Beautiful CreaturesThere is a Beautiful CreatureLiving in a hole you have dug . . .And I often sing, but still, my dear,You do not come out.I have fallen in love with SomeoneWho hides inside of you.Hafiz***************************October 24, 2009: Gabriel was the seventh man Isabel had allowed into her home in as many years. Seven’s a good number, she thought. Biblical. The scraping started almost immediately after Gabe’s mahogany leather shoes crossed her threshold. The muscles in Isabel’s neck tightened. Her breathing shallowed. She took two steps to the left to turn up the volume on the Sade CD she'd popped in moments earlier. “Did you have any trouble finding the place?” she asked. Isabel looked with growing dismay at Gabe’s distraction. He was already staring through her – lost in the mental gymnastics of trying to place the source of the unnerving sound. “What? Uh, no. Hey, I didn’t know you had pets,” he fished. “No pets.” Gabe’s expression quickly returned to the confused, questioning one Isabel had come to dread. He stood facing her, waiting for the explanation.***************************February 25, 1975: Jack watched the little girl digging through the dirt in the front yard of the white clapboard home. She looked like an angel. Round face, pale skin, large blue eyes, rings of honey-colored curls. But she was not alone. A boy two or three years older sat beside her, equally focused on unearthing something from the ground. “What are ya’ll doing?” Jack asked. Patrick barely looked up as he replied, “We’re looking for doodlebugs.” “Doodlebugs? Well, it just so happens I found a whole pile of them yesterday. Want to come see?” Jack said as he fixed his eyes on Isabel’s small hands. Patrick raised his face and looked at Jack sideways. “No.” “I bet your sister wants to see 'em, don't ya? There were a bunch. Way more than in that patch you’re diggin’ in now,” he prompted. Isabel stopped digging and stood up to face the man. "Hundreds of them," he said as he offered his hand to the girl. "Hundreds?" Isabel replied in wonderment. "Hundreds," he assured. Isabel reached her hand up to grasp his as she tried to picture hundreds of doodlebugs all in one place.***************************June 1, 2009: Isabel inhaled the cinnamon and clove-scented liquid, took a sip of the warm, herb-infused tea, let it creep down her throat. She stared at the blank white canvas yawning before her sleepy eyes and allowed herself to imagine a comfort she had never known. What would it look like, smell like, taste like, feel like to be loved for one ethereal moment? It would be warm. His arms would have to be substantial enough to wrap her, confident enough to hold her until her hesitance melted, wide enough to encircle her past, her present, and her future. She smelled him. Cut cedar. They are sitting sideways on the cushioned swing on the wraparound porch enclosing their white clapboard home. Propped between his strong back and the supportive chains of the swing is a large blue square cushion. Isabel is settled between his long relaxed legs, her head resting in the crook of his chest. In his left hand is a book. His right arm is crossed over Isabel’s sternum. His hand is cupping her left shoulder. The shoulder of the arm that is resting on the thick cushioning of the swing’s seat. Between her left forefinger and thumb is his bare ankle. Isabel is gently stroking the soft flesh there, and the bottom of his faded jeans brushes the back of her hand. The reverie broke. She put the cup down and stared at the blank canvas again. Isabel did not want to paint one more line to prepare for the moment when she would finally accept a man’s hands on her body. She did not want to meditate or run or push and pull her limbs in any more directions. She did not want to pray or plead or write one more damned syllable. She was thirty-eight, and she suddenly felt like the last one standing in a game of musical chairs she didn’t realize she had been playing until the music stopped. She had pushed love away so many times. She had sold her flesh to all the lowest bidders and locked her soul away from the ones who would have seen her lain bare and loved her anyway. Isabel was ready now. She was sure. She wanted a man's hands on her face at the end of the day. She wanted to curl up in his arms when nothing else made sense and breathe him in. Above all that, however, she wanted to make love to a man for the first time. She wanted to hear a man whisper, “I love you” as he entered her, and she wanted to believe him when he did.***************************February 25, 1975: Jack led the girl down the block to the park he'd surveyed that morning. He'd found just the place at the bottom of the hill - out of view from the rest of the park and surrounded on all sides by trees. As Isabel followed the man down the hill, she felt her throat close. Her hands began to shake, and she was suddenly terrified. "I want to go home," she cried. "Aw, but those doodlebugs are just a few more steps away. Just down there past that tree," Jack assured. "I want to go home," Isabel insisted. "But you came all this way. Don't you want to see them bugs? I know they want to see you," Jack gripped Isabel's tiny hand tighter. "I want to go home," Isabel was crying now. She didn't know why. Not yet. Jack reached down, scooped Isabel into his arms and carried her down the hill. ***************************September 1, 2009:Isabel remembered the first time her eyes had registered the form and