It was the winter that I had spent bleeding, attuned to no particular rhythm. Sometimes my period would come on twice in one month, or last for four weeks instead of one. Or, in between spells of bleeding, I would find rust-colored specks in my underwear, or else what seemed like rivers of blood, dark and sticky as blackberry jam. Mostly, it hurt only a little, a pain I could store in the back of my mind and ignore. Sometimes when I was on my feet all day I would feel woozy and cold, and when I went home at night I’d lie awake for a long time, wondering as I turned from my back to my stomach whether there was some position that might keep me from waking up with blood staining my sheets, like a marriage bed visited by an incubus. I took iron supplements. Eventually, I went to a doctor.
At this time, I was working in a store that sold expensive perfume, where I knew I had been hired mostly for the way I looked, tall and dark and pretty in that way that seems fragile. All day I caught glimpses of myself in the mirror, straight and ephemeral as the first black bud of a crocus. When women came into my shop I made myself into the shadow of their younger selves, black-clad, admiring, and with men I was something between a daughter and a lover and a decorative vase. There’s something about being ornamental that inspires trust. My body was a kind of magic trick that I was playing on the world—here are the high firm breasts, the teardrop face, bird’s-wing hands, eyelashes lying like a fringe of silk against a marble cheek. I often had the sensation that I was looking out through an armored mask. Fucking, even, through a layer of some kind of slick and nicely cool and slightly stiff plastic, and if I could figure out how to shuck it off I’d be able to get at the inner truth of things.
Obviously, fucking with decorum is a little bit difficult if you never know when you’re going to start bleeding. I dealt with this, mostly, by pretending it wasn’t happening. I usually carried a disposable menstrual cup with me, in case I started bleeding at work, and it served me equally well on dates. If it was properly inserted, men could rarely tell that it was there, and any residual blood could just as easily have been the result of vigorous sex—which might make someone feel virile or guilty, depending on the sort of person he was. I was mostly seeing men I didn’t intend to see more than twice, so my partner’s reaction rarely bothered me.
Even when Roman, the first night I slept with him, snagged the edge of the cup with his finger—it was a particularly bloody day—and released a gout of blood that looked fairly fatal and immediately soaked into one of his pillows, whatever reserves of embarrassment I ought to have felt remained inaccessible. I cleaned up in the bathroom, and when I came back I sat down beside the bloodstain with my legs curled under me and said that I hoped he had a spare set of sheets. He was lying where I’d left him, contemplating the stain as if it were a contemporary painting that he couldn’t quite figure out the appeal of. He raised his eyebrows at me.
“Any other surprises up your sleeve?”
I thought, My sleeve?
I said, “Not at the moment.” His hands were streaked red. The next time I saw him, he kissed me on the cheek and said, “Good evening, Lady Macbeth.”
I had read Shakespeare in school and acted a bit in college productions—although never in Macbeth, the drama department favoring comedies, or the tragedies that had a romantic arc, Hamlet and Othello, never Macbeth or Lear. I had assumed that what made Lady Macbeth unnatural was her coldness, her dryness, the fact that she had no children, no milk, that she didn’t bleed. The one production I’d seen had played her as strident and masculine, a broad baritone woman laced uncomfortably into her velvet dress. But it occurred to me now that it might also be a source of uncanniness to bleed too much, unstoppably, to be wounded and remain unmoved by the sight of the wound.
I was already walking near the rim where sex met danger. I’d met men in all the ways you aren’t supposed to meet—in grungy bars, off of Craigslist, at a hotel bar for one drink before going upstairs. I’d even gone to a sex club once or twice, although that had bored me, had been mostly a question of fending off requests from strangers, either polite or aggressive, to spank me, which I had tried and found less than exciting. What caught my attention there was one couple: an older, frail-looking man and a very fat woman, she lying naked on a table with her arms over her head, and he with a cotton-bound baton dipped in fire, running the yellow flames over her skin, back and forth, touching her breasts, her knees, her hairless crotch, leaving her miraculously unburned, while she smiled as if her face would burst open, reaching up over her head as if she was trying to catch hold of something that kept evading her grasp—a flame made solid, the intangible air, I don’t know what.
