Daphne Gottlieb – fra/from Kissing Dead Girls
She’d been single for a couple of years when she first feels the knife at her throat. «Don’t move or the girl gets it,» love says, an arm chokeholding her. She doesn’t know what to say. In fact, she can’t say anything with that hand around her throat, but she’s thinking, Funny, that’s not very loving.
«See,» her kidnapper says, «Love makes the world go round.» «It’s a many splendored thing,» her kidnapper continues, «But you–you’ve fallen down on the job. If no one loves you, maybe you shouldn’t be here at all.»
But my friends, she thinks. «Not talking about that,» he says. But my family–«Not the same thing,» he says.
As she walks through her workday, she is wondering why no one notices love holding the knife to her throat. What happens when you have to pee? she asks the kidnapper. «I don’t know, I’ll think of something. Maybe I’ll tie you to the chair.» But I’m at work, she says to him. «We all have our problems,» he says.
«How about that one right there?» her assailant says to her on the subway ride home. He’s sixty years old, she says. «Details, details,» he says. «If you’re going to shoot down every chance you get … Hey! What about her?» She’s pregnant, says the girl. «Fine,» he says. «If you’re not going to work with me here, I am not responsible for what happens next.» He pushes the edge of the blade harder against her throat for emphasis. What kind of tyrant are you, she asks. What if I don’t want to be in love? I have a career, and I have pets and plants and hobbies and friends–«Maybe you’re just not worth being loved,» he says.
She thinks about that. Maybe he’s right. Maybe she’s not worth being loved. As a very young woman, she had fallen madly in love and then had her heart broken and resolved not to lose her heart like that again. A few years later, she fell in love again and found herself doubting that she’d really been in love the first time, since this new love had very little in common with the first love–it was sensible, methodical and not unruly, not impetuous. If one had been love, surely the other could not be. Perhaps she did not know–had never, not ever known love. She did not want to believe that she would never be in love again, but maybe it was true: Maybe she had become entire unlovable with the thickening of her waist, her penchant for drinking orange juice straight our of the jug, maybe she was unacceptable because of her disinterest in most small talk. Maybe you’re right, she says out loud. Might as well just slit my throat. «Maybe I should,» he says, but the voice is faltering, unconvinced, and the knife edges the tiniest bit away from her throat. Look, she says. I don’t mean to be rude, but I have to work in the morning. «Okay,» he says, and steers her to the bed. «Lie down slowly.» They move like a wounded four-legged creature. She pulls back the quilt. Do you have to keep the knife at my throat while I’m sleeping? she asks. «Sorry,» he says. «I think so.»
He tries again. «Aren’t you lonely?» She is fast asleep. He settles in, cleans his nails with the knife.
In the morning, he turns his back while she showers. She sees the back of his ski mask through the shower’s glass doors. She catches him peeking when she gets dressed. Stop that, she says. She thinks she sees him blush under the mask but can’t quite tell.
It was odd, going through her workdays, her weekends with a knife to her throat, riding the subway at the blade’s edge, with him asking, over and over, «What about that one, over there? That one?» She supposed that she’d done stranger things in the name of love.
Over the next few weeks, friends and co-workers remarked that she’d never looked better; why, she was glowing. Was there someone new in her life? You could say that, she’d say, shrugging.
Never expected it to be like this, she thought. Who would have through that the edge of a knife is where you find love? «I heard that,» he said. «And I’m not quite sure what to do about this.» Tell you what, she said. Why don’t we just enjoy it.
She knew it wouldn’t last forever. It couldn’t. But for now, everything was beautiful and new and she liked living in the world like that. In love. And loved.