Keeping Count

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Anna is wide-shouldered and tall, broad in the hips, heavy-breasted. You see her and think of flesh, you imagine the give of hers under you. If she were at ease with her stature, the effect when she stood would be that of an Amazon, enormous, alarming. She might be statuesque but she occupies her body with certainty only when she is fucking. Anna is a big girl, but when she hasn’t gotten laid for a few weeks, she begins to disappear.


She tries to explain this to a friend one evening. They are having drinks, Anna
curved over the bar like a parenthesis, telling how she becomes vague, how the
edges of her body smudge and blur without hands to define the surfaces, sculpting
her back into the world. Anna strokes her glass with one finger, nail bitten
to the quick, she watches the ice dissolve, she fumbles with the words. The friend
shakes her head and looks toward the window. Anna counts, her lips moving. It
has been three weeks and two days now. She’s melting away into the half-light
of the room.



First Anna sees Clive at the edge of her vision, coming in from the wet spring damp with a group of people she knows; brackish, murky wind off the bay, churned up by a storm, swells through the door behind them. She gets the hitching in her gut, follows him with her eyes, flattens her hands onto the smooth wood of the bar. Knows what comes next: locked eyes, shock up the spine, her body a barometer for the smallest shifts in the spaces that separate them. The being inside and outside at once, above and within, watching the gestures, watching her shoulders angling always in his direction. Leaning, performing, craving, craven. Feeling the night move like a conspiracy toward that moment when they turn to each other, the way the ground comes up to catch you when you fall.


He comes in with a group of her friends and some of the friends she remembers like this: how they smell when they sleep, how they arch and twist and taste, small of the back, open mouth wet on the curve of a throat; it has been so long. She listens to them talk and takes their hands and holds her face up for their kisses and forgets the way those dark private isolated perfect frozen lucid moments come back, sometimes, to take her by surprise.


When Frank introduces Anna to Clive and sees how their eyes latch he laughs a coarse rusty laugh and whispers something to Clive who looks down at his cigarette and Anna looks back into Frank’s fixed shining eyes and says nothing and he gives her the smile of a serial killer. She remembers the first time she had sex with Frank and how afterward he threw himself back onto the pillows breathless and said, Who would have ever thought that you could fuck like that? and she went to the hallway outside the bedroom and cried. She watches Clive and her whole body is there, everything that wants to be touched, every bruise, skinned elbow, delicate skin over the wrist where the blood swells under her own grip. She sits up straight and presses her ribcage hard against the table’s edge. He slides next to her in the booth and Frank squeezes in and pushes him closer laughing and there are the thighs touching, the shoulders brushing together. He’s almost as tall as she is but slender, angular, she can see his bones through the fabric of his shirt and he tells her he was born with a cleft palette, he had surgery when he was a kid and Anna realizes she was staring at his mouth. She laces her hands together in her lap to keep from reaching out, running her thumb lengthwise along the scar that seams his pillowy upper lip.


Leaning, they’re almost in each other’s arms, a hand beside the leg, his fingers brushing against the skin bare where her skirt ends, naked and pulling against the sticky leather of the banquette, glances meeting in the filthy mirror on the opposite wall, knowing.

Anna loves a first kiss more than she loves almost anything.

The sidelong looks of the friends, their elaborately casual good-byes. The coat sliding over the shoulders, a spinning whiskey head, the strange familiar longed-for hand at her waist, on his arm, guiding them into the nights, all the nights like this one. How many arms lifted, how many taxis swerving to a stop, how many doors slammed, directions for unknown destinations given? How many times, both of them leaning back as the car surges forward, the heads turning slowly inwards, the gazes sliding together, the bemused amused ashamed hopeful looks before they begin?


Anna loves a first kiss more than she loves almost anything: the whole of the world and time stopped and distilled into a few square inches of mouth, breath, smallest motion. Clive’s lips are slightly chapped, the taste of his gin, the rough of his cheek, the lurch of his sharp shape against her as the taxi takes a corner. A slow pressure, his fingers cupping the base of her head, her tongue on the scar, his upper lip between her teeth, his hand slipping between her thighs, the wet sound and gasp when they part. Hello, he says breathless, looking at her, and puts his hand against her face. Hello, she says back and turns her head and her lips part against his finger, she bites. He draws a sharp breath and half-closes his eyes. Anna, he says. Anna Anna Anna come home with me. She nods and he puts his arms around her and pulls her almost into his lap. It’s funny, she thinks, how small it makes him seem beneath her, it makes her tender. She hooks her chin over his shoulder, feels the thin bones of his legs, his cock hard under her, feels herself uncoil inside, looks out the back window at the city moving away from her.


