I first heard the lilt of Isa’s voice in group counseling, but I spoke with her first in a hallway, where she stopped me with a soft hand on my arm. I knew who it was before she spoke; back then she wore a cheap fragrance several traces too sweet. I turned my face to hide my scar.
“You don’t have to be shy with me,” she said, bringing my chin forward with her hand. “You’re quite striking.”
I drew her hand away from my chin because I wanted to touch her fingers, which were thin and long, with fingernails bitten too short. Her palm was soft.
“Do you know me?” she said. “Isa,” I said. She brushed full into me, enlivening my chest with her breasts before stepping back. “You’re cute when you blush. Do you know what I look like?”
I savored the lilt in her voice and her friendly laugh, but I figured she was playing to an audience, so I waited for the chuckles of others. There were none. No sounds of people at all. But still I couldn’t let myself relax. “Is that important,” I said, “how you look?”
“You’re right,” she said. “It’s more important how we feel.” She lifted my hand to her face and dragged my fingers through her hair. She let me feel her long neck and the way her throat jiggled as she laughed. She traced my hand along her shoulders, arms and thighs. Her skirt clung to my fingers as if the material were on my hand instead of her hips. My fingertips tingled and my breathing quickened. She had on a halter top that gave her an open back and held her breasts like pendulums; I knew because she traced my fingers along her stomach and up under the fullness so pliable and resistant through the thin cotton—all of which made me grin like a goof.
Sometimes I hear people’s steps, sometimes not, depending on the room, the footwear, and my focus. Ray was easy to decipher, with his quick, fidgeting steps. Devon usually dragged his feet, shuffling in long strides, as if the bother exceeded the effort—unless he was wearing flip-flops, and then he slapped the floor, which gave the same long strides a sense of urgency. Patrick’s pace I couldn’t predict: brisk and controlled one moment, silent and cunning the next. When Isa was wearing her wedge sandals or boots, she walked with soft thuds I liked to hear. But when she was barefoot, she could slip up on me, like Patrick could, but with different effect.
An officer of the law:
“We’re from Burbank, California,” Isa began, “and we’re off to visit Daddy in Florida, who’s about to die any day, sir. Any day. But we’re praying to the good Lord, sir, that we’ll see him before he dies. It’s been a long trip and we had an accident and the air conditioning doesn’t work and we haven’t even got a radio, so sometimes these boys, all of them, sir, get a bit cramped in this old car and they say things they don’t mean and then one thing leads to another and I appreciate you being here, sir. The Lord Jesus Christ sent you. Just in time, yes he did. And we’ll be on our way to Pensacola. We already ate, right over there at Wong’s Buffet. All we needed was this duct tape for the window and now we have that too.” She took a deep breath, as if she ran out of air and words at the same time.
“Did they hit you?” the officer said calmly, his voice the same as before, low and resonant but not partial to her.
“Oh, no, sir,” she blurted. “They’ve never done that, sir. They wouldn’t ever—”
“You,” the officer interrupted. I could hear the tools on his belt shift and his steps turn. “Can you see?”
The two-way radio squawked in his patrol car. Then I realized he was talking to me. “I can’t, sir,” I said. “Not a thing.”
“Then why don’t you tell me what’s going on? What the hell am I seeing here?”