Already his abdomen was sculpted, and already
the thin trail descending from beneath his belly button.
Even now it is difficult to explain it. I was, after all,
only 7; I didn’t even know what Turkish meant.
In the dead of winter, which only meant
certain flowers had ceased blooming on the island,
we had driven up into the mountains
to “take the waters,” as our parents put it.
Our parents’ instructions were simple: they would be
in one room, our sister in another, my brother
and I in yet another. Down the dark hallways
as dark as tunnels, down through the strong smell
of minerals and seawater, the attendants led us
to our rooms. What was that smell? Sulfur?
Aluminum? There was the smell of salt, but it
was not the salt of the earth, not the sea itself.
The old man told us not to sit in the water for more
than fifteen minutes at a time, to drink lots of cold water,
to scrub the salts into our skin, to take care of each other.
And then, he left us. We took off our clothes, did it
without thinking. “You get in first,” is all he said, his voice
sounding more like my father’s, his voice having changed
almost a year ago. His body had changed, too.
Sitting in the pool, my thoughts began to swim
in the vapors, the steam, I felt nauseated.
I wanted not to look at him. I wanted to look at the tile:
blue and blue-white with the depiction of a terrible vine
twisting and creeping around the tops of the walls.
When he got out and lay on the tile next to the pool,
his abdomen was already sculpted, and the thin trail . . .
He knew I watched him, and he loved the admiration.
When I finally got out, my head dizzy, my heart racing
from the heat, I lay myself down next to him. He scrubbed
my back with a rough sponge, pulled me against his chest
as he scrubbed behind my ears and under my arms. There,
in the steam, I was cleaner than I would ever be again.
C. Dale Young, “Clean” from Torn. Copyright © 2011 by C. Dale Young.
C. Dale Young is a San Francisco based medical practitioner and professor of writing. He is the author of The Day Underneath the Day (TriQuarterlyBooks, 2001), The Second Person (Four Way Books, 2007), Torn (Four Way Books, 2011) and The Halo (Four Way Books, 2016).