But that was the only thing that moved me. What interested me was the unknown, the idea that I might move out of my skin—not into intimacy, but into strangeness. I liked being anonymous in crowds. I liked walking into a restaurant, a movie theater, a concert, and buying a ticket or a meal by myself. I also liked the moment alone in a bar when someone would approach me, or I would approach him, before we knew anything about each other, an odd little dance of shadows. I liked the moment when I first saw him naked. Frequently, these men were boorish, the type who saw a woman sitting alone in a bar as an explicit invitation. But sometimes I laughed with him, for as long as I was interested, and left when I was bored. Or I followed him home. I tended not to take these men back to my own apartment. And I tended not to leave my phone number when I left. I slipped out like a ghost, like the woman in old wives’ tales who appears carrying a bundle of bloody clothing to warn of defeat in battle and impending catastrophe.
These nighttime adventures didn’t always end well, but still I always avoided the catastrophe. There was one night when I’d gotten off the subway late, my hair mussed, my dress, probably, twisted around my hips, tired, numb to the cold and the long walk home from the subway station. A man’s shape boiled out from a doorway like a shadow taking solid form, and he called to me, “Hey, pretty girl, you know I could rape you now if I wanted to?”
I stopped and looked at him, my hands hanging like lead weights at my sides. I saw his shape, broad shoulders sloping down to a broad belly, hunched over, and though I looked into his face, I couldn’t remember afterward what his eyes looked like, only the doughy round of his chin, as if he really was a nighttime phantom, his eyes a transparent window to the mute wall behind him.
“No,” I said, “you couldn’t.”
And maybe he believed me, because when I turned away and walked past him, he didn’t try.
Here is how I met Roman: I had left work and was walking toward the subway. He stopped me on the street, bundled up in a long overcoat, the collar turned up over the red wool scarf that wrapped his throat. It was early March, but cold. I liked the coat, his long eyelashes, the loose curling cap of dark hair, even streaked with premature gray. He was maybe five years older than I was.
He said, “Do you have a cigarette?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “Do you have a phone number, then?”
I said, “I don’t.” And pausing, seeing the little gleam of a smile starting in his eyes, as if he was only too happy to be turned down, I said, “But I’ll get a drink with you if you have time.”
His apartment was just off of Grand, and full of a kind of comforting rich-boy squalor—empty bottles of nice liquor stacked by the recycling, the kitchen counters a jumble of panini press, blender, and cut-glass tumblers, dirty shirts thrown carelessly over the back of a square leather armchair. His sheets were white, before they were red. I said, “I’ll show you a trick,” and I poured a shot of liquor into my open mouth, set it on fire with his lighter, swallowed the flames. And then the next day I went back to work wearing the same clothes, and a pair of his briefs under my dress.
In the doctor’s office, I put my feet in the stirrups and draped a sheet printed with purple flowers over the pale V of my bent legs, hating the sheet, the anatomical diagrams of women embracing their great transparent pregnant bellies, the pile of my clothes folded neatly on a straight-backed chair by the door, the doctor’s way of holding her tray below the exam table, so that I never quite saw the speculum that slotted inside me and ratcheted unpleasantly open, or the clamp that held my cervix in place, or the long thin tube inserted through the opening and used to collect tissue from inside my uterus. I clenched in pain, kicking at the stirrups, making the doctor tut-tut with her tongue, envisioning the inside of my body not as the round clear snow globe of the woman’s body on the poster for parents-to-be, but instead as a tight red knot, pulled into itself, strung between my throat and the base of my spine, which, when untied, would release all of the blood dammed up in my body.
The good thing was that it didn’t last very long. The doctor withdrew her probe and sealed her samples up in vials with my name printed neatly on them, and only then, when I sat up and wrapped the flowered sheet around my waist, did I see the tray with the implements on it. My stomach was in knots—I thought for a moment, sitting up, that I might vomit, but instead I slid off the exam table and put my feet on the floor, feeling the shock of cold in my ankles. Later that night I would have dreams about surgeries.
The doctor wagged her finger at me. “Better if you lie back down for a minute or two. You’ll feel some cramping.”
I leaned against the table, still holding the sheet wrapped around my waist. The doctor’s expression softened, and she touched my shoulder with a smile.
“We’ll contact you when we have the results. Don’t worry.”
Don’t worry, expect to bleed for a few days, don’t use a tampon, don’t have sex until the bleeding stops. That night Roman texted me to ask whether I was all right, whether I needed anything. I was curled up in my bed, a comforter wrapped around my body wrapped around a heating pad. I’ll come over, he wrote.
Not necessary, I wrote back.
