer,” I said.

“Shuffle the deck,” she instructed me, then took it and spread the cards.  With my right hand I drew the nine of Wands, with my left, the nine of Pentacles.  Both cards had appeared in Linda’s draw as well.  The two women fell silent.  They looked at each other, looked at me, stared into space.  Finally Marlene asked me, “What does nine mean in your system?”

“Completion, fulfillment, choice, success,” I listed the possibilities.

“What do you make of two nines?” she continued her probing.

“Balance,” I said.  “It has been my lifelong pursuit to live in balance between the inner and outer worlds, in balance between the experiences of the body and the concepts of the intellect, in balance between pain and pleasure…,” I stopped because Marlene’s eyes were beginning to glaze over. 

She prepared the other deck for me and the nine of Pentacles appeared as my Planet card.  Marlene rolled her eyes.  I kept mine on Linda.  Another of my cards matched hers.  She knew exactly what that meant.

“I don’t know,” Linda burst out in frustration.  “I live a very content life juggling bookkeeping for a few people and doing art on commission.  I’ll do anything for fifty bucks.  I am going to walk out on my lover tomorrow and then what?”

I was waiting for myself to say that “I’ll be there for you,” but I really didn’t know where I stood.  In a sense Linda wore her heart of her sleeve and all I had to do was to pick it up and warm it my hands.  She also lived in a world of crones.  For all I knew, her ‘lover’ could be a younger woman and my intended intrusion, nay, penetration into her private life, may not be welcome, not even if it is in the cards.

“Let’s go dance the night away,” Marlene called to Linda.  Without a word the two of them left.  I returned to my own motel room.  It was four in the morning.  I lay down on the bed.  It started out as a night full of potential.  What happened?