“No kissing,” the FBI agent says. “Anything else?”
“Could you turn that light down a little bit? Just for right now, anyway.”
“The light has only two settings,” the FBI agent explains. “On or off.”
“Well could you turn it away, at least? It’s making my head hurt.”
Viola is sitting in a straightbacked chair in a motel room in Danville, a town maybe twenty minutes outside of Indianapolis. The FBI agent has moved the motel-room desk so that it faces Viola’s chair, and he sits on the other side of it. He adjusts the light.
Viola crosses her legs and tugs down at her skirt.
“Do you like being humiliated?” the FBI agent asks. Viola gives it some thought.
“In certain controlled situations.”
“What was the time that you were most sexually aroused, that you can remember?”
Viola tells him.
“So not with your husband.”
“I don’t want to talk about my husband with you.”
“You don’t feel comfortable talking about your husband with me.”
“I just don’t see why he has to be a subject of conversation is all.”
The FBI agent handcuffs Viola hands behind the back of the chair. “Do you remember your safeword?” the FBI agent asks. Viola nods. The FBI agent slaps her. She cannot tell if he has an erection. She can barely see him, in fact, except as a shadowy figure just beyond the light.
“Do you love your husband?” the FBI agent asks.
Viola’s safeword is the word “safeword,” which she chose because it seemed kind of funny, or noncommittal, maybe. She works the edges of the handcuffs with her fingers.
“I care for him very deeply,” Viola says.
The FBI agent slaps her. “Please answer the question as it is asked. Do you love your husband?”
“I think sometimes that I love him very much. At other times I am sure that I do not. The sureness of my not-loving him, at those times, seems to retroactively negate whatever love I once believed myself to hold, and I think to myself: I have never loved him, that was a mistake, I was only wanting to love him.”
“Have you loved other men?”
“I had a series of relationships before Robert, some of which felt at the time as though they constituted love. Looking back, I find it hard to believe that love was involved. Many of them, retrospectively, feel like they consisted of a certain mutual neediness.”
The FBI agent holds Viola down on the mattress by the throat. There is some fumbling with his fly. Viola thinks: I am not supposed to help him with his fly, I am being held down, I am “at his mercy.” The FBI agent spits on Viola and Viola closes her eyes in anticipation of being spat on again.
The FBI agent is living out of a suitcase in the motel room in Danville. The motel room has a bed with pale green sheets and a cheap-looking desk and chair. It’s all clean and a little sad. Viola tries to imagine what his actual home is like, but she can’t. Maybe he just moves from motel room to motel room, forever.
There is an air of menace to the FBI agent. It is not exactly in the things that he does—or rather, if it is, it is hard to pin down exactly what those things are. Rather, the air of menace seems to adhere to him, as a quality.
It is cultivated, he tells Viola. The air of menace is a part of the job.
“That doesn’t make it any less menacing,” Viola says.
“Is it a problem?”
“No, I think I like it,” Viola says. “In a lover. I don’t think that I would want to live with it, exactly.”
“I see,” the FBI agent says, then begins to sulk, in response. He sulks greatly, while for example tying Viola to the motel room bed. He even sulks while having sex with her. At first it is funny, but then after a while it’s too much. He is temperamental, Viola thinks, not for the first time. He has a sensitive soul. The soul, perhaps, of an artist.
“How do you cultivate it? The air of menace,” Viola asks, intending this as a sort of peace offering.
There are ten basic methods, the FBI agent tells her, although of course individual agents are free to come up with their own variations. “Method number one: The scowl. It should not be a simple, straightforward, or otherwise thuggish scowl. It should contain elements of both disappointment and resolution. One should look as though one is scowling in spite of one’s own inclinations, that one would rather not be scowling but that one recognizes the necessity of the scowl. It should be clear, in other words, that the necessity of the scowl arises from circumstances outside of oneself.
“Method number two: The question of what to do with one’s arms. This is a difficult one; fidgeting of any sort betrays weakness. Many people, in attempting to portray an air of menace, will cross the arms in front of the torso, in an insipid attempt to display confidence. Much better to keep one’s arms at one’s sides, loose and ready. Rather than mask fidgeting, one demonstrates thereby that one simply isn’t going to fidget.
“Method number three: Cleanliness. Method number three-b: Clean-shavenness. Methods number four through eight, classified. Method number nine: Righteousness. One should never give the appearance of so much as a moment of self-doubt. It should be clear that any violence that one is to visit upon the other, no matter how distasteful personally (see method one), is absolutely necessary from a grander perspective. Method number ten: Dark, freshly-pressed suits.”
The FBI agent likes to videotape her when they have sex, holding the camcorder in one hand and pinning down her wrists with the other. At times the lens is just inches from her face. She should not be enjoying this as much as she does, she thinks. But she does. She finds herself noticing security cameras in public places, like grocery stores and home furnishing stores, and thinking of his body pressed down on hers. There are moments while they’re fucking when it seems totally reasonable to mistake the camcorder for his face, to think that the acts of fucking and recording are one and the same.
Viola, bored, begins looking through the contents of the FBI agent’s suitcase. “Don’t do that.”
Underneath a layer of shirts identical to the one he’s currently wearing, Viola finds stacks of VHS tapes, each labeled with the date, time, and a set of coordinates. She smirks. “So these are all other girls?”
“No, they’re not.”
“Look, you don’t need to worry about me getting jealous. I am totally not interested in being jealous.”
“What are they then?”
The FBI agent tells her that it would be better for her sake if she didn’t know.
“What, this is like a national security thing?”
“No, I just think you’d be happier not knowing.”
Viola pouts. “You don’t have to worry about hiding other women from me. I like the idea that you’ve fucked other women. I like thinking that you’re fucking them all the time. Like, if I turn my back, suddenly there’ll be another woman in the room, and you’ll be fucking her. Like this.” Viola does an impression of the FBI agent fucking another woman, his mouth curled up in a snarl, his eyes slit comically.
“Don’t mock me,” he says.
“I wasn’t mocking you.”
“What you were doing with your face. It was mocking me.”
“What, this?” Viola starts, but then sees his expression and thinks better of it. “Why don’t you show me how you’d really do it, then?” she says, pulling him towards her.
“Why are you really here?” Viola asks the FBI agent. They are lying under the pale green sheets.
“I’m really here to spy on you, personally. We have determined that you represent one of the primary threats to our national security.”
“Knew it,” Viola says.
“The present administration recognizes that sadness runs counter to our way of life,” the FBI agent says. “And yet you keep insisting on being sad.”
Viola turns away from him to face the wall. “I already said I’m over it. How many times do I have to tell you? Besides, that doesn’t make any sense, insisting on being sad. I don’t insist on anything.”
JAMES TADD ADCOX‘s first book The Map of the System of Human Knowledge was published in 2012 by Tiny Hardcore Press. His work has appeared in TriQuarterly, the Literary Review, PANK, Barrelhouse, and Another Chicago Magazine.
Adapted from Does Not Love, by James Tadd Adcox, Copyright © 2014 by James Tadd Adcox. With the permission of the publisher, Curbside Splendor.