[ This is the first in a trilogy of stories. They are not bound by character or place or time, but by how searching for self in this world leads to corruption by this world. We live in a place where everything good is being corrupted by its evil twin. For everything good God has given us, Satan has corrupted in the hearts of men. Beauty becomes lust, truth becomes subjective, death becomes the end of the story instead of the beginning. And when we look in the mirror we do not see what God sees when He looks into our wounded hearts. ]
The arch of her body was like the crescent moon as she dived naked into the bay. The water was dark and cold and she was alone. She broke back through the surface for a breath, and the pale light of the moon played off the ripples of her wake and glistened across her face. She tried to forget her body most of the time but as she swam back to the dock where her clothes lay in a bundle, she remembered it. She felt the muscles of her thighs, taut against the resistance of the water. She felt her breasts push up towards the surface. She felt the water stream down her face and sting her eyes. Her tongue played over her lips to taste the salt. It was one of those times when she liked her body, when she couldnâ€™t see it but she could feel it.
She swung up onto the three-step ladder hanging from the dock into the water. She pulled herself out of the blackness of the bay and stood in the darkened shadows of the night. Rivulets of salt water ran down her back and made a stain on the wooden two-by-fours of the dock. Her t-shirt stuck in patches to her shoulders and stomach as she wrestled with it. She wriggled into her shorts next and they were wet clear through by the time she got them up her legs and buttoned. The bra and panties went straight into her pocket, and she crept off the dock and into the yard with her shoes in her hand.
She made it through the back yard, past the house and onto the street before she flopped her shoes down on the sidewalk and slid her feet into them one at a time. The streetlights lit her walk as she moved under the palms toward the marina. Her little yellow convertible Volkswagen was parked on the street with the top down. She leaned into the car and exchanged the bra and panties in her pocket for the pieced-leather handbag in the front seat. Across the street, facing the Gulf was the Hurricane â€“ the bar where she worked as a waitress. Walking alongside the bar to the front she hesitated and swayed to the music floating down from the band playing on the rooftop. It was a friendly reggae beat, telling her body how to move until she caught her reflection in the windows of the bar.
Her hair was loose around her shoulders and the salty breeze off the Gulf had dried her clothes, except around the nipples of her breasts and between her legs. It looked like she was wearing a stripperâ€™s g-string and falsies under her clothes, and she smiled a self-conscious smile as she tied her hair in a ponytail before she stepped inside.
â€œI thought you got off a long time ago, Helen,â€ Tim said from behind the bar. â€œWhereâ€™d you go, out swimming in the Gulf?â€
â€œNope,â€ Helen answered, sliding onto a barstool, â€œskinny dipping in the bay. I sneak through the yard of that first big house that backs up to the bay and I swim off the dock in their back yard.â€
â€œSkinny dipping, aye?â€ Tim said with heightened interest as he pulled her a beer from the tap.
â€œYeah, itâ€™s so peaceful out there, and dark,â€ Helen mused. â€œQuiet, you know. I can do what I want to out there alone.â€
â€œAll alone?â€ Tim echoed with a suggestion in his voice as he brought Helen her beer.
Helen smiled mischievously, but didnâ€™t answer. She was used to such veiled advances and knew how to deflect them harmlessly.
â€œMannyâ€™s still here,â€ she replied instead. Manny was a regular at the bar, with a W.C. Fields nose and pouty Cupidâ€™s lips. He was no more than five foot three or four, probably close to thirty years old, and his hair sat on his head like a skullcap. The staff at the bar compared him to Barney Rubble from the old Flintstones cartoon. Still, he was the barâ€™s resident flirt and grabbed the waitresses around the waist whenever he got the chance and told them how beautiful they were.
â€œYeah, Mannyâ€™s still here,â€ Tim answered reluctantly, not wanting to give up his image of being alone with Helen. â€œHeâ€™s the only one left whoâ€™s not up on the roof listening to the band. He just sits there drinking beer and looking at himself in the mirror.â€
â€œWhat do you mean, looking at himself in the mirror?â€ Helen asked with a laugh.
â€œThere, look,â€ Tim said, and Helen swung around to spy on Manny in his booth across from the far end of the bar. Sure enough, Manny was looking at the mirror behind the bar and fixing his hair. Then he glanced sidelong into the mirror to catch a glimpse of his profile.
