Stories

Gratification – Ida Mobini

I found my roommate on Craigslist after missing the deadline to apply to student co-op housing. In truth, though, I’d never had much interest in living in the co-op—it was cheap, but essentially a glorified commune, and I hated doing chores and didn’t get along with many other people. I disliked anyone I couldn’t shake up and rattle, and who was impenetrable to me, because they reminded me of something bigger and less temporary than myself.

Maude, my roommate, wasn’t exactly like that. She was sweet and watery and dumb, and her hair smelled like oil. On Wednesdays she attended tele-health therapy on her laptop, for which she exiled me from our shared bedroom and sometimes even locked the door. But I didn’t mind. I took that hour to do laundry, or read or watch porn on the couch. When Maude’s fifty minutes were up and she emerged from our room, she somehow always seemed worse off than before, as if someone had died, and then maybe her boyfriend would come over with food and we’d eat on the floor in polite silence. If I ever asked how therapy was, Maude would say it was good—but then her boyfriend would shoot me this cross look that made me want to burn both of them alive, as I felt deceived by them both.

Maude hadn’t struck me as the kind of girl to be in a relationship when I first met her. She was like a character on TV, smoking cigarettes and warning people about their horoscopes, always saying I should be less of a prude. She liked to poke through my belongings, looking for weed or a nice T-shirt. Then she’d undress to take a bath as I was sitting on the toilet, dropping her padded bras on the ceramic tile and her stinking panties alongside them like I wasn’t even there. She sprayed perfume under her arms and rarely cleaned. Every two months we wrestled our sheets together, our pilly duvets dotted in blood.

I appreciated her candor most of the time, but it got frustrating. I couldn’t say no. I learned of the boyfriend one month into the semester, when he came over unannounced in muddy shoes and Dior Sauvage, his face dull and unmoving as a painting’s.

Maude peered into the kitchen, where I was. “Kimia, can I have the room for an hour?”

“Okay,” I said. I looked past her shoulder, at the boyfriend. I felt I had a class with him but couldn’t say for certain. He didn’t blink.

“Thank you,” she said, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Inevitably, one hour turned into three, the room became covered in the predictable musk of intercourse. I didn’t learn his name for weeks, or even hear his voice. I knew only his clipped grunts through the door during sex, his strange peppery smell, the dim light of relief in Maude’s face afterwards. They passed by me where I was sitting in front of the kitchen window, affecting patience. He acknowledged me with a brusque nod, then shut the door behind them both.

I continued to see him around, even though we hadn’t been properly introduced. In fact, he seemed to crop up nearly everywhere I went after that, but he never said hello to me and I pretended not to care. I secretly began to view him as a fungus, or an omen. Nothing about him was attractive to me, anyway—not even the sense of doom he evoked whenever I saw him on campus, which I’d always considered romantic in theory. Something to give yourself over to, I thought.

To Maude I described these sightings as funny and somewhat bizarre, but what I truly saw in him was a profound and irrefutable coldness, like a bad satire of masculinity. I didn’t want to look at it for too long because I didn’t think it was very interesting, nor did I want to question Maude’s taste. He would probably betray her; I would coddle her for a month or two, spoon rice into her mouth as we watched TV in a stupor, and then we’d all move on with our lives. His presence in our apartment—in my bedroom—would become a vague and ordinary dream.

In the meantime, Maude sat around and gushed and swooned. I often imagined taking her by the shoulders and plunging her into a deep, dark sea, far away from that loser who was making her stink perpetually of weed and cologne. Despite how little I actually knew about her, I had an urge to protect her, to preserve her strange charm. When she revealed his name, I turned and declared to myself: “That is a terrible name for a person to have.” It was also just the kind of name he would have, that people would tolerate just because it was his.

*

There was always a party, a magazine launch, a barbecue at the local synagogue with Maude. A DIY punk show where you could drink three hard seltzers in a row and get punched in the face by a stranger, the air thick and sour with body heat and beer. It was as if she came across the dates and venues for these things not by chance or word of mouth, but merit: somehow, by some course of natural selection, the world made room for her.

