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Taking Rita Hayworth in My Mouth

I sit on the edge of a couch in a dark room, the dark is the dark of night. This nearly empty apartment on the edge of the Village is lit only by the street lights of Soho and the red and green rivers of late night traffic. Muffled sounds of a summer city night float into the room. I am a person waiting for something, waiting in near darkness, sitting on the edge of my seat. I am a customer awaiting the appearance of a dream I had ordered. She is in the other room, getting ready to make her entrance. It is a rare thing in life to be able to call into being the haunting mysteries that have followed one since childhood. If I tell you I am almost sixty when this night dawns, this night of apparitions, will it make it harder to hear what follows? An aging woman waiting at the edge of her seat for the dream only another woman can give her.

the woman of my dreamsI smell her perfume before I see her. She comes out of the darkness, and I turn my gaze from the direction of the windows to take her in, her steady even progress towards me. Her red hair falls down around her shoulders, her face is marked by the redness of her lips, the hard blue-gray brightness of her eyes; she has the worldly look of a woman who has seen it all. A slight smile plays around the edges of her large mouth. Her broad shoulders push the darkness open. I hear nothing now but the sound of her approach. She stands before me for a minute, a tall broad woman in a black blouse opened at the throat so her breasts swell above me, a short leopard-printed skirt rides high on her thighs, all done to my order. “Is this what you wanted,” she says, half amused, confident that this is exactly what I wanted. I cannot take my eyes off her face, off the world of work and experience she is radiating in the darkness. I see again, as I did as a child, my mother dressed for work and at the same time, dressed for her lovers. My mother in that erotic blend of self support and desire on the prowl, her costume, the black dress, the small hat with its veil of stars, the nylons with their seams down the center of her legs. I watched her dress, saw her raise her arms before the mirror; that mix of pain and pleasure comes to my mouth, her beauty, her leaving.

I cannot drop my eyes from my dream’s face, I do not want to. She sits in the chair we have placed right in front of me a few inches from the end of the couch. Still smiling, she raises one leg and tucks her toes under the sofa’s pillow. Her skirt is now a band around her lap and she sits, waiting for me to drop my eyes. She grows larger in the darkness, in her solid angular position waiting for me to do what I must, what I have waited all these years to do. I am hardly breathing and I have lost all sense of what sex I am. The dark night has become illuminated by the power of myth, the power of legend. “Go ahead,” she encourages. My breath escapes me and I lower my head, taking my eyes from her large strong face with its worldly cool welcome, to what she is exposing to my view. It is only a small distance to travel but I am terrified of the journey.

Right in front of me now, I see a second face, with its red lips flaring in a nest of hair, drops of liquid caught in its strands, its own perfume opening up to me, right in front of me, the naked center of a woman. I raise my eyes once again to the public face, and I reel with the contrast. I cannot keep the two faces in the same place, on the same body. It is as if I am being allowed to see below the surface of all the days, of all the mothers. I almost plead with her, don’t let me go under again but she says nothing, just watches. I feel the pull of her other face and give in to its ancient world. I let go of all pretense and gaze totally at the sex right before my eyes, smell it, hunger for it. And then, I fall to my knees, onto the pillow we have arranged in just the right place to catch my weight as I fall to my knees before this gleaming mask that is as real as hair and bone and flesh can be. I push my face into the one between her legs, my mouth as wide as a whale’s, my tongue pulling all of this dream into me, I swallow, I hunger, I drink, I eat. She allows it all, giving herself to my relentless hunger, to this beggar on her knees. My tongue swirls, finding hidden passageways, pushing at the confines of her wet red walls. I am nothing but this exploration, kept from me by so many years, by so many laws. Above, I feel tremors and know that in some other place, the country has shifted. Somewhere on what remains of the surface, I know she is coming, I have sucked pleasure into her, but that is part of the more common world, the one I have known for all the past years. Where I am now is somewhere else, somewhere beyond gender, in the labyrinth of myth and legend, where mothers are falling stars and shame sprouts wings.

Melbourne, August 31, 1999

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© 1999 Joan Nestle

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