A reading by the author:
I switched places and felt my fingernails heavy with color, as if they were conscious. I thought of touching my hair but then remembered the amount of work I had put into it and decided not to do that. Not that he cared, anyways, but it was part of my orchestrated composure. I mean, the guy was talking about his dick all the time, as if his dick was a god. He didn’t mention it casually, his dick was part of an art project. Naturally, I felt curious about the project, because then I knew it was his dick and some woman’s vagina that were featured in the collage. I hoped he would invite me to see it and deep down I knew that he would, because that’s what he was like. I could see it from the moment I had met him, at the bookshop, where I was fishing for an art album for a friend of mine. That’s when he closed in on me and the lights in the room suddenly dimmed, literally, he was towering above me, blocking the light. He said something about the art album I was looking at and I thought he was in fact talking to somebody else, so I didn’t look up. He repeated it and the way he said it seemed to dig into the texture of the day, pulling it, the way you would pull at a sweater when you take it out of the dryer. The way you would crush the fabric between your fingers to test it, to make it feel worn down. I looked up and around his head I could see a halo of stray hairs and fluorescent light.
He told me he was an artist. I didn’t feel like standing up from where I was crouching, the art album still in my hands, opened at page eighty-six. The page showed a black and white photograph of a woman’s bare thighs. It wasn’t sexually explicit. The photograph was an accumulation of curved lines to the point where you couldn’t tell whether it was a woman being photographed or an accretion of dark pigments materializing out of the latte-colored background. You couldn’t tell what color the background was, but the way the whiteness fermented underneath the surface of the photo made me think of pastel colors and milk foam. His hair was unwashed and tied into a ponytail and I felt sorry for him but I had gone for so long without human touch that he seemed human enough to me. I stood up, eventually, I must have, and I was able to look at him better, but for the rest of our time together, in the bookshop and here in the teashop, I felt as little as the woman in the photograph. An accretion of black pigments that turned out to be a woman. And he turned out to be a man. And what should a man and woman do except look for each other?
He followed me around, he stood behind me in line. He boasted about a book he had found, which was some rare book and he had had the luck to find that rarity at discount price. I thought of telling him that he hadn’t been lucky, that in fact the bookstore must have lowered the price because nobody was willing to buy the book. I did not tell him that because I thought he would leave and never come back and I wanted to feel desired. We exchanged phone numbers and he promised to call me. On the subway, while I held the art album close to my chest the way girls in American high school movies did, I thought of how badly I wanted to get rid of the album, about how the woman in the picture was always going to remind me of him, and the way he towered over me as if he was entitled to do it, as if he had a right to be the way he was. I thought of the looks we exchanged at the counter when I caught him staring at my ass. I felt this tiny black hole open up just beneath my stomach when he smiled boyishly at me after I caught him staring.
And there was that stare again, on the subway, lustfully vacant but filled with the intent of a child who thinks that if he stares long enough and intensely enough at a toy in a toy store the toy will eventually become his. But there was that dying light in the sky again and I looked at it and caught it vibrating along with the vibrations of the subway. We will collide, I thought, myself and the men around me because that is what we expect of each other. And there we were, colliding over our drinks, stubbornly believing that what was happening on the inside were private matters, believing we could abscond with our thoughts, hide them well enough to be able to say that we didn’t mean what we’ve just said. And here was his face, this fishnet of human emotions, contracting with the waves going beneath and over it. When I asked him about the ratio of the photographs of his art project something got caught in the fishnet, something as undesirable as a sea creature that doesn’t count in the final weigh in and has to be thrown back into the sea. I did my best to feign domesticity as if the feelings in his face went unnoticed. They had to go unnoticed because when I saw him waiting in front of the teashop he looked like the best version of a man. It wasn’t the long hair, which made him slightly feminine. It wasn’t the beard that appeared white in the sunlight that December morning. It was the way he waited.