Give Me A Love Song
In the dark shade of the Saks building on Fifth Avenue, he draws me over to one of the shop windows. We are reflected. His pristine, white, button-through shirt glows. Behind us, people rush past.
“I want to buy this for you,” Justin says, pointing to a Versace strapless, tartan mini-dress. The shiny gold hem, high across the thigh, rings hard in my chest. Four buckles run down one side, ribs to hip.
“For my birthday,” I say, and then wish I didn’t. He doesn’t know my birthday. It’s in November, four months away, and I am humiliated at the idea of telling him.
“Or for mine,” he says.
It is neat, uncomplicated. A sidestep. His hand, by his side, threads with mine, finger by finger, our hands held together so loosely they could fall apart.
“Abby,” he says. “Do you still want to do this?”
“I want to do something.”
He smiles in the glass and it is almost shy. He says, right into my ear, “Tell me what you want to do to me.”
Justin draws my arm through his, and I hold his upper arm, the hot cotton of his shirtsleeve. We walk along the pavement. We sail. I can guess the smoothness of his skin under my hand, and I want to sink my teeth into him.
“Sometimes I worry I’m a cannibal,” I say.
He tips his head back and laughs. “I don’t scare easily.”
We check into the Waldorf without luggage, and the sun is noon-high. I blush at our audacity. The concierge, Hermione, should be on a catwalk. Her skin, hair, and nails are all butterscotch. She is efficient. She calls Justin “Dr. Bergh,” reading his name on his American Express. She doesn’t ask if we need two keys.
Justin smiles down at me. He tucks me against his side.
I rise on tiptoe and say softly to him, “What do you want with little old me?”
He says, “What you talkin’ about?”
He is either kind, lying, or both. He presses his lips to my forehead, and it is probably patronizing, but I only want it to be gentle. I push my cheek into his shirt, and it smells of starch, soap, and the menthol-spice of his cologne. His smell evokes my husband and, long ago, my father arriving home from work and stooping to receive a kiss on the cheek from each of his children.
We move to the elevators, his arm around my shoulders, and he clasps my upper arm as if worried I will run.
We pass the lounge.
“Let’s have a drink first,” I say.
We sit in two low-slung, leather armchairs facing a window, and a waiter appears as if conjured.
Justin says, “Abby, what would you like?” The question lands like a punch.
“A glass of white wine. I don’t mind which one.”
He and the waiter discuss an appropriate wine, and I don’t know when I became a woman who let two men decide upon her drink. I don’t usually order wine. I should have asked for a gin and tonic—it’s too late; they’re discussing French regions.
Roy Orbison and k.d. lang sing “Crying,” and I hold my breath as Roy hits, “But, darling, what can I do?” Their voices soar.
The waiter leaves.
Justin says, “God. This song.”
“I love it.”
“Most depressives do.” Then he grips my hand. “Abby. Hey. I was joking.”
I pull my hand from his. “I didn’t think psychiatrists joked about mental health.”
“Of course we do.”
The waiter returns—two fingers of whiskey for Justin, and pours the wine for me. The wine is brilliantly cold. It sears. A headache hovers, luminous, full-blown, above my right eye. I rifle through my purse.
He says, “Hell. Abby. It wasn’t my professional opinion.”
I punch two Ibuprofens into the folds of my skirt.
He says, “I’ll get you some water,” and turns to signal the waiter.
“No,” I say, and swallow them down with wine.
Outside, people rush with their phones or headsets, stiff, robotic. They are having ordinary days and ordinary conversations, and I long to be in the deli selling olives, coffee, moussaka, and expensive, out-of-season tulips.
It was where we met. Justin walked through the door of the deli, late, just before closing, dragging away his tie and undoing the top button of his shirt. In that moment, he was my husband arriving home at the end of the day. He smiled as if he had seen me at the deli before and was looking for me. He said he had, and he was. A coffee date, a dinner date, and here we are, and it is fast.
