I sat in the steaming water, hinting of sulfer, and watched the ghostly sunlight become more and more transparent on the high south ridge, the ridge more distant and more distant, more surreal.
The full moon rose. Crunching feet on the path. Now the sun was gone, the snow was all white with moonlight, and the ridge was closer again. The moon owned everthing.
I didn't look up as the newcomers undressed, or when they came into the pool. White round breasts in the moonlight, silvery with water. The pale gleam of round buttocks wavering in the moonlit water as one of them leaned over the frost-furred rocks at the lip of the pool, looking down at the river. The Breitenbush rushed below us, down a snowfield littered with rocks. Plumes of steam rose from other springs.
This was the silent pool, so nobody had to speak. The distance roared in my ears like the river. My gaze will always be wrong. I will always be outside. I will always be male.
Too long in the hot water. I hauled myself onto the frosty rocks. Steam rolled off my body in clouds. I stared into the water. Lifted my gaze to look at the moon. Only an overpowering sense of the sacred could have raised me above this ancient maleness, this outsideness, this displacement. And there was nothing here but a sign in curly letters announcing that this was a "sacred area."
Wrong from the start. Sacred wells, sacred pools, I could believe in, sure. Sacred areas? No. Not in a million years, not with a changed tongue and a new alphabet. There will never be a sacred area.
I watched Martha get out of the pool, all silver, and stand in the air, steaming, like me. Our bodies were running in dischordant rhythms. I knew that we would connect as friends and confidantes tonight, and tomorrow. But not as lovers.
It was a beautiful night, and a beautiful place. I know that. Maybe I can even convey that, the rush of the water, the moon above the hemlocks, the darkness, the deep ragged weave of the forest. But I was wholly unbeautiful.
In the morning, before breakfast, I came down early, and sat alone in the silent pool. The colors of the sunrise were brilliant, where the moon had been last night. Two ravens flew over, and just before they were out of earshot one gave a hoarse grumbling croak.
By the time the breakfast bell rang, all the color was gone from the sky. I dried myself off and went to wake Martha. We came back to the pools after breakfast, but the silent pool was closed for cleaning, and we were chattered at by a man of striking features and striking banality of thought. And I looked at beautiful naked women and wonder why I ever believed in them.
One woman, all tattoos and pierced nipples, about my age. She and the chatterbox got on, finding opinion after opinion to share. I liked her face, though. I liked the dark nipples of the -- Indonesian? Filapina? -- woman. I liked the chatterbox's pale arms. I liked the cold water in our plastic bottle, which stayed cold, even though it sat a foot away from the hot water.
But it was all very distant to me, unreal, like the ridge fading with the sunlight, and I wonder what moon could ever make it all become real again. Or real for the first time?
I'm too tired to think. I have mistaken so many things. I still have so much unlearning to do.
That night, I told my classmates that I was going to bomb the massage quiz. I couldn't follow the sequences, couldn't remember the instructions. Andrea took me as a partner, and gave me the best massage she's ever given me. To ace the quiz? Or to soothe and comfort me?
By the end of my turn, working on Andrea, I was drenched with sweat. I got thirty out of thirty points. Did I deserve it? I don't know.
This morning, a job interview. They liked me, apparently; they invited me to a third interview on Friday, to meet the whole group. Still nothing quite connects, nothing quite makes sense. But I will write it all down here, moved by the same impulse that moved me to tell my classmates I was going to bomb the test. All you can say is the closest thing to the truth that you can reach at the time. Not very true. But better than nothing.