substance of Gabriel Truves. He appeared in the doorway her first day at the "Introduction to Drawing Techniques" class she’d joined. After ten years of dabbling, she had finally decided to get some guidance. That day, Isabel had walked into the class tentatively. In her left hand hung her mom’s old drawing case filled with multi-colored pencils of varying age, sharpness and size. Her right forearm was crossed over her chest holding a lightweight, robin’s egg blue scarf in place. Her footsteps slowed briefly as she scanned the room for the safest place to set up her station. A sigh of hesitation escaped her doll-shaped mouth as her pale, ice-blue eyes took in the sight of the nine classmates who were busy setting up around the easels they had selected. She wondered what had brought each of them here. They looked like misfits in their own way. Just like her. Broken, searching for a way out. Hoping that drawing lines on paper would lead them home. The room was arranged in a semi-circle of canvasses surrounding a raised, cloth-covered stage where the subjects of their drawings would presumably be posed. Isabel placed the torn brown leather drawing case down on a table behind an easel in the middle of the room and listened to the metal clasps unclick. Just as the case popped open, Gabe’s form appeared in the outer edge of her peripheral vision. She raised her head evenly and brushed away some honey-colored curls that had tumbled over her eyes. As the curtain of hair parted, Gabe’s angles and shadows appeared. Dark brown hair, bright green eyes the color of spring grass, skin weathered by the seasons, a thin stubble on his face that highlighted the symmetrical grooves of his cheeks and jaw line. He was dressed in baggy jeans, a tan button-down shirt with a white cotton shirt underneath, brown work boots. His well-worn clothes stood in stark contrast to the shiny new drawing case that he gripped with a bit too much force in his large right hand. He didn’t scan the room as he entered. His shoulders and upper back formed a shallow concave bowl, but his legs moved with surprising surety of direction. He passed Isabel’s station and began settling into the easel three down from hers. A scent of fresh cut wood mingled with coffee trailed in his wake. ***************************October 24, 2009: “You mean to tell me you’ve lived in this house for thirty-eight years, and you never once tried to get into that room?” Gabe’s dark brown eyebrows angled slightly upward, but his eyes kept their warmth. “There’s no door,” Isabel replied. Her forearms were crossed firmly over her chest and her hands clutched the sides of her rib cage. “Windows?” “No.” “Floorboards that can be lifted?” “No. It’s a concrete slab with concrete walls. No entry. Besides, it hasn’t been going on for the entire thirty-eight years.” “How long then?” “Thirty-four.” Gabe’s stare was silent, insistent, encouraging. She hesitated. Took in the sight of him . . . dark hair, those green eyes, the ropy muscles visible at the neckline of his navy blue cotton t-shirt. The neck she’d dreamed of cradling in her hands and pressing into her nose one day. The back she’d imagined running her fingers down. ***************************October 25, 2009: When Gabe had left the night before, Isabel was sure he'd be yet another casualty in the growing line of men who had tried to love her. The unrighteous combination of nails on chalkboard scraping noises with a woman too guarded to explain usually drove the opposite sex in search of better soil. But the next morning, Isabel awoke to an insistent knocking. Her front door. Who in God’s name would knock at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday? She tumbled downstairs, placed her hands flat against the carved wooden door, and flexed onto her tiptoes to peep out of the tiny glass hole. There he stood. Amazing. His form was distorted by the viewing glass, but she was pretty sure Gabe was holding a jackhammer. *************************** As the final bit of concrete crashed to the ground, Isabel’s breath rose from the hardened surface beneath her feet and caught in the center of her solar plexus. It was a child. Four-years-old. Eyes a blue so sheer. Honey-colored curls. Isabel stood transfixed. The child’s stare was wide and suspended in an expression of hope that had clearly been tested by blows from desperate hands ticking and keeping track. After a moment, Isabel’s gaze widened in spiraling increments to take in the rest of the scene. The child was held, but Isabel could not yet discern the creature doing the holding. Her eyes moved to the rocking chair. Scrape . . . creak . . . scrape . . . creak . . . scrape. The room was too small for the chair. Every time the creature rocked, the two wooden wings of the chair’s sleigh bottom scraped against the concrete wall behind it. The hard gray surface below the wooden rails was worn in deep groves. The chair had not been moved in all those years. In the next instant, Isabel heard a guttural scream and then felt Gabe's hands catch her falling body. Without thinking, she grabbed his shirt with both hands. The screaming. It was so loud. Isabel realized it was coming from her own throat. Gabe turned to face her, loosened her grip on his shirt, and grasped her face in his strong, steady hands. Their eyes locked. Gabe did not see whatever Isabel was seeing, but he knew that she had finally found the source of the sound that had haunted her for the past thirty-two years. "You can do