Wednesday meant a racing heart. Thursday through Tuesday meant long nights of writing, erasing, ripping up papers, and trying desperately to find the right words.
Sophia wrote a poem every week. She finished them on Wednesdays, usually in the morning before work. She wrote them out by hand and didn’t make any copies. She ripped any drafts into tiny pieces and put them down the garbage shoot of her apartment building.
She would beam all through the day Wednesday, letting her hand slip into her pocket to finger the thick paper she had folded neatly there. Pride and joy and desire. Desire that made her cheeks burn.
After work, she would take the A train as far north as it would go and walk five blocks through Inwood to the top of the island of Manhattan, where the Columbia university crew team rowed. It was quiet and smelled of flowers and the river. As she did, she worried about touching her poem because her sweaty, nervous fingers might smudge the ink or wrinkle the paper.
Diane’s house was Tudor Revival, with all sorts of charming details. A rare thing to find in Manhattan. Dark gray with black trim making an array of triangles that outlined the two-story structure. It has a little cobblestone path to the front door and a mailbox with a little red flag on it.
As always, her throat was dry when she rang the bell. It always took a moment for Diane to answer the door, and Sophia was sure she waited on purpose. The thought of her lover making her wait outside made her swoon for some reason.
Diane was tall and beautiful, and she did not often smile but instead had the eyes of a strict schoolteacher. She gave Sophia her cheek to kiss, and Sophia lingered there, lips to her skin, taking in the scent of her perfume. Something like incense and rose petals and spices.
There would be fans and ice-cold lemonade in the summer, but in the cold months, there would be a fire and tea. There would always be candles, usually in large ornate brass candelabras. The candles and fire would often be the only light in the big sitting room where they would engage in their Wednesday ritual.
In front of the fireplace were two oversized high-backed chairs, plush and embroidered, red and gold and black. Between them, a lacquered table, where the candelabras were set. Diane sat on the left, Sofia on the rug at her feet.
“I hope you brought me something again this visit,” Diane would say, each time sounding both imposing and hopeful. Sophia had never come empty-handed.
With pride brimming, she would hand Diane the poem. Diane would get her glasses from the table and put them on, unfolding the paper slowly.
“And this is the only copy?” She would ask.
“Yes, ma’am,” Sophia would answer.
“So this is for my eyes only?” She would ask.
“Yes, ma’am,” Sophia would answer, nodding her head emphatically.
For that, she was gifted a small grin. “Good.”
It was embarrassing on some level to hear her poem read out loud, even if it was one she was proud of. That was just the way of things. There was always fear about the quality of her art. There was always the worry it would not please Diane.
Diane was a thoughtful reader. She often paused and mouthed the words before reading them aloud, ensuring she understood any rhymes, meters, or phrasing. She often read the poems twice. Then she would sigh deeply and often reread it, silently.
The next part was always different, but Diane always said something very thoughtful about the work. She often noticed things about the poems Sophia herself missed. Then she would hand the poem back to Sophia and nod once.
In the summer, Sophia would use the candles, but in the winter she would go to the fireplace. She would hold her precious paper up to the flame and watch her hard work burn.
It always hurt. It always made her a little dizzy, the sacrifice, the gift, the transaction, the ceremony. It made her face hot, and her head light, and her body tingle and fidget.
When she looked back, Diane would often give her the gift of a full wide toothy smile. Diane had sharp canines, and Sophia often dreamed of Diane’s teeth sinking into her skin.
“Very good,” Diane would say, and Sophia would return to the rug and lean her head on Diane’s lap. “Now I suppose you want your payment,” Diane would say, with a teasing edge in her voice.
Sophia would nod, hoping not to look too desperate. Diane would sigh again, as if put out by it, and shift in her chair. “I suppose you earned it, didn’t you,” she would say as she gathered her dress and pulled it up her long legs.
Sophia would kiss her stockings and kiss the bit of thigh just above where they ended. And up and up as Diane sighed again and combed her fingers through Sophia’s hair and said, “That’s it, my little poet. Very good.”
The greatest gift was when Diane’s voice broke. When her breath caught. When her body shuddered. Sophia’s mind would be flooded with all the memories of all the poems and all the nervousness and all the pride and the fear and the desire and the flames.