The Art of Losing
It’s cold on the street in March at two a.m. in New England.
We closed the bar down — a hoot since neither of us is the kind of woman who closes down a bar. Drunk or not, passersby stare. Even in 2013 in a college town, a black woman and a white woman laughing this intimately are unusual. ‘Burrrr.’ You tighten the belt of a navy cashmere coat, flinging the long end of a purple scarf over your shoulder. It was the first thing I noticed about you when we met — your elegance with or without a prop. A sheet of ice has formed on the parking lot since we entered Shay’s Pub hours ago.
‘I didn’t drink enough.’ My teeth chatter, I’m so cold. Heat blasts from the slats on the dash — the Swedes showing off their knowledge of thermodynamics. You wipe the window with your sleeve. ‘Know what I feel like now?’ It will be the first time you touch me. And though I have thought about it — you are my favorite distraction — nothing can prepare me for your next move. Honoring a dying commitment with someone who’s not touching me at all has left me shaky, needy, unsure. You grab a fistful of dreds, yank my head close. My heart thuds in the walls of my throat fastened by your hand, fingertips boring into my neck, your brandied mouth hot on my ear. The promise of how hard you’ll make me come sizzles like butter in a flaming skillet. I can’t drive us back to your place fast enough. Only this city is not my city. ‘Who the fuck did the urban planning for Boston? The roads are like a fucking plate of spaghetti?’ Your ‘left!’ becomes my right. And ‘round and ‘round we go. ‘Apparently, you don’t want to get fucked,’ you say in a tone equal parts acid and cream. A car runs a red light, nearly hitting us. I swerve to miss it. At half past two in the morning, you order me to pull over on Massachusetts Avenue.
Cold fingers claw against my tights. ‘Little hottie almost got us killed.’ Tense, near tears, my barely audible protest seems to fit everything in my life at the moment — ‘but it wasn’t my fault.’
You kiss me long and hard, exactly the way I’ve wanted since you scooted into the booth next to me. Alto laughter and star eyes aside, you’ve done nothing to deserve my utter compliance. Silk crochet panties don’t help. Eyed them on the mannequin in the little lingerie boutique in my city for weeks before I decided — despite their likeness to a doily — they would be sexy on. (And, if I’m really honest, it was you I thought of watching the saleslady wrap them in lavender tissue paper.) In place of crotch lining, a seam of silk thread double-knotted right where it counts. When your cold knuckles brush past me there, pure delight.
Eighty-two dollar tights ripped open, panties pulled to the side. You serve three fingers. ‘Well, little Miss Sunday School, what do we have here? It’s a sin to be this wet.’ I inch closer. ‘Don’t move. You move, I take them out.’ I’ve had enough one-night stands to know the moment you are inside of me that this is not that. Too many of your ways are going down in the book: your whisper-in-the-dark tone, the feel of your lips against my ear, the filth you speak — I won’t remember half of it. Indelible though, the softness and strength of your thumb circling, circling. Beneath abrasive words, measured strokes. Behind my eyelids, a sheet of white heat. I’ve been finger banging myself since middle school; others joined the fun in high school, but you don’t have fingers — spark plugs. This rhythm right here…right here…. Your hand withdraws abruptly. ‘Cheater. Start the fucking car.’
Checking the side mirrors, I join the traffic. You slurp your fingers. ‘My God. Drive, woman.’ The almost orgasm has cleared my head enough to deliver us safely to Brattle Street.
Suddenly it’s freshman year of high school. I’m not shy about role-playing though generally it’s discussed beforehand, mapped out: who’s going to do what? We’ve had no such talk. If this is who you are, I don’t know if it gives me the creeps, or if I want to marry you. The car turns frigid in a matter of seconds. Your silence feels like hatred. I search for clues to end this or not. The first lunch you spilled lobster bisque down the front of an ecru blouse, and I wondered about the size and hue of your nipples. You took quahogs off my plate; I ate your fries. There was enough tension to start an Occupy Movement when we shook hands on the sidewalk. You texted the cancellation of our second lunch. Too chicken to call. I didn’t text back. For the apology dinner — your effort to entice me into forgiving your cowardice — you wore a short black skirt, a soft leather over-the-knee boot that hugged your calves exquisitely. Every word that night was unabashed truth and joke and flirt. I was beside myself in the goodbye embrace, inhaling long at the nape of your neck. From the beginning, your fragrance has mesmerized me but I don’t ask what it is. For now, it is your smell, and it is divinely heavy this evening, our third and longest date — if I wasn’t already involved.
