firenze monday (2)I wait before I enter. Pausing briefly at the door, I am suspended in this space, between the coming and the going. The yellowed linoleum is tacky against the bottom of my feet, and the fluorescent bulb in the ceiling illuminates the white of the bare walls so they tint blue. I stand in the hallway that separates his bedroom from the rest of the small apartment, and it’s too bright, an overexposed negative.

He calls to me, his voice strong and clear even through the closed door, his words a lure:Come talk to me, as if I might not know what that really means. If I wanted to, I could leave. The door behind me, with a dishtowel hung to cover the window, leads outside to the stinging January air, to my car. But this is what I came here for—this final conversation.

Standing in his dark room again after these months apart, I feel as though I’ve come home to find all of my furniture rearranged. The street lamps beyond the window leak an accordion of light through the slits in the blinds, and as my eyes adjust I find his vague outline, one knee bent as he sits propped up against a large pillow on the bed, his bare chest, the disembodied ember of the cigarette he holds between two fingers. I stand back by the wall, hiding in shadows that might conceal this crescendo. His room is an escape from the harsh light of the empty hallway, from the bright awareness of my own quiet apartment, from what each day feels like now that he is gone.

I flick my eyes toward shapes that I can understand in the dark—the square of the television, the trapezoid of the paper lampshade, the wide rectangle of the dresser. These are the things that remain familiar. But there is an acute hollowing that blossoms deep within my spine and spreads itself through each bone as my eyes assimilate what else has become familiar—the small boxes on the dresser that I know hold her photograph where my own used to be.

I walk to the edge of his bed and bang my shin hard against the sharp frame, bone to metal. I wince, a pierced inhale, and he pulls the cigarette from his lips and hands it to me. When I breathe in, it tastes of burning. Then I’m surrounded by the thin smoke, by the merge of whys and why nots, and it smells like a few minutes from now it will begin to rain. I can taste defiance on my tongue, a solid two letters: no, you can’t have both of us; no, I am worth more than this. But then there is his voice: I wish we could go back, and I know that he means this because of how quietly he’s speaking, how I have to strain to take in the words.

Finally, he touches me. When he cups the fleshy part of my hips in his palms and squeezes his fingers deep into the skin, I can feel the darkness begin to consume me in great waves, and I am not afraid. I am not afraid. I let myself stop wondering where she might be tonight as his body teases up from the bed beneath me, the tension coiling his body like an animal that’s ready now to go in for the kill. His movement begs me to pant low and steady, like a machine; begs to spark electricity between the circuit of his teeth to my collarbone, the only way I like it. And I can’t stop now. He’s conned me into commitment with these careful illusions, his words like paper birds rising suddenly into the air, each delicate wing creating its own tiny, violent wind.

Once he’s filled the inside of me, he moves his body to a rhythm I can’t find, something fierce and unrestrained, and for a moment I look back over my shoulder, toward the door I can no longer see in the dark. He takes two fingers and turns my chin so we are face to face again, and his eyes glitter like little ghostly windows in the black. He pulls my shoulders down against his body, my mouth to his ear, and I find my own voice startling, the whisper-quiet of a stranger: I love it when you hurt me, but even that is now a lie.

Kirsten Clodfelter received her MFA in fiction from George Mason University. Her work can be read most recently inBayou Magazine, Dark Sky Magazine, Fogged Clarity, Word Riot, Forge, and The Iowa Review. She was the winner of George Mason’s 2010 Dan Rudy Prize and a finalist for both The Tampa Review’s 2009 Danahy Fiction Prize and Cutthroat Magazine’s 2008 Rick DeMarinis Short Story Award. She recently escaped the Washington, D.C., area and is currently hiding out in Kentucky.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore