by Lara Konrad
While you drop the camera equipment in the living room of your friend’s apartment, you ask if I shaved.
How handsome you look. Especially because everyone keeps talking about you being so special. All these beautiful women—photographing them for a living. Your gray locks hang down your forehead. Like you’re Wim Wenders. Just younger, and therefore more familiar.
Above all, though, it’s the nervousness in your voice that has me suggest but I still can. A moment before, how the question gently departed your mouth as you took out the camera from one of the bags. There’s a general sense of weightlessness attached to the sound of your body. As if someone else were asking you to ask me to get naked despite some contract stating the contrary. Because you remain conscious of your dignity while speaking, your tender nature doesn’t encourage pity but respect.
You avoid eye contact, on purpose, in order to suggest empathy.
We run down to a 7-Eleven and giggle as we stand in line to pay for a razor and six-pack of beer. It’s 9 or 10 AM. I can’t remember who pays.
Ever since starting to get pocket money as a child, so that I could buy myself a treat at the mall, I’ve had the tendency to pick up the check whenever the moment arises. People spending money on me makes me feel uncomfortable because of a sudden awareness of time: the fact that most of us must first give it up by working, and only then be able to spend it on things we need and love, moves me. It’s not that I think I’m not good enough company. I’m just not sure if one can ever feel truly deserving of someone else’s hours left on earth. Especially those of strangers.
Splitting the check always makes it seem like there’s regret on both ends at having spent time together.
If I pay, people’s time—in a sense—hasn’t gone anywhere. More often than not, people let me go ahead with taking care of the check.
Some minutes later, I stand inside your friend’s bathtub to shave off my pubic hair. I’m still wearing my t-shirt, which I tie into a loose knot right before turning on the water. We don’t discuss how much hair I should take off. Somehow it’s understood from the beginning that everything gone would be ideal.
You’re sitting on the tile floor—in one hand your camera, in the other a bottle of Stella. My beer is on the sink. Open, yet untouched.
We often agree to things because we feel rude not to. But we also agree to things because an action in itself can feel a lot less burdensome than its impending consequences. When you ask for permission to start taking pictures, documenting the way I shave, I don’t mind because I wouldn’t know why. It was only months ago that a girlfriend guided my hand and a razor across the insides of my thighs, showing me to shave upwards so my skin would feel smooth once the job was done.
The human tenderness of this exact moment: her, teaching me what it means to love like a woman. And me, knowingly trying my best to pay attention, so I’ll learn to love the way I’m supposed to love.
When you hand me a bar of soap because it might help avoid a rash, I think it’s sweet of you. A gesture of dedication.
Concentrating on not cutting myself, I take in the room vaguely. The turquoise tiles. The sporadic smell of bleach that enters through the cracked window alongside joyous howls of children from the school across the street. The shower curtain—drawn just enough so water won’t escape the bathtub while granting a generous gap for your camera’s gaze.
The far-away sound of children makes me sad, I never know why.
We’re back in the living room, so I can try on the clothes. You brought four different types of bathing suits and one pair of black heels, which are too big for me. I keep them on, regardless.
After we agree that I look best in the dark-blue string because its cut-outs on the side accentuate the smallness of my waist, you ask me to walk around for a while. You want to familiarize yourself with the atmosphere of my body.
Since your friend just bought the apartment, it’s almost empty. There are a few plants next to the window. Some cacti and another plant that I don’t know the name of. On the other side of the room stands a table with three chairs. The surface of the table has nothing on it, which makes this place seem especially devoid of a past. I know people regard me as beautiful because I’m skinny and have a face that’s difficult to remember. Someone’s prolonged gaze, however, makes me nervous. There’s always the fear of them learning, over time, that my exotic appearance—in all its truth—proves to be everlastingly plain.
In hopes of holding in place the fat around my thighs, I walk around the living room slowly. I suck in my stomach, in the meantime, mostly because it grants me a feeling of control. The wooden floor cracking below my feet is a constant reminder that I’m being watched by you.
