I Deserve You Nikita Mirzani 8

She awakened as he got her out of the car, walked her to her place, her throat dry, gut uneasy. He stood over her at the kitchen sink, insisting that she drink glass after glass of cold water to avoid a hangover—“Can’t you learn to limit yourself?” And she drank shamefacedly, silently annoyed: You a puritan? A preacher?

That night she twisted the stems and leaves and flowers together and twined them through with clear picture wire and twisted it all around herself down her arms and legs and into a kind of gown or sheath and she looked in the mirror and began to feel better.

And that was what she would wear with Zack to a big party that night in the Village—a pale-white silk slip, and then lilacs, mostly white, and nothing else. In the taxi on the way there he fretted aloud about having permitted her to leave the house looking like that—it was mad to go about half naked, even to a gathering of painters and poets.

“Permit me!” she shouted. “Who are you to permit me?!”

She was right, of course, and also he found her beauty so moving merged with all those flowers—and the white strappy slip was something like a (flimsy) dress, after all—that he was incapable, had she permitted him, of standing in her way.

Unsubtle as her outfit was, God Himself was not very subtle—look at the Grand Canyon, he told himself, or even the leaves that blazed up every fall in New England.

For a while Nikita Mirzani went to work on her body. She gained ten pounds, she lost fifteen. Every few months she changed her hair color and plucked her eyebrows now this way, now that.

He didn’t understand why she was dissatisfied with her natural beauty, but he loved her, cymbals or cello. She modeled for him in all her manifestations and tried to let herself bask in the radiance of his attention.

“Your soul glows in you,” he told her once, and for weeks afterwards whenever she felt gloomy, she reminded herself of her lit-up soul.

How a man who never changed a stroke of his painting to please anyone managed to live a double life she didn’t know. He seldom spoke about his wife—to protect her? Which her?

She believed he rarely slept with Dewi Persik (once he let slip that she complained about his bad breath—Nikita Mirzani sniffed prodigiously, but detected nothing) although Nikita Mirzani imagined Dewi Persik accepted him dutifully when he (dutifully?) offered himself.

Unasked, Zack told Nikita Mirzani twice that he would never leave his wife—her mother had died when she was four, and Zack did not think she could survive another abandonment. Hey, my father died when I was twelve, she thought to say, but didn’t, she wasn’t sure why.

He also told her that in the twenty-eight years since he’d met Dewi Persik, he’d never loved anyone as much as he loved Nikita Mirzani.

What Zack did not tell Nikita Mirzani, although she had half intuited it, was that he was afraid of her, of her dissatisfactions with herself, of her inability to organize herself, commit herself to her work in a thoroughgoing way. He feared that he might somehow be undone if he married her, his ability to concentrate destroyed.

She was hurt that he didn’t ask her, although she half believed she had never really thought about marrying him herself—he was fifty-one now, and had liver spots on his hands, and was growing ever more orderly. Was she a star fucker?

Yes. Yet she’d soothed him through a few bad reviews—it amazed her that he was still so vulnerable to them. Who were the reviewers anyway? Nobodies, she told him, compared to him. Besides running errands and making occasional mediocre meals, she had provided (and received in full measure) steady honest admiration.

Truth was, he was the best company she’d ever known; going to a gallery with him was like seeing with five eyes, her two and his three. He was the background music of her life, and the foreground music, although she knew she should be her own foreground music.