Afterwards, he collapses next to her on the sheets and wipes away the slick of sweat between her breasts. She lets him. She isn’t ready to move yet. Her skin is tacky, warm, and if she touches it, it will pull like taffy. Just moments ago, she put her mouth to his shoulder as he thrust inside her. His skin tasted salty but underneath of something candied, like one of the brunch dishes he makes for the rich people at the hotel. It’s always a delicious agony, the way she and the Chef have to pull themselves slowly apart after sex, cell by sugary cell. But the after is lovely too, and here they are in it again, soft and sweet and stuck in this bed in the warm of the room with the roiling summer boil of Miami just outside, and he is asking her something.
Ask me again, she says.
Why, he says, and he traces her nipple with his finger until it draws up like the peak in a well-whipped cream, are Florida girls always yelling?
She shivers. They’ve been at it for hours, days really – the mojitos turned into fish tacos and then into a drive down straight, streetlight-dotted roads with his hand sliding between her thighs and the moans ringing in her throat like a bell until they got back to his apartment, and then they were skin to skin all night, and then the night became two and then an entire weekend in bed – and she can feel herself going liquid again, breaking like cream poured into a too-hot soup. She props herself up on her arm and looks past him to the outside, because if she looks at him, she’s going be overtaken by hunger and she’ll eat him right away, and this time, she wants to pace herself.
Over his shoulder – the color of caramel, and just as sweet – but oh, it’s not time again yet, not time – twilight is unfurling gold and burnished brown, the sun in its corner, still flaming white, like someone’s turned a torch to the sky the way the Chef torches the top of a crème brûlée. The clouds in the sky are gilding too, as if every sugared, crystalline moment in the world around her has been set ablaze. What should she tell him?
She could say, because when my mother was born she screamed so much that it filled me up like a pitcher and so now when I open my mouth it’s a compulsion, it’s a pitcher that has to be poured. Or she could say
Because when I was a child, I found a cave in my backyard, and it was populated by a family of a thousand bats, and when I whispered to them, they said nothing, and when I spoke to them, they said nothing, but when I yelled at them, they rustled their wings like leaves and chittered at me and flew around me the way you stir a risotto, slowly, unceasing, until I could feel them in my blood the way the broth and the cream absorbs into the rice. Or maybe she could say
Because when I was 11 and I began to bleed, I knew that all the animals out there tromping in the swamp and the streets and the sand and the bars would start smelling me out for food, and so I taught my mouth to siren, to yell as loud and as red as the blood flowing out of me so that the animals would think fear not food when they smelled me coming. Or maybe she could say
Because when I was a woman, every time I opened my mouth, there was always a man who thought that meant I was hungry, there was always a man who wanted to fill my mouth with something, and so I learned to yell so that I could hear my voice instead of the thing that the man wanted to coat my tongue with, so that I knew my mouth wasn’t a hole to be filled but a place where I could grow powerful things, so that I could shake the windows and the leaves of the trees and point to the movement and say that was me. Or maybe she could say –
And there, the touch of something to her hip: the tip of his finger, tracing a line down her leg the way he traces the blade of a knife against the edge of a melon before he asks it to open itself to him. The torch of the sun is still in her eyes. She looks at him, and he’s staring back at her, not impatient, not pushing for an answer. He’s staring at her like she stared at the sun, like she is something flaming white and on fire and he can’t stand to look but he can’t turn away. She puts a hand to his cheek. He closes his eyes. He puts his hand on hers and then he turns it palm up and kisses her wrist, right where the blood runs close to the surface, and she can feel her blood rising up to meet his mouth, just like every other part of her body always does. She can feel her breath going fast and sharp, and her mouth opens like the mouth of a pitcher waiting to be poured, the bats are fluttering against her skin again, stirring her into something fierce, something solid, the animals are outside the door, shaking, scrambling to get away, and her mouth is readying itself to siren.
Because, she says, Florida men like you are always talking so goddamn loud that the women have to yell to be heard.
He opens his eyes. He smiles at her and slides down, down, down her body, down to the bottom of the bed until his head is between her legs.
Well then, he says. Yell louder.