Instead he sent flowers. Orchids, nestled in a spray of lacy green stems. They were a purple so dark they were nearly black, tipped with white at the edges of their petals. Big, dark, vaginal flowers, the blue of blood untouched by air. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to put them in my little railroad apartment, which Roman had never seen; which, unlike his, was spare, had one window looking onto an airshaft and old linoleum curling in the kitchen, was furnished with odds and ends, but was very clean. I put the orchids on the windowsill facing the airshaft and went back to bed with the heating pad tucked between my legs.
I kept seeing Roman through the spring, and we went to plays and art openings and I sat with my ankles draped over his lap in his sleek, messy apartment. Normally I wouldn’t have let someone else pay for the play tickets or the meals, but he liked front-row seats and fine dining, and after a while it didn’t seem to matter. Sometimes in return I’d take him to a divey Irish bar in midtown after we’d been out all evening and buy his drinks until I’d also spent more than I should have spent. Sometimes I’d arrive at his apartment in worn-out tennis shoes and a faded T-shirt, and he’d open the door in a suit jacket, linen shirt fresh from the laundry service I knew he used, and he’d offer his arm to walk me to the subway, the disparity sliding between us like a joke.
We played a game sometimes, sitting on his couch late at night. I’d suggested that we call it “window shopping,” like the women who came into the store just to spray a new perfume on their wrist and see what it smelled like. I’d pull up Tinder and message someone, anyone. Hi. You up? And then I’d see how long it took to make whoever I’d messaged stop replying. Or I’d see someone sitting at the bar in the restaurant where we were eating, and I’d say, “Want to see whether I can get his number before his date gets here?” Sometimes I couldn’t, but often I could. We’d laugh about it afterward. I’d tell him stories: the man who went down on me on top of one of the fruit stalls on Grand Street, late at night, which got us both arrested; the man who, when I got to his apartment, just wanted me to walk up and down the living room in his ex’s shoes.
But Roman rarely came uptown to my apartment, and when he did he stood awkwardly in the vestibule, arms crossed, waiting for me to dress so we could leave. He’d say, “You keep everything neat in here.” If we ran into friends of his, he introduced me sometimes by my name, and sometimes as Lady Macbeth, in which case I’d hold out my clean hand for a handshake and laugh, and feel my own body spinning away from me, as if the laughter was so light that I could float on it.
Laughter, lightness. I’d feel it building inside me in the days I was supposed to see Roman, like a soap bubble, and then sometimes when I was with him my attention would float away—to the conversation that the couple at the table beside us was having, to the cotton-fluff aura of the streetlights, another woman’s sleek high heels, to anything ungraspable. I was happy. But the happiness was something I couldn’t quite pin down. It seemed to exist outside of me, as if I was walking through a fog of laughter, breathing it in, and then finding that a little bit of it had stayed in my lungs.
One night, about a month after the biopsy, I was lying sprawled out on Roman’s couch, in my underwear, reading a magazine while he mixed drinks in the kitchen. I’d brought an overnight bag of clothes so that I could go into work the next day without going home first, but the thought of my cramped apartment standing empty overnight kept tugging at me, like a fishing line trying to reel me back home and into my own space.
“I was talking to my mother,” he said when he came back into the room, putting a drink down beside me.
“Oh?” I flipped the page I was reading but didn’t put the magazine down. The facing page had an advertisement that showed a woman in a long red dress sitting on a kneeling man’s back as if he were a pony.
“She says she has a friend who had the same thing you have, the hyperplasia. The friend says that acupuncture helps, and she gave me the name of her acupuncturist. She’s near Columbus Circle.” He said all this while looming awkwardly at the foot of the couch, as if he wasn’t sure I’d keep listening if he wasn’t standing at attention.
I tossed the magazine onto the coffee table. “Did you talk to your mother about my period problems?”
“Well, you aren’t shy about it.” But he winced a little bit. “I thought she could help.”
I pulled my knees up so there was room for him to sit on the couch and said nothing. Roman squirmed, but he still didn’t sit down. The pony man in the magazine advertisement seemed to be glaring at me from the table. I wasn’t even sure what the ad was for.
“I have the acupuncturist’s number. I can call and get you an appointment. She has a whole practice for fertility issues.”
“I don’t think this is a fertility issue. And anyway, I probably can’t afford it.”
“I’d pay for it.”
“Why not?” He was leaning forward now, one hand on the back of the couch, trying to make eye contact while I reached over to the table and flipped through the pages of the magazine.
