There is the tall, heavy wood door.
There is the slanted overhang above it. The sound the door makes as it closes.
The open foyer. A ledge covering a row of shoes.
There are the silk Japanese scrolls, glistening down the hall. The delicate, painted women. Fine threaded flowers.
There is the wide, airy bathroom. A tall, silver mirror against the wall. A scale.
There is the glass door to the garden, the small gate, the pebble path. The path that leads to narrow streets, winding up and through the countryside, unspooling out into summer, along the dipping sparrows, rows and rows of corn.
When I put down my bags in my mother’s house there is silence.
I acquire softness when I walk into the room. I sit down slowly. I unwrap my work with caution. The soft click of my case, an interruption; the shoes brush the carpet as they are set down. Noise is an outsider.
I stare at my computer. Three tabs.
In America, I get up early. 6am.
Earlier than Boyfriend.
In America, I pull a cup from the cupboard. In the dark I have a glass of water. Sit at the counter, squeeze in a lemon.
In my mother’s house, I sleep on the couch. I sleep late. The blinds are drawn.
The first tab is a to-do list. The second tab is the commision and deadline. The last tab is a video.
“Not as good-looking as she is.” In America I stood in front of our bedroom closet, hands on my hips.
“My ex?” Boyfriend says. He stretches, wiggling his fingers past the bed. His phone disappears behind him, blocked by an elbow. “She just opened up her own business.”
“She has her own business?”
“Yeah. Dance studio.”
I go to the bed and lean over him. Boyfriend shifts, folding his other arm under his head.
The ex’s hair is short, sharp on the screen. “She got her hair cut,” Boyfriend murmurs.
“You’re not into it?” I ask.
“She can have a hair cut.”
The third tab: a ballet company. A strip of golden text hangs over the top of it. Get to know our dancers.
The still frame of the video was made to look like a portrait. Black and white, shot halfway up. White backdrop. Sofia’s eyes clear, staring out.
On our bed Boyfriend scrolled. We look at pictures of the ex dancing.
“She’s like that,” Boyfriend says, as we stare at her lesson charges. “Go-getter.”
I wince. It’s a term my mother uses. “300 dollars an hour?”
Boyfriend is unfazed. “Yeah. She likes money.” Boyfriend had worked to impress her. “High standards,” he says, rolling over to me to kiss my head. “Bougie.” He yawns.
Sitting by this window meant my lovers were out of reach. I put a hand to it. The glass is cold. Visiting my mother means leaving behind lovers. Beyond the window, mountains fall away, deep and green. I breathe. Longing burns, burns burns.
In America Friend had taken my phone, flipped it over. “Who’s this?”
A flood of pictures press up against the screen.
Friend’s eyes scan rapidly over the images, her thumb picking one out. I feel a wave of panic. The coffee shop around us continues, unperturbed. People tap at laptops.
“You were lurking.” Friend grins, looking at the phone. “Shit, she’s fucking hot.”
Boyfriend, sitting in the middle of an unmade bed. I picture it now. Piles of clothes. Tissues, an overflowing wastebasket. Boxers on the floor.
Friend, calling. “How are you in your mom’s house? Why are you doing that to yourself? Did you call Boyfriend? Why haven’t you called Boyfriend?”
I click on on the third tab.
“I wanted to dye my hair! Just the tips.” Sofia rolls her eyes.
I hit the spacebar hard. The screen freezes.
Every morning after we eat we sat with our coffee and Mom asked what I would like to do. Sometimes she had appointments, sometimes I came along.
Most of the time, I didn’t.
I click on my To-Do list. My stomach clenches. I click on the third tab again.
In the coffee shop I had uncrossed my legs. Recrossed. Friend’s ringed thumb moves down the screen.
There’s the photo where Sofia wears a sequined jacket and a striped shirt, red lipstick. Another of her in knit sweaters. Textures, colors. Perfect make up.
