Spring 2005

Julia Rust / David Surface


Julia Rust This marks an author's first online publication Julia Rust is a writer and actress who's performed extensively in local and regional theater. She has completed a novel, Crossing Lines, is at work on a second novel, Read Me and a novella,Cowboy Love. 'Touch Me' is from The Secret Life of Gods, a collection of prose collaborations with writer David Surface.

David Surface David Surface is a fiction writer and essayist from Kentucky now living in Brooklyn. His stories have been published in DoubleTake, Crazyhorse, and North American Review. He is at work on a story collection, The Last Time I Was Jesus, and a collection of prose collaborations with Julia Rust, The Secret Life of Gods, from which 'Touch Me' is the first published piece.
Touch Me   Click to hear in real audio

          from The Secret Life of Gods  

So you want to know about the gloves. Everyone does, sooner or later.

I could give you one of the usual explanations, but I'm so tired of that now, tired of thinking up different lies for different people, the same lies recycled again and again over the years until the ones I've used before sound new again, even to myself.

The coldest months are easy. No one questions a man wearing gloves when it's twenty degrees outside, and if he keeps them on indoors, maybe he's eccentric, or just absent-minded. But in summer, he goes from eccentric to insane, and a whole new approach is called for.

Do you know how many jobs there are that require a man to wear gloves all day? I do, and I've done them all. Sanitation worker, phlebotomist, doorman at the Ritz Carlton. Big canvass gloves, heavy and stiff as a baseball mitt. Rubber gloves, dangerously thin and tight as a second skin. White cotton gloves so blinding bright, I have to keep them clasped behind my back to keep from calling attention to them.

Yesterday, just before sunrise, when I was throwing a can full of garbage into the back end of a city truck, the humor of my situation hit me like it does every few decades or so. I imagined taking off my thick work gloves and watching the wet paper bags and rotten apple cores and soiled diapers turning to gold, that old reliable warm glow in the early morning sun. I pictured the compactor crushing it all into gold bricks the size of hay bales, too heavy for any one man to carry.

You might ask, Why do you work at all? With the gift that you have, why choose to put your shoulder to that grimy, sweat-slimed wheel that any one of us would kill to be out from under?

Because. I killed her. She ran to me, laughing, and I killed her.

It was my first day, so long ago. You could say that I didn't fully understand what had happened to me yet, that I didn't realize how far it went, that it could reach all the way into the safest place where I thought nothing bad could ever happen.

I was afraid of what was happening to me, and I needed that safe place that only she could give me. She saw me and ran to me, laughing, the way she always did whenever she first saw me, her arms reaching up for me, and I reached down and took her the way I always had, without thinking. Without thinking.

I saw the change move through her quickly, like the wind sends a wave rippling across a field of grain, but just before it reached her eyes I saw the beginning of a question there. I could see her wondering what was happening to her, and expecting me to tell her, like she always did. Trusting me.

For a while I believed she was still alive. Trapped inside the cold, unmoving thing I had made of her, but still aware, still thinking, still feeling. You do not want to know the things I did during that time. Let us say that I came to a hard understanding. She was dead, because I decided she was. No one else was going to decide that for me.

For a long time I denied myself everything. Food, sex, sleep. But given enough time, the body will have what it wants. The body can wait longer than the spirit, and will always win in the end. At first I thought this was a bad thing. Then I realized that there was more pride, more arrogance in resisting than in giving in.

The women I've known I usually sleep with only once. Though there was this one time...

I was wearing my thin black leather gloves, which she had admired in the museum. But now that we were alone and naked in her room, she eyed them suspiciously, and, I thought, a little frightened. She kept asking if I was going to take them off.

Don't you like them, I asked.

Yes, she said. But don't you want to touch me?

Something in her face said that all the old lies would not work on her, that she had heard too many lies already. Then, I told her. I told her everything. Even then, she was not afraid. She said that she wanted it. I studied her to see if she believed me, if she thought it was a game. I saw her looking up at me, trusting me, and I could not help myself.

Today I still wonder if she really believed me, if she knew what she was asking for. I wonder if any of us do.


He asked me what I wanted and I told him to tattoo the words touch me across my breasts, as if reading them could make my husband want me again. The courage from the vodka in my bloodstream had gotten me inside the parlor and shirtless when, removing my bra, I saw how my perfect breasts were beginning to sag, stretch marks marring the blue-veined white. I was ashamed and understood why the desire in my husband's eyes had faded to the dull black of a room with no light.

A woman of a certain age. That's what they'd call me if I'd been born in a different time. Now women my age were making furtive appointments with plastic surgeons to slow the ravages of time, the effects of gravity. My mirror still told me I was beautiful, if I was standing in a certain light, if I had slept but not just woken, eaten well, refrained from drink. But my husband preferred a skin more elastic and a head less filled with brilliant quips and unnecessary arguments.