Taking a deep breath, I tell myself to smell, and I smell old, distinguished hotel serving lunch. I am famished. He checks his watch, sits upright, and I don’t know how long he allowed for this.
Our room is on the forty-second floor, facing Central Park, and far below is Park Avenue. I touch the glass. It isn’t hot from the sun; the window is double-glazed. The sunlight is sepia, and the trees in the park are still.
Justin plants the key on the table.
“I should have had two drinks,” I say.
“You did. That was a double pour.”
He walks over to me. He pushes his hand into my hair and pulls me against his hips. Push, pull, push, pull. Distantly, I think this is how something is torn. His mouth comes down towards mine, but he stops, hovering just over me, and says, it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay.
His lips brush over mine backwards and forwards gently, gradually. It is mesmerizing. He has probably done this a million times before. I don’t make any sudden movements because there won’t be many opportunities for this type of kiss—the slow care, the sheer patience, touching the edges of a stranger.
My mouth shakes. He says, it’s okay. My chest fills, unsteady, like an overfull bowl of water that I am trying to carry. It is here—the heap of everything I am bringing to him and the heap of everything he is bringing to me, and God bless our souls for believing in this.
A year ago, in our dark kitchen, my husband made himself dinner. Steak fried in the pan and tomatoes began to burn. The late night radio played low. I heard him sing a few words and stop and start again—“Love Hurts” by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. From the hallway, I listened to him pick up that song and put it down. I listened to the way he sang, “I’ve learned from you,” and I thought, Here is my husband, and I thought, He is here and not driving away to the Smokies to start over.
I stepped into the kitchen, and the only light was small and dim over the counter near the radio. He stood at the stove, still wearing his button-through shirt and suit pants, his tie gone. He waved at me with the spatula, a single wave.
“I didn’t hear you come home,” I said.
“Another late one.”
“Is there enough food for me too?”
He looked down at the pan. “No.”
I took a seat at the table and had a long drink from his bottle of beer.
“Hey, now,” he said, and I heard his smile.
We sit beside each other on the hotel bed, and we could be an Ed Hopper painting. Justin traces the bones of my hand, from wrist to fingertip.
“My courage is failing,” I say.
“You’re thinking too much.”
His tone is cold, and I look at the door. I have not told him about my husband because I cannot say the words. I could say—my chest is blown out. It is a bomb site. The walls of my ribs destroyed, my lungs and heart half-gone.
“What is your professional opinion of me?” I say.
He shakes his head.
He squeezes my hand. “You are going through a difficult time.”
I smile. “How many years did you study psychiatry?”
He smiles. “Don’t go. Do you want to watch TV and have a drink?”
I want to start again. As a teenager, I used to think, start again, like pressing a button, now I will be like this.
“Let’s make it hard liquor,” I say.
He goes to the mini-bar. I am ready to chug down the miniatures shamelessly, like a baby sucking milk, but he calls room service and orders a bottle of something-I-don’t-care-what and sandwiches.
After the call, he stays by the nightstand.
“Not TV,” I say. “Music.”
He flicks through his phone. “Mood?”
He raises an eyebrow. “Is that right?”
“Give me a love song.”
“Country it is.”
The song starts, and I almost ask him to change it—“Love Hurts.”
We dance, but it is more like swaying. I don’t know what to do with my hands. He takes them, one by one, and puts them on his shoulders. He pulls me against him, and his arms encircle my waist.
“There,” he says, as if we have arrived somewhere.
I lock myself in the bathroom. I need a minute. The shower is huge. The water is thick, scorching, on the edge of bearable, as I press my body, my cheek, against the cold, pale stone and push my fingers inside of me.
Sitting on the toilet lid, I lean my elbows on my knees and clutch my head. I hear room service, quiet voices, and thank you, sir. I imagine he tips generously. The shower drips, and it is astonishing in this flawless place—drip, drip. I listen for my husband’s voice, his low, beautiful, unbearable voice.
