Andrea Cox Christen grabbed her family, packed nine suitcases and flew to Indonesia to see what life was like in the tropics. In Indonesia she writes, reads and teaches while missing winter, open-roads, and gallon containers of ice cream.
Keepers of the Lot
"Sylvia! Sylvia! You have to see this. There's a bare bottom out there," she hissed at her sister.
Keepers of the Lot
It was the whiteness of the butt that caught Marylinn's attention. It wasn't that she was spying on them, but the skin was so white against the dark of the cold night, bobbing up and down as its body climbed into the SUV. She didn't mean to pry, but a bare bottom on this cold night was remarkable. Who would not keep that part of their anatomy covered on such a night? She wasn't sure whether the body was a male or female body, but the butt was bare. Of that she was certain.
"Sylvia! Sylvia! You have to see this. There's a bare bottom out there," she hissed at her sister.
"A bottom! A bare bottom! Someone isn't wearing any pants, or underwear either! Come look!" Marylinn's pointing to her behind and pantomime of a mooning got Sylvia out of her rocking chair.
"You must be seeing things, Mary. No one would be running around without their pants on tonight. It's twenty below out there!" She padded up next to Marylinn and pulled back the curtain.
"See! See! I told you, a bare bottom!"
Sylvia sighed. "I missed it. All I saw was a bare foot. A bare foot. Who wouldn't be wearing shoes tonight?"
"But you didn't see the bottom?"
"No, just the foot. The bottom was already in the backseat, I figure. Just the foot was left." Sylvia squinted out through the glass, cupping her eyes to see out into the blackness. "What do you think happened to the foot's shoe?"
"The shoe? The shoe? Who cares about the shoe? Maybe the person was changing shoes, maybe the person wanted to put on warmer socks. But the bottom. What about the bottom? Why was the bottom bare?" Marylinn leaned her forehead against the pane of glass. The cold melted into her wrinkled forehead and her gray eyebrows felt frozen.
"Bottom, bottom, bottom! Must you keep saying that word! Can't you be more polite, really!" Sylvia sniffed and leaned away her sister.
Marylinn straightened her back. "You're worried about my choice of words when there is a naked person in our parking lot. A person without clothes on -- at least in the lower extremities -- is in that vehicle and you are lecturing me on my vocabulary! Please!" Marylinn peered out at the night, glaring at her own reflection. She would not give Sylvia the satisfaction of looking her in the eye.
"You are so vulgar at times, Marylinn. I don't think Mother would approve of your words. It's rather uncouth."
Marylinn knew without looking that Sylvia was running a hand around the pearl necklace she always wore. Their mother had given it to her on her sixteenth birthday and she'd worn it since. Whenever Sylvia discussed their mother she fingered the necklace as if gesturing to her sovereignty.
"Someone's getting out," Marylinn pressed her nose against the glass.
"Really?" Sylvia leaned in. "Is it the person without a shoe?" As Sylvia spoke, the front door on the SUV’s driver side opened. The dome light shone on a man with blond hair and a leather jacket. He flicked a cigarette into the snow as he turned and opened the door that the bare bottom had entered.
Sylvia sucked in a breath. "Littering in our parking lot. I'll have to tell the landlord about this."
"But what is he doing back there?" Marylinn asked.
"Maybe he's helping the person with the bare foot find some socks," Sylvia said. "He looked warm enough. Maybe he's loaning his socks to the other man."
"Man? Why do you think the naked person is a man?" asked Marylinn.
Sylvia sniffed. "Marylinn, Marylinn. Consider first the bare buttocks you say you saw. What woman would be outside in such weather without the proper clothing? Men at times may do such rash things, but a woman? I hardly think so. Then consider the bare foot I saw. It looked like a man's foot. Broader, a bit larger."
"From this distance you could tell the size of the foot?" Maylinn asked.
"Well, yes, and I can also still see the footprints," Sylvia smiled. She knew that Marylinn had not noticed these. "Also, consider this. Why would a person take off their shoes, or other clothing," she added with a haughty glance in Marylinn's direction as if it she was taking off her pants and strolling about, "or other clothing if the person was not with a member of the same sex? It is very cold outside and the people were probably not prepared for the inclement weather that suddenly appeared. The fellow we saw was wearing a warm coat and so he is probably loaning some of his clothes to his friend. Can you see the vehicle's license plate?"
"No, of course not. It's parked parallel to us. How would you expect me to see the license plate?" Marylinn was beginning to wish she hadn't told her sister of the bare bottom. "Condescending old biddy," Marylinn thought to herself.
"Oh, my," she heard Sylvia whisper. Marylinn returned her attention to the complex's parking lot.
"Oh," Marylinn said. The sisters glanced at each other and then out the window.
The vehicle was moving, though the engine was off. As if by its own volition, as if it was trying to keep warm in the cold weather, it was rocking back and forth, from driver's to passenger's side. The swaying was rhythmic and measured.
"You don't suppose -- But if they're both men. What is--" Marylinn whispered. She raised her eyebrows at her sister. "You don't suppose that those men are engaging in intercourse in our parking lot, do you?” Her sister's jaw was slack, and her eyes pasted to the pane. "Sylvia --"
"Homosexuals are copulating in our parking lot! In our lot! How dare they! That's where we park our car!" Sylvia's jaws was now clenched and her eyes glared out the window. "I'm going to call the super right now!"
