by Liz McGehee
Her cousin took his vows in the Texas woods, fenced by burnt leaves and wet faces, a rustic reception hall looming behind the guests. As family and others made their way toward the hall, Waide hung back, staring over the open field. Gnarled oaks marred the landscape like twisted sisters holding hands.
A fire’d torn through here a year ago, scorched tree—the only proof left of an angry god.
Odd place for a wedding, she thought.
Pieces of the guests still trickled in as she spotted her. A woman, young and jovial, laughing at something unheard, the angular face causing a spasm in Waide that burned and gushed like a summer river.
The reception was nothing special as far as weddings went: drunken flirting, a strange mix of modern dance and two-step, the hypnotic clacking of heels and cowboy boots—unspoken codes between partners.
Waide sat complacently around a table, content with sipping whisky amid cousins. She was thinking about her grandmother who’d fallen ill recently in a fatal sort of way. An unexpected mixture of pleasure and mourning fell over the reception with the absence of its matriarch—oak that’d spread her roots along the Gulf, half a century heavy and dry of all her pollen.
Was still thinking about this when she approached.
Waide could only hear the lurid pumping of blood in her ears, face burning like sunlight, as the woman’s lips parted to speak. She felt drunk.
“Will anyone get some air with me?” she said.
It wasn’t what she’d been expecting to hear, and for a moment Waide considered the possibility of having heard her wrong.
Her skied eyes locked on Waide like she’d won a prize, triggered a quiver somewhere deep. Waide wasn’t innocent, but this woman wholly unnerved her like the dark river back home—a river so powerful, you drowned if you fell in.
And like the river, this woman drew her through lushness. A veil of dew covered her skin and lips, the eyes bright like reflections of sun off water.
Outside, the world was dark and empty. The women walked across an abandoned Texas field toward the black forest of scorched oak, hands mended.
Over them, stars huddled there in the country, like a string of lights around a bedpost. Threatened slightly by livid clouds, they were silent and the forest was silent, waiting.
And under the sister trees, Waide laid herself in a thicket, two strong hands resting below her ears as she tore the buttons off her shirt, kissing each of her glorious breasts like heads of infants from her thorned back, gasping like the shallow lungs of fish falling on bark, each rib, a twig boning through skin.
Lifting the bottom of Waide’s dress, placing her face there, inhaling the sent of her river mixed with dirt, her mouth’s decent into that delta caused her to cry, flow—her body thundered like an atmosphere.
Wetness fell on them. The opening of the sky sudden and covering each body muddy.
Reaching one hand in the air, to cup a full moon breast, she buried her face and tongue inside her until she collapsed, pooling around Waide, nourishing the roots of the sister oaks.
Liz McGehee is an MFA candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her work has been featured in New Delta Review, Cloud Rodeo and The Volta, as well as receiving a Pushcart nom and a nom for Sundress Publications Best of the New Anthology.
IMAGE: Toni Frissell, Floating (US Library of Congress)