He watched her at the kitchen counter in her bare feet and yellow dress. The knife in her hand was big and rusty, a chef’s knife meant for cutting meat. She stuck it into the jam jar and scraped around.
The sound of metal against glass, of her trying to get at every last bit, pained him. He wanted to help her pay for the things she couldn’t afford, but she wouldn’t let him now. He studied the objects in her kitchen to keep from thinking about her legs, her mouth. The ceramic salt and pepper shakers, shaped like a lion and a tiger. The glass butter dish sticky beside a stack of napkins. The butter under the dull lid, melting down to a puddle.
Her knife came out of the jar with a smear of strawberry jam on it. He could see that she was disappointed, that she wanted more. She spread what she had over her bread, groaning, as she stuffed her mouth with the heel of the loaf, the end piece. She had only the last of a bottle of Merlot to offer him.
“You can come over,” she’d said earlier. “But I can’t afford to be a good host.”
He loved her, but she no longer loved him. He couldn’t touch the cotton of her dress or her skin underneath. He’d agreed to the just-friends, no-touching rule, even though the thought of not touching her kept him awake at night.
“Let me run to the store,” he said. “Let me help you out until you get back on your feet.”
She said no, of course. She was not his responsibility. He wasn’t allowed to buy her groceries anymore, or little wooden boxes from antique shops. She was not strong enough yet to turn him away completely.
“Sooner or later,” she said, “I’ll stop saying yes to you coming here. You’ll ring the buzzer and I’ll pretend not to hear it.”
She moved her right foot up and down over the back of her left calf. He remembered rubbing her legs as he pushed himself into her. He remembered her crying out.
When she leaned across the table for a napkin, he grabbed her by the wrist, smelled the strawberry jam on her breath. He could have asked her why, after two years, she had suddenly stopped loving him. He could have begged her to tell him what she needed, what she wanted from him, but he’d already tried this. He couldn’t think of anything to say that he hadn’t said. He squeezed her wrist harder.
“If I let you go,” he said, “do you promise to take that knife and stab me in the heart with it?”
She picked the knife up, but instead of stabbing him, she licked the blade.
“Fine,” she said, holding the last of the jam on her tongue, “I’ll let you buy me another jar.”