Now that clouds have passed, the morning sun comes in through the curtainless windows. I move towards it, assuming the orange light will emphasize the yellow undertone of my eyes. As soon as the sun hits my face and parts of my upper body, you tell me with a smile how pretty I am and begin to enthusiastically press the shutter button of the camera. Hearing you praise my looks, I first feel embarrassed and then pleased. And then embarrassed again.
I make a joke about the shoes, hoping to subvert my bodily attention.
The light lends such tranquility to the setting, you think it’d be nice to take some photos without the bathing suit. Just the shoes.
Because I’m starting to feel approved by your gaze, I lose attachment to my body. As if the purpose of desire immediately separates the self from its home. I no longer experience myself as one single unit, but as the carrier of an object that’s ready to be put into use.
Without hesitation, I get undressed.
For a moment, holding the bathing suit in my hands and not knowing what to do with it, I feel self-conscious again about my body. You realize my discomfort and rush towards me in order to take away the piece of clothing.
When you ask me to go down on all fours, I’m relieved. Once I’m closer to the ground, I can make myself feel more desirable and, thus, all the more comfortable. It’s a matter of taking up less obvious space. Being on the floor, though, mostly gives me the chance to stretch and bend the way I’ve learned to idolize the female body inside fashion magazines. How mesmerizing it looks anytime it suggests it's just waiting to be seized.
On the floor, I exaggerate the curve of my spine. Sucking in my stomach once again, I especially sense it around the now-clear availability of my small waist—an inexplicable feeling of power, burning to be deprived of it at once.
You slowly orbit my body with your camera. In the meantime, I fixate my gaze on one of the cacti in front of me, hoping to distract myself. I want to appear indifferent to the situation outside of myself, for people tend to desire less suspiciously what already is used to being loved. When I begin to marvel at nature, your fingertips are suddenly inside of me.
You say it looks nicer, wet and open, gently accommodating the inner lips of my pussy like a flower that needs some last tending before being put on display. There’s such a rush of presence, I feel nothing other than the absence of time. Although an immediate impression of doubt rises, the subtle confidence of your hand tells me that it makes sense to host you here not with devotion, perhaps, but consent.
It’s my first time being photographed naked. And to be fully naked, I gather, means to grant access to everything there is. The truth, after all, requires the same type of submission.
As you begin to massage my wet parts—fast enough to suggest you’re not trying to seduce me, but with a significant amount of caution that promises compassion—I utter a direct cool, mostly wanting you not to feel alone in this situation. The sudden sense of timelessness and my barely-lived sexual history make it difficult to grasp what’s happening. I’m largely aware, though, how the nature of this type of bodily interaction can all at once become strange if one of us decides that you fingering me could have any other purpose aside from professional ones. Until now, I’ve only ever harbored tampons and two cocks inside of me. Hands, so far, had always reached out towards me in order to offer help.
While you aren't the first person to touch my pussy, you’re the first one whose hand goes inside and dares to
You don’t cling to my body. Unlike those men from my past, you’re so unattached. It’s almost like you’re doing me a favor and a part of me feels grateful. For, of course, I want to look my best as much as possible.
I’m wet, but I’m not turned on because I know I’ll never fall in love with you. It’s the prospect of dependency that gives cause to my innermost desiring. And I don’t want us to need each other.
I direct my attention back to one of the cacti, waiting to be moved again by nature.
When you think my lips are wet enough in order to look good in pictures, you take a step back and grab your camera again. The sound of the shutter release button makes me feel important. Like I’m worthy of something larger, not just memory.
By now, we’ve moved well into the hours of the afternoon. I can tell because outside birds have stopped chirping. You suggest we do one last set of photos in bed, so I walk ahead into the bedroom and sit down in the middle of the mattress.
Just like the rest of the apartment, the room is barely furnished. Except for the unpainted, wooden bed frame, everything is white in here. The walls, the sheets, the window blinds. I’m tired, but the feeling of being desired by someone who only desires what’s worth desiring keeps me energized enough to resist the growing fatigue.
