Jim Knable’s Sons of Dionysus, a lusty novel of myth, mirth, and music.
I could kill my roommate. As I lie awake, awoken, violently and loudly shaken from the sleep I desperately need to the shaking, squeaking, squealing sounds of her and him, I think: I could kill him. Not her. I’m not a murderer by nature. Just him. I don’t even know who she is. I don’t remember them climbing up to the top bunk. I was sound asleep when that happened. They got home, maybe she’s one of his regulars, maybe they just met at a party. I haven’t heard her voice yet, her speaking voice that is, so don’t know for sure. Heard her moaning voice, her fast breathing orgasm voice that sounded alongside his low familiar foghorn.
I lie in stubborn silence, listening to them huff and puff their ways down from Climax Mountain. Good for them. Good for him. Bad for me. Wonder if she even saw me lying here when she climbed up with him. He certainly did, he certainly knew I was here. And he knows I’m probably awake now. Wonder if he’ll mention me to this one. Last time, that was awkward. He pokes his head down and says: Hey Jeremy, sorry if we woke you up. And she says: What? There’s someone down there? And then she tries to get dressed above, the whole bunk bed shaking with her frantic donning of the matted mussed up clothes she wore not so long ago. Then she slinks down, trying to turn her face away, apologizing quietly, full of shame or maybe just afraid I’ll recognize her from somewhere. I do. I did. From English 129. She won’t know it’s me because she’s too embarrassed to look. I’ll know it’s her. I liked her. I had a crush on her. Not that he knew; he’s not cruel. But it did hurt to see her climb down. Especially after having heard her climb up.
He must be a good lover. They always climax. Or maybe they just pretend. I haven’t had a lot of experience. I haven’t had any experience. Maybe that’s why I hate him right now for this. I don’t really know what they’re doing up there. I mean, I know, I’ve seen it in porn and in that book my parents gave me when I hit puberty. But I don’t know what it actually feels like. He doesn’t know that I don’t know; or at least, I haven’t told him. He’s probably figured it out. The thing is, he’s a really nice guy. He’s the kind of guy that guys want to be like and women want to be with, or at least sleep with. Maybe I’m jealous. No maybe’s about it. I’m jealous. I wouldn’t kill him. Except wasn’t that the thought I just had?
They’re talking now. Low and quiet. I can hear them kiss, the wet little smacks in the night, like bugs dying on electric lights. Her voice sounds familiar, but not because I recognize it. Kind of low, sweet. She sounds very nice. I can make out a few words now. You’re amazing, she says. You are, he says, all I had to do was enjoy you.
Heard that one before.
I should go wash, she says. Are you going to spend the night? he asks. He likes it when they spend the night. They usually like to leave very early in the morning, especially if they know I’m there or discover it after the fact. Truth is, I think I like it when they spend the night, too. It’s weirdly comforting, all of us sleeping together in this bunkbed. The pendulum swings from adult to child, from children playing at being adults to adults letting themselves be children again. Something like that, I don’t know.
I see her foot swing over onto the ladder. I wonder if she kept her clothes on while they were doing it. There wasn’t the customary shaking of the bed to dress again this time. Her ankle. There’s a little tattoo of a butterfly on it. How cute. Her calf, her other foot, climbing down slowly and carefully in the relative dark. If she doesn’t know or think I’m here, I can hold still and she probably won’t see me; I’m under the shadow of the bed above, up against the wall, holding my breath. Her knees, her thighs. She steps down two more. She stops. Oh my God. The sacred secret thing itself. Her foot up on the step, the light from the window shining just right. I can’t believe I’m staring right at it; never been so close to a live naked one. Seen from a distance, seen in pornography, but there it is, in the full glistening flesh. She’s kissing him, that’s why she’s pausing there. She’s swaying on the ladder as she kisses him. I could just reach out and touch her.
She climbs all the way down now to stand on the floor and I see her naked breasts, her whole body, all of her pieces together at once. So beautifully, classically, mythically gorgeous. The only thing I can’t see is her face. I am aroused by the dark secret form of her, the nearness and close soft trueness of her. And then some sound escapes. Where from? From me? The sound of me, a breath or maybe even a little gasp. She pauses. She heard. She looks down, swings her head and face and hair right down while her breasts hang loose as she bends.
Hi, she says.
It’s too late to close my eyes and pretend I’m asleep. She doesn’t look mad, or embarrassed, or even shocked to see me. In fact, she looks like the kindest person I have ever seen, her hair is brown and hangs a little past her shoulders; she doesn’t try to hide her nakedness. I feel completely and suddenly at ease.
Hi, I say.
Above, I hear Arthur laugh.
Sorry about that, he says.
Sorry to her or sorry to me? I think I say.
Sorry to you both, he says.
I’m Melody, she says. I’m going to go wash and then I’ll come back and we can meet each other.
Okay, I say.
Ah, college, Arthur says from above.
Melody walks off and out of the room. I hear the door open to the communal bathroom in the hall. I hear the sound of water running.
You probably want to kill me, says Arthur.
I’m silent. I definitely don’t anymore.
I like her, he says, I think I could fall in love with her. She’s from out of town. Visiting a friend. She was at the party. She just walked up and started talking to me like we knew each other. She’s from California. You can tell. I mean, you saw her.
