Note: This has some explicit bits. -Shawn
When Iris told me the story about how a speeding BMW killed her childhood pet dog, Pickles, I said,”Oh, that’s awful. You must have been devastated.” But I was distracted wondering what she would look like with her wrists bound to my bedpost and red welts across her ass. I imagined her moans. I imagined her pale breasts. I imagined her dark, wide eyes. I had to cross my legs to hide my erection.
We had met one week earlier when Ursula from the IT department had a New Year’s party. I drank coffee and exchanged pleasantries with my co-workers as they nervously gulped down wine. Soon their awkwardness would dissipate and they would be dancing, singing, and groping at people they would be ashamed to face sober on Monday morning.
Iris sat in a corner with her head down and wrote on her blue jeans with a sharpie. She wasn’t my type- she was too scrawny, pallid.
I asked what she was doing to her pants. Without looking up, she said, “I write song lyrics.”
I offered her a blank sheet of paper, but she waved it away. “No. This is the ritual.”
Indeed, she had scrawled all the way down her legs, sometimes circling around small tears, other times losing words into holes. I asked if I could read what she had just written. She pointed at her lap.
I said,”Excuse me while I admire your crotch.” Iris laughed and I felt terribly clever.
Written from pocket to zipper were the words:
“Why do we kiss with our eyes closed? /
Why do we make love in the dark?”
I replayed the exchange in my head until we met up the following Sunday amid a blizzard. The sky was streaked with snow and Iris wore so many layers I didn’t recognize her when she first stepped into the coffee shop. Before she could sit down, she had to unwind her knitted scarf and remove her coat, her fleece, and a thick sweater. She looked very frail when she finally flopped onto the couch.
I sipped at my dark roast and Iris ordered a hot chocolate. She asked me what I wanted to be when I was a child. I told her “an astronaut” and it wasn’t a lie, but until age nine really I imagined myself as Han Solo, not Buzz Aldrin. I spent the following several years obsessed with cooking and fixated on the idea that I would become a chef when I was older.
She rolled her eyes. “You’re a cliche.” And I laughed.
Iris told me how her mother had forced her to take guitar lessons as a little girl when she really just wanted to play the cello. She used words like “patronizing bitch” and “that goddamn whore.”
I wanted to say “Poor thing” and kiss Iris on the tip of her nose. Instead, I shook my head in commiseration.
“It’s around here somewhere,” she said. She swiveled her legs in the air and located a patch of scribbles in the tangle of ink. I held her leg by its thin ankle and read:
“You don’t care who you slaughter /
But come hell or high water /
I won’t be your glam rock daughter”
“Have you ever been in love?” Iris asked.
“I’m not sure how to reply,” I said.
Iris shrugged as if it were a straightforward question.
“You don’t have to tell me.” She slurped her cocoa.
So I told Iris about Penny because my relationship with Penny was the sort of thing that made sense. We were in college, we hooked up, we dated, we were inseparable, we grew apart, we came back together, we fought, she kissed someone else so we could end things, I delivered a box of her CDs and shirts to her dorm room.
“A big box of fuck you,” said Iris.
“And then we never spoke again,” I said.
“That’s so tragic,” said Iris and she nodded her head as if agreeing with herself. I wondered if she was going to cry.
I didn’t tell her about Shoshana because I didn’t understand what had happened with Shoshana. She was a reference librarian while I lived in Brooklyn and my senior by nine years. While helping me locate and decipher insulation regulations, she placed a hand on my knee and slipped her number into my pocket. The third time we had sex, she asked me if I would slap her and tug at her hair. I was tentative, but soon we had a pattern. We would watch a movie on her couch on Sundays and meet for drinks on Wednesdays. We’d complain about trivialities and then we’d be naked in her bedroom. I would handcuff her wrists and slip a blindfold around her eyes. I would tell her she’d been bad and whip the fleshy skin of her ass, spank her exposed crotch, bite the back of her neck. She would whimper through gritted teeth and then we’d fuck until the floor was a mess of shiny condom wrappers.
That lasted six months until, late one night, I found myself wide awake in Shoshana’s bed. I watched as her chest rose and fell softly. I studied the arch of her back and ran my fingers up her spine to count her vertebrae. I wanted to wrap myself around her and never let her leave me. I wanted to tell her all the secrets I’d never spoken aloud. I whispered,”You mean the world to me” and Shoshana said,”Let’s never change this.” That night, I slipped out and walked home. The following week, I would resist the urge to answer my phone and the calls would taper off soon after.
“I’ve never been in love,” said Iris, breaking my reverie. Her gaze was glassy and fixed on the window. Outside, the snow made the world disappear.
“Really?” I asked.
“Really,” she said without looking at me.
I set my coffee cup on the table and watched Iris chew on her lower lip. I bent forward and brought my face close to hers. She didn’t react until our lips were flush. She pulled away. She said,”What are you doing?”
I didn’t say anything.
“Why did you do that?” she asked.
I sat back, deflated. “I should go,” I said. I stood and slipped my arms into my coat. It felt suddenly too warm in the small coffee shop.
“I don’t know you,” said Iris. “I don’t know anything about you.”
Her inflection told me she wanted me to stop, but I was at the door. I pushed it open. Wind blew inside and cast up a flurry of napkins. I stepped outside into the blinding snow.
A week later, I ran into Iris in the parking garage at work. I offered her a friendly smile and said,”Hi, Iris. How have you been?”
She said,”Just fine” and walked on. I watched as she got into her car and drove away. She wore new jeans and they didn’t have a single mark.