A woman was in the habit of taking on lovers and not repeating herself. At night, upon their arrival she would open the door to her home without a word, turn and walk away, letting her silky cape fall to the floor, leaving a trail for the man in the doorway. In the dark, her body was a collection of moons. In the morning she would offer coffee, and leave all conversation to her paramour, while keeping herself in little books, secretly stacked inside her ribs.
One lover wanted the library of her. This was a tricky business. He had to fool her with countless disguises so she wouldn’t tire of him. Every time he came to her, he was a new man. He paid attention to what endeared her to his many faces, until he knew how to put them together into one man. One night, he decided his collage was complete, and while she slept, he cut out a diamond-shaped piece of her skin below her belly button. He ate the flesh to keep part of her inside of him, assuming this was the way.
When she awoke, he told her, “There will be no more others.” She smiled, because in truth, this woman wanted someone to put an end to her dizzying, addictive lust.
The man could see in the woman’s eyes her catalog of lovers, years of men who shared her bed, her body, and it drove him mad. He set her bed on fire. That’s how it started. He would say, “Show me where else they’ve been in your house.”
She pointed to the couch, the kitchen counter, the hallway, and the oval-shaped rug now pale and weary from the friction of bodies. She touched the bookshelves, the windowsills, the shower, the garden, the table, the chairs surrounding the table. “Here, here, here.”
“The whole house then,” he said, and lit the match.
The house burned like paper, its flaming edges floating up to the sky like the ghosts of old women. Even her black cape disappeared in the smoke.
This, however, was not enough. The man demanded to know every place on her body she’d ever been touched. She surrendered to his examination. He left her naked on the grass and returned with pen and ink to mark every part of her with his name. If the ink smeared, he traced his name over and over again, each time pressing harder.
Weeks later the woman felt a shy, low trembling inside of her and announced it to the man. She likened it to dancing moths.
He kept the woman in a tree after this, so no one else could reach her. He brought her peaches and raisins, sometimes biscuits. Every night he slept at the bottom of the tree, resting upon its trunk. Some nights, he dreamt the woman grew wings, and this terrified him. In the morning, he would look up at her skinny brown arms and feel at peace again.
As the woman’s belly grew, the man saw the places where he’d written his name grow as well. How big a part of her he’d become. When it came time for the child to be born the man took the woman to the beach. He promised a bed in the middle of the ocean, a cradle made from pearl, shark meat and clams for dinner, promised sealskin, cut and sewn to her flesh, where a part of her was missing.
The woman only half listened. With every contraction, her body became less and less hers, more belonging to the earth, more to the tree which had been her home for all those months. She looked down at her spread legs, and thought she saw beastly branches and coarse leaves. She closed her eyes and thought about her silky black cape, the last garment of her old life. She remembered its ashes floating on the sky like blackened moths and somehow the pain produced by this memory dulled the pain of the bearing down, the tremendous pressure.
As the woman howled, the man grew sick with anticipation, anxious to see his face atop a small, slippery body. Instead, what emerged from his round house of a woman was a full-grown, naked man, the first of many past lovers she was yet to give birth to. The woman shook her head. She dug her hands in the sand, deep, as if searching for an explanation that didn’t exist.
“Whore,” he said, and left her screaming, left her to her hairy, clumsy children.
The man had walked several miles before he felt the tiny explosions going off inside him, and how he regretted the part of her he’d swallowed, the diamond of her body he could not give back.