My partner and I already hadn’t spoken for some time when I realized that a silence had fallen between us. It wasn’t that we were angry or passive aggressive or anything to that extent. We were actually quite content together, particularly these last couple of years. The tumultuous months of our relationship were long behind us; those uncertain nights when he wouldn’t text and I would sit next to my phone, crestfallen and teary, drumming my fingers on my wooden nightstand.
The problem now was that we had gotten to know each other so well that words were no longer necessary. Last night I passed him the remote control so that we could eat dinner and watch our favorite TV show. As I silently handed over the black plastic, I smiled to myself that I didn’t need to ask what we should watch. We were five seasons deep into a fourteen-season show. With one-hour long episodes, we had many months of entertainment ahead of us.
He pressed the button firmly, but the TV remained passive, cool. I dipped a piece of baguette into the pasta sauce and stuffed it into my mouth as I turned to watch him. He pressed again, this time with more insistence, his elbow extended out as he wielded the control with vigor. It refused to flicker to life.
I reached in the larger drawer underneath coffee table and wiggled my hand inside to grasp around for some stray AAA batteries. I found a couple in one of the back corners and withdrew my left arm from deep inside the drawer. I dropped them, one by one, into his extended palm. He thanked me with a kiss on the forehead.
Later on that evening, as he carefully parted my legs and moved his tongue in between, I expressed my pleasure loudly with deep, guttural moans. Yes, I thought to myself, just like that. His tongue buried in deeper and I felt gratified that he understood my body beyond the need for language.
After climaxing together, two slippery bodies clutching each other for dear life, we collapsed next to each other, supine, on the soft sheets. My hair felt wild, matted, and heavy. I raised my head slightly and pulled out my hair so that it extended behind me all over the pillow, like a halo. Before replacing my head back on the pillow, I stole a glance at his peaceful face. His head was turned slightly away from me and his mouth was hanging open. His chose rose and fell with each breath. As if he felt my eyes on him, his hand reached out to clasp mine and bring it over his heart. We fell asleep like this.
The next morning, I awoke to the sound of my ring tone. Frowning, I wondered who would call me at such an early hour, even before my partner left for work. I stood up, stretched, and walked to the bookcase, where my phone had been charging all night. It was my mother. She apologized for the early hour, but explained that my sister was sick. Why don’t you come visit us this evening, she inquired, hesitatingly. Like you did before.
OK, mom, I said, looking at my partner as he slung his arms into his crisp blue shirt. I’ll have dinner with you tonight. He nodded at me and I turned to examine my image in the mirror. I looked more awake than I expected at this hour. Widening my eyes, I leaned in closer to peek into my pupils and I saw my partner rustle behind me to leave. He grabbed my shoulder in support as he passed me by.
The day passed by, uneventfully, and I found myself waiting impatiently at my office for the moment when I could collapse on the couch and into his arms. I sat behind my desk, staring dreamily outside the window. It’s important to focus on your work, I reminded myself. He can’t be the center of my entire world. Or is that what love is?
That evening, as I walked home after work, I decided to step into a grocery store to gather the ingredients to prepare Chicken Masala, his favorite dish. Under the bright, florescent lights of the store, I walked slowly from aisle to aisle, gathering a dusty can of coconut milk, strips of pink chicken breast wrapped in plastic, and the crispy leaves for salad. I flicked the bag of masala mix that I found in the international aisle, wondering if it was long expired. A bright bit of plastic caught my eyes. I kneeled down to examine it more closely. It was a bar of dark chocolate. I rubbed at the name of the country printed on the plastic, but it had long faded. I shrugged, placing it in my basket before standing up and smoothing down my pants.
At home, the sauce began to erupt in small boils. Biting into the chocolate bar, I gingerly prodded at the bits of chicken, hoping that I wasn’t going to overcook the meat. Hot steam burst forth when I pulled off the lid of the pot of rice and I sniffed at the comforting smell of butter and dill. Small bits of green speckled the grains of rice. I surveyed my work with approval. All would be ready in five minutes.
I stretched my arms overhead and shuffled a little in place. My bra felt tight after working all day, so I took off my shirt. I stepped my right foot forward for balance as I reached behind to unhook the bra when my partner entered our apartment. I heard the jingle of his keys as he settled them on the dining room table. A second later, he was in the kitchen, staring into my eyes. Within moments, he swung me up on a kitchen counter, as he kissed me, mad with passion. After our climax, he pulled out slowly, studying my face. My eyes were half closed. He leaned his forehead against mine. Suddenly the warmth of his deep breathing was gone and I opened my eyes to watch him help himself to the chicken. I heard the drone of the TV start after he walked to the living room. It was time to watch our show.
Around midnight, in the cool darkness of the night, I untangled myself from his embrace and settled more comfortably on my back. Had he thanked me for dinner? I wondered. He nuzzled his head into the crook of my neck just then and I slipped into a comfortable, deep sleep. I always slept better in his embrace.
The next morning, I woke up again to my mother’s call. She sounded concerned, asking me why I hadn’t come to visit my sister. You stood us up, she stated matter-of-factly. What’s going on with you? Ever since you started dating him, you stopped—
I cut her off immediately, impatiently. Once she started, I knew that she wouldn’t stop with her long, winding lecture about losing myself in my current relationship. I wondered briefly if I had lost something since committing myself to this man.