“Well, your mom will think I just want you for the free alternative medicine.” I saw Roman roll his eyes at my tone, and I reached out with one foot and kicked his wrist gently, with pointed toes. “Come sit down already.”
He didn’t sit down. Instead he said, “I don’t see why you can’t just take the gift. I want to help you and I feel like I can’t do anything to help.”
I said, “You can’t do anything. It’s not your problem.”
I knew that telling him it wouldn’t work would only frustrate him. I cared less that I was hurting his feelings by refusing.
He sat down, finally, and put a hand around my ankle, loosely, running his thumb over the knob of bone there. “I could call and book the appointment for you, and then I’d have spent the money whether you go or not.”
“Well, the joke would be on you, because I’m not fucking going.”
He threw back his head, as if in irritation, but while I was watching him, angrily, ready to jerk my foot back out of his grip, his face softened.
I picked up my magazine again, and we sat like that, companionably, for a few minutes in silence. Finally, Roman shifted on the couch and shook his head.
“I know it upsets you. I don’t understand why you won’t let me do anything.”
I said, “I’m doing something.”
I kept bleeding.Not cancer, said the doctor, just an imbalance. A thickness growing in my uterus, a lichen of blood, creeping inward by layers, shedding like old skin, except inside me (I thought—Come you spirits. Make thick my blood). Probably I wasn’t ovulating, which might be the source of the trouble. And for that she wrote me a prescription for hormonal contraceptives, which, although they also suppressed ovulation, might help balance my hormones so that I bled regularly.
“I’m surprised a woman your age isn’t already taking them,” she said.
“I don’t have a boyfriend,” I said, discounting Roman without thinking very hard about it. On my first visit, I’d had to fill out a questionnaire that asked how many sex partners I’d had in the past year, and had received in exchange a brochure on STI testing.
“Well,” she said, “it never hurts to be prepared.”
But what actually happened when I began taking the hormonal birth control was that, over the course of two months, the bleeding changed from copious and irregular to a steady, permanent trickle. Also, most of the time, I hovered on the dull slope between nausea and hunger, feeling like there was some unreachable itch deep inside me. I called the doctor, and she told me to stick with the pills another month. I stuck with them. I spent Thursday and Saturday nights in Roman’s bed, or curled up eating spring rolls and egg tarts and roast pork on his couch; I left bloody condoms in his trash, kissed him, laughed, bled. I put his hands on me where I wanted them and felt my skin burn and smoke, as if my body had become a pillar of fire. I joked that I ought to buy him rubber sheets and he invited me to come and stay at his family’s country house, to which I said yes, I would, at some time in the indefinite future.
One night we were drinking at a bar on the Lower East Side and Roman brought up the game again. We were at a table in the back sitting in plush green chairs with claw feet, and Roman pointed through the crowd at a man sitting at the bar, a tablet propped up in front of him, expensive watch on his wrist, typing busily while he drank his whiskey neat.
“That one,” said Roman, with a gesture of his chin. “I bet even you can’t get his number.”
“What do you bet?” I said.
We didn’t usually play for any stakes, but Roman opened his wallet and laid a quintet of twenties on the table like a fan. “If you win.”
“No,” I said. “Favors, not money.”
“What do you want, then?”
I thought for a moment, conscious of the way I was composing my face into a satirical performance of thinking. I already got most of the things I wanted from him quite willingly—sex, jokes, orgasms, a person to go out with. I could ask him deliberately for something that I knew would annoy or inconvenience him mildly, or I could ask for something he might genuinely not want to give. I didn’t have anything in mind—I just didn’t want to take his money. I was certain enough that I would win that I wasn’t worried that I might have to pay him.
“I want to fuck you in the ass,” I said.
He choked back a little laugh or a snort, grinning at me over the table. “I didn’t realize that was on your bucket list. Is it turnabout if you lose?”
“If you want. But I won’t lose.”
Roman nodded, and I downed the rest of my cocktail and stood up. The room was dim enough that I could see the faint glow of my mark’s screen reflected back onto his face. I walked over to him, carrying my empty glass by my hip, and put it down on the bar as if I hadn’t noticed him. He glanced at me, moved his own elbow out of my way with a little twitching motion. The bar was crowded, so that even if I had wanted to I wouldn’t have been able to avoid standing close enough to him to be a little uncomfortable. The bartender was distracted, straining drinks into three glasses full of crushed ice at the other end of the bar.
