I’m scheduled to give a presentation at 11:00 on the rebirth of the urban shopping center, but with this sudden tightness in my throat, I don’t think I’ll be able to speak. My heart pounds like a trapped bird behind my ribcage. My hands are sweating. A sudden fear grips me – the fear that I will never know her, that by the time I’m finally released from this frigid temple of modern design, the squat will have been torn down and scraped away to make room for the next new cathedral of glass and steel.

I see myself leaving the conference, abandoning my talk to go back to the squat. But I know I won’t do it. It’s taken years for me to reach this level in my career; the invitation to this conference was an honor, and slipping out would be professional suicide. So I stay. I give my presentation, complete with slides that display digitized models of the Modern Market as I envision it. I sweat like an animal under my silk blouse and try not to shake. When I look out into the darkened auditorium, I don’t see the silhouettes of my professional peers; I see the darkness inside the squat, the naked woman on the filthy mattress.

As I speak mechanically into the steel orb of the microphone, I feel a tug of the same longing that bound me to the woman in the squat. I recall the slow, hungry movements of her hips, and the way the moonlight played over the curves and hollows of her torso. The wild disarray of her hair and the dark, wet swell of her mouth spoke of an abandon that I’d never known. Where would she go if the squat were demolished? Somehow I believed that if the squat were destroyed, her body and the desire that illuminated her flesh would disappear.

I stay… slides display digitized models of the Modern Market as I envision it. I sweat like an animal under my silk blouse and try not to shake.

Later that afternoon, after the last presentation, I go out for cocktails with a few of the other delegates. We’re a charmed circle, with our glossy hair, our expensive watches and our smart­phones. After three or four martinis, I’m attracted to one of the architects. The woman I was at home would have been thrilled to catch his attention; he’s

successful, sharp, aggressively handsome. Vodka helps me find my old desires again, and when he asks me if he can walk me back to my hotel, I ask if he’ll take me to his room instead. My request is so emphatic that it startles him, but only for a moment.

His room is an elegant, entirely generic box, the perfect setting for an anonymous coupling. The alcohol in my blood makes me feel like my former self again, practical and efficient, if temporarily passionate. We don’t waste time stripping off our clothes; he doesn’t even remove his watch. His torso is sleek, firm and hairless, like a white seal, with only a single, ink-black line of hair running from his navel to his pubic brush. His cock is as straight as a steel girder, but when I take him into my mouth, his erection suddenly softens. I try to nurse the blood back into his shrinking flesh, but I can feel the tension draining from his body, along with his desire.

“This never happens to me,” he says, and looking into his bewildered eyes, I believe him. I know why his desire fled. He might not see the ruin inside me, but his body felt the shudder of decay when I took him into my mouth.

Out of courtesy, pity, or some combination of the two, he makes love to me with an artful grace that almost makes me cry. He’s gifted with his tongue, painting my breasts, belly and thighs before indulging me by licking deep into the cleft. As my pleasure builds, so do the shadows. Soft, charcoal gray, like the burned interior of a dying building, the shadows gather behind my eyes. The shifting veils combine to create a room, where a woman rides her lover on a filthy mattress, where she comes, crying out into the night.

I know why his desire fled.
He might not see the ruin inside me, but his body felt the shudder of decay when I took him into my mouth.

My partner, whose name I can’t remember, holds me for an hour or so after my climax. The intensity of my orgasm seems to scare him; he holds me gingerly, as if I were recovering from shock.

“Are you all right?” he whispers. I know that he’s not only referring to this moment, but to my whole being, my softly collapsing self.

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