“I think I’ll plunge today,” the woman says to nobody, choosing a dress with curves like the moon. Mid-day phone calls, lies plucked out of the air like fresh-hatched eggs. Practicing the bulge of her lips. Time sparkles with wanting & shivering & burning & sighing.
Her lover, of course, has a foreign name—Russian, Greek, or Czech—a name that speckles the tongue. They meet at the movie theater, where he doesn’t have to worry about looking at her. “You’re too beautiful. I won’t be able to control myself,” he explains, gazing past her ears and smiling mistily. She is too flattered to tell him how this really makes her feel. In the dark theater, the space between them is velvet charged electric. A joke, a cheap excuse. She tucks a ringlet of hair behind her ear and he touches his own neck. When he strokes the ridge between her thumb and forefinger, her chest pulses like butterfly wings. What is sex, anyway? Knuckle, thumb, knife of fingernail. A story told in the dark.
They meet outside the theater, where he often makes her wait—propping herself against the movie posters, staring meaningfully at the parking lot across the street—while he calls other women. There’s always some crisis. Sometimes he delays so long they miss the movie altogether and have to wait for the next showing. She is ashamed she has the time to wait; she’s between jobs, and her husband not only works late, but, to her disgust, suspects nothing.
The rare moments the lover meets her gaze, his hazel eyes are too bright and open, as if struck dumb by a movie star. Or like a skier ogling the Swiss Alps through a snowy window. She has never—would never—eat in front of him.
But they are candid with each other, and she is convinced this is why their arrangement works. “I’d love nothing more than to ravish you, but by tomorrow I won’t be thinking about you at all,” he tells her tenderly, tracing circles along her thigh.
Inside his promise of nothing is a wildness—a wilderness. How to explain the thrill of bargaining with her body? Her body is all she has, and she always has it. With her body she promises him everything; only her words deny him. She knows her body is the only power she can wield—and only then, if she thrusts it before him, and dangles it like a glove.
“I love you,” she and her husband tack onto the end of every phone call, every parting encounter at the doorway, every time an argument begins to quake. “I love you.” But next to desire, love is a stale bundle of wood. When her husband kisses down her body, it’s a soothing voyage for both of them. Can a voyage be soothing? No, a voyage cannot be soothing. Hence her dilemma.
Her husband used to tip over with rage at the slightest disagreement. They fought over a misplaced ticket, whether to get a dog, leaving late for a party, but worst of all when he seemed strangely silent or just plain distracted. “I can’t feel you,” she’d say. “Where are you right now?” Then all of sudden there he was, a volcano. What do you want from me? He begged her on his knees. But it wasn’t a question. “I just want to feel close to you,” she’d whisper. “You’re choosing not to feel close—I’m right here!” he shouted too theatrically, then slammed his head into their dresser. The room pulsed red. How could she explain what connection means? Connection is an egg—it’s there or it’s not. Connection is a bowl of water held between two hands, a firm gentle grip on the bowl.
Gone was the love, flushed out with the lava. Like a drunk at the very end of the night so somber he’s convinced of his sobriety. Once, her husband stormed out the door barefoot and did she chase him? Of course she did. His rage turned her into water, pouring herself around the shape of him.
But anyway, that’s not what propels her affair—if you can call knuckle-stroking and knee-rubbing an affair! The point is, her husband has changed. Thanks to the (exorbitantly expensive) benefits of biodynamic craniosacral therapy, her husband is a changed man! Patient & tender & good & kind & all the stuff of her former fantasies. When they bristle against each other, he sweeps himself off and embraces her. They hold the bowl of water between their hands and even when it trembles, they do not drop the bowl.
Or: she only drops it in ways he does not know about. The sound of her cruelty is not red and booming. When they are together, she is never cruel; she will do anything to buoy his weight. No, the sound of her cruelty is a cavernous room she crouches in silently. The sound of her cruelty is how she swings her hips and slants her head ever so slightly to the right.
Arya Samuelson is a writer currently based in Brooklyn. She was awarded CutBank’s 2019 Montana Prize in Non-Fiction judged by Cheryl Strayed. Her work has also been published in Entropy, The Millions, Hematopoiesis Press, and 580 Split. Arya is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing program at Mills College and currently working on her first novel. You can visit her website at aryasamuelson.com.