Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Break It Down by Lydia Davis



He’s sitting there staring at a piece of paper in front of him. He’s trying to break it down. He says:
I’m breaking it all down. The ticket was $600 and then after that there was more for the hotel and food and so on, for just ten days. Say $80 a day, no, more like $100 a day. And we made love, say, once a day on the average. That’s $100 a shot. And each time it lasted maybe two or three hours so that would be anywhere from $33 to $50 an hour, which is expensive.
Though of course that wasn’t all that went on, because we were together almost all day long. She would keep looking at me and every time she looked at me it was worth something, and she smiled at me and didn’t stop talking and singing, something I said, she would sail into it, a snatch, for me, she would be gone from me a little ways but smiling too, and tell me jokes, and I loved it but didn’t exactly know what to do about it and just smiled back at her and felt slow next to her, just not quick enough. So she talked and touched me on the shoulder and the arm, she kept touching and stayed close to me. You’re with each other all day long and it keeps happening, the touches and smiles, and it adds up, it builds up, and you know where you’ll be that night, you’re talking and every now and then you think about it, no, you don’t think, you just feel it as a kind of destination, what’s coming up after you leave wherever you are all evening, and you’re happy about it and you’re planning it all, not in your head, really, somewhere inside your body, or all through your body, it’s all mounting up and coming together so that when you get in bed you can’t help it, it’s a real performance, it all pours out, but slowly, you go easy until you can’t anymore, or you hold back the whole time, you hold back and touch the edges of everything, you edge around until you have to plunge in and finish it off, and when you’re finished, you’re too weak to stand but after a while you have to go to the bathroom and you stand, your legs are trembling, you hold on to the door frames, there’s a little light coming in through the window, you can see your way in and out, but you can’t really see the bed.
So it’s not really $100 a shot because it goes on all day, from the start when you wake up and feel her body next to you, and you don’t miss a thing, not a thing of what’s next to you, her arm, her leg, her shoulder, her face, that good skin, I have felt other good skin, but this skin is just the edge of something else, and you’re going to start going, and no matter how much you crawl all over each other it won’t be enough, and when your hunger dies down a little then you think how much you love her and that starts you off again, and her face, you look over at her face and can’t believe how you got there and how lucky and it’s still all a surprise and it never stops, even after it’s over, it never stops being a surprise.
It’s more like you have a good sixteen or eighteen hours a day of this going on, even when you’re not with her it’s going on, it’s good to be away because it’s going to be so good to go back to her, so it’s still here, and you can’t go off and look at some old street or some old painting without still feeling it in your body and a few things that happened the day before that don’t mean much by themselves or wouldn’t mean much if you weren’t having this thing together, but you can’t forget and it’s all inside you all the time, so that’s more like, say, sixteen into a hundred would be $6 an hour, which isn’t too much.
And then it really keeps going on while you’re asleep, though you’re probably dreaming about something else, a building, maybe, I kept dreaming, every night, almost, about this building, because I would spend a lot of every morning in this old stone building and when I closed my eyes I would see these cool spaces and have this peace inside me, I would see the bricks of the floor and the stone arches and the space, the emptiness between, like a kind of dark frame around what I could see beyond, a garden, and this space was like stone too because of the coolness of it and the gray shadow, that kind of luminous shade, that was glowing with the light of the sun falling beyond the arches, and there was also the great height of the ceiling, all this was in my mind all the time though I didn’t know it until I closed my eyes, I’m asleep and I’m not dreaming about her but she’s lying next to me and I wake up enough times in the night to remember she’s there, and notice, say, once she was lying on her back but now she’s curled around me, I look at her closed eyes, I want to kiss her eyelids, I want to feel that soft skin under my lips, but I don’t want to disturb her, I don’t want to see her frown as though in her sleep she has forgotten who I am and feels just that something is bothering her and so I just look at her and hold on to it all, these times when I’m watching over her sleep and she’s next to me and isn’t away from me the way she will be later, I want to stay awake all night just to go on feeling that, but I can’t, I fall asleep again, though I’m sleeping lightly, still trying to hold on to it.
But it isn’t over when it ends, it goes on after it’s all over, she’s still inside you like a sweet liquor, you are filled with her, everything about her has kind of bled into you, her smell, her voice, the way her body moves, it’s all inside you, at least for a while after, then you begin to lose it, and I’m beginning to lose it, you’re afraid of how weak you are, that you can’t get her all back into you again and now the whole thing is going out of your body and it’s more in your mind than your body, the pictures come to you one by one and you look at them, some of them last longer than others, you were together in a very white clean place, a coffeehouse, having breakfast together, and the place is so white that against it you can see her clearly, her blue eyes, her smile, the colors of her clothes, even the print of the newspaper she’s reading when she’s not looking up at you, the light brown and red and gold of her hair when she’s got her head down reading, the brown coffee, the brown rolls, all against that white table and those white plates and silver urns and silver knives and spoons, and against that quiet of the sleepy people in that room sitting alone at their tables with just some chinking and clattering of spoons and cups in saucers and some hushed voices her voice now and then rising and falling. The pictures come to you and you have to hope they won’t lose their life too fast and dry up though you know they will and that you’ll also forget some of what happened, because already you’re turning up little things that you nearly forgot.
We were in bed and she asked me, Do I seem fat to you? and I was surprised because she didn’t seem to worry about herself at all in that way and I guess I was reading into it that she did worry about herself so I answered what I was thinking and said stupidly that she had a very beautiful body, that her body was perfect, and I really meant it as an answer, but she said kind of sharply, That’s not what I asked, and so I had to try to answer her again, exactly what she had asked.
