By Shay Belisle
For months, I sleep curled against Hillar’s long, sinewy body, feeling his skin stretched over the solid structure like a thin layer of bread dough. We don’t talk much about our pasts or futures but I am content with simply having him near me. I know things about him without him having to say anything. I know the way his eyelids looked transparent when he sleeps, the smell of his sour breath and the coarse hair that runs down the center of his chest. I know that he eats meat and cheese sandwiches and three grapefruits every day for lunch.
And there are also things he tells me, a little at a time. I know that the scars on his face and his dark gap of a missing tooth that is only visible when he smiles wide, are from playing hockey in the winter in the mill town where he grew up in a house with nine rooms. Those rooms are now filled with mill workers. His obese mother lives on the top floor and cleans the bathrooms on Saturdays. He is ashamed of his father, who was once a successful lawyer but is now living off handouts from his sons. Hillar worries that if he ever gets married, his father will ruin his wedding. I know that Hillar quit college to take care of his family when he was twenty years old. The only people he loves are his siblings who all have Estonian names like himself.
He has worked on the oilrigs during the frigid winter months and then battles the hard earth of the Canadian wilderness to plant trees during the bug-infested summers. Hillar is the hardest working person I had ever met. I am awed by his strength and his tolerance and I wonder if he would ever let anyone truly know him.
When the tree planting crew has a day off from work, we stay at the Flamingo Inn in High Level, a run-down town made up mostly of motels and fastfood restaurants. I look forward most to a real shower and bath. As soon as Hillar and I close the motel door behind us, we strip off our mud caked clothes at the door, walk across the dingy maroon carpet and climb into the shower. Once the top layer of dirt and grime washes off our bodies, we fill up the bathtub and soak for an hour. I lean against the back wall and he lays with his back to my chest, his long legs bent and his knobby knees pointing straight up. I scrub his greasy arms with a scratchy, green brillo pad I borrowed from the kitchen; I soap up a washcloth and gently clean every crevice of his face. He closes his eyes and his whole being softens. His cheeks grow pink and his body loose and warm.
One night as we lay there in the water, he opens his eyes and looks up at me. Those eyes that have always reminded me of icy marbles of hail, are the color of Listerine after it has been swished and gargled, foamy light blue and warmed by the insides of slippery, red cheeks. In that moment, I know that he is falling in love with me. I want to warn him that I don’t love him back but I wonder if him loving me is a good enough reason to try.
Copyright Belisle 2012