“You picked a busy place to work.” I leaned toward him a little, so my elbow was just brushing his forearm, and he looked at me sharply, as if he wasn’t sure if I’d been speaking to him. I watched him sidelong, trying to make my smile conspiratorial. It was the same look I used in the perfume shop, sometimes, when a woman came in shopping for her husband, the look of someone who’s selling something that you don’t yet know that you want.
Finally, he shrugged. “It doesn’t bother me.”
I had to lean in close to hear him. His eyes were an odd ghostly shade of blue, not a color I found attractive, and his skin was pitted with scars from long-ago acne. But I liked the way he seemed just a little skeptical, his fingers resting as if he wasn’t sure whether to fold the whole thing away or not. I glanced at his screen and saw e-mails. He flipped the tablet facedown. He was wearing an old class ring.
“Would it be annoying if I asked what you’re working on?”
There’s a way of talking about nothing that sounds intimate. It can be misleading, because it’s not about what you say, but about how closely you seem to be paying attention to the other person. I pulled my hair in a twist over my shoulder and tried not to glance back through the crowd at Roman.
“I don’t mind.” Now he straightened up. He looked just a bit disapproving, even when he smiled.
I smiled back.
The bartender turned my way, and before I could flag him down, the man beside me had reached out and stopped him.
“What would you like?”
“Vodka and soda. What are you drinking?”
I reached for my wallet, and my companion’s fingers touched my wrist and stayed there, gesturing for me to hold my hand. I was surprised by how instinctively I bristled when he touched me, as if a fly had landed on my arm. I made myself hold still, neither leaning toward him nor pulling away.
“My tab,” he said, speaking over my shoulder the way a father might, paying for his daughter’s ice cream.
“So…” I said, sitting back on a stool and shrugging off his hand. The bartender busied himself with the drinks. My companion’s face, I noticed, was lined around the eyes, in addition to the tiny, pitted scars, and as I looked at him I thought that he was older, really, than he had looked at first. His hand had brittle-looking nails, oddly soft, with papery skin. I found myself sitting with a knot in my throat, wanting to wipe off the place on my wrist where he had touched me, even though it had been only the smallest touch. I hadn’t wanted him to pay for me, but I wasn’t sure why I felt so angry that he had.
“Do you always start conversations with strangers in bars?” he asked.
“Sometimes. If they seem interesting.”
“And why do I seem interesting?”
There would have been another way to approach things, one where I sat down next to him and said, Excuse me, my boyfriend and I have a bet. And perhaps it would have worked, because it would have left him with the power to grant me a favor. But it was too late now, and the fact was he no longer seemed interesting and I couldn’t remember why he had, beyond the challenge of winning.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ll leave if I’m bothering you.”
I picked up my drink, which had appeared on the bar at some moment when I wasn’t properly looking, too occupied with the businessman, who, when I went to stand, caught hold of my arm and said, “No, stay.”
I sat down stiffly on the bar stool, leaning in a C-curve around my drink. The hand on my arm loosened, and he relaxed on his stool.
“Are you a fashion student?”
“But you work in the arts?”
“You don’t want to tell me?”
“I thought you were going to tell me about your work.”
“Come on,” he said. “What’s your name? Are you in Brooklyn? Visiting town?”
I stilled my nerves and looked over my shoulder, to where I could see the top of Roman’s head across the room. He was watching me, but he just grinned and then turned away. The businessman caught my look, which must have communicated how thoroughly I wanted to escape, and made a slightly sarcastic grimace. I wasn’t sure if he was making fun of me or of his own confusion.
“You’re the one who hit on me.”
“Maybe I changed my mind,” I said. “I was just curious.”
“Well, women are fickle. Though I am buying your drinks.” He said this in a way that suggested a universal fact.
I put my glass down on the bar. “Drink it yourself, if that’s how you feel.”
My voice came out a little too loud, and I saw the woman next to us frown in my direction. My companion stretched his hand out and touched my arm again, gently.
“Calm down. I don’t think I’ve done anything.”
I looked up at the pressed-tin ceiling. Somehow I’d missed the moment when I’d stopped thinking about winning the bet and started imagining what a relief it would be to get away from him. But I felt stuck there beside him, unable to imagine how I could get up and walk back to Roman and say, It’s not worth it. I couldn’t have described what made this time different from any other time.
The businessman’s hand was still on my wrist.
“Could you just stop touching me?” I said, and then I took my hand away and used it to rub my eyes.
“You don’t have to be rude.”
“I’m going.” I could feel our neighbors at the bar looking at us, trying not to elbow up too close. When I stood, I felt strangely unbalanced, like I was looking down from a high place. I left my drink on the bar.
