He lived on the fifth floor so she couldn’t keep up when they were climbing. She paused and laughed every time she saw how the staircase spiraled, metal and stone pieces layered in sharp gray blocks. She imagined how much it would hurt, all the things that could break if she fell from there. She was staggering, rocking close to the edge of the banister. They were like adversaries, playing a game of faith, and preaching art upon scientific circumstance. He had seen much more than she had. He watched the sun tilt on the horizon and wake the water pink in every continent of the world. She didn’t know it was possible to shape one’s soul with stories. She knew she started to like him when she began to reel at the idea of him with somebody else. He had been in love before. More than once. He had built a life before, and watched it fall apart. He kissed two of her knuckles, one, then the other, and her giddiness calmed to silence. She began to watch out for her heart, because she had to stare at a spot on the floor every time she said, “yes.” Other languages were always curled in his throat, made their way to his tongue when he was frustrated or tender or lonely. She learned so many new ways to say the word “story.” They walked three miles in Manhattan and the pavement swelled beneath them. One night, she got so angry, she lurched awake, dressed in a few seconds, and was almost out the door when he held her wrists down and said, “if you want to be a woman, you can’t behave this way.” She was so ashamed. He had wrinkles by his eyes. Not just when he smiled. He said, “you’re a girl.” Her cheeks were still wet when she left. “You’re a girl,” he had said. “You’re just a girl.”

Do you enjoy reading the Nass?

Please consider donating a small amount to help support independent journalism at Princeton and whitelist our site.