On our walks home, Maude would run her fingers over each new bruise that littered her arms and legs. Her eyes darted and flashed silver underneath the streetlights. Her long, reddish hair, now matted in some places, had a similar gleam. She was hungry for the evidence of living in a way that I wasn’t, I decided, and when she looked too pleased with herself I wiped my bloody hand on whatever lacy thing she was wearing and she would shriek and laugh and take me by the throat. She would be screaming my name, angry, yet rocking me gently. Maude could be like that because Maude never got punched in the face at shows, I thought—she never tasted the dirt, the flattened cigarette butts.

Many times, she tried to persuade me into sharing a joint with her.

“That stuff makes me nervous,” I said.

“Of course it does,” she said. “You’re all water.”

“What?”

“Your chart, it’s all water. You know, you’re all jealous. You get really paranoid.”

“Okay,” I said.

One night, when I couldn’t fall asleep, she beckoned me over to her side of the room to eat melatonin gummies out of her palm. She fed them to me, one by one, in the dark.

*

I repeated the boyfriend’s name to everyone I knew, but it was so average and forgettable on its own that no one recognized him until I dug up a picture from Maude’s social media. Most people asked why I was so obsessed with them. Of course I was obsessed with them, I said—I had gone an entire weekend without seeing the inside of my room. When I tried again on Sunday night, the door finally unlocked, there was broken glass on the floor and he had left his corduroy jacket on my bed. I lifted it to my face and it smelled like Maude’s dry scalp treatment, mint and smoke.

As it turned out, the boyfriend and I did have a class together: astronomy, which we were both taking to fulfill a general requirement. The class was popular and took place in the biggest lecture hall on campus, which meant I had to squint across the room just to wonder whether he was even there or not. The one time we sat in the same row as each other, I spent the whole time glancing in his direction, but he didn’t look at me once. His eyes were cloudy and dark, half-shut.

I was annoyed, then, when Maude casually suggested he and I study together for our upcoming midterm. She was sitting on the kitchen counter, finishing up a pint of ice cream, chatting uselessly about what it meant to give yourself over to another person. Sometimes she worried she was a masochist in romance, she told me. She would rather deal with someone who gave too little than someone who gave too much, but that meant having none of the power because she couldn’t help but give it all away. And wasn’t it degrading to know that the relationship was mutually beneficial, that the other person was comfortable precisely as long as they never had to give?

“Don’t you figure this stuff out in therapy?” I asked.

“Well, yeah, but it’s a work in progress.” She sucked on her spoon for a few moments. “I wish I were more like you, you know? You seem so much better at being alone than I am.”

I just shrugged.

*

Maude and the boyfriend and I went to a popular bar in our college town that allowed eighteen-year-olds, though they couldn’t drink. We ended up surrounded by high schoolers in terrible, shiny outfits. The boyfriend kept trying to get us to go with him someplace else, a sleeker, stricter place that was farther away, and I kept refusing to walk that far.

“It’s cold,” I said, imagining the bouncer at that place snapping my fake ID in half. “I’m tired.”

“We can Uber,” Maude said.

“I’m not fucking doing that. Sorry.” She flashed a wounded look at the boyfriend, who rolled his eyes. I couldn’t remember what he was doing there with us in the first place.

I did want to leave, though. The high school girls intimidated me, their limbs so white and frail, their hair either coifed to perfection or falling naturally against their shoulders in loose, earnest waves. They seemed to know something I didn’t. They knew things I would never know, probably, just by virtue of not having learned them at that age, tender and malleable.

The thought was, admittedly, pointless—they were seniors, not even two years younger than I was—but it brought a tear to my eye, so I finished my spiced beer in a few sorry gulps and left. “Let her go,” the boyfriend said to Maude when she insisted I stay, that we would find something better to do. I knew that we wouldn’t.

On my way back to the apartment, I walked past the big co-op building, its brick veneer obscured by flowers and trees and a couple stepping out to smoke. Walking through their little cloud, I realized something: had Maude wanted to live in the co-op, then surely she would have.But she got me instead. I suddenly felt good again about my proximity to her, and thus to her options. To the thrill of it all. Except Maude herself never seemed thrilled about anything other than the boyfriend, whose constant missteps made her sad and spiteful. She picked at her food and ate in small, precise bites, like a bird. She read her horoscope as slowly and deliberately as one might read a grocery list or a prayer. Somehow, she made it beautiful.

