--SHE SHOWED ME THE MACHINERY THAT OUR WORDS PROTECT US FROM, HOW SHE COULD KEEP ME IN THE MOMENT, HOW THAT’S ALL THERE EVER WAS
She steals.I watch her in the wine store. Instead of going for a normal-sized bottle, she takes a showcased magnum of champagne shaped like a black missile. Somehow it stays inside her flouncy skirt. On the counter is a silver platter with three, pie-shaped cuts of brie and a fan of domino crackers. She filches the entire thing in one swift swoop.
Outside I say, “You’re amazing.”
She tells me, “You need to stop telling me that crap.”
“But you are,” I say.
“You just haven’t seen my dark side yet,” she says.
“You won’t let me.”
“Well, it might help if you had corrective lenses.”
We’ve been dating for two years. Her name is Ivy. Ink-black hair, cut-across bangs, thin lips that go pink when she’s excited, which is all the time. I love her so much that I eat razors trying to muster up the right things to say.
At the book store, Ivy waves her arm around and looks at me with tear-soaked eyes. “Just think,” she says, “someday soon, this whole place will be a Kindle.”
She steals Charles Baxter’s entire collection, some Beatty and then every Anais Nin.
“Where do you put all that stuff?” I ask.
“You weren’t listening.”
“Yes, I was.”
“Ah,” Ivy says, potato peeling forefinger-to-forefinger in a Shame-on-you motion, “but you didn’t believe.”
Ivy claims she has been culled, that someone excavated her against her will. She won’t say who or anything else, just that.
Once, while I was kissing her, Ivy said, “Go ahead, stick your arm all the way down my throat.” I chuckled until I realized she was serious, then my jaw locked up. “Shove it past my tonsil bell,” Ivy said. “See if you can reach down into my belly. It’s just a big ol’ empty room anyway.”
I told her to stop screwing around. I punched her soft on the shoulder as if we were both second-graders.
“I know you think I’m making this shit up,” Ivy said, “but I’m not. I’m gutted. I’m hollow.”
She grabbed an arm, tried to force my hand into her mouth. I told her now she was scaring me.
“Okay,” Ivy said, “but if you forego the proof, then just stop doubting me.”
There are things Ivy won’t share. She only talks about today or tomorrow, the future, never yesterday or before. The past, she says, is a black hole just like her, so I need to get used to skipping it, or else get a new girlfriend. Ivy nibbles my earlobe as she warns me, secreting saliva, yet I can tell she means the threat.
One day we stop by a school. “Let’s break in,” Ivy says. I don’t want to, but I’m more afraid Ivy will leave me than I am of getting in trouble with the law.
I crack a window at the building’s north end, and we rummage through desks and leftover backpacks. We stumble into the hall. When we get to the band room, Ivy lights up, her lips so pink they border on magenta.
She jumps over rows of seats to get to the instruments up front, takes a trumpet, two bongos and a tuba. I don’t know where they go, but she’s got them and they’ve disappeared.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Ivy says.
At 7/11, Ivy steals a Slurpee machine.
At a gas station, she steals the debit card instrument panel.
At the pet store, she steals a school of fish and one obnoxious macaw.
At the zoo, Ivy opts for a wiry monkey, then a rhino that bolts to the end of the fence where Ivy dangles a bag of unshelled peanuts coated in Dijon mustard.
After each instance, I tell her the same thing. “You’re amazing,” I say, wishing I had better words.
She kisses me like a wire brush on the lips and I feel fire.
One night we lay on the bed. I rub Ivy’s stomach through her Syracuse sweatshirt. Her flesh is flat, pliable. She says, “Go ahead, push.”
So I do. I obey.
My hand sinks. I force further, worrying I’m hurting her, until Ivy smiles and says, “It’s okay, really. I don’t feel a thing.”
When Ivy rolls onto her side, I push also through her back until my hands would be touching if it weren’t for Ivy’s two skins. “Told you,” she says.
I blink. My eyes burn. I get it now.
I roll my cheek up against her neck like a cat, remembering the times Ivy would flinch at certain pronouns, or whenever we were around bald men wearing wire-rimmed glasses and wrist tattoos.
Ivy says, “Your cheek feels good on my neck, like an important cloud. That’s the best place for it.”
I want to explain that no matter how hard she tries, Ivy’s not going to be able to fill what’s been uprooted. I’d like to tell her that damage doesn’t have to be permanent, that theft can be atoned or forgiven, and that the only reason our planet still spins is because of grace.
“Hey,” Ivy says, “are you crying?”
“What’s up?” Ivy tries to cock her head around, but I burrow my chin against her shoulder bone like a metal bookend.
“Steal me,” I whisper.
Ivy arches her back and I can see the flesh on her ear puckering.
When I say it again--“Steal me, instead”—Ivy takes my hand and puts it to her lips, just holds it there, gripping it tight.