It was the middle of January when Olivia finally needed help with her computer and went down to get the tech. He treated her with his usual reserved politeness. How much he reminded her of a beaten animal in the way he moved so silently around the office, so watchful and wary, as if he were afraid of being discovered. All of his movements, she observed, were careful and deliberate. She found this mysterious and alluring and imagined that inside, he actually ran on clockwork, always fluttering, clicking, and hyperaware.
Her obsession with him had developed quietly, even surreptitiously—like the growth of mushrooms or mold. She hadn’t even noticed it was there until she made direct eye contact with him in the narrow mezzanine hallway one afternoon. They had exchanged a polite hello as they squeezed passed one another, she looking up at him, he seemingly abashed, avoiding her direct gaze. Though she’d seen him a million times before, that image of him—his eyes, magnified slightly by his glasses, his compact body, perhaps slightly overfed but solid and muscled, his baby-fine, dark blond hair—had suddenly struck her in a way she could not explain, and it stayed with her. It was like waking up, thinking of someone you knew, feeling a sudden warmth for them and realizing it was because you’d dreamed about them the night before. And so it began like that. That suddenly. That inexplicably.
Olivia didn’t believe in love at first sight. That is, love without foundation. Desire for possession, yes. Lust, most definitely. But not love. To discover the existence of this soft, wooly affection for a man she barely knew was both unexpected and disturbing, although at first, she liked the feeling. It made her shrewd. It made her restless. It gave her extra nerve. Simple things like food and drink and the smell of rain suddenly became exhilarating. So, she petted the new feeling and coaxed it, and it seemed to stretch out its toes like a cat. One snowy Friday in November, she left a note for him, a simple one, asking him out.
That day in November had been one of blackout—half of the building she worked in lost power and, when her computer shut down, she wandered down the mezzanine past his desk and lodged the note, enclosed in a yellow office routing envelope, in a pocket of his bag. She saw him several times during the blackout, running from one room to another, conscientiously checking things. When she went back to her cubicle, she noticed the note was gone, and she smiled to herself. It was done. She imagined him standing there momentarily puzzled, his large hands reaching for it, what might have run through his mind when he opened and read it. A little gift, a little treasure waiting for him. The glimpse of a new beginning in what she imagined was probably a dreary life. She’d already thought about what he went home to: his blank white apartment walls, his frozen microwave dinners, a closet full of the same no-iron plaid shirts. Maybe a live-in girlfriend. But she would be familiar and dull, irritable and moody—a sofa-bound Gorgon—someone to be handled cautiously. Certainly not as sweet and alive as Olivia was.
The first time she had to walk past his desk to go downstairs, she felt her heart hammering wildly against her ribs. She almost believed that if her ribs hadn’t been there to hold it in, her heart would surely have jumped up her throat and out her mouth—so potent had her desire grown. She breathed deeply to calm her rattled nerves, believing it best to act as if nothing were out of the ordinary. She did not want to look like she was waiting for an answer. As she passed him, he did not look up, did not made any indication that he knew she was there at all. He was, as far as she could tell (because she didn’t want to look at him directly), hunched over his computer, his attentions focused elsewhere.
Days passed and she did not receive a reply. In fact, he behaved as if nothing had happened at all. Though she was sure he had read it. Certain. The silence made her feel foolish and anxious. She felt she had to do something. Sweeten the deal perhaps. So she began to leave him little gifts—cookies on his chair when he was away at lunch, coffee on his desk before he arrived in the morning. But still, no response. Absolute and utter silence.
It is interesting how something that you are denied becomes the most desirable object you have ever known. It begins to glow, and depending on the circumstances, leer at you as well.
She began to imagine his disgust when he saw the things she bought for him waiting on his desk. Another gift. How stupid can she be? Doesn’t she get it? She pictured the cookies, the unsipped coffee landing in the garbage can beside his desk. She visualized him sharing her notes with his coworkers in neighboring cubes, grinning over them and pulling faces. She could almost hear their snickers. It made her feel that a million eyes were on her as she moved around the office. They shook their heads, exchanged knowing glances as she passed. Dim, desperate Olivia. Guys would smirk; girls would roll their eyes. This had brought up a pool of stinging tears and had made her eye shadow raccoon on each lid.
The more time went on, the more the feeling became a sort of illness she couldn’t shake, one that influenced all her perceptions, colored her daily experience, made her suffer in small but significant ways. It seemed to have all the qualities of honey—sticky, viscous, sweet. It poured out with agonizing slowness and trickled little by little down her insides. It covered her mental landscape entirely.
