Bed of Leaves

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Bed of Leaves

Later, she will remember the leaves. The way they scratch and crumble against her back.
The way her panties are smudged with dirt and she will have to ball them up and stuff
them into her knapsack where her mother won’t find them. Years later, as a woman, there
will be a moment at the end of each summer when the scent of fresh-mowed grass will fill

her lungs through an open car window, and she will close her eyes and her tongue will go
soft, her inner thighs moist like the pale insides of a half-baked cake.


Eddie Fish is unbuttoning her shirt. There have been boys before this moment,
boys who have stuck their fingers between her blouse and jeans, tugging the fabric loose,
pushing their hands up around her bra and cupping her breasts. There have been boys —
two, to be exact —
who have unzipped her pants in the school basement, pushing their
hardness against her cotton panties, eyes squeezed shut. But Eddie Fish is not a boy.
Eddie is a man — twenty-eight years old — and Jennie knows these woods are about to
become a part of her history. She is writing the story of her life, the story of her body on
these damp suburban grounds with the man she has chosen precisely because he is a man.
The blond hairs on his wrists glisten as he reaches around her and unhooks her
bra. She is impressed by his skill at bra-unhooking, the ease with which he pulls the
straps off her arms and hangs it on a nearby branch, a white cotton 32B flag of surrender.
She is impressed by his warm dry palms which brush against her nipples, and by his
eyes, dark blue in the noon of this clear Indian Summer day, staring straight at her.
“Lisa Wallach,” he says, murmuring the name of his last girlfriend as he stares at
Jennie’s breasts.


She looks at him, flushed.


“Sorry,” he laughs, “I can’t explain it. Your hair, your tits — you look just like her
now — ”


She doesn’t know enough to be horrified. To slap Eddie Fish across his pale
stubbled cheek, grab her bra off the branch and streak through the woods, away from him.
Instead, she is flattered by the comparison to Lisa Wallach, who is a woman, after all — at
least twenty-six — and who is very beautiful in that frosted blonde urban way. Lisa is a

lawyer. She has an apartment in the city, and wears leather boots with stacked heels, long
velvet skirts almost brushing the floor.


“What am I doing here with you?” he murmurs as he undoes the top button of
her tennis shorts, bends down and unlaces each sneaker, pulls off her Fred Perry socks
with their small green wreaths. He unzips her shorts and shimmies them down around her
ankles, along with her panties. Parts of her have never felt the breeze before. Her ass, her
crotch, each nipple seems to braid together into a rope twisting deep into her stomach,
twining around itself, a noose which will remain forever inside her.


“Jailbait,” he says, kissing her belly-button.

Years from now, Eddie Fish will be a gynecologist in Scarsdale. He will drive a Volvo,
own an espresso maker, be the father of two daughters of his own — two daughters he
would kill if he ever found them in the woods with a man resembling his younger self.
But today, as he lights a joint and places it in Jennie’s mouth, he is not focused
on his future, the bright golden-boy future which unfurls before him like an heirloom rug.
He has no doubts, no fears. His medical school degree is at the framers, his internship in
the city will begin in just a few weeks, and Lisa Wallach is finally a thing of the past. And
here is Jennie, the beautiful neighborhood kid with the crush on him, Jennie, twelve years
younger than he — sixteen, for chrissake — three years ago he had attended her Bat
His eyes travel over her shoulders, down her breasts, lower to the blond
depths of her. A virgin? He doubted it. She had written him letters all through medical
school, letters so steamy he and Lisa had read them to each other late at night.
He stubs out the joint on a tree trunk, next to a carved heart with no names, no
initials inside it.


Gently, he lays her down on a bed of leaves, her head resting against the root of a
tree. She crosses her legs, her arms, trying to cover herself. She has no idea how sexy she
is. He quickly pulls his polo shirt over his head, undoes his own shorts and steps out of

them. Then, in his sneakers and tight white briefs, he lowers himself on top of her, careful
to prop himself on his elbows.


Later, after it is all over, a friend will ask him why, after all, he did it.


“She was so beautiful,” Eddie will say. “So fucking beautiful.”

Eddie’s head is between her legs. His mouth is moist, chin dripping, and he looks up at her
as he twirls his tongue around and around. With his fingers, he spreads her apart.
“Are you using anything?” he asks.

“Yes,” she says. She wants him to think she’s a woman of the world. A woman
whose motto, like a boy scout’s, is “be prepared.” Her heart pounds as he slides a finger
into her. Can he tell that she’s lying?


He kisses her on the lips and she tastes herself. She is anticipating something
awful, vomitous, some reason why her mother lines up bottles of sweet-smelling potions
on the bathroom sill. She is surprised. The taste is not unpleasant: oceanic, vaguely like
seaweed. Something dredged from the depths.


She wonders what he tastes like, if she will ever know.


