Photograph: Francesca Woodman – Untitled Antella, Italy 1977-78
Desire by Leona Lee Cully
She looks for raspberries in the softly falling rain, in the remains of an ancient wood, a copse of alders, beech, ash, briars, and ferns. Fresh, green uncoiling ferns, pagan croziers aching towards the sun. She breathes in the rich musk of the wet ground and rotting wood. A bouquet of orange fungi blooms on a fallen branch of beech. The bark and the pale pulp crumble like cake under her fingers. Last winter, storms had whisked through the wood, felling the older, diseased trees. Now it is nearing the end of summer, a damp season of rain-drenched, ruined dreams.
Her muted phone buzzes, like an angry bumble bee, in her raincoat pocket. She is not brave enough to turn it off or leave it at home. If she fall and breaks her ankle no one knows where she is today. Although people know she likes to ramble through their fields. They respect her, the schoolteacher who hasn’t married, who will give their teenage children grinds in Maths and Irish. Their parents are her own age, her one time school friends, who have marked ten, fifteen, twenty years of marriage.
A modest crop of raspberries buds from the briars in a light-filled clearing. She searches for the perfect raspberry. Each raspberry she chooses is too ripe, ruined by the metallic edge of decay. A berry, tinged with green, is too tart and makes her wince. As he had winced. The curve of eyelashes upon his cheek, eyelids tightly closed. Almost sixteen, with flared cheekbones and a beautiful mouth, his muscles taut from football training. Eyes the colour of a summer sky, just before the heat dims its blueness. And livid purple craters scored into his cheeks, acne sprouting and pitting his face so cruelly he can’t look anyone in the eye.
Last night she kissed him, placed his hand on her breast, and he groaned. She rubbed his crotch and his whole body shook and he came without their skin touching. He winced in pleasure, eyes closed tightly, as his father had, in the back of her car, many years ago. A surge of power and lust and shame suffused her. She pretended nothing had happened, and talked about his next lesson, and what he had to practice, and then she helped him pack his Irish books back into his school bag He went to her bathroom, and left without looking at her. She chatted to his mother, who had left the car running, while he climbed into the front seat.
Her phone beeps with messages requesting babysitting, grinds, dinner with her sister’s family. All the other lives to which she is an afterthought.
She reaches into the thorny briars and plucks a tiny scarlet nub. She tastes it. Her mouth waters. Sweetness and tartness in perfect balance, and she could cry because it is the taste of eternity, of endless desire. The moment passes, the fruit is swallowed, and she is left with a hollow dread twisting inside her.
© Leona Lee Cully, 2012