Jane does artistic nudes. I take off my clothes. Her camera is near broken: the lens cracked, flash broken in two. Jane holds everything together. I don’t ask her to make me look good; I pose with a cigarette and think about not getting an erection.
I tell Jane I love how empty she has made her space.
”This is where I live.” She shrugs.
Jane moves me. We shoot in her kitchen; I smoke by the stove.
”You don’t have to smile,” she says. “Your face won’t be in the frame.”
Jane guides me onto the fire escape. I squeeze my cigarette filter.
”Try not to breathe,” she tells me.
And I don’t.
When it gets dark I point out the planets: Venus, Mars, Jupiter.
”Everything named after long dead gods,” says Jane, lowering the camera from her face. “Where is the planet named for me?’”
Jane buys me takeout: chicken sticky with molasses and habanero; white rice flecked with lime. Jane eats with her fingers.
”As a young woman, I dreamed of being a bird. Now, I can’t think of an animal more capable of being eaten.”
Jane makes a mess. When I try to kiss her, she puts the meal between us. The bones, the heat.
”I’m tired,” she says.
Outside, I reverse my car into a lamppost.
Sunday, I let myself into her flat. A banana and hot coffee sit waiting on a stool.
”Careful where you place yourself.” Jane winks.
On the wall she has mounted prints of Greek and Roman myths: Sisyphus pushes his stone; Orpheus looks unflinchingly ahead; so afraid of being overthrown, Saturn devours his children, wild-eyed and bloody.
Jane showers. I exhibit in the open window.
Naked, she joins me on camera. She poses with fresh lilies, a square of cloth. With her breath on my neck, Jane tells me to fix her hair.
In her dark room, my image hangs. I see my negatives; I look fat.
We eat at a French restaurant. Escargot, brandy, pork belly with a mustard glaze. I tell three jokes which share a punchline. Jane asks the waitress how to get a wine stain out of a shirt.
The waitress says, “It’s the same method you’d use for blood.”
We collect and split the bill. When I suggest my place, Jane reaches inside my jeans.
”Fine,” she says. “But I am not going to be dessert.”
I am so nervous I vomit in the sink. In the morning, Jane wears my clothes, walks to the toilet, and searches through the messages on my phone.
Monday, Jane asks me to take her photograph.
She removes her rings, parts her legs and says, “Can you remember a time when you didn’t know what you were looking at?”
Jane thinks of childhood. I think of Orpheus looking over his shoulder, unable to keep his promise; Sisyphus smiling as the boulder rolls back down the mountain.
We say nothing else. Parts of us benefit from silence.
Afterwards, we go for street food. Tacos bulging with beef tongue and pineapple shards; a tortilla shell cracking with salsa.
We eat in the park, sitting across from a statue of a lion. Kids take selfies, positioning themselves in its jaw to give the suggestion they are being eaten. Jane plays with her food.
”I won’t be using you again, but I’ll always buy you lunch.”
I am picked clean. Jane kisses my cheek.
”We all choose how we are treated,” she says, collecting the leftovers and throwing them away.
It’s dark out. I look for the stars and planets, the bright spots in the sky; I see contrails emerging from a 747 as it circles around, reverses course, then comes back in to land.
James Smart is from the North of England and is a Creative Writing MFA student at the University of East Anglia. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train—where he won an award for Best New Writer—Spelk, Reflex, After the Pause, Memoir Mixtapes and elsewhere. He was shortlisted for the 2018 Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize and is working on a novel. He tweets @notjamessmart.