A brunette to the left of us yawns. Her nostrils flare, she lifts painted fingers to her mouth. I look back at the screen. The truth is you don’t become lovely for men. You become lovely for women.
Sofia grins. Dimples break out around her open mouth.
“I mean, I got over it, but still.” Her voice rings into the room.
“That’s what happens, when you make passions professional.” Sofia shrugs affably, a tan shoulder moving. Her eyes narrow a little bit, searching.
Her hand flaps down. “Ballet’s silly,” Sofia says.
“Fuck, is that her waist, bro? Is that real? Holy shit.”
Friend turns the phone towards me. A picture of Sofia in a swimsuit, leaning on a banister. The cut-outs amplify her figure, full breasts in the tight, sleek suit. The curve of her ass, her tiny legs.
I freeze the shot. Her breasts. They are prominent, in the tight leotard. Bare skin. The round, smooth bulb of her shoulder. A shadow between cleavage. Dark, blurry space.
She smiles in every picture. She paints her nails, you see them as she waves to the camera.
“Sofia,” Friend says aloud.
I hit play again.
Sofia leans back on the screen. “Ah…hm.” The hmm is light, accented to me for some reason. It strikes me that foreigners say hmm, not of uh or uhm. A shut mouth. Close up, Sofia thinks. Presses her lips back into her mouth. The light shifting along her jaw as she turns. “Since I was like, five?”
The words arch in my mother’s bedroom.
“Oh, fuck,” Friend says. She stopped scrolling, looking at me. “She’s Boyfriend’s ex?”
Sofia smiles at the camera, waiting for the next interview question.
“I mean,” she says, “I guess my mam. I’ve always looked up to her.”
Her skin is flawless. Bright around her eyes, smooth over her cheeks. Her neck. Collarbone. “We’re pretty close.” The ex smiles.
Across Friend and I, the gorgeous brunette packs up her bag. Men never told me ‘this makes you gorgeous.’ Women tell you.
I wonder what Sofia’s voice sounds like.
“I thought you guys fought because his co-worker-dancers were hot,” Friend says, looking at me.
I am thinking about how Sofia and my mother would have gotten along. They are from the same country.
Directly below the window outside a metal blue tricycle remains, shining, in the street. A sign reads the name of the road in a foreign language.
I am angry. Suddenly, fury. Furious.
What the fuck have I been doing?
Mom is not home. I hate this country. I have work to do.
I had already seen her website. I looked at Boyfriend across the bed. What does he see when he hears the name of the city I’m going to?
Eyes over a cup of wine. A restaurant-lit face, hovering across a table.
I’m from a foreign city, I told him. I knew a girl from there, he said.
Next to me on the bed, Boyfriend scrolls.
“Well,” Sofia’s voice says into the room, brightly, stretching out an arm. Her breasts move within the shirt. She has a little double chin when she cocks her head. “You could always come watch!”
She gives a little suggestive shrug on screen. More of her breast is revealed. She drops the raised shoulder, it slides back under the cloth.
In the website photo, Sofia stands on the arm of another man.
“Her new beau?”
“Best friend. He’s gay.” Boyfriend says it flatly.
I feel like asking if he’s a dancer too, like Boyfriend, like Sofia- but Boyfriend’s tone deters me.
There were no pictures of her and women. I wonder, briefly, if Sofia has any female friends.
“I would love,” Sofia says on screen, the smooth v sliding from her lips, “to have kids someday.”
“What was your mom like?” Boyfriend wanted to know.
I slam the laptop shut, uncomfortable with my feelings.
“You already know women from there,” I told Boyfriend.
Actually, I didn’t say that. I should have though. And I was born here, I felt like reminding him.
I packed my bag next to him, pretending not to have heard.
In my mother’s bedroom there is a long mirror, slanted against the wall. I undress in front of it, until I am naked.
My mother is not home. I look at my body. My less than perfect shape, flowing into itself. My breasts, small and gentle, rising against my chest. I think of Sofia.
