Sweat beads formed on my brow as soon as he removed the ice-cold washcloth. My matted hair straggled across the pillow; sheets wet with fever lay limp at the foot of the bed, almost slipping to the floor.
An ovened sun, begging to come from behind the curtains did not help the heat dissipate, so he gently soaked the washcloth, stroked my hair and held the cloth in place on my forehead. At some point I drifted to sleep but awakened with a start. The fever simply would not let go.
His inadequacy, his fatherly desperation at not knowing what to do showed. He stood up and left the room. I heard the car making its way down the driveway. I was too tired to wonder where he was going; I drifted off again.
He returned some time later with tea. It was black. I never drank black tea but the smell of vanilla pierced my congested nose and I inhaled deeply. All I wanted was nothing, but he started speaking: gently, ever so gently.
I lay my head back down, closed my eyes and turned my head so my ear would catch his gentle voice.
My grandparents took him out of school for a year and ferried him to the Seychelles to be with them. He was 16: young and very much alive, coming into manhood.
On this island of abundance he found himself working on a vanilla plantation. His job: propogation.
He spoke of the delicate flower as if it was the body of a woman he was caressing. He would gently lift the stamen of the female plant and place it on the male parts to propogate the delicate plant that permeates all of the world we live in.
He described the inner walls of the female flower in such intense detail that I fell in love with a plant I had never stopped to observe for more than a second.
His days would consist of fishing in large, handcrafted fishermen vessels, finding food for the evening.
After his plantation hours he would pick ripe papayas from the trees. The family’s consumption of these womb shaped fruits would dye their skin a deep orange because of its rich flesh.
Days would blend into evenings like oil paints on a canvas, sea water lapping at the steps of his hut where he would lay his weary body down to sleep.
My fever raged but my heart was elsewhere. My lips sipping the vanilla tea transported me, held me there. My eyelashes closed as he continued stroking my hair.
This feverish afternoon opened my heart to the magnificence of the human form: mostly the beauty of the female curve, the contours of her mountainous landscape.
Recently, poetry re-awakened this for me, brought it into my present. Reading “Lady Love”, “Compass Rose” and “On Anatomy and Physiology” brings back those same feverish murmurings that opened me to beauty.
And so my rolls of film have spilled out of the cupboards again. My camera has been leaning into folds of skin and hair.
Photos and post By Claire Burge, owner Claire Burge Photography
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