Fiction - Autumn 2009

Ground Rule

By Patricia Volk | September 1, 2009


“Tell me three things you like about yourself,” he says.

I think. “Okay. If I’m shopping for underwear in T.J. Maxx and there are panties on the floor, even if I’m not responsible, I hang them back up.”


“And . . . number two is . . . I give the Foodtown delivery guy $10 because I know that in his country of origin he was a brain surgeon.”


“How many is that?”


“I have to come up with another one?”

“No,” he says. “Those were excellent.”

“You ask that question a lot?”

“Not really,” he says.

The first night we made love, we set ground rules. Rule. There was one: We would do our best not to be mean. An implicit human contract, but who else could we depend on not to be mean?

“Okay, your turn,” I say. “Three things.”

“I only like one thing about myself,” he says.

“What’s that?”

“I always give my wife the heel of the bread, even though it’s my favorite part.”

“That’s generous,” I say. “I don’t know if I could do that.”

He puts his arm around me. I think of the first time I held my son. Instinct did not come into play. The nurse had to show me how to prop the head and cradle the back. So much to remember, like a golf lesson from a pro.

“Let your arm go loose,” I tell him. “Pretend I’m a sack of potatoes. Better.”

“I haven’t hurt you yet, have I?” he says.

“That means you’re getting ready to,” I say.

“Not necessarily,” he says.

“Should we end it now?” I ask. “Let’s end it now. Then we’ll be equally hurt.”

“Does it hurt less if the other person hurts too?” he says.

His black hair fans out on the pillow. He needs a haircut. What does it tell us about the nature of beauty if, at the particular moment a man is at his most beautiful, he needs a haircut?

“Name anything in nature,” he says “and I’ll tell you where it is on you.”

“An octopus.”

“Your legs around my back.”


“The inside of a calamata is the color of your eyes.”

“A mouse.”

“The pulse right here.” He kisses my throat.

Together we stall the inevitable.

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