“Call me often,” Boyfriend had told me as I boarded a plane to the foreign country.
My mother, also, painted her nails.
Birds, in the garden. The bathroom skylight. Birdsong floating into the airy, tiled bathroom.
My stomach. My hips, ass. I trace an unpolished finger past my ribs, to my hip. My finger is cold. I pinch.
My legs. Long and far too muscular to be slender. Years of jogging. I think of sweat, all over my body. Prickling my face, grains of salt. Relentless, pounding sun. I think of Mom, her tiny figure, curving up the path below the window.
I look at my feet. When I wiggle them I can see bones drumming up through my skin. Lines of light, snaking up through water.
My shape is not like hers. In this way, we are different.
If I stretched my legs against the wall, let the blood flow to my head, you would see my feet and the length of me. You would want me.
I close my eyes and let myself think of this. I let my hand drop to the soft, tender spot between my legs.
You might fuck me, just like that, against the wall.
I step down onto the tile, pick up my clothes from the bathroom floor.
Outside, it’s bright. I step carefully on to the street. The afternoon is still, still, still.
I pass an old lover’s house. I wonder if he ever visits his parents.
I pass the small grocery. The bigger grocery. A bakery. The shoe store. The pet store. A cafe. An ice cream shop. A winery.
A small movie theater. A bigger movie theater. Glamorous stores, bigger windows.
I try to remember when I was last in a theater. A date with Boyfriend.
Men on escalators pass me on my left going down.
One woman smiles at me and it throws off my whole day.
In a store bathroom I bend over a mirror.
I have blunt, stony features. My jaw is strong in an almost masculine way.
I am glowing. The lighting is perfect.
I’ve been kissed and touched so many times on this face.
I pass a shuttered building. I turn and walk back. Was this the club where…? I stand facing the brick. Tinted windows. You can drink at 16 there, right? my American friends used to whisper.
I waited in the rapidly cooling evenings, sixteen and shivering, dreaming up the stories I would tell them. Nerves building inside, the line snaking forward, clothes foreign on my skin, makeup foreign on my face.
Since I got here, I haven’t called Boyfriend once.
A homeless man stares at me the whole bus ride, muttering to himself. When I look at him he abruptly stops, his eyes so bright and blue they almost knock me over.
It has been 43 days here.
Some of the escalators have mirrors or reflective surfaces. Some of them are open, in the middle of the store, and I can watch the store levels as I rise, the people wandering around, pan up their bodies. The shelves, piles and racks becoming circles below.
Some women walk by me briskly, climbing the moving stairs.
Women don’t look at me or pretend not to. I catalogue different fashions out of the corner of my eye. A specific shade of lipstick, a patterned shoe. Sofia. Is that Sofia? Which one is Sofia? She’s from here, too. I think of my mom.
In my mother’s bathroom the tile is cold. Far away across the ocean I imagine Boyfriend. Walking to a coffee shop. It isn’t as cold there and he is wearing a windbreaker.
I picture him slide in, order coffee. Pull out his earbuds.
In my mother’s country no one works in coffee shops. There are no laptops. People sit together at a small round table for hours, moving their hands, ordering coffee, pastries, more coffee, more pastries.
I imagine him unzipping his jacket, reaching into his backpack. Picking a song on his phone. And then I imagine Sofia.
Sofia walks in through the doorway. She stands in the bathroom and leans against the glass shower door.
Her hair soft and dark.
Sofia looks at the window, moves to sit on the sill. She looks at me. Her legs dangle. She smiles.
Sofia sits where I used to write love letters. When I came back to America, I was no longer articulate.
“I’ve always wanted to cut my hair that short,” I say, “but I wasn’t brave enough.”
“Guys like long hair,” the ex-lover tells me. Except her lips never move, I don’t hear her voice. I see her though. Clear as light.
