For our first date, Alex bikes all the way to Brooklyn Heights from the Upper West Side. Before we met, he told me how excited he was, how nervous. “I’ve never been on an online date before,” he confessed. “I don’t use apps.”
I made Negronis in jam jars and put them, with an ice pack, in my tote. I arrive terrified at the promenade. When I see the skyline, framed by haze and blue river water, I cry out. It’s the end of May, and for almost three months, I’ve been alone in my apartment. My loneliness propels me to risk contamination. I don’t tell friends or family. But they live with partners, kids. They have no right to judge.
Alex lives alone, too. We make jokes that aren’t jokes about going crazy; I even talked about crying. Hahaha really?, he wrote, then asked me out.
For two minutes, I let myself lean against a brick building and hyperventilate. He told me which bench to find him on, but I would have known him anyway when I see very long legs sticking out and a moppy brown head bent over a book.
I sit on the adjoining bench. “Hi.”
He removes his mask, showing imperfect teeth and the kind of sheepish smile that always turns a man into a boy. A wash of relief. He has kind brown eyes and a nice voice—soft, deep, touched with New York.
He stands. He seems to straighten up for a full five seconds. He’s closer to seven feet than six, and I have to crane my neck. As we walk, he smokes. I love the taste of cigarettes on a man.
In the grocery store, we toss snacks into the basket, fancy crackers, cheese, candy, beer: a picnic feast. We’re kids, drunk on adulthood. We stop to pay. I reach for my wallet. “It’s fine,” he says. “Really.”
He pulls out a wad of cash. I see several hundreds and avert my eyes. He leaves the basket in the middle of the floor. I pick it up, muttering an apology to the girl behind the plexiglass.
He walks me home, towing his bike four miles out of his way. He insists, and I’m glad; the city is strange these days, without the bars and restaurants that guard my way home, the illusion of their protection going dark with the lights. As we go deeper into the Brooklyn concrete, we leave behind the open sky, the heat rising. Instead of cooking food or the wafts of beer from bars, I smelled only his cigarettes and sweat. He remarks that this part of the city feels claustrophobic as rat burrows; I say nothing. I’m relieved to part from the commercial boulevards and their empty shopping centers, and I walk beneath the lit bedroom windows of apartments I recognize. People live here.
My shoes are filled with sand from the beach near the Brooklyn Bridge, where we finished the beers and skipped stones, and where I walked across the jagged rocks. When I slipped, he caught me, and it was the first time I felt touch in months. He picked me up and put me back on the rocks so I’d be tall enough to kiss him.
Under fluorescent bodega lights, I find out his reason for not using apps: as a programmer, he hates to leave a trace. He told me we’d text from now on using Signal. He has no credit cards.
When we reach my apartment, I am relieved to be out of the darkened streets and under my fly-coated stoop lamp. Sweaty and tired, he looks up at my building like it’s filthy, and refuses to come up, even for water. “I’ll see you soon,” he says. “I can’t wait.” When he smiles, I see he means it.
“I had a really good time.”
He touches my cheek. “You have no idea.”
At home, he reverberates through my body. The apartment seems even emptier. I listen to my feet creak on the floors—his steps will screech. I take off my shoes, tip them over; the sand hits the trash bag with a hiss.
It’s two a.m. in Prospect Park. I love summer nights and thank his stature for the chance to enjoy this one even in the deserted darkness. I feel my soul expanding at the contact like a parched sponge dropped into a pool. When he looks at me, or touches me, it’s like the endorphins have been compressed and concentrated. Months of loneliness are undone with a kiss. Mist hovers over the lawn, glowing in the flickering lamplight. Far off, dog’s collar lights blink as they circle their owners in joyful sprints. He picks me up and sets me on his lap. I’m neither large nor small but he lifts me like I’m nothing.
“Be gentle,” I say, through a giggle, softening my warning. He shifts me around like a doll. It comes out nervous: “Be gentle with me.”
He kisses me, softly.
My apartment is small, stuffed with books and lamps and picture frames, and I cannot look without seeing him somewhere. It’s our third date, and everything is closed, so he’s here. I worry what he thought I meant when I invited him. He pulls out a book, a gift from an ex, and throws it across the room. “That’s the sort of shit the girls at Book Culture always press on me.”
My heart is pounding. He touches my face. “We don’t have to do anything tonight,” he says. “We can just hang out.”
My heart slows. I’ve always hated the hit-the-ground-running nature of online dating.
