The rough-sweet smell of a two stroke engine floats along the ripples in the lake. The comforting drift of exhaust is an offered hand as the boat idles away. The morning sun just stretching her arms across the sky. The water is still and silent, so smooth you can see the almost perfect reflection of the young day on her surface. Glass, we call it, the water is glass. And we are on the lake alone at this time of day, so early that even as she hugs me in that cold and lovely embrace there’s sleep in my eyes. I yawn in the morning, holding the handle as the rope unravels behind the boat. Waiting for the tug when it goes taught. Waiting for my dad flip into neutral and then back. Engaging the engine, keeping tension. Wiggling around to get the board just so, under my feet and in front of me. Waiting for the perfect moment to yell “Hit it!” And then the world leaps into motion. Feeling the pull of two hundred horses, the water hardens and I can stand up and watch the world spin around me. I look down at my bare legs, taught and pressing against the water and pressing up under me as it runs away. This is how I like to think of my legs. Bare and carving a wakeboard over a morning lake, the engine cranking, the snap of the rope, finally coming awake to see the world speeding by me. It’s perfect.
I think about that here, where the heat is inescapable and the sun simmers my organs. I look at my legs but cannot see them, they are covered past the knee. My thighs seem so long here. I feel like they must have grown on the plane. Somewhere between Frankfurt and Addis Ababa maybe.
I am hot. But I know my legs mean things to others that they do not mean to me. At home, with their embellishments of cellulite, the silver of a stretch mark, they are unsightly, surely unattractive. But there, I can bear the weight of a pair of shorts. Here, in a new place, I genuinely do not wish to offend the world with their sexiness. They threaten to tempt Adam from the hand of God, the men from Allah and Buddha from his meditation. They are scandalous, sexualized, immodest. When I am by myself, when all they mean is a way to move across the room or over a lake or up a mountain… only then, they can really be fine. They are not fat or scandalous or gross when I’m alone. But in public, they whisper false rumors and ask to be judged. And so I keep my hips, my quadriceps, my hamstrings, my knees, swathed in fabric. The long, useful muscles of my body are smothered. Shoulders, chest, stomach, hips. Only my arms and my calves can reach the air. And I am hot. I am so hot.
I watch the people, men and women walking to work as we drive past them. In suits and long skirts. I wonder if this heat feels as oppressive to them. A man and a woman stand at the entrance to the grocery store. I walk to the woman and she waves a metal detecting wand in a trace of my outline. Shoulders, arms, sides, hips, thighs. Everything is covered and everything must be checked for traces of terrorism.
“It’s hot out, isn’t it?” I ask her.
She smiles with only her lips and nods at me. She’s wearing long pants.1