this." His voice matched both the expression in his eyes and the pressure of his hands on her face. Not a trace of doubt. Absolute certainty. Scrape, creak. Scrape, creak. Scrape creak. Gabe released Isabel and watched as she turned to face her Babylon. The creature. It was neither male nor female. Neither dead nor living. Ashen gray in complexion, twisted flesh coiled taut around bones like bark on centuries-old oak trees. Covered in deep, snaking rivulets a shade of charcoal so dark that Isabel found herself mesmerized by their depths. The legs hung limp over the edge of the chair. Misshapen toes brushed the stained concrete below. Just enough for the creature to tap gently and leverage the rocker to and fro.The creature's skeleton’s face was covered in the same twisted, ashen sinew as the body. The lips curled up on either side, but the eye sockets were framed by a perfect circumference of agonized creases. The child sat so still inside the petrified cage the creature formed around her, and her wide stare remained transfixed on the grey wall in front of her. She hadn't seen the adjacent wall come down, and Isabel's screams had not roused her. A phrase from Isabel's childhood suddenly echoed through her body. "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." "What does that even mean?" she asked furiously. "What word would that be?" "Her name is Grace. Call her by name, and she will turn to you," the echoing voice replied. Isabel could not determine its source, but her body reverberated in its presence. "Grace," she called aloud with the same confidence Gabe had used. The child's face turned slowly to the right until her eyes met Isabel's. In one instant, Isabel's feet carried her body to the rocking chair. Isabel reached out, ran her fingers along the length of the creature's right arm, gently disentangled its hard ashen hand from the child's waist, and lifted Grace into her own strong arms. The creature's eyes met Isabel's. They exchanged a look of gratitude that can only pass between those who have felt the brush of death's enchanting fingers. Tears burned in Isabel's eyes. She blinked. When she opened her eyes, the creature was gone . . . dissolved into a pile of ashes around the rocking chair that had finally ceased its unholy movements. Isabel turned back to face Gabe. The warmth of Grace's legs and arms around Isabel's hips and shoulders infused her body with a new sense of warmth and assurance. As Isabel moved towards this man she loved, she felt Grace's body transform into a mist that surrounded her on all sides. Grace dissolved in the warmth of Isabel’s embrace but remained with her forever after.**************************December 24, 2009The CD player clicked. Dave Matthews’ voice filled the silence between Gabriel and Isabel.. . . Into your heart I’ll beat again. . . Lost for you I’m so lost for youGabe’s gentle hands bracketed Isabel’s rib cage. Her fine bones expanded and retracted inside his palms. She lifted her eyes to his. . . . If I’ve gone overboardThen I’m begging youTo forgive me . . .Gabe saw Isabel’s transparent blue depths glint like a distant lighthouse. He moved his hands slowly down her sides until they found the curve of her waist. Grasped the pliant flesh. Pulled inward and found the flat, parallel lines of her abdomen. Isabel’s eyes closed. Her head tilted back, revealing the white skin of her neck.Gabe looked down at his own hands feeling the warmth of her core. Pressed harder into her striated muscles. Encircled her waist again in search of her lower back. Felt her hips release inside the pressure of his touch. His eyes sought hers again.. . . Please come crash into meCome crash into meIn a boy’s dream . . .She nodded almost imperceptibly. He bent his face down. Closed his eyes. Could feel her breath, but he paused to inhale the vanilla and rose scent of her.Lips met. Tasted. A virginal excitement resonated as they began to learn the rhythm of the other. Gabe’s hands moved down Isabel’s lines until they found the back of her inner thighs. He lifted her up tenderly. Placed her legs around his waist. The space between them ebbed and flowed. Isabel’s kisses became more urgent yet she pulled away at moments to meet Gabe’s eyes. She wanted to believe him. Her hands moved through his hair, down his neck and upper back. Gabe walked them both to the bedroom and lay Isabel down on the warm crimson comforter covering his king-sized bed. Her legs loosened around his waist as her calves simultaneously slid across the muscular planes of his lower back. She took his face in her cool, strong hands and inhaled the sharp, sweet scent of his skin. The thin slice of atmosphere that separated their mouths and lower bodies electrified. Isabel took one last look into Gabe’s eyes. A perception of truth infiltrated her senses. In one terrifying moment, she let go. For the first time in thirty-eight years, she allowed herself the sweet surrender of allowing a man to penetrate the walls that had closed around her that February day in 1975. Crash into meCrash into meCrash into meCrash into meOh, I wanna play with you Her skin softened, the space between her thighs relinquished, her hips opened, and her cells flooded with peace. He pressed his mouth into her hair and whispered, “I love you, Isabel Grace.” And she believed him. There was no doubt, no fear, no question that it was so. Of course he loved her. “I love you too.” And she meant it. Inside that suspended moment, they became beautiful creatures.