Does any of this explain what happened? Or is an explanation, too, unnecessary?

It began with his gloves. I couldn't take my eyes off them. Beautiful black leather, so fine and thin, they could have been painted onto his hands. They were crossed and resting on the head of a walking stick, intricately carved with half-naked men on horseback holding spears. It would have looked at home in a lighted case somewhere in the museum where we stood, instead it served as pedestal to display the gloves. His hands were preternaturally still. The face gazing out from the painting he stood before was not as still as they. And then he turned to look at me and I forgot about the gloves, the stick, the museum. Everything.

His eyes were large and dark and very old. But his face was unlined, youthful, the contrast startling. I felt myself being drawn inside his eyes and analyzed, appraised, appreciated and�yes�desired. And then he extended one gloved hand.

It was impossible not to take. Against that glove, the paleness of my skin made me feel naked. My coat covered me from neck to ankle, shoulder to wrist, but I felt more exposed than had I stripped down completely.

Inside my own, his hand was warm and soft, the leather like a baby's cheek. I wanted to feel it against my mouth. As if he knew and mocked me, he lifted my hand to his lips, those age-full eyes never leaving my face. His lips were cool but my skin felt seared. Heat traveled up my arm and filled my chest like air was supposed to, the air I wasn't breathing, pulsing outward through my body.

Was it the lips against my hand? Or the look of total self-command? Was it the heady fact that I was wanted? Or the feeling of the glove, softer than the softest skin and warm from the hard fingers giving resistance to my grip?

I watched myself take the arm he offered. Watched him lead me, as though I were someone else, out of the museum, across the street and into a hotel. I was a curiosity. A strange woman capable of doing this thing.

We were soon naked, but for the gloves. He was unselfconscious, allowing me to study him. Well-proportioned, toned but not muscular, not young any longer, but not yet old. There were scars; unusual, long slicing marks on both arms, a few depressions in his torso that made me think of the carvings on his walking stick; of war and spears.

I was afraid then. But when he put his hands on me the trembling went from fear to longing, the sight of black leather against my pale skin as overwhelming to me as its touch. He placed one hand between my legs and I wanted it, but I pulled it away, "You'll ruin them." But he whispered, "It doesn't matter," and "Do you like it?"

I took his other hand and put it in my mouth savoring the bitter taste of oil, biting down so he could feel my teeth, so I could feel the give of the leather.

"Stop. You'll tear them."

"I thought you said it didn't matter."

He pulled his hands free and covered my body with his. "Are you ready for me?"

I don't know how long we were together, if it was a day or a week, longer, but in the end I felt newly born. My skin, I thought, completely sated.

And then I asked to see his hands. He hesitated, giving me an odd look, as if I were the crazy one. He'd told me his story and I thought he was mad, but then he went to his coat and pulled out another pair of gloves and placed them carefully beside me on the bed. And then he peeled the leather from his hands and dropped them to the floor. They fell too fast, and landed with a heavy thud the thick carpet barely muffled.

I never saw what they became. All I could see was his hands. The skin was white, so white, almost blindingly so. Even the soft glow of the hotel light failed to temper their brilliance. The fingers were long and tapered; altogether beautiful. Something in his carriage changed, as if, like Adam, he was suddenly aware of his nakedness.

"They're beautiful," I breathed.

I couldn't bear it. Smooth white hands, perfect and beautiful, unable to touch, to feel. I wanted them on me, no matter what happened, for that one instant before changing, to feel them one time. And yes, I thought if what he said were true my life was over. But nothing else seemed to matter at this moment, nothing but the feeling of his hands.

"Touch me," and when he shook his head, "Please?"

"You don't believe me, do you? You think it's just a game?" but after a moment of studying my face, I could see he believed that I was serious. I was willing to take whatever the next moment would bring.

So he leaned down and kissed me, while his hands moved slowly forward, palms touching my nipples. I felt his hands as they closed around my breasts, the skin warm and softer than the gloves, and I wanted to tell him that, but I found I couldn't move my lips. His breath was misting the glinting metal of my eyes. He sighed and said, "Is this what you wanted?"

That was many years ago, and while I've often wished I could have told him, the golden skin that is my cage did not allow it. He was wrong about his touch. I didn't die. And since they've moved me into the square I have what I want. I am forever beautiful. I am touched a lot. People stop to admire me. Lovers kiss in my shadow. Young boys tweak my breasts and run away laughing. People run their naked hands across my face, my breasts, my belly. I can feel their touch, and it is lovely. Until I think of him. And then the touch I crave, the one I yearn for, even if it were to make me return back into flesh, is a hand inside a leather glove.



Julia Rust / David Surface: Fiction
Copyright © 2005 The Cortland Review Issue 28The Cortland Review