“Idyll,” gouache on cardboard, by Francis Picabia, 1927.

by Chris Milam

He told her they should slide into it, start with a tender elbow or two, maybe a playful throat punch, a measured build-up to the pain. Think staircase. She said this wasn’t a date, there wouldn’t be any foreplay. She was here to take him apart. She was here for the cash.

Bryan toggles a loose tooth with his tongue. Yes, he realizes, this is hallelujah. This is unstable energy. Uncage your aggression, there will be no consequences. Don’t hold back.

And she didn’t. She gave him violence for the next ten minutes.

From 37 respondents, he chose Claudia. He was persuaded when she talked about working at a plastics factory with dozens of men. How she couldn’t climb inside a forklift, bend down at the water fountain, or simply walk to the restroom without them tossing unwanted comments about her ass, how it was provocative and hypnotic and dangerous, a coronary in denim. She was just a part-time temp, couldn’t report them out of fear of retaliation, sabotage, or termination. Take it and be miserable or tell and be miserable.

Claudia had a resilience that he did not possess. He wanted to freebase her grit and raw attitude. Plus, he was amused by her less-is-more reply: I would love to hurt you.

Her apartment is a mausoleum of bestsellers, snow globes, black and white photos of neglected barns, and soothing peppermint. Bryan is shirtless in the living room, lost in thought, wondering how many relationships died in here, when she lunges at him and knees him downtown, wraps her inked arms around his neck, squeezes. She is a python in the refreshing, hardwood jungle. He is explosion of breath.

When she had asked, he told her the why wasn’t important. Maybe he was a weirdo masochist. Or his soul was a tyrant. Or his own bruises turned him on. Or therapy wasn’t working. It doesn’t matter. He said he enjoyed her knuckles, they were scarred, pale defibrillators. He could see through storm clouds.

During a break from the barrage, they munch on a bag of corn chips. “I could burn you if you want.”

“Do what? No, I don’t want you to light me on fire. You are a frightening woman, Claudia. And I mean that in a mostly affectionate way.”

Her smile leaves a mark. “All I need is a match, gasoline, and a head nod from you. I will roast marshmallows on your flaming chest.”

“Got any chocolate and graham crackers? I’m thinking a Bryan s’more.”

Their laughter is delicate and uncertain, but it is shared. They are slow dancing inside their anxiety.

She cocks her arm back like a crossbow. “Remember what you said in the ad, how you weren’t looking for love or conversation or sex or anything else?”

“Maybe I lied.”

“Maybe I’m glad you did.” When her fist met his jaw they both felt it, a kind of warped magic moving beneath the hurt.


Chris Milam lives in the bucolic wasteland that is Hamilton, Ohio. His stories have appeared in (b)OINK zine, The Airgonaut, Jellyfish Review, WhiskeyPaper, Bartleby Snopes, and elsewhere.