By the time they wondered where we were we had already been gone for quite a while, first to the back patio behind those mildewed beach umbrellas, then, urgently, into a cab and off across the bridge, where things really got going. You fingered the hem of my skirt while I eyed the driver’s profile in the rearview mirror.
They had all expected it of you but not of me, watching us nervously from the corner booth as you approached from behind, sidling in over my left shoulder. I saw your fingernails first, chewed to stubs, then the sleeve of your button-down, rolled to your elbow in careful, symmetrical folds. You drank your beer in long, slow gulps and let the silence linger. The clink of the glass against the bar. Condensation streaming southward like rain on a car window.
You picked up the brittle ends of my hair and rubbed them between your fingers as you said, You’re a heartbreaker, I can tell.
Then, when I didn’t ask, I’m getting my PhD. You told me about psychoanalysis and I listened. The heat of the evening had settled in the way it did after midnight in the summer, the noises of the night rising to a crescendo. Everything heavy, damp, dark.
You ordered me a second drink like you knew best what my body needed and when, and I began to believe you. I drank the gin and tonic. I nibbled at the fleshy rind of the lime and felt good.
Let’s dance, you said.
I just smiled and shook my head but let your hot hands press into the small of my back and our hips knock lightly together under the muted thrum of the bass. Small arms pulled at mine and someone breathed hotly into my ear, I’m saving you. But you, hands like ivy crawling toward a second-story window, reached out and sent roots into my skin.
I gave the driver my address and when we got to the door I jiggled my key into the lock then stopped. I put my hand lightly against your warm left cheek and watched your gaze change then, like a butter pat morphing from solid to liquid when placed inside a hot bread roll. I gathered you into my house, whispering and smoothing your hair, delicately resting my palms all over your body, on your arms, your chest, your back.
And then you were telling me what you were afraid of and who broke your heart and you looked just like a child, lying curled with your knees up in the center of my bed. You were already naked and warm, feeling safe in my tidy room, under soft yellow lighting, on my crisp white sheets. But by that point I had already discovered, way back at the bar when you told me I could break hearts and bought me that second drink, that I could get things from you and then crush you, had already found the small power I had in this narrow tunnel of a world, held that power in my hand, rolled it around in my palm and liked the weight of it there, liked that quite a bit.
Olivia Powers lives in Brooklyn, New York and works in academic publishing.
image: Alan Tenhoeve