She grew up in a hippie colony. They hung out naked all the time, unless it was cold. So she’s pretty comfortable with her body.
Yeah, I say.
Jeremy, he says, have you ever had sex?
I’m very quiet, appropriately quiet. It’s unlike Arthur to ask something so rudely. We haven’t really talked about it, or if we have I’ve avoided it, told him about the couple girls I dated in high school and junior high, girls who I only kissed and barely managed to feel up, and that other experience I had before the break, but not really, not in the way that he means.
Nevermind, he says. But if you haven’t, Melody would probably have sex with you. That’s how cool and open she is.
I say nothing, what can I say?
Just kidding, he says, She’s all mine. At least, until she leaves campus.
I stare up at the wooden slats that keep his mattress from crashing down on mine.
You still there? he prods, invisible, most likely as naked as she was.
Yeah, I say.
And then, plucking up courage:
Arthur, can’t you ever go back to where they live?
Oh, he says. Sorry. All you had to do was ask.
Now he’s quiet. I feel like I’ve said the wrong thing. But it wasn’t the wrong thing, it was only a point of order.
It’s like I go into a different world, he says. When it happens. I’m with a girl and she wants to sleep with me, but I know she doesn’t want me to come to her room, so we just go back here. And then before I know it we’re in bed and I forget about everything.
Except for that one time, I remind him.
Yeah, that was different. I knew she was in your English class and I wanted to embarrass her. I didn’t really like her. She was kind of a bitch.
You had sex with her.
Yeah, but that was just to get over wanting to have sex with her, you know? Like I sort hated her and kept seeing her and she kept hitting on me in that bitchy kind of superior way, and I did want to have sex with her, even though I hated her, so I figured it was best to just get it over with… and then I knew she hadn’t seen you down there but I knew you were in her class and I kinda had the feeling that she would be pretty humiliated having someone see her do the climb of shame.
I say, emboldened: I liked her.
You did? But she’s so stuck up and full of herself.
She wasn’t like that to me.
Shit, says Arthur. I’m really sorry. Please forgive me.
I hear him move above and now he pokes his head and neck into view, upside down, the big brother I never had. Utterly serious. Sincere. Can’t help but admire him.
Of course, I say. I got over her, anyway.
That was a lie. But luckily she had dropped the class shortly after and we didn’t have other classes together.
You guys are so sweet.
Melody has been standing here for a while. Still naked. I see her now at the foot of our bed, just past the dresser. One of her breasts looks as if it’s peering around the side of one of the drawers, the nipple pink and pointy at the end.
Come back, Arthur says to her, moving out of my view again. I imagine him holding his arms wide open up there.
I’d rather stand here and listen to your post-coital chat, she says.
I think that she might be a little older than us.
How much did you hear? Arthur asks Melody.
I wouldn’t have sex with your roommate, she says, I’m liberal but I’m not slutty.
His name is Jeremy, says Arthur. I should have told you he was here.
Oh, I knew, she says. You college boys are all the same. In your bunkbeds. Sweet, though. Sancho and Don Quixote, right? Next time, Arthur, bring one home for him, too.
She looks at me so all I can see are her brilliant speckled eyes.
Someday you’ll both be older and wiser, and Jeremy, you will have gotten laid by then somehow or other. You’ll look back on this as a time of great liberation and maybe even call it the happiest time of your lives. Hope you’re still friends by then.
She moves and the light hits her now from the window, her whole body and face. She’s quite a bit older than us. Maybe even in her 30’s.
So you’re not staying the night, Arthur says.
I can’t, she says, I have to get back to my husband and kids. Be a sweetie and toss me my dress, would you?
The dress flies in slow motion from the top of the bed into her waiting hands, her arms raised to catch it, bringing her beautiful breasts up and full in the light, an image I’ll never forget, what Acteon must have felt when he saw Diana, the goddess bathed in the honey white glow of the stars. Then the whole dress slides back over her from top to bottom. No bra, no underwear. She slips into some unseen shoes or sandals and she’s covered up again where just a moment ago she was free and fiercely nude as the gods.
Boys, she says, now sheathed in respectable cloth. Boys, remember this night, remember me, remember the stars. Our bodies have passed beneath them only once together and will never meet again or under the same formation. So remember. Because the stars will forget you.
What about you? I hear myself ask in a voice that sounds like the future itself.
We boys both wait for her response.
I have already forgotten you, she says. Good night.
And then she’s gone.
And we are silent.
Wow, says Arthur.
Did you know about her husband?
Yeah, he says. Didn’t know about the kids. First time for that.
He sighs from up above.
Maybe we should move to a place where we have our own rooms next year, he says.
I voice my agreement.
Shortly after, he is sleeping, his breathing deep, almost but not quite a snore.
I lay awake. Remembering her. Even while we’re being forgotten.
Jim Knable is a Brooklyn-based writer of plays, songs, prose, and the occasional screenplay. His plays have been produced at MCC Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Soho Rep, NYC’s Summer Play Festival and other regional theaters, and have been published by Broadway Play Publishing, Dramatic Publishing, Samuel French, Smith & Kraus and Playscripts, Inc. He released his solo album Miles in 2000 and Redbeard (2006) and Golden Arrow (2009) with his band The Randy Bandits.