He kisses me, soft.
Then he picks me up and carries me to the bed; I’ve never been lifted like this before. He drops me on my mattress and the ironwork screams.
He bends over me. “You know, I hated Cloud Atlas. What did you think?”
Forgetting his literary criticisms, he lifts my dress and pulls down my underwear. He puts his fingers inside me.
“I want you to like me.” He moves his fingers out, then back. “I want you to stay with me.”
“I am with you.” I squirm. “That hurts.”
He pulls his fingers out, kisses me, and moves so we’re facing each other. He takes up the mattress. He’ll have to sleep in the fetal position. He invades the bed, possesses it; I’ll never again sleep here without thinking of him.
I am nervous. “You know what’s something men think?” I’m not sure I can say this, but I want to shock him. “Men all think other men hate cunnilingus. Every man I’ve ever been with says he can’t believe other men don’t do this. ‘Get ready baby, I’m gonna blow your mind’.”
He hesitates, then laughs. “I can’t believe you said that.”
I shrug, then, unable to hold the cool expression, hide in the pillow. He cups the back of my head. “Come back,” he says. “You’re very beautiful.”
I prop myself up. “Aren’t you worried this is just a covid thing?”
“We’ve both been alone so long,” I say. “We’re excited about something good.”
He closes his eyes. “I’m falling in love with you.” He rolls me onto my back and kisses my stomach. “Get ready baby,” he says.
“I’m gonna blow your mind.”
In the morning, I brush my teeth. He walks by the bathroom and slaps my ass, hard.
I spit. “Don’t touch me like that.”
He laughs. He slaps me again.
I raise my voice, shocked into tears. “Do not!”
He makes his voice high. “Do not!”
I close the door, dress. In the bedroom, he lays on the bed, elbows behind his head, staring at the ceiling. “I don’t like being lectured.”
“You need to be gentle with me.” I speak to him like I would a child.
“I don’t like being told what to do.”
“This is more important.”
He shrugs. “Compromise.”
Something shifts. It’s like we went on a journey the night before, and arrive home, still strangers. I’m suddenly afraid. I think of a song lyric, about how far love can make you travel in a night. It is a lie. Things can travel fast in one night, but they aren’t love.
“I think you should go.”
He climbs off the bed and kneels before me. “I apologize.”
I stare. He pulls my hands apart from where they’re wrapped around my legs.
“Don’t be weird.”
He kisses my knuckles like I’m a medieval lady. “Please.” He grins. “I can’t wait to see you again.”
With that, he tackles me on the bed, nuzzles my neck until I’m laughing. Then he puts his hand between my legs.
“You say you don’t like that I touch you like that.” His breath is hot in my ear. “But your body says differently.”
I am betrayed.
I’m hanging out my window. A crowd marches down my street. The laundromat is boarded up, but the bodega is open, hoping the hot, hungry protestors will bring prosperity. Sirens, protest chants, screams as the police shout through their megaphones. Inside, my apartment is hot, empty. When I see Alex’s name on my phone, I’m relieved to have company.
I hold the phone so he can hear the crowds.
“I don’t like you in the middle of all that,” he says.
“You haven’t been going?”
“Stay at my place until it passes.”
I climb onto my fire escape, where I’ve spent countless hours this spring, looking out at the roofs, toward Manhattan. “We hardly know each other.”
“But wouldn’t it be fun?”
I can feel him in the hot dark air, still smell him on the sheets. I imagine days of eating, sleeping, waking with him, of laughing, having someone hear me when I speak. I weigh them against watching the sunlight float across the floor, alone. “Terrible idea.”
He pokes out his door when the elevator opens. “Hi cutie.” He takes my bags and raises the cat carrier to his face, smiling at the yowling black creature inside, then hands me keys.
I look at them in my palm. “I thought you were kidding.”
“I make all my guests keys,” he says. “Besides, you’re moving in.”
“We’re just having an adventure,” I say. “We haven’t even had sex.”
His apartment is a bright one-bedroom on Riverside. There’s no air conditioning, but the pale wood and water-view windows freshen the heat. In his living room, he has a good rug, a driftwood lamp, and two overflowing bookshelves. I migrate to the taller one. Alex is the first man I’d dated who really reads—who doesn’t just pretend or have a few good titles to drop.
He comes behind me and wraps his arms around my waist, resting his chin on my head.
