I bought you the more expensive kind of meat for our dinner, even though it was not within the budget. You kept sending messages updating me on your increasing lateness. When I finally called angry it was like old times – you drinking with friends, taken aback by the clock’s steady march – me already wearing a black dress with not much cloth, wanting you an hour ago.
Baby girl, you said, I’m going to finish my cigarette and leave right away.
The door to my apartment swings shut unless I hold it open, so I missed my first chance to catch you in a hug as you walked past me. There was so much to take in with you in front of me, your familiar shape and size, heavy slumped shoulders, and torn back jean pockets adorning your behind. My eyes lingered on your lips, nose, chin – though they are symmetrical, unremarkable – and I wondered how the union of such normal features could yield the impossibly specific synthesis of your face. But after a moment, I controlled my eyes and remembered to put our dinner in the oven.
We had each slept with someone since we had broken up, and because we were on good terms, it didn’t seem like a problem to talk about it. You even drew me a diagram of an uncircumcised penis, because I was a little bit confused. But then you mentioned that you’d had sex with this woman twice in a row, and I started crying.
You never had sex with me two times, I said.
No, we did at my place early on, you said.
I don’t remember.
Well, I’m sure it was nothing special for her either.
In the park, we sat on a bench and drank beer, while I continued to cry. You told me that you had no time for a relationship now, because you were running an all-women hostel.
A brothel? I wailed, crying harder.
No, an all-women hostel.
Why are you there then?
To keep them safe, you laughed.
By sleeping with them?
That was just the one time, you said. Actually, it’s frowned upon to hit on customers. You opened more beers for us, making two small sounds that carried in the foggy night.
Now you won’t even want to come see me anymore, because I’m upset, I said.
If it just makes you unhappy, what’s the point?
It had been on my mind to say that if you gave up drinking for me, I still wanted to make it work – but it didn’t seem like a good time.
I am happy, I said, putting my arms around your shoulders and sobbing into your neck.
You asked if you could sleep on the couch because it was late, and I said no you had to sleep in the bed with me. I had already been lying with my head in your lap as we watched the movie, and was not about to let you go. You hesitated, looked away, said that sex would be unhealthy for me, we should just go to sleep.
After the amount of Coors you had been drinking, it’s not like I didn’t already know the only lovemaking that night would be between your head and the pillow.
As soon as you lay down, I wrapped as much of myself around you as possible. And you were still, not putting your arms around me, not pushing me away. My hands found their way into the familiar places, slipping underneath your shirt to feel the bristle of your chest hairs, and down under the curve of your stomach to rest on your hip bones.
I woke you up a lot that night, tossing and turning, but it seemed that if this was the last night we would share a bed, it would be best to do so from as many angles as possible – feeling many times my body grow heavy on yours, and then moving to rest on cooler areas of your skin. And sometime during the night, you started holding me back, outlining my body with yours, your head migrating to my pillow. Perhaps in semi-consciousness you had forgotten your resolve, or maybe you simply wanted to still my restlessness so we could sleep. When the sun came up, the room grew hotter and I slid out of my pajamas bottoms.
You were hard against my back when I woke up, and holding me tightly. With your hand on my belly, by increments you pulled my butt closer and closer against your crotch. But I was still thinking you felt having sex would be unhealthy for me, until you slipped your hand in my underwear. I opened my legs and turned over so you could put your fingers inside me. With my eyes closed, I let you touch me.
Pressing my face down the length of your body, I kissed my way to your tender skin, and rubbed myself against your leg. While giving you head, you did the things I like, helpfully holding my hair back in a ponytail, taking my hanging breasts in your hands, pushing your penis uncomfortably far into my mouth.
On top of you, I realized this might be our last time having sex, although there had been last times before. When you first moved out, you were nearly homeless and asked if you could take a bath at the apartment. After getting out of the tub, you draped a towel around your hips – something I had never seen you do – and I made fun of you for covering your private parts. But then you lay down in my bed and told me to lie down next to you, although it was the middle of the day and I said I wasn’t tired. –
– Thinking of this, I stopped fucking you for a moment, and gave you a long kiss on the mouth even though I knew you didn’t want that. You grabbed the back of my neck and made quick thrusts beneath me, a repeated attack from below, until I buried my face in your shoulder and came.
Then you climbed on top of me and fucked me hard enough to hear it – with my hands and legs I pushed you deeper inside me. One of the times I broke up with you and changed my mind, we’d had another last time. You didn’t see the point, but I made you hard in my mouth, then stopped and insisted you fuck me.
And then there was one last night together when you refused, and watched television in bed next to me while I masturbated. –
– I put my legs up and held them back now, making myself as available for you as possible. After coming, you lay on top of me for a bit, until your need to gasp for air was less. When you finally get off I felt the cliché sense of emptiness women so often describe of this moment, though perhaps it made sense if this really was our last time.
I could never say no to you, I wonder if I should tell you that, though I think you already know and I probably shouldn’t remind you.
A few months before, we had walked home from the train late one night in the middle of a blizzard, alive from the night music, teetering as we made our way forward in knee deep accumulation, the heavy wind stinging our faces with snowflakes. There was no one else on the avenue, and we walked down the middle of the street alone.
Look at the snow collecting on the branches, how beautiful, you said.
And I watched you watching the crevices of these naked trees, craning your head and smiling. Your love of the landscape shook me at this moment, when I had just been worried about getting home, and not slipping on the ice.
But then I became unsure if we were walking in the right direction, because the street signs were covered in snow. I told you we might be walking the wrong way, but you said it was fine and kept walking forward. Looking at the parked cars, I realized we should be going with the one-way street, not against.
You were still walking away from me and I called to you. Without stopping, you gestured for me to catch up.
You’re going the wrong way, I shouted.
This is the right way, you replied.
No, I said, calling your name again, come back. But you kept walking away from me into the blizzard, trudging face first into the wind, against the one-way street, further from my pleas. It occurred to me that you might keep walking this wrong way no matter what I said, thinking you were homeward bound but heading further into the darkness, and laughing, I kept calling after you that home was the other way, that I was sure of it. Finally with a whole block between us, you turned around and we both beckoned towards each other, smiling, your face so clear to me, even despite the dim lamp light, the thick snow, the blurred memory.
Joanna Arnow is a filmmaker based in Brooklyn, her hometown. She recently finished a feature documentary, i hate myself :) which will be released in the near future. Some of her film work can be seen at https://vimeo.com/arnow and her fiction has appeared with Glimmer Train Press.