I know at least a small amount of how I'm supposed to be feeling right now, but I'm not feeling it. The only thing that comes to mind, to be honest, is the one thought- this is strange.
There are lips on mine and they don't feel good or bad, just okay. There's pressure here and I can feel it, but it's a physical feeling and not an emotional one. Where does this leave me? Am I supposed to be doing something, maybe, other than thinking and feeling but really not feeling at all? I don't know what to do, and this is strange, too, because this feeling of confusion is one that rarely exists inside of my head. It's… cloudy, like the sky is right now.
"I don't get it," I say, because the pressure he's putting on my mouth is getting to be too strong. Henry's face hovers close to mine for one awkward moment, questioningly. I sit up on the porch swing and look at the man. "Was that supposed to… be anything?"
Henry smiles innocently for a few seconds, not quite getting it. Upon realizing that I'm not kidding, he starts to look at me differently. "It was supposed to be a kiss," he informs me, appearing to hold his breath just a little bit.
What I want to say is rather impolite, but I swallow those words and instead just look at Henry, not quite knowing what to say now. The only thing that comes to my mind is the truth, and I can't come out with that because I don't quite understand it myself. Anyone else could explain in a single sentence what I'm feeling, but, being whatever I am, it'd take me a thousand prayers to finally get it. I'm slow.
Henry, sitting next to me, leans back and thinks for a moment, then turns to me and says, "You should tell me what you're thinking."
"I can't," I tell him. Regardless of these two little words, though, I find myself talking anyway. I tell Henry about what it's like for me to be kissed by him and then say, "Maybe you're supposed to be doing something more. Like… I don't know…" I start to stumble over my words, wondering what in the world I'm asking the man to do. "Touch me," I say, poking him in the arm. He flinches.
"Here," I tell Henry, taking his hand and placing it on my other one. When the blank feeling starts clouding my head again, I try rubbing our hands together. Maybe what we need is friction, I decide. But friction doesn't do anything but warm my hand a little.
"Maybe you could-"
"Rose, no," Henry says immediately, shaking his hand and taking his hand back from me. "Maybe we ought to-"
We're interrupted by how my father peeks his head out the back door to tell me that it's getting late (as if I wasn't already aware). I nod and turn to Henry, unsure of how I'm supposed to say goodbye now that we've done what we have. Some instinct inside of me tells me to shake the man's hand, but that doesn't seem quite right, so I settle for just saying goodbye and walking him through the house to the front door.
"Night, Rose," Henry says, nodding. I close the door and it doesn't occur to me to look back.
If there was one thing I could change about myself, it'd be that I'd want to be an early bird. I'd like to wake up one day before anyone else does, on my own, and just do whatever I want to before anyone else wakes up. When I was a kid I did that all the time, woke up at four or so just to walk around the yard and then go back to sleep a half hour later. Doing that put a feeling in my stomach that I can only ever chase after nowadays.
One time I asked our maid, Demetrie, to wake me up early like that. She told me that, unlike my own ideas about the help, she did have a home that she went to every night and only left at seven each morning. I felt rather foolish and embarrassed after that and was cross with Demetrie for the rest of the day, but I understood a bit more of the world now. I began to want to know more about what I'd been ignorant to for my entire life until then.
"Where do you live, then?" I asked Demetrie the next day, sitting on the countertop next to the stove where she was cooking my breakfast.
"First, you know you're not supposed to be sitting on that countertop," she warned me, flipping the eggs that she was frying. She paused for a moment, cleaning her hands on her apron, and then told me, "I live where you live, girl. Meridian, Mississippi. Where else?"
"But where exactly?" I asked insistently, jumping down and landing with a thud. Demetrie eyed the floor and I assured her that I hadn't marked it, even though I probably had. "I never see colored people like you around here. You're the only one I've ever met," I realized. Something panged in my chest. I didn't know why.
"Other side of town, honey. This is the white neighborhood that you living in," Demetrie said, glancing at the stove and then back at me. She just watched me for a moment, maybe curious as to how I would reply.
"I know that," I told her impatiently, crossing my arms. What I didn't really get yet was why my town was divided in two, but I was too obstinate against looking dumb to ask Demetrie. Eventually I ended up carrying all the questions in my head to my father, who told me about the strange ways of the world when I turned ten. Even after he did so, I still didn't get it.
"You will," my father said to me reassuringly, then added with hesitation, "You'll have to… One day you'll get married and have your own house and your own help, and you're going to need to know how they all work together. That's how life is, Rose."
"Rosalind," I corrected him like I always used to do with everybody. I've long since given up on this, since no one seems to like using my full first name when addressing me. Except for Demetrie, that is, but maybe she doesn't count.
This is what I've got to remember next time I see Henry- he's my ticket out of this place. Even if I have to have him for a husband, I'll have my own house and it'll be far away from this place. I'll be able to wake up when he does and pretend that he's not somewhere too while I walk outside or do whatever I want to. The whole fantasy has enough pros to outweigh the cons, so that's where I'm headed to right now.
I've just got to get through a few more dates, first.