You ask me to pretend my boyfriend wants to take my picture after having had sex. I should look kind of embarrassed. Yet never not aware of my sex-appeal. In the middle of the explanation, your face returns to how it was in the morning. There’s again that melancholy excitement in your eyes, giving off that distinct sensation of warmth one ends up remembering you by. Absorbed by your awkwardness, I realize you’ve not once used the word ‘fuck,’ or any other vaguely crude wording when addressing something sexual. It makes me feel at home, thinking both of us view the reality of sex as delicate enough to not be undermined by language.
Since I’ve had just one actual relationship, I don’t know how to emulate the feeling you wish for. My highschool boyfriend and I tried to have sex once, but it lasted less than a minute of me being on top of him. We were so scared of getting me pregnant. Mostly, though, neither of us, I think, felt ready to be changed forever.
A wave of nervousness rises in me, and I’m laughing foolishly. It’s so much easier to fabricate a self worth desiring than a self worthy of being loved. Just be yourself, you say flirtingly, lifting the camera to your face.
I grab one of the pillows and place it in front of me. Hiding my breasts and pussy while still widely displaying my naked limbs conjures a sense of playful intimacy. Those magazines have taught me that. With a smile, you compliment my natural ability to be sexy and then kick off your black boots in order to step onto the bed.
You’re still wearing your jacket, which I only notice now because of the unusual scene of street clothes within a space that’s meant to inhabit silence—a pause from life. Stretching out my naked body below your dressed self makes me feel fragile and pretty. As if it’s my destiny to make up for the world’s unavoidable tragedy. The more your lens seeks me, the more I’m invited to fall in love with myself. After a sigh, you say it’s getting hard to not want to have sex with me. But I’m married. Since I don’t sympathize with the feeling of wanting to fuck but experience again the need to compensate your honesty with comfort, I bite my bottom lip and nod understandingly. We sit next to each other in silence, for a moment, directing our gaze toward the window. The sun’s reflection on the glass is so bright, only beams of light alongside particles of dust can be observed.
You turn your head towards me and suggest masturbation.
Instead. The boyish lament outweighing the mood of your voice and eyes makes me think like I’m suddenly involved in your rising unease. It’s not guilt that I feel with my still naked body next to yours, fully-clothed. But I start to recognize a duty inside to provide support by attending to your problem; collectively. Masturbating next to me seems like a human necessity. Not a luxury.
After I agree to your proposition, you rest your head on a pillow and unzip your jeans. While you begin to rub your semi-hard cock with your right hand, I don’t know what else to do except to keep you company with my gaze. The only other time I was actively invited to witness the act of jerking off was in 5th grade. Boys in my class had just grown proud of ejaculating—for several weeks, behind bushes in parks or private gardens, they held contests to see who could shoot farthest. A few of us girls—mainly their friends—were called to watch from afar, always told to stay standing a few meters behind them.
While the game felt more vulgar and, thus—during certain flashes—like a taboo, watching the boys’ cum enter reality had almost the same effect of watching someone spit. There was an underlying enjoyment to it all, being grossed out on purpose, because it asserted our positions as something precious. One could tell by the way we girls would squeak in disgust after fluids had landed on a piece of grass. At all times, we’d make sure there’d be enough eye contact with everyone. Especially the boys.
On the verge of cumming on your t-shirt, I look away. Out of impulse, I want to grant you a moment of privacy.
Este texto fue publicado e impreso en el Issue #5 de la revista neoyorquina Civilization
Poeta nacida en Alemania, creció en México y ha vivido en varios sitios a lo largo de su vida. A partir de la pandemia, vive y trabaja entre la campiña Lombarda y Munich. Es licenciada en poesía por la New School y tiene una maestría en bellas artes por el Sandberg Institute. Actualmente trabaja en su primera novela. Ha publicado en diversos medios de literatura como el New York Tyrant, Worms, Heavy Traffic, Civilization y en periódicos alemanes WELT y ZEIT. Ha exhibido su trabajo en galerías como Balice Hertling, Ashes to Ashes y Tobias Naehring.
Entre sus publicaciones recientes se encuentra Mother we all have been lonely and Lovely Places, publicado por Gato Negro Ediciones en 2018.