I anticipated the two of them wanting to have sex that night, so I set up camp on the sofa with my laptop to watch gay arthouse porn from the ’80s. It was French, nearly an hour long, and really cinematic, shot in such a way that I believed the director couldn’t have viewed these men and their bodies as anything less than art. There seemed to be a kind of narrative framework for the sex and each new character that was introduced, but all of the dialogue was in French, so I didn’t understand anything apart from the facial expressions and gestures that somehow denoted both arousal and contempt. It happened first in the sauna: the group became aroused, they each felt contempt for their being aroused, but then their contempt only generated more arousal and they had to fuck, pluralistically, through the contempt.

I fell asleep like that, to the wet groans and tense synth cues. To me, sex was all about mystery and dread, which perhaps made it easier to accept Maude and the boyfriend’s quiet shuffling into the apartment at around one o’clock. I lay there in corpse pose with my eyes shut until I was asleep again, this time to the faint shudder of her mattress, though I woke up every now and then to a sharp little snap, skin against skin.

When I got up in the morning, our door was still locked and I had to get to class. “Come on,” I yelled. “I have to leave in ten minutes.”

I heard some movement behind the door. Maude opened it just wide enough to hand me my bag, my keys, and my laptop charger. She gave me a clean outfit and a fresh pair of socks. “Good morning,” she said, then closed the door and laughed. The boyfriend laughed, too, which I hadn’t thought he was capable of.

I spread the clothes out in front of me on the kitchen table. It was my favorite outfit, but for the wrong weather—I would freeze to death! I decided to stick to what I’d slept in, the clothes I’d worn to the bar. I understood myself as the victim of a cruel joke, but also, for some reason, a heroine in a fable.

*

When I came back that afternoon, Maude regarded my outfit with obvious disappointment. “You didn’t like what I picked,” she said, frowning.

“No, I liked it. But it was too cold, and it didn’t go with my coat.”

“Oh, sorry.”

I tugged at the collar of the shirt I’d been wearing for twenty hours. “Do I smell?”

She leaned in for a whiff and shook her head. “No, you’re good.”

Two nights later, it happened again. I slept on the couch, only to find the bedroom door locked the next morning, my wardrobe out of reach. Except this time, Maude checked the forecast. She handed me several layers of clothing and thicker socks. “Good morning,” we said awkwardly, in unison. When I asked for earrings, she gave me a serious nod and brought a dusty old pair from my jewelry box. They matched the outfit, which both was appropriate and felt good to wear, and I walked around all day trying to reconcile that pleasure with the massive crick in my neck.

The air was sharp and fresh, washed by the lingering smell of wet grass. Everywhere I looked there were people holding hands, people with dogs, the dogs trotting along happily or, if they were especially small, bouncing up and down in elaborate slings. Maude had stopped washing the dishes and she let her dirty laundry stew in the corner of our room for weeks at a time. One day I decided not to clean up after her, just to let her see how bad it could get, but then another month passed and she hadn’t noticed a thing.

An ashtray appeared on our nightstand. Several of the boyfriend’s things—sweaters, body spray, a pair of briefs—made their way into the bathroom every once in a while, always damp and never clean, always the lingering smell of smoke, the bedroom window cracked open an inch to dilute their stench after they had gone.

“It’s not nice when you smoke in here, Maude,” I said. “Have you ever thought about quitting?”

“It’s not that easy,” Maude said. “Addiction runs on both sides of my family.”

“Then why start?”

“Well, these are the risks you take for pleasure.”

“Sounds pretentious.”

“You love me,” she said. It was probably true.

I got used to sleeping on the couch, and I began washing the briefs I found and using them as pajamas, rolling the elastic waistband twice over so that it fit snug against my hips. On the mornings I stood by the door, knocking for two minutes straight, I couldn’t help but look forward to whatever I was about to get—there was a comfort in being treated this way, so deliberately by another person, that reminded me of childhood. Maude dressed me as my mother would, retrieving from the back of my closet the youthful garments I’d willed myself into forgetting, accentuating my body with color.

She laughed when she saw me in the boyfriend’s underwear. “God,” she said through her teeth, delighted by the small transgression. I heard the boyfriend say what, to which she said, “Nothing.” She gave me a sweater and blue jeans and told me to put my hair up, to dab tobacco and vanilla perfume oil onto my wrists.

“Okay,” I said in my hesitating way. From inside the room I thought I smelled something rotting, but then all I had was the door, the inconstant patter of footsteps. I pictured Maude’s legs outstretched over the mattress, long and slender and clean-shaven. The boyfriend hooking a finger through her panties and tugging them down to reveal a bald pussy, a line from a pop song needle-pricked into her hip bone.

