The first time you saw me naked, I was standing in front of the refrigerator. I’d gotten up in the middle of the night to get something to eat. It was pitch black except for the refrigerator light glaring out at me, illuminating my naked body as I hunched into the fridge to see what was inside. It was that tiny kitchen in West Philadelphia, with the cracked linoleum floors and the tin-topped kitchen table.
I thought you were sleeping, so I didn’t bother putting my clothes back on. Sure, we’d already had sex, but not so many times that I’d let you get a good look at me. Always, there’d been partial clothing or sheets or fast getaways. You, on the other hand, you couldn’t wait to be naked in front of me. I remember you stood next to our first pre-coital bed and tore off your underwear as you asked, “Is this okay?” You were naked and lying next me before I could answer.
This was back when I still went to your apartment with legs and armpits clean-shaven. I still surveyed the six or so moles on my body that grow very long hairs and dutifully kept them plucked clean for you. I protected you from my sulfurous morning breath and always darted to the bathroom to brush my teeth before we’d go again.
This was back when you were a bachelor whose bathroom window was a broken pane of glass. Your front door wouldn’t shut, much less lock. You dried oranges and other fruits in papers bags all around the apartment because there was no one there to object to the strangeness of it or the potential for mold.
When I heard your footsteps on that old wood floor in the hallway, I considered hiding behind the refrigerator door, but it seemed childish, and there wasn’t enough time anyway. Suddenly you were there, leaning against the door jamb, watching me.
I tried to pretend I was not at all bothered by your seeing me this way, and I went about my business as if there was nothing at all wrong with midnight snacking. (The idea of hiding my body or my eating habits from you seems ridiculous to me now. My body has performed most of its basest functions in your presence. I have retched out sobs and vomit at your feet.) But then, you looked at my naked body, its unruly ripples, my bulbous inner thighs. You looked at me, naked and holding a carton of milk, scavenging in the darkness for a bite of old cheese or a jar of peanut butter I could dip a finger into. You looked at this thing, my body, lit strangely by a small, dirty light bulb, and you began to smile that upside down smile of yours, where the corners of your mouth are turning down, but somehow it’s a smile anyway.
You looked at me as if I were the Pacific Ocean, or a newborn baby, or the goddamned pyramids in Egypt.
“You’re such a pretty girl,” you said. Like you could hardly believe it. Like you were somehow proud and thankful all at once to God and me and refrigerator lights.
I stood up straight to meet your eyes. And suddenly, I wasn’t hungry anymore.
[img_assist|nid=9453|title=Ali’s Garden by Jessica Taylor © 2012|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=400|height=308]
Kelly George is a
doctoral candidate at the School of Communications and Theater at Temple University.
She is now married to the man who appeared unexpectedly to watch as she
rummaged, nude, through his refrigerator.