Her brassiere’s snaps are in the front. His own forehead snaps clear. He thinks to kneel. But he knows what she might think if he kneels. What cleared his forehead’s lines was a type of revelation. Her breasts have come free. He imagines his wife and son. Her breasts are unconfined now. The bed’s comforter has a tulle hem, like a ballerina’s little hem. This is the younger sister of his wife’s college roommate. Everyone else has gone to the mall, some to shop, some to see a movie at the mall’s multiplex. The sister with breasts by the bed has a level gaze and a slight smile, slight and smoky, media-taught. She sees his color heighten and forehead go smooth in a kind of revelation–why she’d begged off the mall, the meaning of certain comments, looks, distended moments over the weekend he’d thought were his vanity, imagination. We see these things a dozen times a day in entertainment but imagine we ourselves, our own imaginations, are mad. A different man might have said what he’d seen was: Her hand moved to her bra and freed her breasts. His legs might slightly tremble when she asks what he thinks. Her expression is from Page 18 of the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. She is, he thinks, the sort of woman who’d keep her heels on if he asked her to. Even if she’d never kept heels on before she’d give him a knowing, smoky smile, Page 18. In quick profile as she turns to close the door her breast is a half-globe at the bottom, a ski-jump curve above. Figure skaters have a tulle hem, as well. The languid half-turn and push at the door are tumid with some kind of significance; he realizes suddenly she’s replaying a scene from some movie she loves. In his imagination’s tableau his wife’s hand is on his small son’s shoulder in an almost fatherly way.
It’s not even that he decides to kneel–he simply finds he feels carpet and weight against his knees. His position might make her think he wants her underwear off. His face is at the height of her underwear as she walks toward him. He can feel the weave of his slacks’ fabric, the texture of carpet below that, over that, against his knees. Her expression is a combination of seductive and aroused, with an overlay of amusement meant to convey sophistication, the loss of all illusions long ago. It’s the sort of expression that looks devastating in a composed photograph but becomes awkward when it’s maintained over real time. When he clasps his hands in front of his chest it’s now clear he is kneeling to pray. There can now be no mistaking what he’s doing. His color is very high. Her breasts stop their slight tremble and slight sway when she stops. She’s now on the same side of the bed as he but not yet right up against him. His gaze at the room’s ceiling is supplicatory. Also, his lips are soundlessly moving. She stands confused. Her awareness of her own nudity becomes a different kind of awareness. She’s not sure how to stand or look while he’s gazing so intently upward. His eyes are not closed. Her sister and her husband and kids and the man’s wife and tiny son have taken the man’s Voyager minivan to the mall. She crosses her arms and looks briefly behind her: the door, her blouse and brassiere, the wife’s antique dresser stippled with sunlight through the window’s leaves. She could try, for just a moment, to imagine what is happening in his head. A bathroom scale just barely peeking out from below the foot of the bed, beneath the gauzy hem of the comforter. Even for an instant, to try putting herself in his place.
The question she asks makes his forehead pucker as he winces. She has crossed her arms. It’s a three-word question.
“It’s not what you think,” he says. His eyes never leave the middle distance between the ceiling and themselves. She’s aware of just how she’s standing, how silly it might look through a window. It’s not excitement that’s hardened her nipples. Her own forehead forms a puzzled line.
He says, “It’s not what you think I’m afraid of.”
And what if she joined him on the floor, just like this, clasped in supplication: just this way.