On my way out, I spied a mostly empty cup of coffee that had been left on the table for days.

*

The smell came from a bowl of moldy oranges left underneath Maude’s bed, surrounded by cookie crumbs and hair scrunchies covered in lint. She told me they were meant for the boyfriend, who always got hungry in the middle of the night, but they’d forgotten about them somehow. She promised not to let it happen again—she knew she had to be a better roommate.

“Yeah,” I said. “Whatever.”

She tried to make it up to me with a dress she’d bought online. It was too loose on her, but guaranteed to fit me, she said. It was red, silk, and it had a string to tie around the waist. Wearing it made me want to go dancing or have an affair or something, so I kept it for the approaching spring, when I would try to get out more, although I never did.

The closest I got was a handful of dates I went on because I was looking for a second place to sleep. Carefully explaining my situation to guys I’d met online, wearing the expensive dress Maude had given me, I slowly became filled with shame. One man asked why I couldn’t get any of my girlfriends to accommodate me and another wanted to challenge the boyfriend to a duel. Then, an old writing tutor suggested that Maude needed an intervention.

“But that’s the thing,” I said. “She’s in therapy.”

“Therapy isn’t real,” said the tutor. “You pay someone two hundred dollars an hour to enable you. If you had a therapist, then right now they would tell you it’s okay to avoid confrontation because you value your roommate as a friend, and you recognize she’s going through a tough time. But that doesn’t matter. You’re a nice girl, and you deserve to sleep in your own bed.”

Except I wasn’t a nice girl, not really—not when I couldn’t land a second or third date with any of the guys I had seen. This confirmed my belief that I was attractive enough to go out with, but there was something else preventing others from wanting to share a bed with me, or a life. According to the tutor, I didn’t talk enough. And then when I did talk, I spoke in a cadence that made most men want to kill themselves.

“That’s so mean,” I said. “I don’t want anyone to kill themselves.” But as soon as I said it, I knew I wanted the boyfriend dead.

The tutor, as if recognizing this, shook his head sadly. “We’re mean, unpleasant people,” he said. “We can’t help it.”

*

An unwelcome development: the boyfriend perpetually sitting at the kitchen table, poking through Maude’s leftover noodles in a soggy takeout box, watching foreign films on his laptop. With Maude locked away for her therapy session, I reverted to a state of helplessness, unable to cook or eat or do anything in front of him. I merely gazed at my phone, counting the minutes as they went by and wondering what I would wear the next day.

The outfits became repetitive, as I knew they would eventually. But they also seemed less imaginative, as if Maude no longer considered me a worthy muse, to be elevated and changed by her vision. “What do you want to wear?” she sometimes asked me, then laid the clothes out on the sofa before the boyfriend arrived. Each week, she threw out entire cartons of fruit that she had accidentally left to rot, carrying them to the dumpster in old grocery bags when she thought I wouldn’t notice. The smell clung to the walls, impossible to ignore.

And so I lit the candles. I washed the dishes. I asked the boyfriend where he lived and he suggested it was too far from campus for Maude to go over there as much. Besides, he had three roommates…

“Oh, okay,” I said.

The tutor had wanted me to assert myself somehow, but I didn’t have it in me. After all, I had taken to life in exile better than expected: I went on long, peaceful walks across campus, toting around a backpack into which I’d stuffed more than half of my belongings, and returned to the apartment only to sleep or cook the occasional meal. I was untethered from any one specific place, or person, and I never had to worry about putting on a bad show.

On the other hand, I got hungry. My back always hurt. These were facts I briefly attempted to hold at a distance. Through some warped sense of friendship, they even helped me feel closer to Maude—if we had nothing else in common, then we at least had the humiliation of living inside our bodies, I thought, of being unable to deny them what they wanted.

*

Still, I couldn’t shake the question. Was it true what Maude had said, that I was better at being alone than she was? I couldn’t think of any particular choice I’d made to live that way, my freshman year of college split evenly between lectures, the library, and sleep. The tutor made it sound like I just had a bad attitude, and so naturally people kept their distance—but it was a fixed aspect, I couldn’t change it. Or so it seemed.

