He couldn’t tell if she meant it, was being evasive, or had become suddenly irritated. He didn’t want her apology either way. He walked over to a stack of records, next to the player, rifled through them, turned a few over in his hands to examine the lists of songs on the backs. He chose one, and replacing the opera with Beethoven, turned up the volume and turned again to face her.
“Will you dance?”
“I don’t dance.”
“It’s too intimate.”
He snorted under his breath in sarcastic disbelief.
“Closeness scares you? You walk around here with the confidence of a damn courtesan.”
She scowled at him and looked down at her hands.
“I’m not a whore. I know you think I am.”
“I don’t. I don’t know what you do with your time, and I don’t question it. But you damn near bleed sexuality everywhere you step.”
He paused and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his shirt.
“I don’t believe you’re a stranger to desire, at least.”
“Desire is entirely different from intimacy.”
She stopped, forehead wrinkled in consternation, trying to figure out the right words to explain what made so much sense in her mind but so little now that her mouth must be the vehicle for its arrival.
“Desire is what comes before obtaining the object of that desire. It’s still innocent – maybe not in thought, but in its inaction; it is not the sin itself. Desire is clean. And no, I am no stranger to it.”
She was gaining momentum as her thoughts were finding new life through her words; it encouraged her confidence to blossom in to a rising wave of indignation.
“Neither, sir, do I fear intimacy, as you have so boldly assumed. However, just because I allow you look at my naked body, and just because I walk around this house with nothing under my robe does not mean that I am necessarily seeking your attention.”
“But how can I ignore it? And why should I?”
“I don’t want to dance.” She closed her eyes again, looking exhausted and beaten.
“Alright.” He felt as if he’d overstepped some boundary. She’d never spoken so many words to him in all the time he’d know her. And in her words he saw something he hadn’t expected: vulnerability. She had become defensive. She wanted to think herself clean. And he knew she was now. Somehow, knowing this gave him courage. He felt like he’d won some little battle with her and with himself. He’d been afraid of what he thought she was: impure, imperfect. She was creeping into his veins, slowly, warmly, and he sighed with the release of his own silent admission of her.
“I’m tired. I think I’ll turn in.” She took her glass with her as she glided into the darkness of the hallway and into her bedroom. He heard the click of the latch on her door. She’d never locked it before, and he was struck by the sound. Was she afraid of him? Or was she making a point?
Suddenly he felt angry. How could she assume that he would do anything warranting a locked door? He was a good man. He’d never hurt anyone in his life. Had he? He sat on the couch and put his head in his hands, resting his elbows on his knees. Was it something he had said?
“Stupid!” He said under his breath. He pounded his knee with his fist in scolding. He’d compared her to a whore. Somehow, in his observation of her, he’d stripped the humanity from her and plastered her with a hideous label to explain his own fear of her. He’d found it so natural a comparison that he assumed her to be like his impression of her: heartless. And now he realized his error. He also realized the problem – her problem. If he – this nice, kind, unassuming fellow – could think this of her, then imagine the creeps who followed her home every night. Lecherous men with wives and old enough to be her father.
It was her burden. Men looked at her and didn’t see pure, natural, innocent beauty; they saw sex – a whore to be bought and fondled and left. He began to feel the irony of it all as the light from under her door disappeared and he heard the springs bound in her bed as she sat down. She was as pure as they came. Maybe, somehow, purer. She was like faith, which cannot exist unless it is tested.
He lay down on his bed, fully clothed – his mind unsettled and restless. He couldn’t put his finger on it, couldn’t make sense of his sudden need for her. It was like she’d just come to life for him, just become human, and she was expansive – taking up his every breath and each incandescent thought. She was seeping through his pores. She was on his breath. Her essence was in his blood, and he was hot with her presence; it was practically burning his skin, making his thighs itch and his chest sweat. His temples pulsed. He made fists of his hands as he remembered the feel of her lips around his finger—her tongue sliding along the underside from the base to the tip; not difficult to transfer the sensation to another more expectant part of his body. Raising his hands to cover the throbbing movements, make them cease, he groaned deep in his throat. It felt like she was on top of him, straddling, riding him. He could almost hear her soft moans, the little cries, the soft quick breaths that mimicked her touch. Her fingertips…he felt them tracing lightly the soft brown hairs that began at the V of his collar bone and led to his sex. Her lips…he saw them wet and glistening as she arched her head back, moving rhythmically over him.
She wasn’t really there. But it didn’t matter: he felt her. This was desire. And he was content to drown in its complexity. This…this feeling was what he saw in her eyes. He’d seen it the first time he met her at the pub. In the darkness of the bar: desire – not for him – maybe for life…the sky…the bombs going off overhead in the distance. It filled her to the brim and overflowed, spilling onto the floor. That’s what all those men followed. And he’d just slipped and fallen face first into its sweet density.
Read part four here.