Earlier we ducked into the Fogg Museum out of the miserable cold and squall of pedestrians slogging through sleet, each more pissed off by the unyielding wind off the Charles than us. You stood by me, scratchy, woolen fingers around my neck for a little squeeze a little too hard. You point to Small Houses Near Pontoise, discussing the flicker of brush strokes, Cezanne’s rendering of color and light. You whisper a quaint story of growing up in Small Town, USA, which looked a lot like the picture. I am charmed but I am not going to sleep with you, nice old white lady. We will be friends because I’m nearly forty and I know how to do that. And, you’re nearly sixty, surely you too can be friendly. I am not playing this game — not when I’m already losing one down the road. I push back on the impossible dream of resuscitating that relationship, and I guess I push too hard because the dam breaks, because loving Ms. Providence has come with a price tag that blinds me, because it’s been a bumpy winter for us — an emotional recession, because she and I are hopeless. You pull off a glove, pressing your thumbs to the corners of my eyes like an impatient mother. ‘Stop.’ For a brief moment your gaze holds mine then you look away. No questions, no note of concern. All for the good. I have turned over a new leaf. No more older lovers, no more lovers of a different race. I’m too ridiculous. I will settle down with someone appropriate. No more dubious looks on the faces of family members. No more inevitable endings. I will prove to the world that I can play it safe, fit in, be normal. (That’s the thing about rules, though, what and who you break them for appear on the scene with a ferocity you are never quite prepared for.) Two kids run up to us. We look at each other wondering if the other knows them. The little girl announces that she’s going to be a ballerina. The boy thinks tutus are dumb and has to pee. ‘Where are your parents?’ We both ask. In a flash the children are gone. We share an elevator with couples holding hands, making plans for the evening, tomorrow, the next day. You wager me that ‘The drizzle has stopped and the sun is out,’ — impossible given the weather an hour ago. You win your winter stroll by the river. ‘Chowder and brandy will be better enjoyed for it.’ We take to the esplanade at half-past five, strides matching, motorists north and southbound unaware of the drama unfolding. Giddy chatter, the effect of cold bone and marrow. Half a mile, pouring out stories of love-turned-blue. ‘Never again,’ you repeat, a throaty laugh punctuating passions’ fumbling. A great skua alone in the sky goes off course, swinging low then resting above on Eliot bridge. ‘That’s right. It’s too damn cold. Let others fly. Grounded is where it’s at,’ you chuckle. Where I should be, I think, instead of lofty philosophy and question: You can’t teach desire. Or learn it. Or fake it. So how is this anything but a gift?
I unbuckle my seatbelt first.
Before we reach your apartment door, the rough tug of my coat.
I pull the blue suede belt from the loops of your jeans; lean in, breathe you deep. Does it matter if I get the prize before tomorrow’s loss? You cradle my head but when I attempt to unbutton, you push me back, hard. ‘Who’s fucking who? Get undressed.’ I make a neat little pile of my clothes, trembling, and place them under the coffee table. From the other room, your stern voice: ‘On. Your. Knees.’ You return naked, raspberry nipples aflame, well hung with the aid of an indigo leather harness. ‘Take my cock and suck it. Harder. Put your fingers in me. See what you did?’ Your hand around my throat, you talk me through a blowjob unlike any I’ve ever given. It doesn’t matter that I choke, gag. ‘Slow down. SLOW…down. Relax your throat.’ You rock and grind your hips into my face, bridge your torso over my head to slide a finger up my ass. ‘Sweet thing, I’m gonna fuck your little hole soooo good,’ in the tone of the meanest playground bully. I draw my knees closer together to hide the glisten down my thighs. You release my neck, clothespin my nose, hard. ‘Cute as a fucking button. Open your eyes. Don’t you dare close those beautiful fucking eyes.’ Soon to gag what I feel will be my last time — ever, you grip my head with both hands, grunt and slam into me with a final shudder.
We make it to the bed.
Bucking against me like a wild horse (— no woman has ever fucked me with such strength, intention, no man either —), husky-voiced chapter and verse of how long you’ve wanted me and exactly how, you drive the dildo to the hilt, coming against my ear in a moan that tears me apart. ‘Think you’re the only one with a heart? I’ve got a heart, too. Think you’re the only one afraid? Fuck you.’ The howl and chill of March wind seeps through the window as you collapse against the damp mattress. ‘Come here, cowgirl.’ As you like it — slow ride, reverse, atop your face. I push your legs a part, pull back the thick silicone lever. Pretty valentine. Sour gooseberry jam. Kissing, licking, sucking, I work for your pleasure, my mind fills with jasmine-scented warm air, beach grass, sea brine, the brine of you. Another season coming. I don’t want to want you like this. God help me if I should need you. I break the umpteenth promise to myself, flooding you and the bed. God don’t let this end. You are wide open. Perfect fit, knuckles against wet velvet. Rivulets when I remove my fist.
Somewhere between your lust draining the life out of me and four a.m., you’re asleep; I’m hungry, staring at bare essentials in the fridge. Quietly, I set about two boiled eggs, a glass of red. Your nudity in the doorway startles and pleases me. The thick tangle of you makes me smile. In my eagerness to kiss and nibble and dart between the folds — more like petals than flowers themselves — I hadn’t noticed how wild you are. The ache between my legs starts. I apologize for the noisemaking. Not accepted, you say. ‘Put the glass down. Turn off the pot. And bring the ice tray.’
LaShonda Katrice Barnett is the editor of three published or forthcoming interview books on creative process with women musicians: I Got Thunder (DaCapo, 2007); Off The Record (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014); and Drop The Mic (Wesleyan Univ. Press, 2015). Her award-winning short fiction appears in one story collection (Callaloo, 1999) and numerous anthologies and literary journals. Her debut novel, Jam On The Vine, is forthcoming with Grove/Atlantic Inc. She lives in Manhattan. Twitter: @LaShondaKatrice