Late at night, the streets are silent. We walk them together. You tell me stories.

You speak of how, when we were teenagers, all the boys liked you. You felt you had to please every one of them. "Remember how I dated three or four guys at the same time? I was so young," you tell me, as if you had no say in the matter. "They fought one another to get to me. They were all over these." You cup your heavy breasts. And you laugh.

You do not mention your confusion. The perplexing waves of unanswerable questions. Small waves. Turbid and sharp. But sorrow fills your eyes.

These night streets are bereft of people, except for you and me. The sea is our companion, lapping at the empty shore with a quiet insistence. The air is alive with a cool March breeze. The moon is full and beaming. And we are walking. And you are telling me your stories. But though we are together, just like we've always been since we were children, we have never been more apart.

I observe your profile. Your face is a sculptor's fantasy. A narrow forehead decorated with a brief widow's peak. A timidly aquiline nose. Finely carved cheekbones. Unabashedly full lips. And a pair of eyes that have always been your strongest feature: gold-flecked hazel orbs with striking black lashes that could send a man whirling in delirious ecstasy with just that perfectly staged signature glance. You have always used your eyes to your advantage. Or, is disadvantage the right word?

You give me brief glimpses, saturated with questions you will not utter, truths you will not tell. Is it my approval you're seeking? Or is it the thrill of witnessing my shock at what you're saying? Are the glimpses even something you're creating? Or are they something I want to imagine?

"I didn't even like guys," you say. "I've always preferred girls. You know, women." A new statement, spoken without a hint of emotion and intended to elicit a startled response from me, I suppose. "I've kissed a woman, you know," you declare with a bit of a tremor in your voice. "It just happened. We were in an elevator. Just the two of us. We teased each other, playing hard to get. And when our lips met, it was just . . . so different from kissing a man. Her lips were like mine, but different. That kiss wasn't about lust. It was about communion. It was beautiful." You close your eyes for a moment. When you open them, you say, "I've always preferred women." And just as I'm thinking about the defensive stress you added to your always, you ask me, "Do you think I'm disgusting?"

You've always preferred men, I want to say. No, change that. You've always wanted to fuck men. Too many of them, and all at the same time. And no, I don't think you're disgusting. I think you're pitiful and pitiable. But I realize my statement would only sound judgmental. Besides, I would be giving you the satisfaction you crave, the attention you seek in order to feel complete. I won't.

In the darkness of night that always carries inside it an irresolvable ambiguity, one part of me is gripped with nostalgia and yearning for how we once were, when we were children—innocent, and free of both our sexual need for others, and our need for them to need us. Another part of me is tormented by the desire to drown my own pains in your stories, your empty chatter. I know you're ever haunted by the need to drown your pains in sex. But sex is a passing act. A mechanical and organic release of tension. I feel that drowning my pains in your stories will suffice for me. I need not create my own.

You talk. I listen.

You tell me about your latest encounter.

"We did it in his office," you say with a half-smile that teasingly reveals your perfect knock-me-in-the-gut teeth. "He took me on his desk. I had the most massive orgasm." Though you're smiling, there's a bitterness curling the edges of your lips. "His executive assistant came in right after we were done. He gave me the dirtiest look. Fuck, it was so demeaning. You want to hear something ironic, though?" You wait, as if for my approval, again. "He got fired the next day, gloating son-of-a-bitch. They found dirty photos of dirty men and women doing dirty things on his hard drive." Your smile fades from bitterness to cynicism. "I felt kind of vindicated. But nothing will ever take away the hurt of that look he gave me."

I want to tell you your story is unoriginal and cliché. But I'm not sure if I really mean that. I don't know if I should believe you're lying, or if I'm just lying to myself.

You interrupt my thoughts. "I sacrifice myself for them." You sacrifice yourself. As if you are the victim. "They need me."

I ask myself what you expect me to say to this. I want to tell you you're delusional. I say nothing.

"I carry my dreams on my shoulders wherever I go," you say. "I carry them so I can extract the images I love to see when I need to see them. How about that for delusion?"

I remember when we were both eight. I was spending the night at your house. We had both just changed into our pajamas and were ready to get into bed when you leaned up against your mirror and kissed your reflection. You wrapped your arms around yourself tightly and bent forward so knowingly, so deeply. "What are you doing?" I asked, overcome with shock. "I want to know what it feels like to be kissed," you said, like it was the most ordinary thing for an eight-year-old.

A stray wind perturbs the breezy air. Your curly auburn hair, caressed with strokes of glimmer from the moon, swirls about your head like a gentle storm. You pull back the rebellious locks and tuck them behind your ears. Fragments of that eight-year-old child haunt your face.

We walk. The moon follows.

We come to a small iron gate. The faint sound of purring, crying, physical yearning is carried on the air. You push the gate open. Three fragile-looking kittens emerge from the dark, their eyes glowing like muddled crystals. You bend down. They nibble gently on your fingers, licking them, whimpering.

"They wait for me," you say, digging into your handbag. "They need me. I'm the only one who gives them food. And love."

You have always had a penchant for stories. You have always told them. And I have always listened.

I listen to your story of how the kittens—or is it the men you're talking about?—wait for you and need you because you are the only one who gives them food. And love.

You do not mention your need. The bruised niggling of unquenchable desire. Twisting coils, glossy and deceiving, that have always sent you stumbling from the arms of one stranger to the arms of another. But bitterness fills your heart.

I wonder how many men you have told, I love you, knowing that three or four other men also believed they were the ones you love. I wonder how many times you have said, I care for you, knowing you were only saying it because you were looking for sex and not because you truly cared. I wonder how many times you sat in a room full of people, three or four of whom you'd had sex with, while part of you trembled at the thought of what they'd do if they knew about the others, and part of you gloated over your flawless execution. And, how many times have you told yourself, secretly, I will never ever do this to myself—or anyone else—again, knowing that your statement was hollow, echoing with your previous resolutions, always definite, always final, always broken?

Yours is the itch that never goes away. Always wanting to be scratched, always needing to be relieved. Yet, every time you scratch it, it becomes more inflamed. Your rationalizations of, He needs me and I really care for him, only feed the fire and keep it burning. And my delusions of being able to stop you only make you want it more.

A crass thought imposes itself. Don't you understand you're nothing but a cunt? A receptacle for these men's whimsical fulfillments of lust? Don't you know they'll fuck you tonight and forget you tomorrow? Immediately the thought is born, I am flooded with guilt. But overwhelming as the guilt is, it is short-lived. And crass as the thought is, there is the more brutal raw truth inside it.

Our dialogue is broken. Though I wasn't saying much, I was talking to you inside my head, saying all those things you would never want to hear, all those things that would drive you away from me forever, and still hoping you might somehow hear them.


Title graphic: "Chatter" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2012.