No sex yet—this is something of an exaggeration. We’ve tried, but last time, he went shy and soft inside of me, and I stroked his hair. “You’re the first woman I’ve been with in years that I’ve cared about,” he says. “You’re special. I’m scared.”
Within minutes, it’s clear that it’s not time yet. He can’t relax. He pulls up my skirt, pinches me, moves me around until I’m annoyed.
“Be gentle,” I say.
“I love all your little dresses.” He puts a hand over the top of my underwear. “I like when they go up.
On upper Broadway, the world is different. Smiling old white people walk by with masks around their chins. Restaurants sell takeout, and I can’t find empty storefronts. No broken windows, and only a few signs whispering solidarity give any hint of the protests raging outside this radius.
“Doesn’t this bother you?” I ask. We’re leaning against a building that resembles a wedding cake so white it must be power washed every few months. “All this privilege.”
He shrugs. “Better than stealing someone else’s neighborhood.”
I feel heat in my face. “I couldn’t afford to live here.”
He shrugs. “You went to college. You chose not to find a lucrative career,” he says. “Now you’re gentrifying a neighborhood.”
There’s more to it, I think, though at the moment I can’t think what. We can’t all be natives of the Upper West Side. We can’t all work at startups. Yet it seems that there’s truth to what he says—my friends’ heated political arguments as inaccessible as the bars where they spun them. I’m red-handed. “Still,” I say. “What’re you doing about it?”
“Money.” He leads me to the cobblestone walkway on the top of the park, where couples walk their pretty dogs and runners’ shorts match their sports bras.
“That’s not an excuse? Not to protest?”
He shrugs. “It still gets more done.”
I feel nervous. He pinches my waist. “I’m not very nice.” It comes out like a warning.
It calms me that he knows this. “Just be nice to me.”
He sits on the stone wall at the top of the park and smokes. I’m afraid he’ll fall back into the sloping bramble, and get close, as if I’m strong enough to catch him. “I’m happy you’re here,” he says. “I hope you like Manhattan. I want you to like where I live.”
In his kitchen, the hot air blows through the screen, bringing with it the sounds of New York summer. Ice cream truck twinkles, blaring horns.
“I didn’t expect this,” he says from a stool. “Having you here is so much more natural than I imagined it would be. I’ve been looking for you a long time.”
We’re both high on company. We eat with my legs across his lap, our thighs sticking, sharing a plate, drinking from the same water glass.
He finishes. “This is so much better than what I would have done.”
“It’s just chicken.”
“But you make it food.” He shakes his head.
My hair tie snaps. “Fuck.”
He goes to the bathroom and returns with a package of them. They’re all for blondes; they’ll show in my dark hair. “Great,” I say. “Thanks, previous chick.”
“A male friend left them,” he says. “He has long hair.”
I give him a look. He doesn’t need to do that.
We sweat naked on his couch over a chessboard. He’s read two books on the game and pays the guys who sit at the corner of Washington Square to teach him. I watch his hulking body as he concentrates. He tells me the different openings, the theories, and when his voice goes fast and excited, I see him as he was as a boy. Sometimes, I recognize my maternal instincts as they kick in.
In the middle of the night, we finally have sex. He wakes me up kissing me. “Now.”
“Are you sure?”
His window is open to the fire escape, and the neighbors have left their jazz on. It washes over me with the breeze as he climbs on top.
I’ve never been with someone so physical before. He’s one hundred pounds heavier than me; I feel his thrusts in my teeth.
After, he pants. Without his touch, his sweat turns cool on my skin.
“Fuck yeah,” he said. “I can fuck.”
In the light of the streetlamps, I watch his lean, long body rise. He returns with milk and sits on the end of the bed. His knees extend out and he rests his elbows on them like The Thinker, his curly hair standing straight-up from where my fingers have raked it wild. He drinks the half-gallon and crushes the container, then laughs out loud.
“I can fuck! Ladies and gentlemen!”
I laugh. “Come here.”
He turns and jumps on me, catching his weight just in time. “I want you to stay with me.”
“I’m right here.”
“I mean always.”
I look at him. “I’m right here.”
We spend the morning in bed. In the drowsy heat, I’m watching my cat sleep on his computer chair. She has round, green eyes and a little white mouth.
“Your cat is so cute it makes me want to kill her,” he says.
I turn. “You mean squeeze her?”
“No,” he says. “I get filled with anger when I see her. Fury. I don’t like being manipulated. By her face.”