“Fine.” He flipped his tablet back up on its stand. “Silly bitch.”
It was like the word hit some lever that I didn’t know had been installed. I picked my glass back up and threw my drink at him. It splashed his face and down onto his tablet, sending a wave of colored bands across the screen.
He grabbed at me, his hands damp, and I shoved him back onto his barstool. The tablet skittered off the edge of the bar and hit the tiled floor. People were staring. It wasn’t the sort of bar where people got into fights. Across the room, I could see Roman getting up from the table where we’d been sitting together. That was in the minute before the businessman stooped down and scrabbled for the tablet. When he put it back down on the bar I saw that the screen was cracked. Then he held up his hand like he was pointing to something on the ceiling and slapped me across the face.
I don’t think it had occurred to me before that he could actually hurt me. I was so suddenly angry that it felt like his hand ought to pass through me like a ghost or bounce back off the reflecting shield of my anger, but instead the blow spun me around and sent me stumbling into the bar, where I banged my hip, a twin bull’s-eye of pain blooming there to match the one on my cheek. I’d grabbed at his shirt as I stumbled, without ever having thought about it, using the muscle memory of days spent in bed, learning how to move a partner’s body where I wanted it. I pulled him down with me as I fell and then held his arms at the elbows, too close for him to hit me. I snaked my leg around the back of his knee like the parody of an embrace, rammed my forehead into his open mouth so that he flinched backward in pain. He was larger than me, but not so much larger, and he couldn’t seem to figure out how to free his hands to hit me or step back away with my weight hanging on him, while I held him down on top of me and elbowed him in the throat and tried to get a clear path to bring my knee up between his legs and hurt him.
We’d stumbled into the woman next to me, and her friend pulled her out of the way. Someone else dropped a glass and I heard it shatter. There was a circle of hands around us, pulling at him or at me, but I didn’t want to let go.
I don’t know where the force of the anger came from. It was as if the pain of being hit had blown every thought out of my mind, except for the determination that I was going to make him regret touching me like that.
Finally he lifted away, with me still clinging, trying to get at him, and I saw Roman and another man, each holding his arms, the bartender ducking under the bar to stand between us, an uproar of noise that penetrated at last through the ringing in my ears. Roman put his arms around me, and I looked at the man I’d been fighting, who was yelling at the men who stood between us, who still held his arms to hold him back. My face was wet. My nose was bleeding. My skin buzzed, strangely, as if there was something alive under it that was trying to get out, and yet I didn’t feel afraid. One of the women I’d knocked into mouthed, “Psycho,” at her friend, and I wasn’t sure whether she meant me or him.
“Let’s go,” said Roman, and he hustled me out the door. The bartender followed us to make sure we left.
“I’m fine,” I said to Roman, outside the door. “Where are we going next?”
I laughed, accidentally, snorting a bubble of blood out of my nose in a useless effort to repress it. “Has that ever bothered me?”
He gave me a wounded look, as if maybe he was near tears. I hadn’t ever seen him cry. I stood still while he wiped the blood off my face with a cocktail napkin, his free hand combing through my hair, just behind the spot where my cheek felt bruised.
“I lost the bet,” I said, once we’d turned the corner, walking with my jacket slung over one arm because the air was gentle and because Roman had kept one arm draped over my shoulders, as if he was afraid I might only be delaying the moment when I fell to pieces. I wondered if I might. But the night air felt alive and inquisitive on my face, and the sidewalk felt like it was radiating warmth up through the soles of my shoes.
“It doesn’t matter,” Roman said.
“It does. I didn’t think I could lose.”
“You didn’t lose,” he said. His arm tightened a little across my shoulder, pulling me into his ribs. I had thought that when he’d rushed to help me, he’d only seen me fall, and not the moment when I held on and hit the other man back. It had been a moment of white rage. I had thought that, even in the crowd, it had been invisible.
I stopped and leaned into the uncomfortable warmth of his body, for long enough that he nudged my forehead with his chin and asked, “Are you all right?”
For a moment I was so light I could have floated away, like a soap bubble caught in an upward eddy. I thought I was going to laugh. I wasn’t—I didn’t know what I was. Come, you spirits, I thought. I wasn’t afraid of guilt, but of the anger that burned through me. Then the moment passed, and when the wave of relief washed over me, I put my arms around his waist and said, “Yes, I’m all right. Everything’s all right.”