Metaphysics by Wayne Lewis
“What is metaphysics, anyway?” Reena asked.
She leaned across me as she sat down, teasing my cheek with her breath. I stayed silent and kept my eyes to my paper, aware of how close her lips had been to my cheek. A young, mocking smile dancing in the corner of my eye said she knew too. Below us, my daughter settled herself into the bleachers with hot dog and Coke and conversation. The other girls, all in red and white, straggled our way. Farther down, the last of the two teams exited the floor.
There were no answers in my head so I just smiled. Reena shoved in even closer to me, made big eyes, stuck her tongue out, went “gyibelibelibela! . . . ”
And washed my face again with her bubblegum breath.
Then, still smiling, she puffed her hair with both hands, dropped those hands to the bleacher and levered her butt into the air. She rocked on her wrists looking over at me, her face a wild whisper – a bold smile with chewing gum – the short, pleated pom skirt nuzzling the tops of her thighs.
“It’s so interesting?” she said. “Metaphysics?”
“I don’t even know what metaphysics is,” I said, voice low as if talking to myself. “It’s a class I’m taking. Continuing Ed,” I said. Sitting in a high school gym at halftime, surrounded by young girls in red uniforms.
“Schoolboy, huh?” She trapped her gum between her front teeth, held it there and rocked some more. I glanced up and then down and then up again. She wrinkled her nose, let the gum fall back into her mouth, laughed with her eyes. “Do I bother you?”
“Ho! You can’t even look at me.”
I felt my cheeks glow and I stared hard into her eyes – and saw myself staring hard right back.
“No,” I said, “you’re right. I can’t.” I know your parents, I thought.
Her dark hair played about her shoulders and neck, and her eyes glowed with the pleasure of her own mystery. She looked suddenly like my wife, like Carol, when we were young, before we were married – like something magnetic and knowing and daring. But she isn’t Carol, I said to myself, and I’m not young, and I have no place here.
Yet I found myself saying, “But it’s you I always look at, isn’t it?” And the gym changed; all the noises muted. And the red of her uniform bled into the sea of red around us. And they looked like they might all be sisters. “Out of all the others,” I whispered, feeling myself staring at myself, “I always look . . . ”
“Don’t look!” she hissed, throwing herself against my shoulder. I snapped my eyes front. Oh my God, what . . .
She giggled and I felt foolish.
“See? I’m the one you always don’t look at . . . ”
“Yes,” I said, looking into my lap. But then I raised my head, and my voice like some lost, disembodied soul, cooed on.
“Because you’re the prettiest. Aren’t you?”
A father to his daughter it might be.
A monumental column of vibrating air, ever-expanding. I felt myself falling through space as she prissed and giggled beside me. Half-time gym noises fading. Stale sweat and popcorn odor rising. Fifteen. Old fool. Stupid old grinning fool. But a thrill shot through me. She looked thoughtful now, gum held provocatively still in the teasing, open mouth. Does she know what she’s doing? I felt us soar above, separate from the crowd.
“You’re the prettiest,” I said again. My daughter turned her head. She heard. As if Reena sat in my lap, ruffling my hair, I felt fat and old and silly. I smiled. El looked quizzical.
“What are you two talking about?”
“Me,” Reena said, like it was boo to a ghost.
El’s eyes became goose eggs, which she rolled toward me.
“Wha . . . ?”
Reena giggled and caught El under the shoulder with the tip of her white dance shoe. “Silly! What, do you think your dad’s trying to pick me up?”
“No. Of course not,” El replied, and the eggs became eyes again, though she blushed, trying not to feel stupid at the blunt question. My own sheepish smile hung rigid between crimson cheeks. Everywhere red. Fifteen. Sixteen. No older than seventeen. White G’s on red uniform fronts. Legs shaved smooth, poking out long from short skirts. White dance shoes bouncing on stained pine, toes clapping together. Parents returning to their seats, Cokes and hot dogs in their hands, weaving their unconscious way between conspiratorial knots of teenagers. The teams back on court and balls bouncing. Carol home right now, double chin and hair starting to gray, helping Benjamin with homework. Me, floating in a gym, with all my secrets exposed, looking down into the eyes of the parents, the players, the pretty, young girls all in red . . . floating, helpless, away . . .
“Yes you did!” Reena laughed and punched her foot at El’s shoulder again. Then she leaned over me, her hair swinging into my mouth, sticking briefly on my tongue, and grabbed my papers from my lap. I started, everything in me risen instantly.
“What is metaphysics anyway?” She clutched the papers in both hands, studying. “I don’t even understand the first sentence . . . ” Her knee pressed into my leg. Her thigh warmed mine. Her smell filled my head. The taste of her hair stayed on my tongue. Ellen watched, the whites of her eyes lonely as a spotlight in the dark.
A rabbit caught in the headlights. A rabbit caught in the headlights.
The horn blared. Halftime ended.
Reena turned away from me, the dark hair dancing, slapping my cheek again, and I opened my mouth, like a fish out of water.
“Gotta go.” She tossed my papers back at me, heedless of their scattered flight. A flair of pleated skirt and a flash of red panty, she skittered to the gym floor. I sat on my hands, grinning in the loneliness of my daughter’s eyes.
“Aren’t you going?” I asked. She just stared.
“Yes,” she said, looking past me as if I were invisible. She looked like Carol to me, gray hairs and all. Well what do you expect, I thought, I’m not dead yet. I didn’t say anything. A foolish picture of Reena’s gum trapped in her teeth came to me as I just sat there, looking at this strange, staring, young woman who looked like my daughter, who looked like my wife, who looked like . . .
Her short, red skirt flirting with the backs of her thighs, she skittered prettily down the bleachers.I know your parents, I thought.