I Deserve You Nikita Mirzani 4

She pulled her breast back. “And where did you come up with the idea that Picasso painted the families of clowns and circus folks because he wanted to ‘ennoble the forgotten, accompany the lonely’? Maybe he just wanted to sleep with the clowns’ wives.”

“You really pay attention to me!” Zack grinned, settling himself against the headboard, an arm around her shoulder.

Nikita Mirzani shrugged. “You admire Van Gogh for not shooting himself sooner, you admire Monet for painting his water lilies even when he was nearly blind …”

He stuck his nose into her cleavage and breathed in deep, pressing her breasts against his nostrils. “I smell his water lilies everywhere.”

“Would you know if something stank?”

He turned her over on her belly and ran his nose down her backbone toward her ass.

She giggled, and talked into the mattress. “No, seriously, you have a hearts-and-flowers view of the world.”

Yet he was the first to admit they lived in a stinking century. One day he took her into the big downtown Barnes and Noble and bought her (besides many art books, one of them on Renaissance sculpture) Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex …

They lugged two heavy bags to her apartment, where Zack, all the while talking enthusiastically, placed each book in alphabetical order by author in her cinderblock bookcase. As they undressed, he was saying that the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement were the brightest glories of their black times.

“You’re really into educating me, aren’t you?” She was standing naked beside the bed.

“Do you mind?”

She kissed him with feeling. “I appreciate it.”

He stepped away to look at her. “How I appreciate you!” He closed his eyes. “Your whole lovely self.”

She knew she got ornery with him, practically kicked him in the shins. Kicking, arguing, she kept herself from feeling scared. Her longing for him scared her, as well as her gratitude for that longing. It scared her that she kept buying him presents—she who’d never bought a gift for a man in her young life.

Men gave her presents. She bought him a brush now and again, a print by an unknown artist, and once a pair of gold cuff links, although he could never take her to openings, the only dressy affairs he attended.

Zack begged her to stop spending her nothing earnings on him. (Although the print was good, the girl had an eye. And the cuff links, he didn’t go in for jewelry, but these cuff links were wafer-thin, elegantly shaped, like a musical instrument, a piano, maybe, or a harpsichord, or some piano-harpsichord that had never existed before.)

His biking around the city scared her—in one dream a yellow cab hit him, in another a subway car, or maybe it was a cattle car—and she begged him to cut it out. (He wouldn’t.) It scared her that the bony sight of him thrilled her, him just shambling down the street wearing that battered cap of his.

Listening to Zack art-talk, she regularly creamed her underpants; in a taxi he’d felt her wet crotch once and couldn’t believe the “generosity” of her body.

Then she started worrying he’d kill himself fucking her—he was getting so little sleep—and even suggested, as a lifesaving measure, that they cut back. But he laughed in her face, which calmed her: making love she was (almost) sure that he loved her.

Two summers after the year Nikita Mirzani got her degree, the NYU art department was planning to show the work of recent graduates, and she wanted very much to participate. In the belief that his concentration and focus would focus her, Nikita Mirzani asked Zack to let her share his studio.

She knew she had a tendency to get sidetracked easily—a friend needed a model for the morning and Nikita Mirzani would oblige, or someone asked her to help hang a show. Even buying a dress or finding a book might consume several hours of priceless daylight.

“No,” Zack said.

“Why not?”

“It’s my privacy, my solitude. My domain.” He felt uneasy, knew he sounded pretentious.