“No one understands what this is like,” I whisper to him. “No one but you.”
There must be drugs—hallucinogens that would bring him here. I want his hand to fall on my hair, to hold me against his stomach, to talk me down, tell me how to manage.
When I leave the bathroom, Justin is stretched on the bed, leaning against the headboard. He finishes his mouthful and puts his plate on the nightstand. He starts to rise.
He smiles. He resettles on the bed and says, “Don’t be nervous.”
“Don’t be a dick.”
He laughs. “You crack me up.”
“I’m not joking.”
Wheels roll past, outside in the hall—a maid with a cleaning trolley, or someone towing their suitcase. I watch the door with its emergency exit instructions.
“Abby. We don’t have to do this.”
The Versace mini-dress with its four buckles would make this more compelling. I pull off my shoes, drag my shirt over my head, and unzip my skirt, whispering it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay. I step out of my skirt, and his stare sears my skin. I am in my bra and underwear.
The room is chilly, and goosebumps rise, sweeping from head to toe. I think, I am a landscape. I am Tennessee, and my husband is driving to me. I think, I am Dolly Parton’s childhood farm in the Smokies. The wind is pulling across me, and Dolly is singing “I Will Always Love You” before anyone else ever did.
“Come here,” he says, his voice soft. I can hardly hear him.
I crawl on all fours, his body between my knees, and it is thrilling, primal—my skin against the cloth of him.
“Look at me,” he says.
I lift my head. I get closer. He takes my chin, pulls it down, and I let my mouth open. I am waiting for him to stick some part of himself in my mouth: his thumb, finger, fingers, his cock. A wave of nausea overwhelms me. I slam my hand against the headboard, above his shoulder, to steady myself. I need a minute. He captures me around my waist and draws me closer until I am sitting on him, and he is hard beneath me. He presses his face into my breasts and inhales deeply.
“Jesus Christ,” he murmurs, quiet and reverent.
Maybe he is a believer or was raised as one, so that when he says that name it is heavy. My husband, an atheist, used to say Jesus Christ, and there were no finer words, as if in the moment of coming he was admitting the possibility.
At the end of another work day, I straddled my husband in his favorite chair. One of his hands held my hip, and the other held a bottle of beer. I wrapped myself around him and pushed his hair back from his forehead. I could not read his gaze. He was a kaleidoscope. There he was, a boy, when a second ago he was a man. He blinked and became a man again.
He had stopped talking about us leaving the city. He didn’t want to leave anymore, he said. He kissed my lips, and it was short, hard. We had been together forever, with nothing to prove. I have this, I thought. I have him.
Justin licks the V where my bra meets my skin, and I am blazing.
“I don’t want this to end,” I say.
“Don’t think about that,” he says, and reaches around me, unclasps my bra, and slides it down my arms.
He holds my breasts, squeezes as if testing.
“This is a privilege,” I say. “You know that, right?”
“Yes,” he says, rushed, on a breath, maybe not yes at all.
He swipes his thumbs over my nipples, slow and again and again, and I have not forgotten this insanity—sinking, falling, giving in to a man, to the oxytocins and muscle memory.
I drop my forehead to his shoulder, slow my breathing. I push into the soft and hard of him, my face into his neck, and my thighs into his lap. He is everywhere, and I want to stay right here. But his skin is getting hotter; there is a hitch in his breathing, and his hands are pulling me apart. I am ready to begin climbing. I am ready for him to eat me whole and swallow me down until there is nothing left.
“I always think about the end,” I say.
I lift my face, and he is not my husband. My marriage, my husband, our history, us, we are a ruin, and I don’t know what to do with all of this love.
Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in Best Small Fictions 2018, Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, Superstition Review, Monkeybicycle, and Forge Literary Magazine, among others. Three of her stories were chosen by Dan Chaon for Best Microfictions 2019. She lives in Australia. You can find her here: www.melissagoode.com and at twitter.com/melgoodewriter.