I wait a moment. He smiles, laughs, and then says in a high impersonation of my voice, “I don’t know how I feel about this!”
He puts on his glasses and moves my cat off the chair. He clicks his tongue. “Hi sweetie,” he says, scratching under her chin. “Sweetie.”
I take her from him, cradling her. Her fur sticks to my sweaty belly. I let her flee for the cool air beneath the couch.
He stretches. I love watching his body. His chest is so long, I can place both my hands lengthwise between his navel and his penis. I watch the cords in his arms move.
He sits and turns on his enormous monitor. He starts to work, typing in code as fast as I type English. Green code fills the black screen for a few minutes, then, “Fuck work,” he says. “Let’s do something.”
We bike to Times Square, to see the garbage waft through the empty streets. I haven’t ridden a bike in Manhattan before. He rides on the outside, careful, giving me tips, occasionally looking back, shirtless, shining with sweat, teeth flashing. While moving, he brightens, his volume goes up. He’s most himself when he’s keeping pace with the city, the cars rushing by, his voice calling back as we sail through the lights. He hoots and my heart skips. Heart pounding from the uphill climb, we tip over and sail down Broadway. He turns back, hair flapping in the wind. When I get the hang of it, he woops. “There she goes!”
I think, I’m done for.
Later, he spoons me, my back slick against his chest. “I think we’re meant to be,” he says. “I’m excited for the rest of our lives. How many kids do you want? I want ten.”
I smile. “You’re crazy.”
He pulls me onto his mouth. I love that he picks me up and puts me in different positions, that I don’t need to bear my own weight. During sex, he’s a shark tasting blood. He changes, he looks down at me in awe and obsession and doesn’t return until he finishes, muscles convulsing, grasping me impossibly tight, it hurts, I can’t breathe, but I’ve never been closer to anyone.
His sweat drips on my face. “Bless up to God,” he says.
“For the sex?”
He goes quiet. “For bringing me to you.”
I burst into tears.
On his roof, I find out Alex makes five hundred thousand dollars a year. I’m sitting on his lap as he smokes, watching a barge float beneath the GWB. I ask what he pays in rent—he owns the place. Others I’ve dated have dirty dishes, bongs on sticky coffee tables, bare toilet paper rolls. Salaries didn’t turn them into adults. I like that Alex has a home of his own. He tells me the lie he used to negotiate, the magic words which unlocked another thirty percent. He doesn’t vote. He hates traveling. He hates his mother. I have forgiven the voting. I have forgiven all of it, in practice, but I notice, especially the mother.
“I hate your neighborhood,” he says later, sitting on my stoop so he can smoke. I’ve dragged him here. I don’t want to be the only one who travels.
A curfew snuffed out the protests. The streets are empty and quiet, though far off, sirens still wail.
Now that I know his salary, I bristle. “Leave it alone.”
He gives me a look, telling me I’m naïve. Then he nudges me, points. Someone has stretched black tape over the red DON’T WALK hand, turning it into a solidarity fist. He snickers.
“It’s cool,” I say.
Then he throws his cigarette to join the butts on the ground, and punches one fist into the other.
“I hate being white here,” he says, punching, punching. “We’re trespassing.”
“You seem afraid, you know, when you talk like that.”
He wraps his hands around my ribcage. His fingers touch. He squeezes.
He laughs. I squirm. He squeezes.
I claw at his hands. “Stop!”
When I raise my voice, his humor leaves, his mouth goes flat, his eyes go blank. He stops being my boyfriend, he becomes cold. He has three personalities: the gleeful, intense nerd; the strong, lustful man; the sarcastic, nasty button-pusher. I love two of these personalities, and spend my time darting around the third.
“I annoy you.” He steps away from me. “You don’t like me.”
“Not true.” I touch his face. “Just be gentle.”
I bike alone down a busy street. A man opens his door. I ram into it. My shoulder crunches back. I fly off my bike, into traffic. I scream, but stand, unharmed. Shaking, I grasp the bike and mount, unsure of what to do, knowing only that I want to be home. Sobbing and frightened, I bike the rest of the way, trying to catch my breath. Once I lock the bike, I stand on the curb. The street around me is alive, smelling of charcoal and cigarettes. The sidewalk shakes from the bass of a stereo, blasting out of a car with its doors winged open. Down the block, teenage boys shoot off whistling bottle rockets.
I call Alex. “I got doored!”
