Rochelle and I talk dreams over breakfast.
Her kitchen is cozy. The walls are a washed out yellow, occasionally patterned by white plates hung here and there. One is painted with a canary in a cage, the next with a bow-tied cat, crouching and full of intent. I sit across from her to see the ocean over her shoulder. The table is a blue formica.
“I was taking a stroll through hell,” she says. “It was warm. It didn’t really feel like a nightmare, because my mom was there.”
“Sounds like a nightmare to me,” I say.
Today I woke early to prepare a protein breakfast of bacon and eggs, and I feel like a man. The meal sits securely in my stomach.
“She asked me why you were in my bed. I told her it’s because you’re a good cook.”
Rochelle cuts a piece of bacon down the middle, and moves the halves to opposite sides of her plate. “She said that being a good cook is enough. She said that’s good enough for her.”
“Was your dad a good cook?” I ask, raising my eyebrows.
“I think so.”
“So that’s why you like me,” I say, trying to hide a grin by aiming it into my lap.
She exhales, and I sense a touchy merit.
“Don’t read into it,” she says.
“You still hungry?” I ask. The offer does nothing to turn her back to the table while she looks away. “You know I make good pancakes,” I say.
She knows I’d try anything, and I do; sleeping over, talking dreams, cooking breakfast. I imagine a string of pancake mornings.
She looks at her plate.
“You know Ricky, right? From school,” She says. “He does pancakes.”
The breakfast I built for us stirs as if the eggs and bacon have been replaced by a hot pepper whose bundle of seed have just began to digest.
“If you would just try my pancakes–”
“I’m full.” she says, looking down. I see her bellybutton sink below the hem of her tanktop as she forces her stomach out. Pink painted nails rise over it.
I finger the prongs of my fork. “Does he use a store-bought mix, or from scratch?”
“What are you asking me?”
“Does Ricky use store-bought pancake mix,” I repeat, “or does he make them from scratch?”
She just returns my squint. Under her slitted eyes is a smile.
“I’m taking a shower.” she stands. “Join me if you want to.”
“Might as well,” I say. A yolk has popped in the middle of her plate, leaking. I didn’t sleep over to cook eggs.
After the shower, Rochelle wraps a white towel around her waist and leaves me sitting on the edge of the tub. When I stand, a red heat falls from my scalp, over my torso, and down into each leg.
I put on a day old shirt and some boxers before following her into the living room.
As I approach, her shoulders rise. She steps onto the balcony to dry off in the noon breeze, shutting the door behind her to sit and smoke, but I don’t follow. It feels too cold outside even from the living room. I continue resting.
She watches palm trees rock easily on the beach, their fronds colliding slowly. She knows I’m here but I doubt she thinks of me. When the coffee machine beeps, reminding me of the pot I put on before our shower, she follows the sound slightly without looking back.
Her legs are crossed lady-like, and her shoulders round toward her lap. One arm is folded over bare breasts, the other supports a magazine. It’s some celebrity trash, makes me angry to see her reading it.
The pages quake when she shivers, and a network of muscles stir in her back like the stacked curves of a delicate serpent. Goosebumps surface across my arms. My chest rises slowly. I imagine marriage. It feels absurd, but maybe I could handle it even if she couldn’t.
Slight gusts come off the ocean, flicking droplets of the shower off her shoulders. Strands of hair that were braided by moisture begin to spin loose across her back. I feel queasy, and angry because the wind can perform this invisible care for her. It’s too subtle for my heavy hand to replicate.
It is discreet in its admiration, and I am transparent. When I fry eggs and and study her eyes, she knows why. The wind, though, can surround her always, remaining imperceptible yet appreciated. It turns pages of her magazine and picks ash off her cigarette. A draft begins to carry wet hairs out of her eyes, so that she may read more clearly. I know how easily it might whisk her away, how eager she might be to open up an umbrella one morning and catch a gust off the balcony.
Palms on the beach blow heavily sideways. “You must be cold,” I say, freeing myself from the couch to pour her a cup of coffee. It’s a task so intricate and many faceted that the wind could never complete it, and I feel shy pride my ability to have scooped the grounds and poured the water, to have picked out her favorite mug.
At the door to the balcony, I see the now empty chair. In the ashtray is a tumbling butt. She’s left her towel on the ground, and maybe returned to the bedroom, so I slide open the door and step out to shiver in her breeze and enjoy her view.
On the beach, a palm tree has tipped almost completely horizontal in the heavy wind. Tourists are all over it, bouncing and swinging, taking pictures. It’s a little afternoon, but the sky is dark like evening so nothing casts a shadow. I take a sip of her coffee.
A balloon floats high in an updraft above the ocean. It’s huge and limp, looking slightly deflated: a magical absurdity against grey sky.
“Rochelle, come out here!” I yell behind me. I want to hold her hands and feel a returning heat in her palms. Looking high again, I squint. It drops to a clearer altitude.
Now, one hundred yards up, the vague balloon is my tiny Rochelle. She’s nude and laughing, dancing in the arms of the wind.
Rochelle and I talk dreams over breakfast.