A Portrait of Unrelenting Need



Another character portrait from my unfinished novel from several years ago. This character was the female protagonist, Jackie.

Then the car goes into a spin and you’re five again, standing on Daddy’s feet in the summer in the living room, the screen door covered in ladybugs and mosquitoes and you feel shielded inside from everything outside. Daddy spins you around and around, you bend your knees and lean back into the startling emptiness behind you, and the fine yellow dust from the freshly mowed grass is pulling through the window-screen and tickling your nose, and Daddy spins you faster again then again then again and again, and you see only his face, bristly and smiling, and he’s laughing from his gut same as you and asking stop, stop? and you say not yet, not yet and around and around until it’s too late to say stop because he’s lost his balance and he stumbles and you fall back and kick your legs up in the air like you’ve seen happy babies do, and you laugh until you can’t breathe.

But this. Different now, older, still not knowing when to say yes, stop and still not wanting, really, to say yes, stop.


This morning, you woke sweating from a dream but you can’t remember now what the dream was about. Clive’s alarm clock was playing “Bad to the Bone” and you felt cold electricity in the air, something felt off.

But wasn’t this one different, like when he presses his face into your neck and inhales your scent? The way he enters slowly, like he’s in love or a little boy and isn’t sure exactly what will happen to his Vera Wang after it crosses the event horizon. And then he reveals his expertise. He is smart. The stupid ones boast their sexual ability, the many women they’ve singlehandedly made multiorgasmic—the stupid ones don’t know what they don’t know and so play their little games to try and keep you wanting them. Sending wildflower bouquets with notes that say “Can’t wait to taste you!” You never call them on their stupidity because they’re enthusiastic.

But Richard offers himself up. When he feels ecstasy inside you, within the unknowable darkness of your body.  For a few moments he lives only you. And you possess him. As recently as last night, you possessed him in his ecstasy.

Then this morning, he woke up after a night of fried rice, spring rolls, half a movie, and quick but fantastic sex, he woke up, and his smile was forced.


“Course.” He looked away then and got out of bed and dressed for work.

He combed his hair and his hand gestures were feminine as he primped himself in the mirror over the bureau. “I’m just not used to having someone here in the morning.”

“Don’t panic, I’ll go when you leave for work.”

Nodding, he turned to look at you, unintentionally positioned himself just so in front of the bed post to make it look like he had an enormous dick, and you started laughing. Apologized, laughed some more. Apologized. Then you stopped laughing and said quite matter-of-factly, “You’re a cocksucker.”  

He gave you the finger and continued primping.

And you thought of all the things you could say, but they all felt equally empty, so instead you picked up his alarm clock and threw it at the mirror.

You thought he was going to hit you. You wanted him to. You were willing it, but he gritted his teeth and bent to your eye level. “Leave now.”

You leaned forward and three inches from his face said, “Cocksucker.” And you thought for sure he’d hit you this time, but no, as you closed your eyes to brace yourself, he huffed out of the room and was out the front door. You threw on your pants and grabbed your purse and ran after him. And then you screamed at him and he screamed back, but nothing was said that couldn’t be taken back until he said you’re crazy and got into his car and started it. And you went to your car and started it. And then you were tailgating him, no, chasing him, and you could see his arms waving around in there and you just laughed, thinking you fucker you fucker and you both went through a few red lights and you vaguely heard tires screeching around you but they faded quickly and ahead was the only direction.

You moved into the lane right of him and floored it. He wouldn’t look at you but pushed faster, and you pushed faster, and he pushed faster, and deciding to neutralize your powerlessness and fear, you thought fuck it and pushed even faster and got ahead of him and slammed on your brakes and struggled with the wheel, and the car spun and collided and spun a little more, then smashed into a Mustang stopped at a traffic light.


Now the woman, the bystander who stopped to help, leans her poodle-haired head over the windshield and waves her bony hand, broken into two crookedly glued halves by the cracked glass, you know that though she’s flapping around ostensibly out of urgency, underneath she’s nursing a hot thrill. Then you realize that you haven’t been knocked out by the crash and your head hurts, your neck is in a spasm, and now you know that even when you’re risking everything, willing to sacrifice your own life for this relentless need.

You see Clive climbing out of the driver’s seat of his car, and you know he’s already climbed out but you didn’t see it until now. Shock maybe. But there he is, bloodied forehead and confounded face and maybe now he’ll see how safe he feels to you because only with someone safe would you do something so reckless. He must see that. He must understand how much you need. Now. He has to see it. And maybe he’ll just kneel in front of you now, bloodied and confounded, and say Oh I’m sorry, Jackie, I didn’t understand how deep your need is and then this will just be a funny courtship story you tell your grandkids.

But no, he runs to the Mustang, the smashed-up one still sitting at the traffic light. There’s a woman, a young woman in the driver’s seat, and Clive’s talking to her through the smashed driver’s side window, trying to console her maybe? His hands motioning towards the backseat of the car and … is he starting to tear up? Is he crying? All of a sudden he’s screaming out for help, somebody get an ambulance here now, immediately, but you recognize hopelessness in his scrunched-up eyes. Hopelessness and disbelief. To the sky, he shouts, “We need help here now!” And his suit is all messy with smashed glass and blood leaking from his head. His hair is in his eyes, bloody too. You can’t help smiling. Clive turns away from the Mustang and covers his eyes with his cut-up hands. Then he looks for you, and unfortunately, he catches you in the middle of your smile about the unfortunate state of his hair. His face turns to disgust, and he comes at you, even though you’re trapped behind the wheel of your car, bloody and squeezed. He reaches your window and lays one fist on your face before he falls on the ground. The hit is just enough to make you fall into unconsciousness, and part of you wonders if you really deserve such peace.


The sound of the ambulance siren startles you. A ninety-five-pound woman in a cop’s uniform sits next to you in the ambulance, leaning over you as you lie on the gurney you don’t recall being put on. Just as your eyes open, she’s advising you of your rights, and you know that if you recover from your injuries, you’re going to jail no matter what you say at this point, so you ask her what you’re being charged with. And the answer, which you somehow already know, is “reckless endangerment.”

You clear your throat and you feel the crackles in your abdomen. Broken ribs. Hopefully one of them has punctured something vital, the liver or, lucky strike, both kidneys. “Well, I can certainly understand that,” you say.

She looks at you, her head bobbing with the movement of the ambulance, a never-ending nod. “Ma’am, there was a child in the car you hit.”

This reminds you of that man, that wino who lived in an alley somewhere and one night threw a lit match at another wino who was covered, apparently, in liquor and the man caught fire and went running into the street and the cops were called and the wino with the match went somewhere for the criminally insane.

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