‘Animal,’ by Lisa Taddeo: An Excerpt

Probably out of self-preservation, I can’t remember exactly how it got started. I’m sure I had a lot to do with it, testing the reach of my sexual power. The extent of my prettiness. But what I remember starkly is the mirror on the wall opposite the windows where I’d listened for days to the sleek cars crunching the gravel. I got up to look in the mirror because he’d said the red wine was in the corner of my lips and I looked like a crackhead. Haha, I said. But that man could never have made me feel ugly.

[ Return to the review of “Animal.” ]

He came up behind me in the mirror. His head was abnormally large next to mine. My long dark hair made an elegant contrast against the cream of the dress. He placed one hand on my shoulder and the other against my hair, near the ear, tipping my head to one side. I watched the look in his eye as he touched his thin lips to my neck. It sent a shiver down my spine, partly in repulsion, but there was also an involuntary sexual response. He lifted the dress over my head. I stood in heels and a white lace bra and white underwear with little red bows at the sides. I was dressing for someone in those days and I liked to believe it was me. Once, in a little kitchen store in SoHo, I bought an apron with printed rabbits and chalets and little girls licking ice cream cones.

Thereafter came the trips to Sayulita, to Scottsdale for the nice spa. There were blue-tiled bathrooms and wonderful sushi. Tableside guacamole, belly dancers, valet everything.

Eventually I grew too disgusted, but for a long time I managed. There wasn’t much physicality overall. You can get away with a lot of nothing if you play it right. Especially if the man is married, you can talk about morality and what your dead father would think. You can make the man feel trepidation to merely hold your hand and all the while you are in these warm places with palm trees and golf carts.

I didn’t stop dating all those years. There were a few minor obsessions but no one truly serious. I told Vic about some of them. I said they were friends and I let him balance the suspicions in his head. But mostly I lied. I would say I was going out with girlfriends and then sneak from the office and run toward a subway, looking back the whole time, terrified he’d followed me. Then I would meet some unkind boy and Vic would go home and patrol the Internet looking for signs of me on social media. He would write me around eleven, Watcha up to kid. He didn’t use a question mark so it would look less inquisitive. You begin to understand human nature at a cellular level when an older man is obsessed with you.

The status quo was manageable. We were both getting what we needed, though I could have done without him. It turned out he could not do without me. He likened his relationship with me to Icarus. He was Icarus and I was the sun. Lines like these, which I wholly believed and still do, made me sick to my stomach. What kind of a girl wants to be a sun over a country she doesn’t even want to visit.

Everything was fine for a number of years, until the man from Montana. I called him Big Sky and, in the beginning, so did Vic. I sent Vic to the depths of what a man can stand. I don’t recommend you do it, and you should know what it does to a human being.

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