Image Credit: elsa bleda
The night we fucked, fifty-eight people were shot dead in Las Vegas. Just shy of another six hundred were injured. His sheets smelled like violence, like sweat and cum the next morning when I checked the BBC notification on my cell phone. Sun flooded the unfurnished room. The curtainless windows looked out onto a lot, the Bushwick apartment building’s purported “backyard,” which enclosed a set of Adirondack chairs resting on the cracked cement that exposed overgrown weeds and cigarette butts his neighbors—or he, he had smoked a few Spirits the night before, I recalled—must have cast over their fire escapes. He’d moved in the previous day, had not yet unpacked the boxes that littered the common space and kitchen. We’d slept on a mattress on the floor, one blanket and one pillow to share. With an arm, heavy against my torso, wrapped around my waist, the other tucked behind his head, he stirred at my every movement. For a long time, hours, it felt like, after I awoke, I stayed still. I did not want to wake him. I did not want my aloneness in this early morning space interrupted by a stranger.
It was Monday morning. The streets were empty. As I reached for my phone beside our makeshift bed, R grumbled into consciousness. What were for hours hitherto spasmodic snores became a low groan. His eyes blinked open. His breath was hot on my neck. He kissed the space where my jawline met the bottom of my ear. His stomach rumbled against my lower back. His bare thighs stuck to mine with sweat. I then became self-conscious, very suddenly, of my nakedness against his.
I remembered I had forgotten to pee post-coitus. I remembered we hadn’t used a condom. Are you clean? I wanted to ask him. And then, how many people have you slept with and have you ever raped anybody and what’s your mother like and are you afraid of anything and are you going to talk to me in class on Wednesday and I wanted to reassure him: I have an IUD. I won’t need your money for child support, or an abortion. Instead I smiled weakly and told him I wanted to check the time. I reached across his exposed body, sparing a second to examine his chest, which, pallid, boasted only a few nascent hairs. Despite his broad shoulders, he was not, in the unmasking light of morning, a man. Disentangling our limbs, I fumbled for my phone.
Two texts from my dad and an emergency news alert glowed on the screen.
– Hi honey
– Did you hear about what happened in Vegas
Beneath that a headline:
Las Vegas shooting: At least 59 dead at Mandalay Bay Hotel
Bile rose in my chest. Blood pressed white-hot against my cheeks. At first I was angry. I had presented on gun control reform in a government course a few semesters earlier. I had written letters to obstinate congressmen urging them to reconsider their undignified allegiances, their greed, the way they sucked Wayne LaPierre’s cock for funding and reelection. Then I was all of a sudden inconsolable. I had been asleep in my bed some years before when the father who lived down the street from me, in another big white house in our affluent Northeast suburb, shot his two kids, classmates of mine, and his wife, before thrusting the barrel down his own throat and firing. I had grown up an hour from Sandy Hook Elementary School where Adam Lanza shot and killed twenty children and six teachers and I was at that time tutoring a class of first graders in English for volunteer hours and I had looked upon their faces and seen the guileless smiles of Lanza’s victims, missing teeth the Tooth Fairy had taken. Then R’s morning erection prodded my side and I remembered where I was, and where I had been, during the massacre.
A wave of nausea and the threat of tears: my body rejected this anagnorisis. Coiling away from him, pulling my knees to my chest and tucking my chin, I scrambled to find a timeline on the Internet. It wasn’t difficult. Every major news outlet reported the same story. “Blood” splattered every headline on every front page of every website. When I settled on CNN I began to sequence the narrative.
Where was I? The night before I had walked to his apartment around 9 p.m. I had finished dinner and showered. I had sprayed perfume. I had brushed my teeth. I had shaved my legs, which I did only sometimes. I had dressed in the tightest black shirt in my closet. I had locked the door. I had checked my mailbox, compulsively, as I had checked it earlier that afternoon and already removed the few envelopes, bills and that week’s New Yorker from the 3B slot which had been delivered by my postman whom I knew by name (Jeff). I had told my roommates I would be home early the next morning, that I loved them.
Around 9 p.m. the night I had walked to his apartment, Central Avenue was vacant. A man watched me from his car some yards down the block. I regretted wearing that tight black shirt that flaunted the outline of my areolas. As I neared his parked SUV, though nightfall and his tinted windows shielded his eyes, which looked from afar only like deep holes in his flesh, his face, blank but turned with intent in my direction, began to pierce through the dark. An older white guy, later fifties or early sixties I reasoned, he wore a burgundy T-shirt with what looked, red, white, and blue, to be some sort of patriotic insignia. With the aid of the single streetlamp on the corner I squinted and placed it—the N.R.A. logo, remembering the bald eagle whose talons clutched two crossed rifles from a high school history class. Our claws clinging to “freedom” American democracy never checks its cargo. On his back bumper was a Trump sticker. I stuffed my headphones in my ears and blasted music, volume on its highest setting, the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. It makes me feel safe, that album. Like in a horror movie, the visuals, jump scares and perverse murders and blood-spattered corpses, lose their ability to frighten if the sound is muted. Nothing can rouse terror to David Byrne’s spirited crooning: And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and you may ask yourself, well, he sings, How did I get here? And I did not know, but I felt safe, and soon I was out of sight of the man who watched me from his car.
When I arrived at R’s apartment building, which stood gleaming and new between two ramshackle multi-family dwellings far less contemporary than his, declaring his a monument of gentrification, the night had cooled. He had what rental listings called an ‘electric doorman,’ one of the automated buzzers which connected to an intercom and one-way video feed, and in the corner of the screen I saw the time: a little past 9:30. A little less than half an hour before the first shots would be fired at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada.