Helen laughed out loud and Manny turned quickly towards her, but she had already turned back to Tim with a twist of her hips. â€œHe really is looking at himself,â€ she leaned over the bar to whisper. â€œHow funny!â€
â€œHeâ€™s always looking at himself like that,â€ Tim whispered back. â€œCan you believe it?â€
â€œAnd you donâ€™t?â€ Helen said suddenly out loud, pushing back from the bar and slouching in her chair with her arms folded across her chest.
â€œNo,â€ Tim answered defensively.
â€œUh huh,â€ Helen mouthed, her sarcasm apparent.
â€œWell, not all the time like Manny,â€ Tim hedged.
Helen laughed out loud again and reached for her beer. She drank it down with expertise and slid it back to Tim for a refill.
â€œSo you donâ€™t ever look at yourself, is that it?â€ Tim said, annoyed with the smug look on Helenâ€™s face.
â€œI avoid looking at myself in the mirror,â€ she answered Tim directly. â€œIâ€™m not very satisfied with what I see.â€
â€œYou must be the only one that doesnâ€™t like what they see,â€ Manny said from over her shoulder. He had come from his booth with an empty beer mug in his hand. He pressed against Helenâ€™s back as he leaned to put the mug on the bar. â€œGet me another one,â€ he told Tim and Tim took the glass and went to the tap. Manny drew his hand back from the bar and brushed it lightly through Helenâ€™s hair. â€œYouâ€™re wet, honey,â€ he said as he sat in the stool next to hers. â€œYou been swimming?â€
â€œNo, Manny,â€ Helen teased breathlessly, â€œyou make me wet.â€
â€œShe was skinny dipping in the bay,â€ Tim interrupted before Manny could answer.
â€œItâ€™s the intercoastal,â€ Manny told Tim, but his eyes were on Helen. A Cupid-lips leer spread over his face as he brought a full beer to his mouth for a taste. â€œGirls who donâ€™t like to look at themselves shouldnâ€™t be skinny dipping in the intercoastal,â€ he said.
â€œI canâ€™t see myself in the dark,â€ Helen answered without hesitation. â€œWhat do you see when you look in the mirror, Manny?â€
â€œI see myself making love to beautiful women,â€ Manny leered even wider. â€œWhat do you see?â€
â€œWhen I look at myself?â€ Helen clarified and Manny nodded. â€œI see all the things that are wrong with me,â€ she said.
Manny nodded again and turned to Tim. â€œWhat do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror?â€ he asked.
â€œI just see me I guess,â€ Tim shrugged, â€œgood and bad.â€
â€œAnd what do you see when you look at Helen?â€ Manny pursued.
Tim looked at Helen and then furtively away. â€œWell look at her, man,â€ he said to Manny. â€œSheâ€™s gorgeous.â€
â€œShe has full breasts,â€ Manny embellished, â€œand soft hips and long legs and riveting eyes.â€ Manny looked squarely at Tim and Tim nodded his agreement without once looking at Helen.
Manny turned quickly then to Helen and captured her gaze. â€œI wonder why she doesnâ€™t see that?â€ he asked Tim.
It was suddenly quiet in the bar. The rhythms of the reggae band that had pervaded their conversation at the bar were gone. The dull sound of claps wafted down the stairwell from the roof in an untrue echo of the bass beat that had thumped through the foundations when the band was playing. Tim stammered something about, â€œMaybe she does see that,â€ but Manny kept his eyes on Helen.
â€œBecause what I look like is not all I see,â€ she said softly.
Manny grinned widely and watched Helen drink down another beer and slide the empty to Tim for another refill.
Tim took the mug and said to Manny from the tap, â€œIt must not be all you see either, Manny, if you see yourself making love to beautiful women.â€
â€œMaybe not,â€ Manny agreed.
Sound swelled up again as the crowd made its way down from the roof. People came through the bar in ones and twos at first and then in larger groups. Helen and Manny sat at the bar and watched them all pass by. Some of the people stayed and ordered drinks from Tim, but most of them went out into the night and the ocean breeze. Helen quietly finished her beer and followed the stragglers outside. Manny stayed to watch the ones who sat at the booths or on the stools at the bar.
The wind blew in strong from the Gulf. Helen untied her ponytail and got into the Volkswagen. She wanted the wind to pull her hair back as she drove up the Gulf Boulevard. She wanted to smell the salt and sea in the pregnant breeze. She wanted to revel in the giddiness of the beers. It was like diving into the black water and forgetting what defined her reflection when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror.
Â© 2011 Wasted Space Publishing