“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked, flapping her hands in his direction, when he tried to get closer, his face wearing concern. “Don’t even look at me!” she shouted, backing away. “I can’t stand to have you see me like this!” she said, her voice on the edge of hysteria. She trembled beneath the thick coat he’d put over her shoulders after pulling her from the river.
“Like what?” he said, trying not to sound too exasperated, even as he stood in the dark, his button-down shirt steaming in the moonlight, even as the wet folds of it began to frost. “Like what, Joyce? Afraid?”
“LIKE THIS!” she shouted, directing her hand-flapping in her own direction, as though she could explain to him just what it was she couldn’t stand to have him look at by having him look at whatever it was she couldn’t stand to have him look at — as though the revelation of it would bring about a sudden repulsion for that same thing… whatever it was.
“Screaming? Upset?” he said, backing up from her waving arms.
“NO! THIS!” she shouted. “ME! LIKE THIS!” she said, her voice growing louder as his grew softer.
“NO! NO NO NO!!”
“Unfuckingreasonable?” he said, trying to match her tone. “Bent? Like WHAT? Joyce? Like. Fucking. WHAT?”
“LIKE THIS!” she screamed, stomping her foot in the winter slush on the river bank.
“Dramatic and having a tantrum?” he finally asked. “Because honestly, I never wanted to see you like this, either.”
The calm honesty in his words stunned her. She blinkblinkblinked her big watery eyes and stared at him, her breath pluming in the night, billowing out into the dark, moonbreaths of silver that sprawled between them both.
“What?” she whispered.
“I never wanted you to be fragile and screaming, Joyce,” he said. “I just wanted you to be honest. Not broken. Not interesting. Not… damaged artistically. I don’t require it of you. I never have.”
“You think I do this for you?” she asked, cocking her head to the side, her mouth making a face of angry disdain.
“I know you do,” he said softly. “Same way I know your name isn’t Joyce,” he sighed.
“Pfft,” she scowled, wiping water from her face with a muddied hand, warpainting her cheek. “Like yours is Adam.”