"Where did you get these tits?" Robert, who is a lawyer, cups my breasts from where he lies beneath me, and then lets them fall. His hands are dry and thin-fingered, distant hands that don't give anything away. "Huh? How come you're not saying anything? Can't you tell me?"
"No," I say, giggling.
We are lying on Robert's wide platform bed in an apartment on a street that has a church and trees and birds that chirp in the morning, like a street on a movie set. There are curls of reddish dust on the floor around the bed - they have been there since the first time I saw this room - and in one of the drawers that are built into the bed's headboard, hidden under some old legal documents are several magazines with women leaning over on the cover, baring bottoms that are as high and glossy as the ones on prize stallions.
"How come you're not talking now?" Robert says, his fingers trailing across my breasts and down my body. "You always like to talk. Tell me something."
"Like what?" All that's important to me is that Robert like my body, make it forget itself. If I say too much when we're in bed there is a good chance we'll get into an argument and then Robert will pull his hands away, leaving me to my own company. Anything I say can rub him the wrong way; there are so many things he doesn't like about me.
"Tell me what you are," he says. "I bet you can't even tell me."
"I could," I say, "but you wouldn't understand. Your mind's too thick."
After a year of knowing Robert, of knowing how he objects to the most basic facts of my life - the wealth of my background, my family's looming presentness, the way I talk to people (there's something wrong, according to him, about the way I talk to people) - I have found it easier to be intentionally provocative than to stumble onto his annoyance unawares.
"Oh really," he says. "Is that so?"
He sounds amused, and I put a hand on his thigh - high up, at a spot where it is no longer scratchy with hair. I love the areas on his body where the skin is soft, no longer the skin of a lawyer but of a litde boy. I am about to continue my explorations when Robert puts a hand over mine.
"Uh, uh. What would you do for it?"
I lie back on the pillow and stare at the ceiling over his bed; the paint on it is a scuffed white, the same color as dirtied saddle shoes. I look at the ceiling and pretend I haven't heard the question because it is part of our unspoken pact that I act as though I don't enjoy being made to beg.
"Okay," he says, his voice curt where a second ago it was breathy. "In that case you can go home."
Robert is lying on his side, propped up on one elbow, his mouth tight. Behind him, through the slats in his venetian blinds, the sky is black.
"I don't want to," I say. There is a long, meandering crack in the ceiling and I follow it with my eyes from one end to the other several times, as though it were a path to something, a telling line of breakage.
"I don't want to," he says, mimicking me.
"Don't," I say, turning on my side, leaning across to kiss his cheek.
"You are a piece of pathos," Robert says, ducking out of my reach. "Do you know that? A rich piece of pathos."
What the crack in the ceiling won't tell me is what I already know: how I got here, from what misguiding compass I take direction.
"No, I'm not," I say.
Robert chuckles. When he laughs - always with this restrained, ungenerous chuckle - I realize what I have gotten myself into. There are two clues I have to how I really feel about Robert - more than clues, really, portents of the truth. One clue is his laugh and the other is that the room gets smaller when he calls. I mean this literally; when I pick up the phone in my apartment and the voice on the other end is Robert's, I feel the walls shrink around me.
"Then you'll do what I tell you."
How I feel about Robert is this: afraid. Also: excited.
"I'm not asking you to name your terms," he says.
"Spoken like a true lawyer," I say.
I am lying on my stomach and he is lying on his back. To an observer who happened in on the two of us, we would probably look like a couple in love, making the sweetly desultory conversation lovers make.
"I want you to crawl on the floor."
"No," I say.
"But you know you will."
Somewhere in this very city is a nice man meant for me, a man without fetishes, a man not meant for me.
Robert caresses my bottom, a prelude to the main theme.
"I love your ass," he says, and raises his hand.
Later on - I am red-assed as a baboon, he has started a flood inside me - he turns me over and enters me.
"Do I own you now?" he whispers into my ear. "Do I?"
"Yes," I say, "yes."
When Robert is inside me he feels like velvet, but when it is over I am alone again. I wake up often in his bed, unaccustomed to the early hour at which he goes to sleep. In the moming he has his set routines, undeviating even to the brand of soap he uses from month to month. He doesn't really like having me around then, but before I go I stand in his doorway, sliding the zipper on my jacket up and down, stalling. I study objects I've noticed many times before - his worn orange sofa, the matted sheepskin hanging on his wall, the round table with its ugly quartet of chairs - as though in them I might find a way to make myself feel at home.
"What's the matter, chickadee?" he says. He is still in his black terry robe, in an unusually good mood about some case he thinks he'll win. Robert loves to win; when things don't go his way professionally, he crumples like a used-up piece of paper.
"Nothing," I say, but I don't leave. How can I explain to him that it seems to me I am forever on the verge of leaving? Even arrivals are a form of departure - whiffs of future absences.
"I'll give you a call later," he says, scratching his chin, making a sound like sandpaper.
"Will you miss me today?" I have never figured out the point of pride.
"Here," he says, leaning over, smelling of Dial soap. "Till we meet again. A memento."
When I get home that morning, I see in the bathroom mirror that Robert's good-bye bite has left its mark: a blue-brown-purple bruise, the insignia of love. It occurs to me then that for certain people the normal spectrum of emotions narrows itself down to a blinding intensity: love creates the same violence as hate and desire the same color as fury.
(this was the last fragment)