by Dustin M. Hoffman
It started as an endearment, her finger in his belly button an intimacy that was uniquely and solely theirs. His navel swallowed not one but two of the knuckles on her index finger.
“It’s just so deep,” she said.
“Fountain of youth,” he said.
She liked textures, how the hair on his chest and belly bunched between her fingers, the slow swirling of her palms and fingertips a steady growing arousal. Afterwards, her cheek on his matted chest, he rested his arm on her back, relaxed but secure. Then she dug in his navel.
At first he squirmed, a painful tickle, the tip of her nail pricking a virgin nerve deep in the hollow. He bodily jumped back. She laughed, bashful, a girl discovering. And when he calmed down again into their languorous embrace he reinserted her finger and said, “Softer.”
She bit her fingernail to a nub, the moisture on her fingertip like a swab as she plucked out a whorl of lint wired by black hairs.
“No one’s ever done that before,” he said.
“It’s ours,” she said, rolling up the nebula and tossing it at him. It stuck to the stubble on his chin. He picked it, then rolled it between her breasts past her navel and into her hair. And so it was that afterglow became foreplay.
In the morning he would find the little ball amidst the covers and set it on the nightstand for when she awoke. Mementos, he called them.
At her place she kept them in a jar and called them pets.
For their wedding she made a throw pillow with her mementos, his pets. They kept it as the centerpiece over the duvet in the marital bed.
“Your belly button made this,” she said, clutching the pillow between her knees when she was pregnant.
On weekends he wore heavy sweatshirts so that on Sunday nights she could rake the loom for his massive treasures. He would sigh, a weight removed. Otherwise he wore tight fitting t-shirts that scraped together enough fabric so that when Junior was born his bassinet was lined with the downy tactile fur, and Mother swaddled him in homespun mittens so he wouldn’t scratch his delicate face.
The nail on both of her index fingers stopped growing.
“It’s evolution,” he said.
“It’s age,” she said.
And so it went for many years, her embroidery affording her family regular vacations, and his steady output, both at work and out of his navel, granting their three children a modest education supplemented by work-study. There was only a muted surprise when the inevitable occurred.
“There is nothing,” she said, her scalp a tide of time on his chest. He rested his hand under her right breast and sighed.
“The well is dry,” he said. She removed her finger from his navel and slid her hand into his, over the cracked folds and webbed veins, and felt the familiar arousal.
This piece first appeared in MAKE #8, “This Everyday.”
Web-exclusive illustration by Kelsey Zigmund.
Winner of the One Book, One Chicago flash fiction writing contest, Robert Duffer’s (www.robertduffer.com) work has appeared in Chicago Tribune, MAKE Magazine, Chicago Reader, Knee-Jerk Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Monkeybicycle, Chicago Public Radio, Annalemma, New City, Flashquake, Chicago Artists Resource, Word Riot, Chicago Center for Literature and Photography(CCLaP), Pindledyboz, The 2nd Hand,Hypertext, and other coffee-table favorites like Canadian Builders Quarterly. He edits a Sunday column on fatherhood Experiments in Manhood, and is co-host and co-founder of the monthly reading series, RUI: Reading Under the Influence.
Kelsey Zigmund is an artist and former Chicagoan now residing in Minnesota. She is currently working toward an MFA in illustration at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Follow her on Twitter @kzigs and keep up with her Tumblr, the zig zone, at kelseyzigmund.tumblr.com.