A family of breasts. Bras on chair backs, towel rods, floor. Defeated. Lace. Flowers. Cotton. Snaps and straps. A history of fingers doing and undoing. Pale, slender and sure fingers. Bored fingers. Fumbling, thick and hot fingers. Long fingers. Faintly scented of Old Spice fingers. Fingers slick with the oily scent of released peepers that chirp in the pond at the foot of the driveway those dark nights of early spring, car windows rolled down slightly to relieve the steam. Yawning Sunday morning in with stretch of limbs and breasts, a house of daughters. All of them wild and uncertain as black butterflies.
He sits at the kitchen table and drinks coffee flavored with chicory. Who can sleep in a house of girls? Their dreams find him in bed or couch, recliner. Wherever his head rests in sleep, the dreams find him, with their scent of orchids, crushed in back seats of leather coat dates, breath of cinnamon and cigarettes and Schnapp’s. He rubs his temple. Well, this is what his own mother foretold when he brought home Elspeth in her lace and painted boots, feather earrings and wild hair a flame of red that lit her face. “She’s a witch,” his mother said. “Only trouble will come of her.”
He married her beneath a full moon in a garden planted with Night Blooming Jasmine and chocolate mint, so sweet he was dizzy throughout the ceremony and can only remember parts of it; the scent, the weight of moon, the honey he licked from her fingertips, the sound of laughter, the blink of fireflies, the yellow in her eyes.
Seven daughters and his mother was right. He had everything to lose and the losing had already begun.
Soon the kitchen will be full of them. Their hair a tangle of curls and smoke, barefoot with pink painted toenails, or in white socks scrunched around ankles, in cotton pants and skinny strapped T shirts, in pale yellow robe, in shorts, long shirts, long legs, long arms, yawning and stretching, fighting over coffee mugs, laughing wildly at whispered words, kissing him on cheek, chin, or forehead, rubbing his hair with a quick swipe of hand, leaning into him with many shapes of breasts. Their night scent. “You should get some sleep,” they’ll say with milk breath, peach breath, dark and hot breath. “You look wiped out.”
He tries to sleep in the crook of his hand. The chicory cools in the mug. And he does sleep. For a few minutes. His daughters’ dreams, used and discarded, find him. The pull of zipper. The scent of leather. Heat. Wet. He wakes with a start. Through the kitchen window he sees the dreams float over the quiet yard of pecking robins, shoots of daffodils, tulip stems unflowered. He picks up his mug. Turns.
Elspeth. The flame of her hair, gone. She stares at him with yellow eyes. He walks past her to dump the coffee down the drain, brushing her shoulder when he does. She smells like old wood, the autumn forest behind the house. But this is spring! The coffee leaves a brown circle on the porcelain. He turns to fill his mug with fresh. She moves to the stove. Lifts the teakettle to check its weight for water. Sets it on the burner. Turns the switch to high. Opens the cupboard for a jar of tea, dried from garden herbs. She looks at jars of cat’s claw, dandelion, rosehips, burdock root, chamomile, peppermint. She stares and stares until the teakettle whistles. She takes it off the burner. Reaches up. Opens another cupboard. Takes out a bottle of red wine.
“What are you doing?” he says.
She finds the corkscrew shaped like a man with a tremendous and strange cock. She pierces the cork. Screws it. Ha!
“You shouldn’t,” he says.
She brushes past him to reach for a wineglass.
She smells of dirt and sun, heat of a large animal. She pours red wine. The kitchen smells of chicory, the sweet wine, and her. He will go mad. He will go crazy holding all of it in. Soon the girls will wake and fill the kitchen with their young breasts and sleeping voices and laughter and he is drowning, a dry drowning, unexpected so far from water.
“You are still having their dreams,” she says. It is not a question. She gulps the wine, staring at him.
He sits at the kitchen table again. Defeated. “I can’t stop them.”
The ceiling creaks with the weight of footsteps. A door opens and shuts. They are waking up. They will fill the kitchen with their own brand of innocence, the scent of exploration on fingertips and skin, so soft, bra straps and T shirts always seem to be sliding off.
“You wouldn’t believe the things they’re dreaming,” he says.
She grunts. Takes another gulp. “You’ve got that wrong.”
The ceiling creaks and pounds. Those little feet sound like sons up there! Doors open and close. A radio is turned on.
He covers his face with his hands and sobs.
She sets the glass on the counter and walks over to him. He wraps his arm around her hips, buries his face into the smoked fish scent of her. Reaches up.”They’re coming,” she says.
He parts her robe and reaches to touch the breast with blue lines webbing to aureole. His hand moves across to the flattened space, the bone they left her with, the smooth planed skin as if she is both, girl and woman.
Footsteps pound down the stairs. She steps back. Shuts her robe.
They are everywhere. The kitchen fills with them. Wisps of discarded dreams cling to them like smoke. They do not notice the wineglass or the way their parents look at them, as if they are ghosts they’ve learned to live with. They make toast. Leave crumbs on the counter. Put feet up on chairs. Insult each other.
Then, for a moment, as if the whole family is enchanted, the kitchen quiets. There is only the sound of juice glass set on table, clank of butter knife. A sigh. They stare out the window at the spring grass, thatched with unblossomed flowers, and try to remember the dreams, the perfect dreams they had.