And once she lay over against me late in the night and she started talking, her breath in my ear, and she just went on and on, and talked faster and faster, she couldn’t stop, and I loved it, I just felt that all that life in her was running into me too, I had so little life in me, her life, her fire, was coming into me, in that hot breath in my ear, and I just wanted her to go on talking forever right there next to me, and I would go on living, like that, I would be able to go on living, but without her I don’t know.
Then you forget some of it all, maybe most of it all, almost all of it, in the end, and you work hard at remembering everything now so you won’t ever forget, but you can kill it too even by thinking about it too much, though you can’t help thinking about it nearly all the time.
And then when the pictures start to go you start asking some questions, just little questions, that sit in your mind without any answers, like why did she have the light on when you came in to bed one night, but it was off the next, but she had it on the night after that and she had it off the last night, why, and other questions, little questions that nag at you like that.
And finally the pictures go and these dry little questions just sit there without any answers and you’re left with this large heavy pain in you that you try to numb by reading, or you try to ease it by getting out into public places where there will be people around you, but no matter how good you are at pushing that pain away, just when you think you’re going to be all right for a while, that you’re safe, you’re kind of holding it off with all your strength and you’re staying in some little bare numb spot of ground, then suddenly it will all come back, you’ll hear a noise, maybe it’s a cat crying or a baby, or something else like her cry, you hear it and make that connection in a part of you you have no control over and the pain comes back so hard that you’re afraid, afraid of how you’re falling back into it again and you wonder, no, you’re terrified to ask how you’re ever going to climb out of it.
And so it’s not only every hour of the day while it’s happening, but it’s really for hours and hours every day after that, for weeks, though less and less, so that you could work out the ratio if you wanted, maybe after six weeks you’re only thinking about it an hour or so in the day altogether, a few minutes here and there spread over, or a few minutes here and there and half an hour before you go to sleep, or sometimes it all comes back and you stay awake with it half the night.
So when you add up all that, you’ve only spent maybe $3 an hour on it.
If you have to figure in the bad times too, I don’t know. There weren’t any bad times with her, though maybe there was one bad time, when I told her I loved her. I couldn’t help it, this was the first time this had happened with her, now I was half falling in love with her or maybe completely if she had let me but she couldn’t or I couldn’t completely because it was all going to be so short and other things too, and so I told her, and didn’t know of any way to tell her first that she didn’t have to feel this was a burden, the fact that I loved her, or that she didn’t have to feel the same about me, or say the same back, that it was just that I had to tell her, that’s all, because it was bursting inside me, and saying it wouldn’t even begin to take care of what I was feeling, really I couldn’t say anything of what I was feeling because there was so much, words couldn’t handle it, and making love only made it worse because then I wanted words badly but they were no good, no good at all, but I told her anyway, I was lying on top of her and her hands were up by her head and my hands were on hers and our fingers were locked and there was a little light on her face from the window but I couldn’t really see her and I was afraid to say it but I had to say it because I wanted her to know, it was the last night, I had to tell her then or I’d never have another chance, I just said, Before you go to sleep, I have to tell you before you go to sleep that I love you, and immediately, right away after, she said, I love you too, and it sounded to me as if she didn’t mean it, a little flat, but then it usually sounds a little flat when someone says, I love you too, because they’re just saying it back even if they do mean it, and the problem is that I’ll never know if she meant it, or maybe someday she’ll tell me whether she meant it or not, but there’s no way to know now, and I’m sorry I did that, it was a trap I didn’t mean to put her in, I can see it was a trap, because if she hadn’t said anything at all I know that would have hurt too, as though she were taking something from me and just accepting it and not giving anything back, so she really had to, even just to be kind to me, she had to say it, and I don’t really know now if she meant it.
Another bad time, or it wasn’t exactly bad, but it wasn’t easy either, was when I had to leave, the time was coming, and I was beginning to tremble and feel empty, nothing in the middle of me, nothing inside, and nothing to hold me up on my legs, and then it came, everything was ready, and I had to go, and so it was just a kiss, a quick one, as though we were afraid of what might happen after a kiss, and she was almost wild then, she reached up to a hook by the door and took an old shirt, a green and blue shirt from the hook, and put it in my arms, for me to take away, the soft cloth was full of her smell, and then we stood there close together looking at a piece of paper she had in her hand and I didn’t lose any of it, I was holding it tight, that last minute or two, because this was it, we’d come to the end of it, things always change, so this was really it, over.
Maybe it works out all right, maybe you haven’t lost for doing it, I don’t know, no, really, sometimes when you think of it you feel like a prince really, you feel just like a king, and then other times you’re afraid, you’re afraid, not all the time but now and then, of what it’s going to do to you, and it’s hard to know what to do with it now.
Walking away I looked back once and the door was still open, I could see her standing far back in the dark of the room, I could only really see her white face still looking out at me, and her white arms.
I guess you get to a point where you look at that pain as if it were there in front of you three feet away lying in a box, an open box, in a window somewhere. It’s hard and cold, like a bar of metal. You just look at it there and say, All right, I’ll take it, I’ll buy it. That’s what it is. Because you know all about it before you even go into this thing. You know the pain is part of the whole thing. And it isn’t that you can say afterwards the pleasure was greater than the pain and that’s why you would do it again. That has nothing to do with it. You can’t measure it, because the pain comes after and it lasts longer. So the question really is, Why doesn’t that pain make you say, I won’t do it again? When the pain is so bad that you have to say that, but you don’t.
So I’m just thinking about it, how you can go in with $600, more like $1,000, and how you can come out with an old shirt.

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