I rang 5A and the camera flash blasted my face, blinding me, only for a moment. Then the audio connected. I heard him laugh before he buzzed me up. I do not know what was funny, even now.
After five flights of stairs I was winded. I didn’t feel particularly sexy anymore, standing in the hallway before R’s front door. It was so many hours past dinnertime that my stomach growled, protesting its vacuity, but also cramped, nauseated. Over-hungry, I did not yearn to be filled; instead I only ached. My mouth felt dry. I licked my lips to moisten them. Despite the adrenalin which had steadily accumulated in my bloodstream, my head pounded from exhaustion. Tired, starving, my perfume had mostly worn off, too. I didn’t really want to have sex anymore, but I had walked the mile and a half to get there, and when I had agreed to come over on a Sunday night after a week’s texted flirtation we both knew what that had meant, and I had put on this outfit that accentuated my few curves, and I had no interest in making conversation until morning, and so I tried to visualize my favorite porn star performing cunnilingus and Oscar Isaac’s biceps and all the sex scenes from all the movies which excited me to summon some moisture as preparation between the gaps and folds of my flesh. I don’t know how much time passed before I knocked.
Inside I heard motion, chairs shifting, shoes tapping the hardwood, and finally the handle began to turn. The first thing I noticed when he opened the door was his height. At least 6’4, I realized then, having only previously ever seen him seated. His desk was a few rows in front of mine in the class we had together, a religious studies lecture, around fifty students, which he seldom attended. I wondered about the mechanics of intercourse between us, what with a foot height difference. We certainly couldn’t fuck standing, and I couldn’t fathom a proper table or couch which he could bend me over. I felt small then, like I would disappear during the act.
“Hey,” I said. And when he did not speak, I continued, “It’s a nice night. I didn’t mind the walk over.”
I don’t remember what we talked about before he ushered me to the kitchen and offered me a beer, which I declined. He said he would have one anyway. All that his refrigerator contained were the six-packs of Pacífico and a gallon of 2% milk. He drank three beers that night. It could have been more—I stopped counting, and there were a couple open on the counter when I arrived.
He said he fancied a smoke, and as he positioned one between his lips he extended the teal carton toward me. I shook my head. “No, thank you,” I said, and followed him to the balcony.
Outside we argued about Darren Aronofsky. R had rejected my criticisms of his latest masturbatory blockbuster, Mother! I pushed back, “He uses these,” I gestured with my hands, “these untouchable themes, so he can brutalize another woman onscreen. It’s voyeuristic sadism is what it is. He’s complicating the story with red herrings and allusions to create some sort of divine artistic immunity. He’s giving us this, this opaque Biblical allegory so no one can doubt the conscientiousness of the film, its moral universe. If God’s present, how can anyone question the violence? It perverts the fictional world’s logic. Of course Mother must be assaulted. It’s a commentary. It’s always a fucking commentary. But at what cost?” R stared at me while I caught my breath. Then he stepped toward me, backing me against the railing. My hands braced the cold metal as he kissed me.
At 9:59 p.m. with his lips to my throat he told me I should follow him to his bedroom and a hotel security guard was shot by Stephen Paddock on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Paradise, Nevada.
R pressed me against the wall. His tongue, warm, tasted like hops, searching behind my molars, melding the skin of our cheeks. I thought of a boy who at a party in high school—he was two years older, a senior, and an athlete, lacrosse or football or soccer—laid me against the grass in someone’s backyard and pushed inside me. I don’t remember his name, and anyway I was drunk then. I remember his face looked like Adam Lanza’s. R’s room smelled like pot the way the boy who looked like Adam Lanza did that night on the grass.
I wasn’t wet anymore after I remembered.
At some point R moved me to the mattress and Paddock sprayed bullets from his hotel window onto the crowd of 22,000 people below him. “We got shots fired! It sounded like an automatic firearm,” said a police officer into his radio transmitter. “Fuck, Hannah. You’re so sexy,” said R into my neck. I remembered Nick calling me so sexy. Nick was a friend. Nick’s penis choked like a noose as he thrust it against the back of my throat in a locked room at a crowded house party when I was sixteen. Nobody heard me crying over Rick Ross’s familiar drawl which blasted from someone’s iPhone speakers: “Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it,” sang Rick Ross. “I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.” Nick didn’t hear me because Nick was too busy reaching orgasm and pushing my head down.
At 10:12 p.m. the first two police officers arrived at the hotel and announced that the gunfire was coming from directly above them. I noticed a moonbeam on the ceiling of R’s room and fixed my eyes on it. His frame, huge and frenetic, smothered me. I noticed I was lying limp as he jabbed in and out. I felt guilty for that. My legs spread I lay sprawled like a corpse.
At 10:14 p.m. a man posted a video on Snapchat of a woman’s brains exploding against his iPhone camera. He was screaming. Everyone was screaming.
At 10:15 p.m. Paddock stopped shooting. My insides burned raw and I disguised my whimpering as delighted moans, clenching the muscles lining my pelvic floor in hopes that we would be done sooner.
By 10:15 p.m. 573 people had been wounded. Police say that Paddock kept firing for “nine to 11 minutes.” R came inside me.
The next morning on his damp mattress in the harsh light from the curtainless windows in his unfurnished bedroom I curled my naked body away from his. He would not see me cry, I made certain. He asked me the time. I had forgotten to check. Go back to sleep, I said. It’s early.
Intimacy intrigues Hannah. So do cruciferous vegetables, Hellenic epics, and Virginia Woolf’s queer relationships. Despite these multifarious interests, she studies rhetoric at New York University (because she’s a sellout). If you meet her, instead of asking about her tattoos ask her about feminist interpretations of the Bible, or Cory Booker.