My friends see his book on my shelf and say, “I never heard of him. What’s it about?”
“It’s about satisfaction. Doing what you shouldn’t. And feeling good about it,” I say. “It’s about pleasure in shame.”
“Oh. A forbidden love thing?”
“Love? No. He doesn’t write love stories. I don’t read love stories.”
I can’t explain to them. It’s too exhausting.
I drove three hours to hear him read. His drink: whiskey. No water. No ice. He pulls off his tie. Wads it up and sets it on the table next to his glass. Unbuttons his shirt. One button. Two. He says something to a guy sitting next to him. He doesn’t smile, doesn’t look around the room.
When he gets up to read, the room doesn’t go silent, but the ambient buzz, it weakens. He empties his glass, hands it down to someone. Without introduction, without a prelude, he begins to read.
His eyes don’t blink. Their frightening, exciting intensity makes the fine hairs along my neck and my arms quiver. His teeth, not movie star white, not male model straight. His lips almost curl to a snarl while his hand grips the paper he reads from, making it crinkle and rattle under the sound of his voice.
I listen to him read and think of how I want to slap him, to hear him growl in my ear, bite my back with those imperfect teeth as I rip my nails into his skin, getting dusty, rolling around on the floor of some Argentinean landscape.
His voice expands, radiates more anger and frustration. I wonder what it would be like to grab a fistful of his disheveled salt and pepper hair, twisted up in damp sheets on a bed in some desolate cabin in Bolivia; if breathing him in would smell of sweat and coca leaves.
After it’s over, I can’t stand, can’t talk. I go home and dream of biting his lip, of making a story.
A month later, I took a ninety-minute flight to attend his book signing. This is where I’ll introduce myself. This is where I’ll say it. There aren’t a lot of people here. Most people, they’re like my friends. Most people, they need to be told what to like.
Standing in line, waiting for my turn to stand at the table across from him, I think of having the tie that hangs loose around his neck in my teeth as he pins me down, hammering himself into me while I gaze up into his unblinking eyes.
“And who do I make this one out to?” He looks up at me, eyes wide. He doesn’t blink.
I tell him my name, hear the nervous quake in my voice, feel the soft film of perspiration on my forehead, my scalp.
He hands me the book, signed. Something like a smile, like a sneer appears on his face. I imagine him looking this way as I ride him with my hands on his throat in the dark corner of a forgotten saloon somewhere in Chile.
The Writer thanks me. I stammer a forgettable, meaningless sentence fragment, then slink away, book in hand. Down the street, I pick up a bottle of whiskey to take back to my room, where I dream about South America and the stories that happen to other people.
–Story by Rasmenia Massoud
–Photography by Michela Riva
The Tavern Lantern
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