He lives in his mother’s house, with no electricity or hot water, yet somehow he always has a ready supply of condoms. The notion strikes me one night as he rolls away from me and gets out of bed. He stands in the shadows of Cheryl’s bedroom, a stripe of yellow light coming through from the kitchen (my sister is fortunate enough to have electricity, though she doesn’t have hot water). As the kitchen light dapples the muscles of his bare chest, I make a mental note to change the sheets before Cheryl comes home.
He looks down at me. We’ve learned very little about each other, and while that should have changed things between us, it hasn’t. He is engaged to a woman from his village, he told me last night, but they haven’t slept together and won’t until the first Sunday after they are married. I told him it didn’t matter. He asked if I had a moa back home, a boyfriend, and I said yes. I lied. I wanted things to feel equal between us.
And in a way, things do feel that way, as much as they aren’t. Sione is twenty-three, and the thirteen years between us makes me feel old under my pale, lived-in skin, my highlighted hair covering its early gray. Sione’s brown, hairless body is smooth as heated caramel, and his short black hair is thick between my fingers.
The language barrier, I think, helps more than hinders. A couple times I’ve practiced my newly acquired Tongan words on him, but he prefers to speak to me in English, as if to keep a distance between us.
“Poúli, Sione,” I say as he leans down to kiss me goodbye.
“Good night, Melanie,” he answers, smiling. I smile back, not minding that he doesn’t call me Mel, like everyone else. I like the softness of my name in his mouth. I watch the width of his body fill Cheryl’s small doorway, then hear the nearly noiseless sound of his feet on the dirt road, on the way back to his mother’s house.
Midge Raymond‘s short story collection, Forgetting English, received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her fiction and nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and Poets & Writers, among others. Her debut novel, My Last Continent, has recently been acquired by Scribner.