Eva – Adam Johnson
November 12, 2022
Eva. Three letters. Three chapters – coincidence, I promise. Eva. Capital E, small v, small a. Symbolic trinkets that, when ordered thus, create your name. Where are you now, little girl, but in the dreams of decades hence? Hence the moment you left me, waving from behind that shimmering rear windshield of a puttering paneled wagon, onward into the oblivion of my adult years? Are you dead or alive? Married, divorced, widowed, or did you never find love? Have you grandchildren or cancer? A pet cat or an inheritance? A bad heart or a cactus in your kitchen? What a stranger would you appear to this old man today!
Like the reader, I was twelve for a period of time in life – it lasted one full year. I am there now, dreaming at 60-something, my hand writes for me as the brain descends to the REM stage and places these pages at the whim of the unconscious. E. V. A. R. E. M. Anagram: AM EVER. “I am ever yours,” says she, “in dreams.” God bless the night. I was twelve for a period of time in life – it lasts to this day.
I hold up the backs of my hands before me. They are delicate and tender, milky and fair, not like the repellant extremities used by my waking body to shake hands and hold wine glasses at socials. The skin lays soft over the meek, child’s knuckles. My arms are lithe, the skin is pulled tight around my wrists, not marked with age spots and white bristles like the sagging dermis of my elder anatomy. I look up from the bathroom sink. A twelve-year-old Goddard looks back in the reflection: a variety of former me. The yellow bathroom walls are alive with piercing sunlight from the second story window. It is summer. I am placed in the home of my youth, a charming cape cod, a lovely street, the trees in full August bloom. A horn, deep and tumbling, the plain badge of a large diesel guzzler, sounds throughout the narrow honeycomb-tiled room. I stand at the window to watch the big box moving truck drop anchor at the empty house next door. Neighbors, finally. For it had been several months since in that house a soul had stirred. The engine quits. A large, swarthy man in stained shirtsleeves… Surge in babies addicted to drugs. Police make arrest in shooting death of man found in stream. Alzheimer’s caregivers often suffer in secret – disruptions in my dream from the morning’s paper. Read all about it!
A sudden rupture in my sleeping fantasies shook me from slumber. I awoke to the imperceptible intimacy of my bedroom, dazed by the sudden change. Heather breathed softly in the heap of blankets and sheets she unwittingly hogged. I was awake, alive, my ears and eyes on high alert for a sound or sight that never begged entrance to the still void as I laid quiet, careful not to disturb even the cotton crochet of my pillowcase for fear it would obliterate irretrievably the lucid imagery of that youthful dream. I searched about in the space above my head, as though by an earnest search of my wide eyes the apparition of long-ago Eva would manifest out of the fragile air. Try as I did, I could not catch even the partial effigy of her face. Awake, I posed the same questions to the night. Where are you now, Eva? Dead or alive? Near or far? Asleep next to your own muted mate and thinking of me, your first kiss, with all the passion of yesteryear? Do you fear dementia as do I? What does your face look like now? What did you look like when first we met? For I cannot now apprehend the likeness in these years removed. Eva. Three letters. Capital E, small v, small a. I said them as though counting sheep, intent on continuing that bright summer narrative when again I would reach the delish depths of dreams. I centralized all thoughts on Eva, whispered her name as I laid on my side, and guarded my conscious mind from all other presleep stimuli so as to isolate her memory for delayed recall in the pungent rapid eye movement odyssey destined to engulf me. Time, for a while, stood still, before I eventually drifted away from the operative world and penetrated the brittle region of my extinct boyish interval: my – you’ll pardon the copied term – my libidream.
