Susanna Salk


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Saturday, February 2nd, 2019

We met on a rainy night, somehow the only two people on the library path, neither intending to go to the library. I was bent over, searching for my contact lens. The lenses were hard in those days, often popping out of my eyes as if with a protective will of their own. I had no back up pair and I could already hear the eye doctor’s clipped query of “Is this better…or this one…” as he slotted in sample lens over the examination glasses in an endless loop.

“What are you searching?” Carlos’ South American accent made me look up, as if he would take my hand and we would glide away to a place where palm trees swayed under clear exotic skies. He was part of the sleek European set at my New England boarding school: people whose parents sent chauffered town cars to drop them off after breaks, who knew how to pronounce “Gstaad” and huddled in the Butt Room, sharing their red packs of Dunhill cigarrettes purchased at Duty Free on the way back to school. Carlos wasn’t good looking but his exotic swagger and cheerful confidence endeared him with everyone from jocks to Mrs Primm, a Science teacher who- as campus legend had it- had smoked the hashish he had smuggled back from his hometown of Venezuala in the heel of his cowboy boot.

“Oh…just a contact lens,” I stammered, pushing back the hood of the yellow rain coat my mother had insisted I pack even though the drizzle had accelerated to rain. He just smiled, as if not understanding. I pointed to my eye but he looked over my shoulder, thinking I meant the building behind us, which happened to be the Science Center named after my grandfather, surely the real reason I had been admitted here.  I was the sort of student who was pretty good at a lot of things yet never had excelled at anything. I was sloppy and social, strong willed yet unsure. 

I could make people laugh, but unsure how to use that power. I could write but had no intention of rewriting. I could act but didn’t know I could expect that as a profession. My sensible Yankee childhood stories felt as plain as the newspaper my parents read side by side every night, next to the glossily colored stories of people like Carlos.  He stared at my rain coat intently and then reached out to me. I anticipated his touch but he was only pointing to something on my shoulder blade: it was my lens, suctioned to the coat’s surface, its bent ends flapping slightly in the wind. I tried to maneuver myself to grab it but it was too precarious: one more errant rain drop and it would be gone.

As though picking up a butterfly by its wings, Carlos plucked it and handed it to me, the band of his gold watch, flashing briefly. It was still visitation hours, where the girls and boys schools could intermingle between dorms as long as you kept you door open and both feet on the floor.

A late arrival to school, Carlos lived in the small room on the third floor in of one the faculty houses. Its slanted ceiling was covered with black and white pictures of beautiful girls my age which he had taken. They stared back at him intimately, their names like Inga and Marika. One was clearly next to Carlos in bed, the top of the white sheet covering her entire face except for one glinting eye. Carlos took a Dunhill from a carton on the small wood desk, lit it with a gold lighter and handed it to me. “Who is that?” I asked, trying to exhale in a smooth plume. One photo stood out in particular: a woman wearing a chiffon turban and a plunging black  gown with a jewel in its V.  She seemed to gaze at me directly, her hand cocked back holding a cigarrette as if Carlos had just lit it for her, her long red nails fanned out so you could see the perfect tips of each one. I thought of the summer before, how I had bicycled to pharmacy in town to use my baby sitting money to purchase some Revlon red nail polish.  I had done such a poor job applying the red nail polish that I had bicycled back the next day to buy remover. “That….” Carlos said, blowing a perfect smoke circle, “Is my mother.”I let him take my rain coat off and suddenly there seemed nowhere to put it so I placed it in the wastebasket under his desk.

He laughed then, a wonderful laugh. It filled the tiny room and the chorus of all the faces pasted around us seemed to join in. He motioned for me to sit down next to him on the bed and I did. I wanted to tell him how my grandmother wore pearls around her wrist and how her beauty was so great that a man once had threatened to jump off a bridge to capture her attention. How all of her could somehow validate part of me now amongst all of the women gathered here in this disproportioned room.

Mrs. Forbes, his dorm parent, walked past the room and stopped to take us in. She smiled, observing how both our feet were touching the ground. I could just feel Carlo’s warm ankle bone against my own.

As I smiled back, my lens popped out and the world outside of it once again,  became a blur.