“I think it’s brave,” I find myself saying. “To. Go like that, leave your country. My mom did that. She moved back though. You’re still traveling, right?”
Her eyes are green.
I think, but I don’t say, Being rootless is also brave.
Over the past few weeks here, there have been fourteen missed calls from Boyfriend, and significantly less messages.
Sofia looks the way she does in pictures. We’re both standing.
“I could never wear those shoes,” I say admiringly. They’re blue, suede, pointed.
Then we’re sitting, across from each other. Her elbows are sleeved in a tight black leotard and she puts them on the wood of my mother’s kitchen table. Sips from a round porcelain cup.
“It’s a lot harder to stay.” Painted nails. Maroon.
Her accent is lovely.
“Why didn’t you stay?”
Sofia chuckles. And then becomes hysterical.
She’s on my mother’s living floor, laughing. Laughing. The shag carpet is white and soft and she’s rolling around, her small feet kicking. Clutching her sides. Mouth open, eyes deeply shut. I can see the rows of her teeth. Delicate lashes.
We may or may not be in a huge, expensive high rise apartment in the States. But it looks like a foreign city, outside. “That’s all you want to know?” she barely manages to say.
Her upturned body on the floor lies close to the glass window. The whole wall is glass, we are in a skyscraper. The glass separates us from the night lights, spread out below.
The tight black leotard on the white shag carpet, her body in the corner where floor meets wall and if this were a ledge she’d fall, and I almost think it is one but no, there’s glass, how elegant, to have tall glass windows. A glass wall, a high apartment. She’s laughed so hard there are tears in her eyes, she wipes them with long fingers.
Sofia stretches her arms. Her breasts rise with them, within the leotard. They press against the fabric. I can see the outline of her nipple.
She wiggles her fingers. Her bare toes. She’s so small. She could curl up into a perfect circle.
“Mmmm,” she sighs happily, smiling and relaxed now, staring up. There are little lights dotting the ceiling, ringed in silver.
I want to rip off all her clothes.
She lays still, thoughtful, gazing at the lights. “I guess I just had to.”
Sofia crosses her slender legs, her elbows behind her head. She lays her legs along the wall. She pats the floor next to her. “Come on,” she says, like we’re twelve and at a sleepover, and we might be.
“I loved him,” Sofia says aloud. We’re both staring at the ceiling. The small bulbs, organized like a circuit board. White white, then bright holes. It feels like we’re floating.
“I might have,” her voice comes from far away. “It faded.” She sounds sad and I turn my head, looking at her across the rug.
Her face is close. Enormous, mascara eyes.“No pictures of that,” she says wryly, and her whole face softens. Her eyelids slide down, looking at the carpet. Her lashes. “Know what I mean?”
Then she’s naked.
I am, too. On the white shag carpet. The deep glass night. I am very hot.
She starts to smile, slowly, with her lovely lips.
She smells like lotion. Like this place. This soft soft rug and I don’t know if I get a tuft of it in my mouth and she takes out a strand and we’re laughing, spitting it out, and I hold her tiny face and feel the rest of my body falling away completely.
The ceiling lights become blurry fragments through her hair. I feel her breast against my ribs, in my hands. The plushness of her lips, all along me. She breathes into my ear. A swell of emotion suddenly bursts within me, flooding me so powerfully I gasp. Her hair is soft and now suddenly my eyes are closed and I’m breathing her in, tightly, everything is ragged, now her fingers unlock something inside me and now I am feeling sweet, tender pain.
She looks up at me with the softness I have imagined so many times, that fuzzy look, watery and pure, rising up from a dream. Then her eyes sharpen, and she says without moving her lips, “No, that’s what you look like.” And one of us giggles a little, and I reach out to her face because I want to kiss her again.
We swallow. We swallow each other. We swallow each other whole. I pull and she pulls and there is a rolling and I wonder if this was the fighting, this whole time, but then the thought sinks, dissipates in my mother’s white white bathroom.