Eddie wriggles out of his underwear and moves up her body so that his
thing, this thing that she has been waiting for, is swinging above her mouth like a
heavy, hypnotic pendulum. The last one she saw was Steven McCarthy’s, back in third
grade, when she accidentally-on-purpose opened the bathroom door while he was
standing over the toilet.


Tentatively, she opens her mouth, darts out her tongue, runs her lips over the

shaft. She is expecting something rough, something that feels like stubble. She is surprised
by his smoothness, and she dips her head down and covers him. He moans a high-pitched
sound she has never heard before, blending into the chirps and
rustles all around them. Suddenly, Eddie pushes himself farther into her mouth with a
small grunt and she tastes something faintly metallic at the back of her throat.


“Whew,” he says, pulling away from her. “You sweet thing. Where’d you learn


She feels heat rise from her breasts to her cheeks. Without even looking, she
knows that a blotchy, red rash has spread across her chest and neck, a map to her inner
world. She always turns blotchy when she feels anything complicated. She fights back the
urge to gag at the drop of thick slippery fluid trickling down her throat.


“I almost came,” he said with a grin. “Naughty girl.”


He slides down her body, his stomach pressed against her own, and thrusts into
her. Jennie braces herself and grits her teeth, waiting for the pain. Will there be blood
between her legs? Will he find out she’s a virgin and recoil? Jennie knows this: Eddie Fish
does not want her to be a virgin. For the rest of her life, boyfriends and husbands will ask
about her first time, and the name Eddie Fish — that unfortunate moniker — will forever be
whispered in a progression of beds.


Who was your first?


Eddie Fish.


And how was it, my darling?


It was — it was what it was.


He has pushed all the way inside her and she feels nothing. No pain, no magic.
Her insides have widened to accommodate him as if a door has always been open, as if a
room inside her has been drafty, just waiting to be entered.


Her breath seems loud to her ears, and her heart pounds erratically as Eddie
moves to the rhythm of music only he can hear. She tries to time her heart, her breath, to
his. Ba-da-dum, ba-da-dum. A tribal forest beat. The hairs on his thighs tickle her
and she fights an urge to break into hysterical giggles. Her stomach is hot beneath him, an
interior soup. She twists her head to the left and sees Eddie’s hand flat against the dirt, his
wrist encircled by a thin strand of leather that she remembers Lisa Wallach brought him

from Brazil. The leather strand had magical powers, Lisa told him, and he would have
very bad luck if he unknotted it himself. Jennie wonders if Eddie Fish will wear that
strand of leather until it disintegrates.


Eddie speeds up. A vein in his throat pops out and he is looking down, down to
the place where their bodies are joined. With a gasp and a grunt, he collapses on top of
her. Jennie can feel his heart through her chest. Eddie Fish’s heart! She will remember this
moment, she promises herself: the faded blue summer sky, the worm inching along the
edge of a pale yellow leaf, the soft smell of dirt. She will color it with a patina of great
beauty. She thinks about Eddie’s question — are you using anything? — and her fingers
grow icy. She wonders if it can happen the first time, if the grassy mess oozing between
their legs can grow into something more complicated — a punishment, a life sentence. She
closes her eyes and prays: just this once, never again, please not now.


“What?” asks Eddie, looking down at her.




“Your lips were moving.”


“Oh, it’s nothing.”


“You’re not getting weird on me, Jen, are you?”


She doesn’t answer. Getting weird. Eddie’s words echo and bounce
through her skull. She twists her neck once again, her cheek resting on the cool earth, and
stares at the empty heart carved into the base of the tree. She imagines her own initials
there and then, like a stack of cards flipping through the wind, a hallucination, she sees the
initials of every man who will ever become her lover. There are so many — perhaps

dozens! More than she can possibly imagine. She is filled with the knowledge of what she
does not know.


Eddie kisses her throat, his lips dry and papery, then jumps up and rummages
for his briefs beneath a pile of fallen leaves. He looks down at Jennie and she squints at
him, blinded by the sunlight behind his shoulder. From where she lies, he seems like a


“I — I didn’t use anything, Eddie,” she falters.


He stumbles on one leg, awkward as he pulls on his underpants.


“What did you say?” he asks, stopping.


“I’m sorry — I didn’t use anything,” she says, this time with greater conviction.


“Jesus, Jennie!” He punches the air. “How could you — ”


“I didn’t know.”


“But I thought you were — ”


Tears stream down her face. The light, the woods are refracted, kaleidoscopic.


Eddie Fish’s face becomes a blur.


“You bitch!” she hears, as if from a great distance. He is walking away from her,
heels crunching against the leaves. “If anything happens, it’s not my problem, do you hear


Slowly, she gathers her things. She pulls her bra from the branch, stuffs her
panties into her knapsack, buttons her blouse and yanks on her shorts. She sits back
down against the tree and searches the ground for a sharp twig. When she finds it, she
begins scratching her initials into the empty heart, digging deep into the bark. She works
carefully, with the precision of an artist. She fills the whole perimeter, so there will be no
room for anyone else.

Dani Shapiro and