"Look!" The motion light over the parking lot had come on. It shone almost directly above the SUV, shining into the back seat. Inside Marylinn could make out two bodies, struggling against each other. "Do you see that? Maybe they are fighting, not, you know. Maybe one of them needs our help."
Sylvia stared into the backseat. The motion of the vehicle continued, rocking side-to-side, and Marylinn found herself transfixed by it. She could just see the bare back of one of the men. She couldn't discern much though. "I'm concerned about their safety," she thought to herself, but that didn't explain how warm the apartment felt. She always kept the thermostat at sixty-five degrees, but she suddenly felt as if it was more like eighty-five.
The longer she watched, the more she could see. Her eyes seemed to adjust to the darkness. Marylinn could see the shoulder blades on the man's back, the thick, curly hair on the back of his neck. She thought she saw tan lines on his biceps and wondered what it would be like to touch the muscles of the arms she saw. Why would a man like that need another man? She was sure there were plenty of women who would throw themselves at him with his rippling pectorals and wide smile, his pleasant manner and warm charm. Some woman must have rejected him. His heart was broken and now he was turning to a man. He was definitely --
"A breast! I saw a breast!" Sylvia blurted.
"Right there. Can't you see it by the seat?" Sylvia jabbed at the glass. Marylinn pushed herself closer to the window, pressing her nose against the pane.
"Oh, I see it! A breast!" Both sisters gasped as the man shifted, his rear end right in the window. Marylinn grabbed Sylvia's hand and her sister tightened her grip. Leaning on the pane together they crouched closer to the window. Listening to her sister's breathing, Marylinn remembered.
It was twilight and she and Sylvia had been playing hide-and-go-seek with the neighbor children. Marylinn was scrambling for a place to hide. She could hear the footsteps of the seeker on the leaves by the gate, opening the latch, then a hand grabbed hers, pulled her down into the bushes against the house. Sylvia was crouched down in the brush, her cheeks red from running. "Shh," she whispered in Marylinn's ear. "He won't find us here."
Both sisters looked through the evergreen scrub. A shadow passed over them, and Sylvia squeezed her sister's hand. Marylinn grinned in the fading light, listening to her sister breathe in the darkness, matching her breaths to hers. Breathing together, clinging to each other, Marylinn leaned toward her sister, letting her head fall on her shoulder. Sylvia said nothing, and Marylinn thought she felt her sister's head rest on her own.
The footfalls passed beyond them, getting softer on the leaves as the seeker went toward the front lawn. Marylinn felt Sylvia's grip loosen, but she hung on to her sister's hand. Sylvia jerked her shoulder, jostling Marylinn's head.
"Get up. You need to go get your own hiding place," she pulled her hand back, rubbing her hand against her leg. "Go on, leave." Sylvia pushed her, and Marylinn, her legs numb from crouching, fell on the ground. "Don't be so loud!" Sylvia hissed. "Now leave."
Marylinn felt her eyes start to water, and she'd slunk inside the house. Sylvia didn’t asked her why she stopped playing the game, only telling her that everyone had looked for her for about five minutes and then decided she'd babied out.
"Do you remember playing hide-and-seek?" Marylinn whispered to her sister.
"Why are you whispering?" asked Sylvia. Sylvia hadn't let go of her hand.
"This is kind of like playing hide-and-go-seek, don't you think?" Marylinn said louder.
"Yeah," Sylvia said. "I suppose it is. Only this is a bit more interesting." Her sister giggled. Marylinn hadn't heard her sister giggle like that in years.
The back door of the SUV opened. The same man stepped out, and then a figure appeared wearing his leather coat. A long piece of fabric, maybe a blanket, was wrapped around the midsection.
"That must be the woman!" Sylvia gasped.
"Yeah," said Marylinn. "Where's she going?"
Both the man and his companion started to walk toward the apartment building. The sisters watched them approach.
"What are they doing in here?" screeched Sylvia. "Come on!" She pulled Marylinn out the apartment’s door. Sylvia turned toward the stairs, almost running into the couple.
"Ah, hello," said the man, his faced flushed. The cold or something else? wondered Marylinn. Marylinn's eyes darted behind him to see who was following him.
It was definitely a woman. Her hair fell in her face, but Marylinn had a glimpse of dark eyes and full lips. She was smiling from behind her curtain of hair. Marylinn felt laughter bubbling up within her. Her shoulders started to shake and she squeezed Sylvia's hand harder.
"Oh, excuse us," said Sylvia. She nudged Marylinn.
"Is it still cold out there?" Marylinn asked and started to cough, trying to disguise her mirth.
"Ah, yes, I think it is quite cold," the man said. He continued to walk down the hall, pulling on the arm of his companion. He hurried to the door across from the sister's apartment, took out a key and unlocked the door. "Well, goodnight," he said with a nod to the women.
"Goodnight," said Sylvia. She turned to Marylinn, raising her eyebrows. "Someone certainly had a good night!"
Marylinn's laughter exploded. Sylvia frowned at her and then a smile crept across her face, climbing from her eyes to her mouth and then she joined Marylinn.
They laughed and laughed until they were crying, tears weaving through the wrinkles on their faces. Still giggling, Sylvia pulled Marylinn into a hug and the two sisters stood hugging in the hallway, two girls sharing a secret.
~Andrea Cox Christen