But what if I could change, and how? Would it make people want to sleep with me? Did I actually care about that? When Maude started picking my outfits, I felt touched by possibility, a glimpse into the person I might’ve been had I ever been taught to brush my hair. Dark, disagreeable—in high school I’d buzzed it all off, and now it was long enough to twist into matching plaits. Maude loved to braid my hair when she got high and I loved watching in the mirror as she did it, her small hands moving with such precision and speed. She did and undid the braids, over and over, producing any number of black, dangling ropes and then sifting her fingers through them like oil. They came apart, but only with effort: Maude, absently yanking at my scalp, mumbling something to the boyfriend about a local art exhibition.

He would be stoned, lounging on the floor, just as mesmerized by her handiwork. “Lighten up,” he always said to me. “Turn that frown upside down.” Maude told him to knock it off but ultimately did not change positions. She merely lifted my hair out of the way and continued to segment the thick strands, her breath floating warmly against the back of my neck.

*

There was nothing special about the day they left the door unlocked except for Maude’s confession the day before, as we were standing in the frozen meal section of Trader Joe’s. She said she felt bad about how often he came over, but didn’t know how to reject his advances. He had a way about him—something in the bob of his throat, the way hair trickled down his chest, his charming brown eyes. He craved sweet things and she wanted him to have them without recompense.

“What did your therapist say?” I asked after a long moment. Maude’s eyes were just as charming, if not more. They were containers of pure feeling, spilling over into the rest of her body. She carried her sadness around like her life depended on it, but sometimes, when she angled her body toward you, you felt you were being let in on a precious secret. A subtler, more realized way of living.

“I don’t know. I’m just really embarrassed.” She dropped a box of frozen chicken masala into our cart and strolled on. “I’m kind of failing one of my classes,” she said, dipping her hand back into the cooler. She grabbed another box of shit, scanned its nutrition facts.

“Which one?”

“This art history elective.” Unconvinced, she set the box back in its place and headed for the produce. “I should probably learn how to study,” she added.

“Probably,” I said.

Maude looked frailer than usual, her face empty and green. I should have been nicer. When she reached for a netted bag of peaches, I asked, “Are you sure those won’t go bad?”

She just looked at me sadly, bitterly. My fault, of course. I took the peaches myself and dropped them into my side of the cart. “You can have as many as you want,” I said, and in the parking lot she smoked a cigarette and cried.

*

To fall asleep at night, I thought of Maude at that very same moment, in the next room: peeling two oranges in the dark, splitting them into dusty wedges and putting them to the boyfriend’s mouth. Stripping the sheets the next morning and releasing their sweet citrus smell, the room haunted by sweat.

It was Monday again. I assumed from the thick silence behind the door that the boyfriend was gone already; when I knocked, there was no answer. Only my breath. I gave the doorknob a little squeeze, which it did not resist. The door opened as if on its own.

And there they were—naked, collapsed into each other like stars. Bright, scribbled stars, arms entwined, Maude’s long hair pooled behind each of their heads like a honeypot. Her mouth moved stupidly in her sleep, wet with drool. She kept sighing and grunting but never actually woke up, and neither did he. Neither of them opened their eyes, even as their feet stirred the air.

Startled, I shut the door. Then I realized I hadn’t expected to see them, right there, because I hadn’t expected them to be on that side of the room at all. It was my side, my bed. I huddled on the floorboards with my ear to the wall, peering up at my distorted reflection in the doorknob, silvery and bug-eyed and wide awake. Outside, the clouds parted. As a patch of sunshine illuminated my feet, Maude and the boyfriend started groping blindly for each other.

“Hold on,” she said. The mattress shifted loudly under her weight. “Oh, but… Kimia…”

He grunted. She began to moan, telling him not to stop, and soon they were pretty much at it again—I heard it, the moment he pushed himself inside her—and as I listened to her saying his name I realized just how sexless each of their names were, each of their entire beings, and how that was what offended me the most: the charade of spontaneity and danger when there were really all of these rituals attached, all this niceness and poise leading up to it, and how no one could say anything about it, it was expected of you, and that was supposed to be how you earned love. But I didn’t want love—I wanted to be terrible. I wanted to stay myself, to be my own witness, bonded in disgust.

 

The next day, I told Maude I didn’t want to live with her anymore. I kept praising her as I said it, repeating the qualities of hers I invariably enjoyed: she was genuine, sweet, and funny, and she drew all kinds of people into her orbit. I liked her as a friend, but she didn’t respect me. She had some things to work on. If she couldn’t find a new place before our lease was up, then I’d figure something out on my own.

