On Valentine’s Day

She knew, when they stepped into her little apartment, that they would eventually make love, and she found herself wondering what it would be like. She watched him move, noticed the graceful articulation of his body, the careful restraint he displayed in her living room, which was filled with fragile things. She saw the skin beneath his clothing, watched it stretch and move.

“Don’t worry,” she said, touching the place between his shoulder blades. “You won’t break nothing.”

He shook his head like he did not believe it. Her apartment was decorated with the inherited flotsam of her grandmother’s life: bland wall hangings, beaten old furniture which had played host to too many bodies spreading gracelessly into old age, and a vast and silly collection of glass figurines: leaping dolphins and sleeping dragons and such. It was all meant to be homey and reassuring, but it just reminded her of how far away she was from the life she really wanted. It seemed like a desperate construct, and she hated it very much.

Alex appeared to be more interested in Gwen, her daughter, who was peering around the corner of the living room and regarding him with a suspicious and hungry eye, who seemed to intuit that from this large alien figure on her mama’s couch would come mighty upheavals.

— You Go Where It Takes You

She plucked the picture from his hand and tossed it to the floor, laughing at him. “What the hell are you looking at?” she said, rolling her body onto his legs.

He laughed despite himself, grabbing a handful of her hair and giving it a gentle tug.

“Ain’t you mad no more?” she asked, her fingers working at the button of his pants.

“Shut up, bitch,” he said, but affectionately, and she responded as though he’d just recited a line of verse, shedding her robe and lifting herself over and onto him, so that he felt as though he were sliding into a warm sea. He closed his eyes and exhaled, feeling it down to his fingertips.

They moved roughly, urgently, breathing in the musk of each other, breathing in too the smell of the pines and the lake and the dead monster, this last growing in power until it occluded the others, until it filled his sinuses, his head, his body, until it seemed nothing existed except the smell and the awful thing that made it, until it seemed he was its source, the wellspring of all the foulness of the earth, and when he spent himself into her he thought for a wretched moment that he had somehow injected it with the possibility of new life.

She rolled off of him, saying something he couldn’t hear. He put his hands over his face, breathed through his nose. Tina rested her head on his chest, and he put his nose to her hair, filling it with something recognizable and good. They lay together for long moments, their limbs a motionless tangle, glowing like marble in the fading light.

— North American Lake Monsters

He gave up trying to subdue his fluttering heart, hoped she wouldn’t see his hands shake, wondered if she knew that he had never been with a girl before, wondered if that fact blasted from him like bright radiation.

She started to unbutton her shirt. She wore nothing underneath, and she moved her shoulders so that her blouse slid behind her to the floor; she stepped out of her jeans like a woman stepping out of water. Tattoos were inscribed all over her thin flesh; their bright colors made them luminescent in the harsh glow of the flashlights: a snake coiling over her upper right arm and looped halfway down to her elbow; a naked pixie with a devil’s face under her collarbone; a series of words — poems or mysterious lists — beginning at her pelvis and wrapping around her thighs; the crossed hammers over a Confederate flag on the slope of one breast; a black swastika, like clumsy snare of stitches, on the other. They glowed on her naked body like an incandescent language. He had once heard the phrase “illuminated manuscript,” and although he did not know what such a thing was, he thought that it must be something like Trixie’s body, which was covered with the letters of a holy alphabet, which was itself a a supple word, or a series of words, a phrase she whispered to him now and she moved his hand aside and replaced it with her own. She moved him toward his bed, and he abdicated himself to the study of her.

— S.S.


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