I’ve never told anybody this but…
And the man sitting across from her in the gold and black and green hotel bar launches into a story he’s definitely told before—he definitely tells it to everyone, or at least to many people when the moment feels ripe, when he wants his rapt listener to become even more rapt, when he wants to draw them into some artificially comforting, roses-and-chocolate sort of place. It’s pretty obvious he’s trying to sleep with her and she can guess what he’ll say next. A humble brag, something strange but not too strange, nothing really embarrassing or worth the secrecy he’s pretended it’s worth.
…I volunteer, y’know with kids, Saturday mornings. I don’t like to brag about it but it’s just so fulfilling y’know, just trying to give back…
Ah, yeah. She guessed it. She knew from the very beginning what he was trying to do. She zooms in on his pocket square—who the fuck wears a pocket square—and its crisp whiteness is harsh against her eyes. She tries to pick out the weave of the fabric, but it’s dim in the soft mood lighting that’s supposed to trick everyone into thinking the sun is setting. Her eyes just rest on the sharp line at the border between his grey jacket and that white pocket square, crisply folded, just a thin rectangle peeping out of the fabric. She remembers the empty glass in her hand and looks down.
Oh, I’ll grab you another.
She’s surprised he even noticed, he’d been having such a good time talking to himself. She pushes her hair behind her ears, shifts in the low chair a little, pops her heels out of her pumps to give her feet some room to breathe. She remembers the weight of the necklace on her throat.
Ah, yes, but now he’s back. Now there’s a vodka soda in front of her and he’s leaning forward intently like he suddenly remembers she’s there.
I’ve got this great apartment…
He says like a realtor who’s eager to show her the space. She drinks, forgets she’s drinking, soon the glass is empty. And they get up, and he puts a hand on her shoulder, they get to the coat check, he places her inside the massive white fur thing that last guy got her, and it rests on her shoulders, just like his hand had a moment before. They walk onto the marble steps outside and it’s snowing in fluffy clumps.
She thinks of old summers. Being fourteen and lying by the pool with her friend, and she was tan and skinny and they would rub tanning oil all over themselves so the sun could get in extra deep. It smelled like fake coconuts. When she was a child she couldn’t understand being by a pool and not getting in, but now it made sense, because real teenagers don’t swim.
He’s helping her into a yellow taxi, he walks around to the other side, gets in beside her, pulls her into him, tells the driver an address. She likes the smell of taxis. She likes how they smell warm and slightly dirty. His hand rests on her thigh like its supposed to be there. She leans into him, smells him. He smells like men smell.
She remembers being fourteen and lying by the pool with her friend, and the pool was in a courtyard and every wall around it was a different pastel shade, and she remembers feeling so brown against the white, plastic-slatted pool chair lying flat. No sunglasses, just eyes squinting to keep the glare out. She felt like she was absorbing the whole sun. She felt like a black hole.
And so they’re hurtling into the night now, but it’s not terribly dark. The black road looks orange under the light from the cars and street lamps. His hand slides up her thigh and she remembers being fourteen and lying by the pool with her friend and every once in a while the wind would blow by and she would shudder, a cloud would pass over and her sink-hole of a body wouldn’t accept any more sinkage so she’d curl up, a little, into the white pool towel she’d laid under her to keep from sticking to the plastic. But then it would go right back to being sunny— to being pore-openingly bright.
They get to his apartment and it is as beautiful as he said it would be and she drops her coat off her shoulders and sits down, leaning back, her legs folded in a V underneath her on the floor, and she leans back as he goes to the kitchen to get some red wine. She doesn’t even really like red wine but it’s there, he’s there, she’s there, she’s leaning back and pulling bobby pins out of her hair. She’s leaning back and she remembers being fourteen.
He comes back with the wine and sits with her on the white carpet, like someone who is used to mimicking a woman to make her feel comfortable in the fakest fucking way possible. Now, just now, he wants to know about her life. He wants to get her talking so he can interrupt her with a kiss.
Well, you know, I model. And I think it’s been going pretty well, better than I thought it would. So I’m pleased with that, but it’s a lot of work and long hours and I get tired and then I go out which is you know fun and nice but it’s also even more tiring…
He starts to interrupt her, put his hand on her wrist but the way his hand hits the metal of her bracelet feels cold like it did when the clouds would pass over and she says
…You know, I remember being fourteen and being by the pool with my friend. You, know, I’ve never actually told anybody this but we would spend all of our time there, at that pool, and I’d wear bikinis and feel special about it. But you know when it comes down to it I can’t even remember that place very well. I don’t even know where it was, just some courtyard, but it wasn’t my apartment building and it wasn’t hers. But I remember lying there for hours and hours and nobody ever came by, nobody walked past the fence, nobody swam in the pool and we wouldn’t read or anything we would just lie there, under the sun. And I wish I could do that now but I don’t even know that I did it then.
And now he has a better handle on her wrist, her fingers, he’s pushing his fingers against her fingers like he hasn’t heard anything she just said. He looks at her the same way he did the moment before. There’s nothing different in his expression. But she’s just said something— she hasn’t said anything all evening, only yes’s and no’s and thank you’s and now she’s feeling something too, the air of her breath that she hadn’t been feeling until this moment because she’d kinda just been along for the ride. But he hasn’t heard her at all, he’s not even saying anything to respond, and so she remembers being fourteen and laying by the pool.
Photo c/o Ryan Healy