Chapter from the novel, "Soul Echoes"

Telling Anna You Love Her the First Time

You're staring.

If she catches you, you'll feel stupid but the way the sun plays tricks crashing through the strands of her hair before it gets to you reminds you of being born.

Somehow you were born to do this. Of all the things to do the world is replete with noble professions. Right now people are performing open heart surgery saving lives otherwise lost. Firemen are reviving victims otherwise dead. Airplane pilots keep hundreds suspended seven miles high so grandmothers can greet their descendents with hugs and birthday balloons.

And you were born to stare at Anna in the sunlight. In the morning.

This is a sacred thing.

She's smart enough not to look. If she catches your eye it all ends but she's merciful so you can do nothing. It's paralysis, for there is nothing else but Anna in the morning, sipping her coffee, poking at pages in a newspaper.

Outside a bird sings and skitters away. Your heart is beating. Your chest expands and contracts as your body does what it needs to, sustaining life, sustaining you.

You are now suspecting what you're afraid to admit. You can't say it to yourself much less her. You try to push it out of your mind but when your mind is empty there's nothing to move.

She glances quickly to where you're sitting at the other corner of the kitchenette in the house nobody can find when she doesn't allow. Cheesy linoleum top. Vinyl seats stick to your thighs, and she adjusts her bathrobe and leans forward so in profile her breast reminds you, diffuses you, evaporates you upon the viscous strands of sunlight that drip from her hair onto the table, the half-empty cups of coffee, your hands that haven't moved, time that has you frozen in jellified air.

Everything is brighter. For once in your life you have a favorite color. A favorite sound. People have told you about things like favorite smells, favorite blankets.

Now you know what they meant.

And you wipe at an eye in a feeble attempt to regain control. Maybe you're still sleeping and you need to wake up. But the only reason you're here is you know you woke up alone, felt the dent in her pillow and followed the scent, sat down silently, and she poured you a cup of coffee and sat in the sun and set to creating daytime.

"What?" she says, smiling, looking away. In that one word you feel there isn't anything you could have imagined she couldn't already know.

"I had a dream last night," you say.

She waits until the words waft like tea steam clouds and blow away on the springtime breeze, out of the kitchen nook, through the screen, into the world. Now you know that every word you say winds up in the world. Outside they're felt by everything.

"What about?" she says, and pushes the paper away. Her eyes are deep brown, a color God must have thought of when he was building mountains and strong horses.

You speak, mostly hear yourself speak as if the ideas themselves can make your mouth move.

"I came right in here. I got up out of bed and sat down right where I am now," you say, remembering the dream as if it were the trip you took to the grocery store yesterday.

"And when I came in here God was sitting at this kitchen table right where you are now, reading the newspaper, just like you are now."

She smiles, and you know it's because she thinks you're comparing her to God. But you're not. It was really God in your dream.

"And what happened?" she asks you, drawing closer and the robe slips toward the edge of her shoulder and hangs while the sun takes purchase and turns the room gold. Then you know nothing can hurt you so you say what you have to say.

"He asked me how it's going," you reply. "And so I told him. I told him my whole life but you know, like, he's God and he knows everything. But he wanted to know anyway. When God asks you something you pretty much just answer, you know?"

She nods that she knows and the smile on her face makes little lines that connect her cheeks to the corner of her eyes and anything solid inside you has long since melted. Bits of you are dribbling into eternity. There are parts you know you'll never get back.

This is falling. Pray she's there to catch you. You're dead if she isn't.

"He already knew your life and he asked you to tell it to him? That was the dream?"

"Yes." You say it and you feel some muscles in your chest tighten. For some reason your eyes tear. You're not sure how to handle this. "Yes. It's like, he wanted to hear ME say it. He knew everything I was going to say, but it was just so good for him to hear me tell it to him. He said he could listen to me tell it to him forever. He said that's what life was all about."

And you think you might cry and you have no idea on earth why that would happen. You think you don't remember how, but you're afraid your body will remember.

She takes your hand and kisses you and you can taste the salt from the tears you didn't see her shed.

You don't know why it's happening. This can't be happening.

"I love you," you say, the first time anyone has ever earned it from you, meaning it--meaning to put into yourself all this melting and pulling and wanting to sit forever in one instant of time that never changed.

How can you give her the feeling that you have a favorite horse breed and you never cared before? How can you tell her the forces of physics have just exempted you from the need to be obedient? Where did this caring come from if it wasn't always there? You could be a father now if you had to. You could teach someone small to hold a baseball, how to find the minnows in the shallow part of the stream, why you can't do wheelies if you're going too fast.

You think, "Help me God," and you grab at your chest a little because it seems to be coming from there and you don't know if it's bad or good.

Pray. Pray because nothing else would be powerful enough. Pray what you're feeling is good because there's no life if it isn't.

Pray she won't run away now it's out there because you can't come home. There's no way to go back. You don't fit in the life you had only moments before. Everything has to be rebuilt from scratch.

"I love you, Annie." And there are no more words in you. That was the last line before the big tear in the script and now words are done. It has to end here unless she puts the words back.

She says, "I know. I could listen to you say that forever."

c 1999 by Joe Mastroianni