I’m a spy, I tell my lover, and he laughs, because we’re naked in bed, and he’s lying on his back, finished, no longer moving above me. I’m on my knees with my hands curled like glasses around my eyes, looking at his dick. I’m a spy, I say again, and he says, sure, sure you’re a spy. It’s late and he has to work to keep his eyes open. We’re in his bed, low to the ground, a record player in the corner, a collection of hourglasses on the dressers. The hourglasses vary in shape and size, in increments of time. Eclectic, I said, when I first walked in. That was a substitute word instead of the word I really wanted to say—a string of words—which were how will this end, I wonder.
I’m a spy because I’ve learned what he likes in bed, and what to say to make him laugh, and what details to offer from my own life—the slippery shadow of the truth, never the monuments of fact. I accumulate my information the way any spy would: through careful observation, through a catalog of memorized notes, through rote, through practice. If I could, I’d sit under his Ikea desk like a gargoyle, secret and sinister, watching him as he moved through his room, thinking he was alone, scratching at his thigh, readjusting a contact lens, gripping a bottle of nasal spray.
I’m a spy because I’ve memorized the gestures he makes with his hands when he’s explaining his mother, and the curve of his spine when he stretches, nude, in the morning, and the particular pattern of his chest hair—the blurred, furry outline of a heart.
I’m a spy because I’m hedging my bets, always, expecting the worst outcome from this mission, keeping the upper most corners of my heart, like attic rooms, open and empty and drafty with wind. An old boyfriend of mine said I could never stay in the present moment. I was obsessed with future what-ifs, linking them together like chainmail so that I might protect myself. I made that old boyfriend watch porn with me, but I wouldn’t let him enjoy it. I set the computer up on his nightstand and forced him to choose something from a series of small square stills. What are you thinking? I said, when he was trying to masturbate. Good lord, he said, this was your idea. I told him I was only trying to stay in the present, and what I was presently wondering was what he was thinking. Just watch, he said, pointing toward the screen with his chin. Fine, I said. What are they thinking, do you think? That relationship ended, like most of them do, without fanfare, a good person with a soft, familiar body moving through the doorway of my life and into someone else’s. I wish I could spy on him even now, with his new girlfriend, whoever she is, just as I’d wished I could go back in time when we were together and spy on him with his old girlfriend. Was she really the way she seemed in the pictures I’d seen on Facebook, her head cocked to one side, sly, withholding? She looked like another spy. She looked like she could be my comrade, that she might send a code asking me to meet her on a rainy street corner, so that she could deliver an unmarked manila envelope from the inside of her long coat. With one curt nod, she’d whisper, the info’s all there.
I spy with my little eye, goes the old game I played as a kid. I start it now, as my lover moves around his room, rearranging things before morning. I spy with my little eye, I say, an hourglass in the shape of a corkscrew. He tells me he likes to know where his pants will be in the morning. I hate to wake up and search for everything, he says. He has to be up early, earlier than me, and he never leaves himself enough time to get ready. It’s partly my fault, I think, always tugging on his arm, whispering into his ear to come back to bed, come back.
Now I wish I had a velvet-handled magnifying glass, or a tiny recorder that looks like a ballpoint pen, or a special cloth to wipe my fingerprints from his bed frame and his chest of drawers. But he’s back in bed, moving his hands over the length of me, and it’s too late; I’ve left too many traces.
Amy Silverberg is a writer and stand-up comedian based in Los Angeles. She’s currently a Doctoral fellow in Fiction at the University of Southern California, where she teaches. Her work has appeared in The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. You can follow her on Twitter @AmySilverberg.