Alice poured herself another drink.
She was standing in the exact center of Benjamin's room, his glass in one hand and his bottle of whiskey in the other. She couldn't quite recall when or why she had worked her way over to the middle like that, but there she was. Whatever the reasons were, she was there now.
It was a spacious enough room to be able to stand, comfortably, right in the middle of it. It wasn't like you had to stand on the edge of the bed or press yourself up against the dresser to do so or anything like that. There was just plenty of space to move around in.
An abundance of space, she thought, eyes crawling around the room like large, lost insects.
She would find something in all that space. There would be something else, something she had not noticed before and she would discover it. She would dig it up out of dark corners, from beneath trivial things, yank it down to meet her eye line, she would find it and drag it out into the light and watch it hiss and burn.
She took a sip of her drink and her eyes searched and she wondered why certain things happened a certain way. Her heart beat against her and she looked and she wondered.
"You remind me of something," she heard him say.
She swished the liquor around inside her mouth for a few seconds, allowing it to swarm and sting tender crevices. She gulped it down, feeling it travel inside, brutal-sweet and heavy and isolating. She then prepared an expression best suited for these kinds of things. And she looked at him.
He was still naked and lying on the bed, lips slightly parted, sucking in thick, curdled breaths and puffing them out like a sleeping bull. He was holding her in a steady gaze, waiting.
She looked at his eyes, two tourist-trap jungles of green, then down at his discreetly manicured toenails, then up to the middle, his center, where his slightly curved penis lay fat and cozy and unaware.
She straightened herself.
"Do I?" She asked.
He nodded, laying very still, narrowly observing the look on her face which seemed to ignite a sort of panicked micro-alarm around the corners of his mouth and eyelids. It retreated after a second, leaving behind an aftereffect of defensive ridicule as he thoroughly eyed her position. He seemed to be cautiously aware that she was standing in the middle of the room and he had, of course, read enough books on the human condition to believe there was a reason for it.
She lifted the glass to her lips again and drank, shifting her focus elsewhere, denying him any kind of anything.
He watched her do it, carefully. He watched her tilt her head back, the ice cubes tumbling and clanking together as she angled the glass to her lips, consuming little lavish waves of brown until none remained. He watched her lower the emptied glass from her mouth and reposition her head, leveling herself off, eyes prowling the room, sifting rapidly as if time were running out.
He licked his lips and spoke.
"You finished my glass."
Her eyes rested on a section of crimson wall just above his head. Wisps of his black hair were splayed against it, resembling broken spider legs. She cleared her throat.
"I poured that one for myself. I finished my own glass. What do I remind you of?"
"No, before that, that was my glass and you drank it all."
She nodded at the bottle she was holding, furtively tightening her grip on the glass in her other hand.
"Just drink from the bottle."
"What happened to your glass?"
She shook the bottle.
"What do I remind you of?"
She looked directly at him.
He sat fully upright on the bed and considered a few things before finally speaking.
"You are not an adult," he said.
His eyes bore down on her with struggling intensity, the dizzying vibrancy of their color so commonly mistaken for authenticity of emotion, conviction of character, absolution, truth.
"What's the big deal with drinking from the bottle? Why are you making such a big deal out of nothing?"
There was a silence.
She saw something waver behind his eyes, shaking their platform, rattling his private earth as he looked at her face. There was something gasping, something tender and urgent, lifting. There was something else, somewhere.
He blinked and stood up from the bed. At the same instant, she shifted her weight.
They were quiet, staring, waiting for the next thing.
He made a decision.
He grabbed his shoes from the corner closest to the window and put them on. He tied the laces on each one and turned to face her again.
"Excuse me?" She clutched the glass in her hand as tightly as she could.
"It's the negativity. It's the goddamn negativity, Alice."
She could smell the black rubber of his shoes, smoked and sour.
"You're not wearing any clothes..."
He ignored her, eyes flashing, and marched with flailing intent towards his bookcase. His shoes squeaked and squished and thumped and clomped, noisy and belligerent, silencing the ghosted shift and press of moving, naked skin.
He reached for her purse which had been tossed atop the bookcase along with car keys, three white envelopes, an old Christmas card from mom and dad. His dark eyebrows were drawn tightly together, focused.
"Why did you put on your shoes if you're not wearing any clothes?"
He continued to ignore her and began digging through her purse. It was too small and she kept everything in there. Everything anyone could possibly think of, she kept in there.
He finally found her pack of cigarettes and lighter in all that mess and pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. He inhaled deeply and with smug desperation, attempting to make the point he couldn't say out loud.
