Cleo lives alone, one pea in a pod, not two.  Her breath is sweet, her
waist thin, and her tiny hands fit neatly into her little lap.  Her eyes
are apples and her heart a ripe melon, ready to be plucked from
branching ribs.

After college, Cleo sold her car and moved to Manhattan.  She hopes to
find one man among the millions to love her, but that's not what she
tells her left-behind friends.  While speaking of the city's neon energy
and her job as a writer for a greeting card company, Cleo secrets a
desire to feel the baritone of a man on her milk soft neck.

Cleo's apartment is in Alphabet City, named for avenues A, B, C, and D,
the only streets in Manhattan to have single-letter names.   She has
what's considered a good view.  Out from the twenty-third story window
her eyes look up and down the street like a searchlight.  And as every
evening for the past three years, Cleo sits on her sill watching people
spider through the streets below until the bone colored moon rises.
Cleo understands that while she watches everyone from on high, no one is
watching her.  So she turns down the comforter and turns down the sheets
and goes to bed considering the verity she's been turned down as well.
The bed feels like snow, even on summer nights.  Knees chin-tucked, her
loneliness is a frost and her whole self shivers on the vast tundra of
immaculate white sheets.  Her tears dry glistening on the folded face of
her pillow and eventually, she sleeps.

It's early the next morning and Cleo readies herself for work.  The
radio is on and an announcer is reporting an unusually large number of
firefly sightings yesterday evening in the city.  He's telling Cleo that
it was ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit with ninety percent humidity,
although it didn't rain.  Now he's interviewing an older gentleman who
sounds like someone whose aftershave would smell good.  Cleo thinks how
nice it would be to lean on an older gentleman who smells like Old
Spice.  The older gentleman is saying "there were at least thirty
fireflies around my balcony, especially by my potted herb garden.  They
seem to prefer some cover."  "Don't we all" Cleo thinks locking the
apartment door behind her as she leaves for work.

The Subway entrance gulps her down and spits her out on the platform.
Cleo surreptitiously scans each male commuter asking herself, "Would you
do him?  Would you do him?  Would you do him?"  She answers "yes, yes,
and yes."  Another little game she plays: chose six men from the
passersby to marry before getting to the corner of 23rd street and 5th
avenue.  She insists on choosing exactly six men no matter how sparse or
plenty the pickings.  Cleo is a huntress, stalking someone to love her.
And just below her cream colored camisole, a raging heart beats as with
the fiercest of animals.

Scrupulously fitted into a beige cubicle, Cleo writes romantic greeting
cards: husband to wife, boyfriend to girlfriend, married man to
mistress.  She writes the words she longs for someone to say of her, a
kind of backward hope.

Nestled in a cocoon of sheets
is my beloved.
She glows.
Unknowingly, she radiates.
I gather her warmth
and drink it in.
She nourishes my eyes
and feeds my want.
I am washed in her beauty
and lost.

Fifteen poems later, Cleo is tired somewhere deep in her body.  She
sighs, adjusts her lazy lipstick, and then hauls herself home counting
the City's recently ubiquitous fireflies rather than picking random men
to marry.

First thing through the door, she waters the plants on the kitchen
windowsill.  She's growing herbs to learn how to nurture a living thing.
She remembers reading somewhere that music helps plants to thrive, so
she sings to the rosemary, basil, and sage.  Cleo's convinced her
crooning helps the plants to thrive because something in her lifts too.
"What's good for the basil is good for me" she says aloud.  And that's
when she notices the fireflies crawling between the parsley stems.
"Aaah" she says letting down her piled high hair, "'some cover' for my
new friends."

At this moment a bell sounds in Cleo's head - an idea.  She scrounges
through desk drawers for a pencil and then writes on the pallid pulp of
a page, "I am lonely without you."  She then perches on the windowsill
leaning out over the ledge, her body a ribbon waving in the breeze.
Pinched between thumb and forefinger, Cleo holds the creased note above
the streets of Alphabet City.  The wind moves in every direction and
suddenly her letter, as with sparrows, takes wing from its perch.

That night, Cleo falls asleep on top of the covers.  Someone is laughing
in the street far below her window - it floats up the gleaming glass
walls of the skyscraper, through the window, and quietly warms the room.
Her bed thaws and for once Cleo sleeps, the corners of her eyes smiling.

Launching love letters from the windowsill sets Cleo free, which is why
she makes a habit of placing her words on windy shelves each evening.
Monday she writes, "I'm calling on your fingers."  Tuesday: "Find me."
Wednesday: "You are a waiting wish in my heart."  Thursday: "Keep me
like a secret."  Friday: "Wish you were here."  Cleo's faith in the wind
is complete - she hands her printed hunger to the zephyrs, a child
entrusting treasures to a mother's apron pockets.

It's Saturday morning and Cleo shuffles around the apartment
straightening rugs and pleated pillows when she sees it - the very note
she released to the wind the previous evening is situated a few inches
from the front door on the entrance hall floor.  She supposes someone
slipped it through the crack under the door.  Reddened, she picks it up
and reluctantly unfolds the paper.  Just below her original message is a
response written in hard-pressed script: "Give your arms to my waist.
Give your touch to my skin.  Hang your heart in this rib cage."  Glee
swells until it is everywhere in Cleo's heart, bouncing and bright, and
there to stay.

Eric Bennett lives in New York with his wife and four children.  His work appears in Why Vandalism?, Gloom Cupboard, Bartleby
Snopes, Smokebox, Apt, decomP magazinE, The Battered Suitcase, Dogmatika, Up the Staircase, Dogzplot Blogspot, Foliate Oak,
Poor Mojo's Almanac, Tuesday Shorts, The Oddville Press, the Smoking Poet, ken*again, Prick of the Spindle, Long Short Story,
Stirring, and LITnIMAGE.


Copyright 2009