I am in my neighborhood, in my child’s body once more. The moving truck is in some other state hauling a stranger’s life possessions from A to, can you guess that it might be B? I am at the kitchen table of our new neighbors, a family of four and one-eighth (goldfish). The father is a big booming simian type of fellow thankfully hard at his day’s labor, the mother, your average charwoman suffering in a sack-cloth apron and putting on smiles to the outer world, including young Goddard. She brings us lemonade, freshly stirred, sugary, a tart explodent that caused unforgettable puckering. I say “us” because, as I look upward from the clothed tabletop, although I cannot ascertain with clarity the features of Eva’s face, I am aware in a fierce kind of way that I am sitting across from the object of my youthful crush. I try in vain to seize her face, to capture the lines and angles of her natural ingredients. It is all for naught, and she remains a faded portrait, her body something only of color and size, her face merely a blurred sum total. For an instant, her renascent lips advance against the suppressed bubble of her opaque face, and are gone. We are sitting at the common table, crowing in the fashion of our like age. It is that attribute (youth) which worked to exclude her mother and all those who were one or more years below or above our uniquely shared pubescent state: our own little world.
Then, suddenly, we are beyond the greensward of her parent’s back acreage, hiding in the secrecy of abounding nature. It was there in the near forest that our Eden-like affair was pampered by the awesome facets of simple earth and tender touching. It was in that flourishing grove, that nurturing little hollow where the polyphonic melodies of uncultivated globe injected me with the first disturbance of carnal excitement – it was in that covert basin of moss and leaves that I kissed Eva – I feel it now, tumbling over my child’s labia oris! – for the first time. My very hands are vibrating, and I sense a kind of metamorphosis at the tremendous potency of the stimulating contact. The union is lasting, not at all like that innocent peck of the guileless child, but deep and sustained, like the processions of rich intervals in Verdi’s Requiem, carrying me along as I cover my eyes with their accustomed lids. It is I that break, I that cause a halt, and she leans back ever so slightly away from my burning hands. She appears, of a sudden, oh! what tingling conspicuousness, her face, the unambiguous representation of Isabelle at twelve, staring with her virginal eyes into the infected expression of young Goddard, the smitten little tadpole.
I awoke again, noticeably stimulated – a lewd sight, but I needn’t be vulgar – and in a state of mild disorientation. Heather continued to reign over the fields of linens, and my naked old man’s body was chilled by the air-conditioned draft emanating from a quiet duct in the center of the ceiling. Though I was cold, I did not want to wake Heather by a disturbance of the covers, and so I engaged myself to a supine meditation in the chill of the early morning bed chamber. Eva. Three letters. Capital E, small v, small a – another name for Bella, as Minerva is to Pallas. It was as close to an epiphany as I had ever come, and it pained me that there was not a person with whom to share it – how could I? “Tom (or Dick, or Harry, the reader can choose), how is the family? By the way, I recently discovered that the fatal attraction to my son’s fiancé is connected to a twelve-year-old girl that has never left my thoughts. How about a camping trip with the kids?” Nay, like most men, I was a prisoner in the Siberian camp of my brain.
Though her essence has lasted my lifetime, the physical Eva lasted but one short year. The next summer, a moving truck, a swarthy man in shirtsleeves to boot, scooped up the articles from the house and was off. The parents, a reclusive couple, hadn’t made acquaintanceships with any of the neighbors, and there were no goodbyes apart from the thumping sounds produced by the closing station wagon doors before the family’s disappearance. There is very little I remember from my childhood. I understand that there are men and women who can sit the day long in contemplation of merry fort-making and bicycle rides: I have never enjoyed that ability of mind to reflect meaningfully upon the past, say, when the topics have been anything but the depraved machinations of my teenage and adult self, or the here and there memory of an affection or pain brought on by old song. The retention of Eva is thus an anomaly within my clouded memory. I had held her tight, guarded her intangible properties from the corrosive effects of time. And even so, the once-green leaves of her texture had wilted, that is, until she reappeared in the life and form of my grown son’s mate, and the leaves multiplied to the heavens. It was an unfortunate reincarnation from the perspective of Walter (had he known), for I decided (I did not understand it at the time) in that chilled predawn cocoon of prurient awareness that I would have his woman come what may, and satiate my longing on the recapture of Eva in her person. I laid awake until morning, spinning my wedding band around on a pinky finger, an unconscious tic I am sure. From that moment it was all Bella. [Later edit: This is no longer an unpopular work of fiction, dearest, for I am coming after you in this very real world.]