CL Writing Contest 2018 Top Ten (Fiction): Our Love Set in Rooms

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There is no other way to say it.

You are white and your wife is black. It is inconsequential and also everywhere.

During the light of day, between the aisles in the grocery store, on a park sidewalk, you are greeted with sewn-on smiles and warm speeches. The two of you are like pets. A charming experimentation.

Yet, at night, the world seems to drop its front to speak more freely — a murmur below the television set, behind the sound of kitchen drawers and pans on the stove, a voice low to the floor of the Earth like static in snow.  

Locked inside a bare room during a weeklong snowstorm, you fell in love. By the time the ground thawed, you were married. You gave no one time for doubt or questions. There was no one at the wedding but the church choir. A vaulted sanctuary of empty pews.

In the darkness of your honeymoon suite, your wife admits that she has never been so close to a white person before. She palms your face. Closing your eyes under her fingers, you both laugh.

At the airport, the two of you wait inside the glass box that is a taxi stand. When it is your turn, the attendant whistles. Two cabs pull up. He opens the door for her and directs you to the second cab waiting one back.

Your wife is standing in the Peacock Room at the Freer Art Gallery in D.C. She is looking up at a plume of oily fire from a gold peacock tail. The room traveled here from England. A painted portal. On a bench, looking into a China cabinet, the two of you decide to move.

Three days after arriving in Tampa, your wife finds out she is pregnant. You are staying with a family member in a small guest room.

Months later, on a cusp of beach at dusk, your wife is eight months’ pregnant eating pasta salad on a towel. You are swimming alone looking back at her. The gray umbrella rippling in the breeze, your blankets and cooler near the large beach bicycle with the fat, yellow tires.

Turning toward the setting sun and the horizon, you close your eyes and look through a doorway, through the antenumbra of future time and see a vision of your son and his family and their children.

It is your wife's voice that makes life clear. Her Baltimore accent. Its fronted vowel sounds, cadences, pops and elisions, her slang, her teeth-sucking, her gum-popping, her life, her youth — the grainy video where she is skinny in Timberland boots walking two leashed Rottweilers and her half-Cherokee grandmother with a gun in her sock and an expanse of whispering North Carolina grass. It is all there in her voice. A home language. The voice has traveled across time to this place. It is the voice that calls to your son. This voice like a room full of people.

In the living room, the three of you listen to Paul Simon's Graceland and all collectively go crazy to "I Know What I Know." You watch your son — now 18 months — dancing to the "whoop, whoop" of the chorus sung by the Gaza Sisters, his feet jumping in wild hops across the carpet.      

Traveling north up 95 to see family, you take long cellphone videos of the road and the leaves changing.

You pass your son over to family members. You watch him leave the room in the arms of someone else. Love is the body passing through rooms.

In DC again, you visit the Hirschorn to see Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirror Rooms exhibit. Your feet enter the chamber filled with a field of yellow polka dot pumpkins. The door closes behind you in a dark void of infinite hovering candles. You move through the gallery murmuring to each other, holding hands and expectant of what is in the next room.

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