Many nights, she woke at 2 a.m., sweating. Because the property manager kept her apartment building abnormally warm, she had developed a sort of seasonal insomnia and would lie awake in the grainy darkness of her bedroom. Immediately, hazy images of him would drift through her mind, images of him without clothes, of him in her bed, under her very sheets, illuminated only by the dusk-to-dawn light directly outside her window. She became so adept at conjuring these particular fantasies that she began to believe they were real, that she could actually see his shoulders gently rising and falling as he breathed. She could perfectly visualize his topography, where he was furry, where he was smooth, and when she ran her hands over the sheets, it was his skin. Sometimes, frustrated, she had to stretch until her muscles ached in order to squeeze out the syrupy, unused energy that had built up in her body.
His presence just a few cubicles down grew to be nearly unbearable. She couldn’t concentrate on her work. She could hear him at his desk and became preternaturally attune to the noises he made—his unique laugh, the sound of his coughs, the change of tone in his voice when he spoke on the phone. Who’s he talking to? Who’s making him laugh? Who?
By the middle of December, she had begun to lose weight. Food simply lost all of its appeal. It was a sort of penance not to eat, and she began to believe she was cleansing herself. She understood why saints fasted. Her body seemed to lose some of its heavy inertia, some of the torpor she associated with being human, with being forced into the deficient organic form that was a body. On some days, she even felt closer to a vapor, which is what she really wanted to be, what she felt she began as. The spirit as mist, not a decaying solid but an elusive, immortal gas. A sublimation.
Now, weeks after the initial lightening-strike, he was sitting down at her computer, was finally close enough to touch. Initially, she hovered slightly behind him, staying near in case she was needed. And for a long while, neither said anything. He worked, and she waited. It was so quiet, she could hear him breathing. She gazed down at him, at his neck, which was not as pale as she remembered—and there were freckles and moles, which surprised her. She remembered with disappointment that he was human, too. She looked at his large fingers on her keyboard, the way his thighs spread across her desk chair, the broad expanse between his shoulder blades. This body was not shameful. To be with his body, she thought, would make it all right—even necessary—to be organic, make it all right to have skin, to sweat.
Sitting there, he emitted the faintest scent of something she couldn’t quite discern. She began to focus on it and was suddenly seized by an awful, body-impelling desire. Before she was truly conscious of her actions, she was centimeters away from him, putting her lips close to his skin, letting him feel the warmth of her breath. His arm went still, and he ceased moving the mouse. She could feel that he was waiting. Carefully, silently, she brushed her lips against his skin and moved down his neck, inhaling this scent, waiting for him to lunge forward, crane his neck, push her away. But he did not. Emboldened, she extended her tongue to taste his skin, which was salty. She wanted to bury her face there, but heard him say low, but forcefully, "Please don’t." He got up then, hastily pushed the desk chair away with his foot, and stumbled backward out of her cubicle, wearing an expression of anxious confusion. She felt a stab of shame, of painful regret. She wondered if he would tell someone, if she would be reprimanded or even lose her job. It had not been worth the risk. He did not want her. It was clear now.
How easily desire can transform itself into rage. Rage is, in fact, desire driven inside out. Both curb the appetite, cloud the mind, and blind the sufferer. And both are absolutely intoxicating.
It was after five when she passed his cubicle. Everyone who worked on the mezzanine had gone home. However, he was still there, tinkering idly with his computer monitor. She made to pass by without looking at him, but he put out a hand, catching her arm. A bout of nerves instantly thickened her tongue, making her unable to speak. She stood mutely for a few moments with his hand clutching her wrist. He, too, was silent. His look was enough. In her chest and her head, parallel wars were being waged between the fading passion and the newborn bitterness. She could feel the blows pulsing in her temples and in the hollow of her neck. She could actually hear blood traveling through her. Her heart was beating so fast. She was baffled. What now?
It was impulse, not desire that drove her to kneel in front of him, to undo his fly and release him. The moment that she put him in her mouth and slid downwards to engulf him, he whispered her name in one elongated string of syllables. Like pearls emerging from a hidden compartment. It was more than a heavy exhale of satisfaction. It was an unconscious expression of wishes fulfilled—distinctly un-sexual, sounding somehow more profound than a simple response to physical sensation. She felt his emotions stretch out before her like kite strings and considered for the first time, now that she knew she held them, how much it might hurt him if she severed them completely.
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/svana.html]
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