"I think I won't," I said. The black llamas woven in a line around my cream white sweatercoat perked their heads, listening.
"Come up and see my etchings," he said.
I lowered my head, letting my hair fall so he wouldn't see my lips twitch. "You're good," I said. By the time I raised my eyes, we were both laughing. "All right. But just because you bought me a filet o' fish doesn't mean you own me."
He did a Groucho Marx duck walk to the building door and held it for me. "Mind if I smoke?" he asked, flicking imaginary ash. I walked in, and he added, "I should never have put that cigar in my pocket!"
He was a nice man.
Above his bed, he kept a row of books on a home made shelf. I took one down. "You read Colette?" He did.
He said, "You have beautiful eyes." People have always told me this, and yet, I blushed because of the way he said it. It wasn't a line. When he looked at me, when he touched me, the familiarity stopped my words. I have looked at women like that. I have touched women like that, and when I did, I handed them something they could hurt me with.
I should have stopped things there, but I didn't. I let him gently undress me, and he thought that made me naked.
"I think I'm falling in love with you," he said, and I tightened my arms around him, my skin against his skin, my hand at the back of his head as if I were holding a baby, my cheek on his hair. I didn't want him to see my eyes. I hoped he would mistake the catch in my breathing for the passing of that phantom I had tried too many times to summon.
Over his shoulder, I saw my sweater folded neatly over the desk chair. The llamas were woven facing west, they can never know east. Beyond them, not far, his door and its small gold handle. Beyond that, the dark stairs and the noisy confusing street.
He looked up. "What's wrong?" I could have said, what's wrong is that I have lied every minute of my life, and been rewarded for it. What's wrong is that I have sat quietly, cutting out my own heart as if it were needlework.
"I have to go," I told him, escaping, standing, gathering my clothes.
He wanted to know if he had done something, or hurt me. He apologized, not knowing for what. He was nothing but a sweet, beautiful man, and I have thought of him often. I hope that, right now, he is some woman's love.
I ran down the stairs, into the street, and stood there out of breath. I never tried to be with a man again. I have tried not to hurt anybody, like that, again,
But I look at women,
I touch women,
And give them my heart.
If, the next time, mine is the sacrifice,
At least I can scream my joy and my pain in my own language.
photograph by Margaret Bednar. For Real Toads Sunday Challenge.