"Oh! So, now you're going to smoke in your house, even though you don't smoke and you hate the smell of smoke in houses?"
"I thought I told you to get out."
She could feel her control beginning to slip. She found herself wanting to charge at him, wanting to get in his face, wanting to get so close she was inside. But she wouldn't give up her place in the center. That was where she was now, whatever the reasons were.
"I want you to tell me! I want you to tell me what I did for you to kick me out of your fucking house! Tell me! "
He squinted frantically through the smoke.
"Stop saying house! This is an apartment! Why the fuck do you always call apartments houses?!"
He eased the whole of his face into a smirk, squinting and settling into a lean against the bookcase.
"Tell me that."
She squeezed the glass in her hand until the centers of her fingernails turned a glowing red and her entire arm began to throb. The ice inside was beginning to melt.
"You just think you're so fucking clever, every single moment!"
They nodded maniacally at each other, lips tightening, eyes gleaming, testing, slipping.
"You think you're so smart all the time! You think you're goddamn better than everyone because you think you're so smart all the time!"
His eyes widened with a dilated, frenzied shine. He turned to scan all the literature in his bookcase, quickly, before finally grabbing his copy of Ulysses. He lifted it over his head with grand force and a grim responsibility, as if he were Moses unveiling the Ten Commandments atop a stormy cliff. He held it there for a second, heaving breath and clutching, before slamming it ferociously to the ground without saying a word. Neither one of them was quite sure why.
After a confused second, she began to cry. She began to cry and holler and lose control.
"Why are you doing this?! Why?! I want you to tell me!"
"I'll put this cigarette out on my arm! That's what you want! That's what you want me to do!"
He dragged and sucked and puffed, faster and faster, shooting her nasty, wild-eyed looks. He was frightened. Life was so frightening sometimes.
"What do you mean? Of course I don't want that! Just stop this!"
He sucked the cigarette down to the filter. He walked over to the window and pulled aside the curtain, stubbed the cigarette out on the sill and tossed it outside. He then walked back over to her.
"You wanted me to put it out on my arm. You wanted that."
She considered throwing the glass at him but she didn't want to let it go. It was too late now to give it back.
He fell quiet for a moment, staring down at his shoes and then at her bare feet. A fog of cigarette smoke still drifted around him, curling and bending around his head like the slow formation of a ghost.
He then looked up at her and right into her. She saw something spark wildly and then go dark as he lurched towards her, his body naked, his shoelaces neatly tied.
He flung out his hand, pressing the tips of his fingers against her right shoulder and began shoving, light and sharp, again and again.
"Just say it, Alice. Just say it. Come out and say just exactly what it is you think you know about me. You're the one who thinks you're so smart. You think you know. If you're so fucking smart, then tell me what it is you know. "
She looked at him looking at her, looking at her face, tracing every angle and curve as he shoved; painting a portrait of a young woman he had done wrong by, a cornered heart, intrusively fragile, bracing and alone.
He shoved her harder, taking in the very full of her, closing in on her, pushing her further and further away.
She felt herself being backed up into something. His desk, she assumed. She felt his breath on her as he got right up into her face. It was lukewarm. It smelled of nothing.
"I know what you're thinking. I see you thinking all those horrible things about me all the time. Thinking about how you know I'm a Bad Man. Do you know how pathetic you look when you're thinking those things; how pathetic and desperate?"
She watched him take the painted portrait and tuck it away and under, beneath surfaces delicate and worn, disguising its shape. She watched him bury it in all the places that were easiest to rationalize, to maintain.
"Just because I've done Bad Things to you doesn't mean I'm a Bad Man, Alice."
She watched it stretch and spin, transforming its meaning, becoming only his to eliminate, only his to forget.
She watched it vanish.
He stepped away from her.
"I'm not a monster."
She closed her eyes and took a sip of the melted ice water. She heard him tell her again, louder this time.
She opened her eyes and looked at him.
"Tell me what I remind you of," she said.
The room spun with an abrupt and active fury. He hissed something unintelligible and grabbed her purse from the bookcase and threw it across the room. It landed on his night table, knocking over an alarm clock and a small jar of Q-Tips. Everything inside her purse was everywhere now.
He began to scream.
"I'm not a monster! I'm not a fucking monster! Come to terms with it already! Come to terms!"
He began slapping himself in the face, a sharp pink flush spreading across his cheek.
He slapped himself and screamed, over and over again, looking at her for a reaction.
She took another sip and did not react.
She saw him seeing her.
"I don't remind you of anything."