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The Statue

by Bethanie Johnson



The sound of water and soft voices in the green marble room made me wish for sleep. In the center of the room stood a fountain, the statue of a woman, tall and graceful, head and hands upturned toward the sky. With the light shining up from below, reflecting against her water skin, she glowed like an emerald.

The water flowed from her up-reached palms and down the cold rounded surface of her body, between the shapely breasts and into the sculpted dimple that whispered navel. The water never stopped abruptly dripping off an elbow or hardened nipple, but kept moving, over her bent knee, and down her slender legs. Covering her in loving warmth until it ran off the tip of her toe and onto the green marble base that worshipped quietly underneath her feet. Then the water slipped off the marble into the warm pool waiting below.

It was difficult to take my eyes off her, this green marble woman standing like a daydream in the center of the wet marble room. Difficult not to love her. So I stood staring until I heard the whispering around me falter and disappear. I noticed the women around me, filling the room with life and sound. They sat in the pools. In the warm pool at the foot of the fountain and in a cold pool that lay open in a corner of the room.

They hung back against the walls, openly staring. They came in through the glass doors that separated us from the outside world and walked slowly through the steam. They watched me, not even stopping as they bathed. They took stock of our differences. Compared my body to theirs. Sized up the thickness of my American frame. Used it as a reference point for what American women looked like. Saw it against the contrast of their own petite smooth bodies. I felt a flush moving down my freckled white skin as I watched these olive colored women staring back at me. I fumbled with the bottles in my hand and moved over to squat next to one of the showers that lined the wall only about three feet from the floor.

I felt relief as the hot water hit me. As I washed, I began to forget the women around me. Instead I saw the clean water moving down the surface of my body abruptly dripping off a bent knee, muddied from the dirt that had by then become my second skin. As the dirty water flowed down the drain I felt myself slowly thawing, coming to life again. I sighed at the thought of going back to the weapon and the cammo, the heaviness of the kevlar on my head and especially the Korean night, filled with the smell of manure, the sight of cardboard box homes, and a coldness that froze my very soul.

I imagined a soft touch along my shoulder, then another. Reacting with the reflexes of a soldier I jerked around to find a woman squatting behind me with a wash-rag dangling from her right hand. "I do," was all she said--all she could remember probably of a strange language she had once learned in school. I closed my eyes as she washed my back, softly removing the dirt and the weariness. Removing the ice. She took my hands and held them in her own, washing them, as if she worshipped me. She was small and thin, flat-chested like the other women in the room. Brown eyes and black hair that I knew would dry to look like well spun silk. But here she was washing me with her own hands. I felt tears falling down my face, mixing with the warm water that beat away the frowning creases of my mouth. It was such a relief to be touched by someone. To know the comfort of a hand on my shoulder as this strangely graceful woman washed my back. I opened my eyes and noticed for the first time how most of the women squatted in twos washing each other's bodies and conversing, communing with one another.

In this room with these women I felt my self-consciousness being washed away like so much mud and dirt. I briefly forgot the respective definitions of the words 'Korean' and 'American.' For an uninhibited moment, I knew the meaning of ultimate bliss.

When she finished I smiled at her. " Kam sa hab ni da (thank you)," was all I could manage in my 'standard issue' Korean. She smiled and bowed her head, returning into the steam. Standing up slowly, I took one last look at the room, at the curious women. At the green marble statue who watched over all of us. I turned and stepped out of the soft green bathroom and into the blinding light of a yellow tiled locker room. I put on clean underclothes and BDU's over my still damp skin. I pulled on my boots, lacing them up begrudgingly, wishing for five more minutes in the presence of women. But it was time to get back to my squad. Time to return to our war games and weapons. I took one last look at the steamed over glass doors that lead straight into heaven. Placing the heavy Kevlar over my wet hair, I walked into the icy Korean night.

Bethanie Johnson lives in Seattle, WA with her husband and daughter. She is currently working on her first novel and has recently been published on a PBS site called American Love Stories. That site location is www.pbs.org/weblab/lovestories/stories/Extended_Family/stoy73.shtml. If you would like to comment on her story, she can be reached at johnson_bethanie@hotmail.com

   
 
   
 

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