19. why is it that neither of these verbs applies?

Your friends are reading over your shoulder now, hello B., hello D.—will it change things? Is it time to introduce a seduction scene? My tongue sliding down your chest to your waist, my cheek brushing against your body hair, nibbling at it as I inhale the smell of your skin. I unbutton your pants slowly, nudge my tongue into the opening and tug at the elastic waistband with my teeth; I pull them down enough to lick the inside of your thigh where it meets the groin, and a soft moan escapes from your moist lips. But that’s not what this is about, at least not principally. How to explain?

Did I find you, or did you find me? I’ve done so many things wrong in my life, I’ve fallen in love with the wrong people, for the wrong reasons, and I’m skeptical now, a skeptical dented can on a shelf, a skeptical perpetrator, but of what? I don’t trust it, or myself, don’t understand what we’re doing, whether it’s strange, or beautiful, or just an excuse for me to write again—fervently, irresponsibly, staying up all night and sleeping away the day and giving myself over to the task completely, to the near exclusion of all else. A chance to make up a story and live inside it, to escape reality, all the obligations piled up on my desk, deadlines that hound me in my sleep: the editorial work, the essays, the translations, the reviews.

Running shoes that make squeaking sounds on hallway floors; socks that fall down awkwardly every ten steps: that’s what’s missing, everything that goes along with having a body, or rather being a body—why is it that neither of these verbs applies? What are we, really, when we distill our existence down to mind and soul? A voice. I want to press my cheek against your chest, hear your heartbeat, and although I am allergic to every perfume in existence and am still not quite sure if you understand the larger implications of this, I want to breathe in the smell of your body—and while my head swoons as I feel the warmth of your skin against my own, I will wonder if you’ll notice the hives swell up on my face and neck, recognize the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, and rush me to the nearest hospital before I, gazing at you adoringly, die pale and lovely in your arms? Or will you have saved me just in time? We have an entire repertoire of movies and fairy-tales to create our imaginary world.

Last night, you walked down Shaftesbury Avenue to Piccadilly Circus and up Regent Street, through an excited Saturday-night feast teeming in all directions. The broad sidewalks were jammed with people, everyone was dressed up and on the prowl, some of them prancing and preening, some ruing their bitter reality out loud for everyone to hear. A twenty-something couple in the throes of an argument, she a bleached blonde storming ahead, shouting like a fishmonger: “I can’t do it any more! Yew’ve gone too far!,” he trying to catch up with his shorter legs and his black hair waxed up into a pointy crest on his head, pleading: “Look, Oy’ve been troying! Yew could at least give me that!” And I, opening my mail and reading it the next morning, laughing out loud, delighted at the thought of you carrying me with you through nighttime London. I am afraid of this evaporating into thin air the moment we meet—poof! there it goes, the illusion you have of me, that I have of you, but no, that’s not all, surely there’s got to be something more? The part of you that hears me, understands me, picks up the faintest of signals; that sees everything, registers everything, forgets nothing, how can that be?

It’s not possible, it’s not possible. When I leave this room and close the door behind me, turn the key in the lock with precisely the same movements as I would normally employ, switch on the hall light and walk down the steps to the outside door and then out of the building in exactly the same manner as any other day, when I walk down the sidewalk in a gait typical of anyone with an errand to run or an acquaintance to meet, careful to maintain this perfect camouflage and thinking all the while of you, concentrating on nothing else but you, seeing all the while an image of you before me as I guard my features in order not to betray you, how can it be, if I direct my entire concentration toward this impending moment, when the door to a particular building is bound to open the very second I am passing by, how can it be that you do not in this moment appear, emerging from this doorway? Where else could you possibly be, than at the locus of all this attention?

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