His apartment is silent except for the sound of his laughter.
Tears spring into my eyes; I’m humiliated, still shaken. A part of me thinks, you’re not a child, why are you crying?
“You’re obviously fine,” he said. Another rocket whistles.
I am quiet for a long time. I wait for him to take it back, to apologize. But he just repeats my name. “You there?”
I know that Alex is not nice. I know he can be cruel. This makes me feel powerful. I’m strong enough to be his match. Being with him tests me, and after months alone, his obstacle course is exhilarating. Sometimes I wonder whether I like him, but the question dies before I can answer. It’s unimportant. I imagine losing him, the long empty hours, and I recoil.
My apartment is too quiet; it sounds like cotton stuffed in my ears. The fireworks flare behind my white curtains, turning them green for a moment, blue, purple. My anger bounces through my head, off the walls—will I have to be here alone from now on? But a few hours later he calls back. “I wish I could hold you,” he says. “I’m so sorry that happened. If I’d been there, I would have beaten the shit out of that guy.”
The next day we work out, blasting punk and dancing in my living room. He does a hundred pushups naked; I watch him, delighted, the muscles in his back moving. He fills the room, possesses it; he’s so much man that I hope I can be enough woman for him.
I drink out of the milk container in short shorts.
“Baby, you’re my teenage fantasy.” He takes a picture. “Positively pornographic.”
“Delete that!” He pinches me. “There’s whole threads in 4chan with pictures like this.”
I stare at him until he deletes the picture. He laughs. “You know I’d never post anything.”
“Be nice to me.”
“I’m not nice.” He puts his hands on his hips, glares down at me. “Remember?”
I step back, away from his touch.
He smirks, lifts me up, my legs around his waist. “We should fuck like this.”
At first I stay stiff in his arms, but can only resist so much when he’s so much stronger. He bites my ear, playful. Soon I’m laughing. He’s impossible, I think, but so much more interesting than the inside of my head.
I’m anxious whenever we’re apart. So many empty hours in the empty apartment, checking my email and calling it a purpose, that the allure of him grows with each moment. My heartbeats say Alex Alex Alex. This anxiety manifests in a need to check the relationship, to call, to ask if he’s mad. I know this doesn’t help; I feel myself provoking him, poking a bear, yet cannot stop. The more I check in, the angrier he gets, the needier I feel. I can’t, I won’t, be alone again. I want him so badly that it feels like all of my cells have been possessed. It’s the virus, I tell myself, coming to infect yet another part of my life. My peace when I’m alone, gone. The fear of future loneliness ruins every moment I have to myself. He is everywhere, in every thread in my sheets, in every particle of air, every grain of sand I still find in the floorboards.
The next time we have sex, I don’t finish. He pats my bottom when we’re done.
“You’re so nice to me,” he says. I’m sore; he went hard on me. I ask him to touch me. He does, without words or kisses, just staring at me.
After a moment I sit up. “I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
He doesn’t look at me. I feel like I’ve crossed a line, and our relationship is more poison now than peace. I remember him smiling down at me, just days ago. Bless up to God.
The next day, I pack my things. “It’s covid,” I say. “We got too excited.”
Threatening breakup is fighting dirty, he says.
“Don’t you think we fight too much?”
He shrugs. “Probably.” He picks me up and carries me to the bed. “Don’t go.”
Later, we lay with the sheets kicked off, the fan blowing across our bodies. His neighbors are doing the dishes. I hear the glass clinking through his screen. He kneels before me, kisses my belly, my thighs, my knees. The first two personalities are back, the third nowhere to be found. I wonder if I imagined him.
He takes me to his teenage thinking place. It’s a nook on the Hudson, a hidden opening to the Metro North, overgrown with weeds. We climb over a fence and down old, vine-covered stairs and sit on a graffitied wall.
“I smoked weed here as a kid,” he says. “Now I’ve been coming here so long it’s like home.”
It feels like home to me, too. My thinking place looked like this, but suburban—under a bridge, a collection of trees in the woods. We sought the same environments as teenagers. City mouse, country mouse.
Golden sunset drenches him. Yesterday’s fight is gone, everything will be good. He is the most beautiful man I’ve known. I sit with my legs straddling the wall. Alternatively, each of us goes to the weeds to piss. I steal a drag from his cigarette. I love how natural we are, one body.
“I feel like I’ve always known you,” he says.