It had taken some time for things to smoothen out between us. It was such a rocky beginning, I thought, as I leaned against the wall, tuning out my mother as she continued on, undeterred. He was distant, so distant, and I was constantly wringing my hands, wondering if he was worth my time. After six months of dating, I strode around my neighborhood, talking to my sister on the phone, deciding that it was time to end the suffering. I drove over to his house with purpose. He stepped into my car to help me find parking, but I insisted on pulling over in a red area so that we could talk. I remember that I had told him how lost I felt in the relationship. How I didn’t trust him, how he never expressed his feelings to me. I was at my wit’s end, I explained to him, wondering if cliché would help him understand me.
But he wouldn’t let go, not that night. He moved over in the car and rested his head against my neck. I care about you, he insisted, and I will do everything that I can to bring you happiness.
You care about me? I asked, turning around to look him in the eyes. Yes, he said, I do. How much do you care about me? I like you, he hesitated, I like you.
You like me. I turned to stare at stretch of parked cars before me. I’m enamored with you, he hastened to explain.
You like me, I repeated, my voice breaking. To my surprise, he had told me within the first two weeks of dating that he loved me and then, two months later, quite abruptly, he stopped expressing it. I waited for it, patiently, then impatiently. But still, nothing.
Two years later, leaning on that wall, I realized that I still hadn’t heard those words from him. I needed to wrap up the call. I reassured my mother that I would come visit and bring a board game to play with my sister. I hung up and sighed softly. My partner padded by, giving me a long hug, and then moving to the bathroom to get ready for work.
He hadn’t told me that he loved me since those first few months of dating. But when was the last time that he even spoke to me? I stepped behind him as he brushed his teeth and waited. He ran the electric toothbrush methodically over every tooth, working section by section, letting it do all the work, then rinsed his mouth and spat out the last of the toothpaste. I met his gaze in the mirror and he gave me a small smile.
He walked to the kitchen and I followed him again, crossing my arms as I watched him draw out the coffee pot to measure out the water. He spooned the coarse grinds in the coffee maker and pressed the button with a quick click. I stepped forward, closer to him, and looked searchingly in his eyes. He grabbed me by my shoulders and brought me in for a kiss. Then he was ruffling in the fridge for his prepared lunch, which he settled on the counter. Soon, the coffee was poured into a travelling mug, and the door was closing behind him.
The silence left with him. I AM NOT VOICELESS, I yelled into the living room. JE PEUX PARLER FRANCAIS. I waited a second. ME GUSTO MUCHO ESPANOL. I spat out phrases I knew in every language that I could think of, hearing the different vowels and tones. I relished in my deeper, breathier tone in French; my rhythmic lolling in Spanish; my hissing Greek. I could hear the vibrations of all these languages, filling my mouth in its entirety. I was satisfied.
I was more garrulous than usual at work that day. I exercised my volubility in English, drawing deep inside of me to create varied, elegant constructs of sentences.
Yes, I have oft wondered about the variegated stance of such textual representation, I commented to my editor with a slow nod. I remembered that I had received a perfect score in the GRE verbal and struggled to remember other turns of phrase to incorporate in my daily briefing that afternoon. I strived not to communicate in a periphrastic, turgid way, for prolixity is not my thing.
Exhausted, yet mollified, by the day’s verbal repartee, I returned back to my apartment with a jaunty walk from the bus stop. When I entered the apartment, my partner was hunched over a pot on the stovetop, examining it carefully with a wooden spoon. I stopped at the threshold and waited for him to greet me. He looked at me and laughed, before pointing to the dish and gesturing for me to approach him to look at it. I wondered if I should humor these corporeal conversations, but curiosity got the best of me. Before I knew it, we were feeding each other cheese fondue, the gooey, milky substance dripping off our fingers onto the table top where we had another intense session of sex.
He laid me down on the table and used his right pointing finger to drizzle the cheese from my heart to my belly button. He bent his head to lick it off from me, slowly, looking up at me from time to time to measure my reaction. I couldn’t focus on the act, however, and I stared at my ceiling, trying to remember the last time that we exchanged a word. Any word. In any language.
Some weeks ago, we were watching our show and I opened my mouth to comment on a funny remark one of the lead characters offered to another. I stopped myself, thinking it was inane to draw attention to the humor without actually reacting to it. So I waited until the next funny moment and I let myself really have at it. I laughed loudly, fully, without having to resort to language to make a point that my laughter made in itself. Language was deceptive, I realized at the moment. Why couldn’t I simply react without narrating it? Why did I have to narrate everything?
I thought of the text messages that I would send my friends. I am about to head out now! Ugh, it took a while to heat up my car, but I’m omw! So many red lights. OK, just around the corner! Hey, I’m outside.
I like to narrate my journey, I shrugged sheepishly to my friends. I hope you don’t mind.
Except my partner did. He didn’t like to respond to my messages detailing my arrival to his apartment before we had moved in together. He would receive blocks of texts from me, perusing them with his audacious read receipt turned on so that I was well aware that he had seen my messages, but he wouldn’t ever respond. It become easier when we moved in together, of course. I never had to wonder when we would reunite. I no longer had to narrate my effort to reconnect with him.
Except now, language had shriveled between us and all we had were gestures and touches. Long had the moment passed when he could tell me how he felt before drawing attention to its prolonged absence.
After licking all the cheese off my belly, he moved lower and took a deep breath over my exposed skin.
I love you, I stated unexpectedly the moment he thrust his tongue into my vagina.
His mouth full, he couldn’t respond.
I waited several moments, but his tongue remained flaccid inside of me.
Nanar Khamo is a literary critic and professor in Los Angeles, CA. She has a PhD in French and Francophone studies from UCLA. She has published academic articles and book reviews in various journals. Next on the agenda is finishing an international feminist cabal novel.