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Rafi is shadowboxing. His desk lamp -- craned high and straight -- spotlights him from behind. It casts a deep, hard-lined shadow on the bare white wall of his studio apartment as he ducks-jabs-crosses, elbows tight to his ribs and his feet beating about in conquest of a rhythm. His window is cracked open, keeping his apartment hot and wet like the smells of a hamper. The sound of his breathing is a loud, hydraulic hiss. He has a double mouthpiece in and he is learning to breathe through the tiny vent between the rubber guards, his breath a balky steam train. He moves in an ellipse on the hardwood floor, wearing only a pair of briefs. His punches are snakes, impetuous and mercurial in the way they pump and then tense back near his body. Occasionally he hits himself in the chest, in the biceps, in the gut, staring at his shadow. It is a nightly ritual that keeps him in his apartment. There is plenty of room with just the desk and the bed, the desk chair stacked on the kitchen counter. He has all this room, yet he remains focused in his ellipse, on his shadow.
And for these reasons he does not see Nina standing out on the fire escape of his apartment, bent over so only her head is visible in the window. She has watched Rafi practice many times before and has never been caught, careful to watch him slow down from his tight patter of punches to a more slovenly pace. Whenever she notices he begins to favor his left leg, she lightly ascends the ladder to her own balcony and picks up a book left on her feather-white deck chair and begins to read. She figures it is more believable to be outside reading on such a blood-warm evening. Indoors is too obvious. She is at her most daring, belly on fire with the curved and wet parts of Rafi's body. It has been months since Nina sought companionship through bar visits or Internet personal ads. Her therapist tells her she wants to be caught by Rafi but right now, watching Rafi throw hooks at himself, she knows she likes things this way.
Victor likes things this way, too. For a fourteen-year-old, there is no greater portent of a luck-swelled summer than to find a woman of a pleasurably advanced age bent over just two stories up from the alley through which he was, until recently, shortcutting. It is particularly lucky if that woman is wearing a sundress that rides high in the back. It is too dark, and nothing further is revealed than that widened section in the back of her upper thigh, where the leg dips before becoming another entity altogether. It is similarly revealed, in an already scorching spring like this, at countless pools and beaches, causing experienced lovers to feel finished with exploring it. It is marked territory, and they reserve their kisses for deeper portions of the body. But for Victor, it seems foolish to give up such pleasures, like an aquanaut tiring of the sea's mysteries. For a fourteen-year-old who still finds nothing tedious about a body, who sees each bit as not a bit at all but a lithe and graceful part of a whole, Nina's legs burn the fuse to a haunting excitement.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Messinger's work has appeared in McSweeney's, Pineldyboz, THE2NDHAND, and various other magazines. He is the editor of This is Grand (at www.thisisgrand.org) and wrote every day until recently, when a guy thought it would be a good idea to open his car door as Jonathan rode by on his bicycle. Jonathan's hand, unfortunately, disagreed.