We go to the grocery store. Again, it’s a feast. We laugh in the aisles. Only the whole time, this time, I’m thinking, see, it’s good. Again.
“I need to be kinder,” he says over the phone. His voice, to me, combines all the things about him I love; it’s deep and male, but his vowels are soft, there’s a vulnerability he can’t conceal. “I’m invested. I love you.”
This is good to hear.
Ice clinks. “Are you drinking?”
I feel a fall. His words, I think, need lubricant.
He comes over, late. Leaning against the fridge, he watches me cook. “My Red Pill Girlfriend,” he calls me.
“Cooking for me.” He puts his hand under my skirt. “Your sweet dresses.”
This time, my lust doesn’t cloud the words. I hear them like they were secondhand. How will you react, I think, to a man who says this?
I drop the spatula. “Excuse me?”
He ruffles my hair. “You like that, baby?”
I duck away from him. I watch him mimic my expression, and see the fear turn ludicrous and cartoonish.
“It’s a joke.” He frowns. He points at my dress, the stove.
My stomach is sick. I can’t concentrate on food, and I turn down the burner.
He paces into the living room, then returns. “Do women even like sex? I don’t think they do.”
“I’m talking in general.”
“My friends do.”
“They’re just saying that to keep up.” He smirks. “Being the penetrated one is always a bit degrading, don’t you think?”
“That’s ridiculous. Women like sex as much as men.”
“If that were true, how come lesbians have less sex than gay men?”
I’m uncomfortable, like this is a competition, and it feels like somehow, this is a conversation about the possibility of infidelity. I want to prove I’m just as likely to cheat. “I love sex,” I say.
“Sure.” He grabs a knife, tosses it circling in the air, catches it. “But you have self-respect. You wouldn’t believe the acrobatics some girls pull, to keep a guy interested. They want to seem cool, like they can keep up with men. But they really want a relationship.”
I’m shocked. He doesn’t seem brilliant anymore, standing in my kitchen telling me what women think.
“Once you’ve had sex with every woman on the planet, we’ll talk.”
“Believe me I’ve tried.”
“Maybe only the women you’ve fucked don’t like it.”
He tosses the knife again. “Why would you say that to me?”
“You can insult womenkind and I can’t give it back?”
He slams the knife down, staring at me. Then, he laughs. “You don’t like me.”
This is a game, I think. I stand on my toes to touch his face. “I do,” I say. “I really do.”
He picks me up and throws me on the bed. “You like this?”
“Yes,” I say.
He pins me down, pulls off my underwear. “This?”
He pulls my legs up over my head, pinning them back by my ears.
He releases my legs. I pull him down for a kiss, but he turns me onto my hands and knees and mounts me from behind.
One hand holds my hips while the other pins down my neck. I fight his grip, but it’s like I’m grasping for more. I try to pull his hand off my neck. Then he slams into my cervix. My vision goes white. The pillow muffles my cries. He grunts. I push against him as hard as I can. He redoubles his speed. I can’t, I stop fighting. I start to think, hold on, it will be over, soon, it can’t last. He can’t go long like this. I will be over soon.
And then, at once, it is.
“God,” he gasps. “You’re so nice to me.”
I see stars against the pillow. It takes me a few moments to raise my head. When I do, I stay crouched, looking at my hands clamping the sheets. “That hurt.”
“I’m sorry.” Then he laughs, sighs. “No,” he pats my ass, “I’m not. Fuck I feel good.”
“That really hurt.”
“It’s too deep.”
“It just feels so good.”
I get up for the bathroom. My stomach hurts, bad; he’s slammed too deep inside me. I roll my neck, touch the red marks shaped like his fingers. For a time, I feel a numb nothing, but soon the hollows of my body will fill with rage, a rage that feels like the answer to every question. I will walk with this rage inside me, a second skeleton.
I return to the bed. Outside the window, red sparks explode over the neighbor’s roof.
He sits up, squeamish. “Your period?”
I hesitate. “No.”
I’m actually not bleeding, but this does not feel like a lie. It feels like the only thing that might make him notice my pain.
He pats my ass, like a horse. “I’m sorry baby.”
The sheets are stripped off my side of the bed. I try to fix them, but he’s already asleep, holding them down. I know I will not sleep. I go to the window where I can wait out the hours watching the colors in the sky, until dawn breaks, and I can be alone again.
Emily Neuberger is the author of the novel A Tender Thing, published by Putnam. She has an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College, and is currently at work on her second novel.