We argued about it for some time. She criticized the suddenness of my decision, the audacity to just spring it on her like that. “Why should I leave?” she asked. “You’re never even here.”

“Because you keep kicking me out to have sex with this boring, useless fucking guy.”

I didn’t bring up the fact that they’d been fucking in my bed and it never occurred to me to mention it. I don’t know why. “I’m in love with him,” she said, as if it changed anything. “We don’t have that much time left until we have to be long-distance.”

“That is never going to work out,” I said.

The conversation faded into two or three slammed doors and not much else. Maude locked herself in the bathroom and cried and cried, and I felt bad until I didn’t. We stood side-by-side as we brushed our teeth at night, watching each other’s faces twist in the mirror, wishing for the other to become unrecognizable somehow. I had always comforted her, even when I didn’t really want to. I couldn’t help it. Being her friend made me feel like a better, easier person. Her presence assured me I was doing something right with my life, a real act of service.

She found a room right away, probably through her dozens of connections on campus, and she swiftly packed her things into boxes and then a storage unit for the summer. When I told her I hoped to stay in touch, she merely leaned in for a hug, her fingertips grazing my back softly. Then, as she let go, she gave my hair a brief tug and smiled. She smiled in such a way that made it hard to believe I could have ever possibly known her, or loved her, or tried wearing her like a second skin.

*

Somehow, I failed to consider that I might ever see the boyfriend again. It took me out of my body to run into him months later, at the withering end of summer. We were both in line at a coffee shop, the walls covered floor-to-ceiling with framed posters of the Beatles and vintage comic strips, evoking the set of a TV show.

I didn’t expect him to recognize me, but he did. He also remembered my name—he called out to me, Kimia—and looked almost as happy to see me as if I were an old friend. I knew, of course, that he and Maude had broken up. She’d posted about it on her Instagram story, liked dozens of heteropessimist tweets, and even mentioned converting to Islam. She requested a copy of the Quran from my parents’ house and then was disappointed when I told her it wasn’t in English, nor were we practicing Muslims. Back in June, I’d renewed our lease with another girl.

“You look good,” said the boyfriend in the coffee shop. “It’s nice that you can dress yourself.”

I peered down at the loose fabric of my dress, rendering me shapeless, my legs exposed and covered in hair.

“Right,” I said.

“That was so fucking funny. Who ended up keeping the place?”

“I did.”

“Huh,” he said, and smiled. Him leering at me like that, I felt I was being forced to recognize his personhood, the notion that I had been a character in his life just as he’d been one in mine. I sensed that his version of events was more comic, whereas mine was dreary and more cynical. He started talking about Maude, who apparently had talked a lot about me when they were together. I’d always felt unknowable to them, he said, and sometimes I looked a little scary in the morning. Those frigid mornings!

“But I always thought you were chill,” he said. “You know, you let us have the room and stuff.”

“You locked the door,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, but you didn’t have to put up with it for as long as you did. For what it’s worth, she really liked you. It really fucked her up that you didn’t want to live with her anymore. But I get it. I mean, she’s a lot.”

“No she’s not,” I said immediately, even though I agreed. I’d told people on several occasions that Maude, cool and benevolent as she often was, was also too intense and neurotic for her own good. “She’s great,” I said. “She’s complicated. You’re the one that fucked her up.”

“You really think so?” he asked, still grinning. All I’d done was amuse him, so I stopped talking and knocked his coffee out of his hand. The lid popped off on impact; we each looked down, stunned, at the ice already starting to melt and dribble across the tile floor, creeping toward my scuffed pleather flats.

“Jesus Christ,” the boyfriend said. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and it felt like everyone else in the room wanted to know, too. “Whatever,” I said. “Fuck you.” I headed for the door without having ordered anything.

I felt strange and ripe. I sat down to call Maude at the next café, to tell her what had happened in a casual, funny sort of way before he could distort my actions into a serious attack or claim that I’d tried to fuck him. That he rejected me and I took it badly, violently, à la Fatal Attraction. When she didn’t pick up, I left her a hopeful voicemail—something to remember me by. I rehearsed what to say several times, and then, when I had finally gotten it right, drank my coffee and kept walking, a stranger, my dress waving gracefully like a flag in the wind.