The stairs, the keys fumbled with, the door swinging open to dim silence, the smell of a life in these rooms. There’s a cat or not, there’s a dog or not, there’s the bookshelf maybe listing to one side, the stereo, dirty cups in the sink, a place on the floor that creaks, curtains pulled out through an open window by the wind or dusty blinds clicking against the window frame and noises from the street below: the world going on around this still moment. They go straight to the bed or grab and slam up against the wall or rattle ice cubes in weak nightcaps and creep along the couch toward each other, they undress quickly, not looking, or they take each other’s clothes off slowly, they whisper or laugh or are silent and hurried and urgent and they are sutured together, there are miles of naked skin to traverse, places to sink the teeth in, ropes of muscle, freckles and birthmarks to be licked at, back of the knee, curve of the ass, shoulder blade, ankle, crest of the hipbone, taut arc of a thigh, responses gauged, questions breathed and there’s the stunning push and shock, the blinding sweetness when he moves into her for the first time and if it’s good, even if it’s just good, suddenly, slowly, everything else goes away and there’s nothing but the body, the bodies, the two bodies conjoined and consciousness both obliterated and dizzily, furiously complete.


Clive drops to his knees before her in the bedroom and slips his hands under her skirt and hooks his thumbs into her underwear, slides them down over as he looks up at her. She steps out of the underpants, tugs at his shirt. He pulls it off

He looks up at her again with his face wet and grinning she laughs, with joy.

the way boys always do, she thinks watching him reach back over his shoulders, gathering the fabric in his hands and pulling over his head, his hair on end as he throws it to the floor. He rubs his face across her thighs and pushes her skirt up to her waist, puts one hand around each her hips as if the cradle of her pelvis was the wheel of a boat in a storm and still on his knees he tips his head up and buries his face in her. She reaches down to touch his hair and he pulls her left leg over his shoulder and holds her like that, his tongue warm and quick inside her and licks until she comes and her legs buckle and he grips her waist to keep her from falling on top of him and he looks up at her again with his face wet and grinning and she laughs, with joy. This is what she will remember.


Later, wrapped together on the bed, his sheets musky and the conversation slow and wandering, he asks, How many lovers have you had? and she says, I don’t know I don’t remember, and thinks, Eighty-three, you are number eighty-three. There is a deep indentation on his chest where his ribs come to a joined point and a piece of cartilage is missing. She touches the hollow and remembers another man who had that same soft place and how he gasped when she pressed it, how he slept with his arms wrapped over his head like the world was ending. She thinks of their final night, when he set her on her hands and knees in front of a mirror, and fucked her from behind, how she watched them both in the mirror, torsos bound together, getting farther and farther away, how his features contorted with focus, his eyes shut tight and how she watched her own face in the mirror as she came, her eyes wide open, weeping at the sound of her own name. She remembers another man and another and she remembers the names or faces or nothing but a gesture, a detail fleeting and acute, and who she became inside her skin and everyone she loved or not and liked or not and returned or remained with or not for days and years and Anna puts her lips against the hollow in Clive’s chest and breathes in and gets out of bed.


Where are you going? he asks her and she says, It’s late, I have to go. Please stay, says Clive. Sleep next to me tonight. Not tonight, Anna says, looking for her underwear. I have to get up early tomorrow. I have to go. She carries her clothes over one arm, pads naked through the kitchen, from the kitchen window she sees a man in the courtyard leaning on his fire escape, smoking a cigarette. She goes into the bathroom and closes the door. Through the narrow bathroom window she can still see the man, and while she sits on the toilet and pees a woman leans out the window next to the fire escape, and the man says something to her and goes inside, and while Anna is putting on her skirt she can see them come together and make one silhouette inside the dark frame of their window. I could stay, she thinks. She looks at the mirror at her wide sloping shoulders and her face red from his stubble and her lips swollen and the light in her eyes and her hair tangled around her face and she puts her right hand over her left breast and holds it there, a little pledge of allegiance, and shakes her head and stands up straight. She looks and then she bends and kisses her reflection. A first kiss, the mirror cool against her lips. Anna, she says to her reflection. Anna Anna Anna come home with me.  

Darcy Cosper is a writer and book reviewer. Her work has appeared in publications including The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, Village Voice, Nerve, and GQ, and in the anthologies Full Frontal Fiction and the forthcoming Sex & Sensibility. Her first novel, Wedding Season, was published by Crown in March 2004. She lives in Los Angeles and New York.
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