(The blog’s been quiet because I burned the hell out of my hand and upper arm in the kitchen fire. The injuries hurt like hell and also prevented me from typing. I still can’t make a fist with my right hand and I had to take last week off from work because I look like a leper. The wounds are improving daily, however, and they shouldn’t scar.)
It was 12:45 PM and I was in a cab going from his place near the Flatiron Building to the Upper East Side to meet him for lunch. He’d made a reservation at a special place and wanted me to meet two of his friends for the first time, who would be dining with us.
Well, I’d been in the cab for almost an hour and we’d just managed to pass Times Square. Traffic was an absolute nightmare; the street might as well have been a parking lot. I was freaking out because the reservation was at 1 PM and kicking myself for not taking the subway–I’d decided on a cab because it was hot and sticky outside and I knew that if I took the train I’d sweat all my makeup off and ruin my hairdo by the time I arrived.
On top of that, I couldn’t text him and let him know what was going on because my phone was dead.
Now it didn’t matter whether that the cab had AC: I was sweating it out anyway.
After half an hour, we’d gotten to the East Side, but were still only halfway there. I was panicking and knew that I needed to contact him and explain–there was no way I could just stand him up in front of his friends. He’d kill me.
I asked the driver if I could use his phone.
“Sorry, no,” he said, which I felt was pretty fucking rude, given the fare I was running up.
Ten more minutes.
I saw a Radio Shack, told the driver I’d get out, and bolted for it.
Inside, I bought an overpriced phone charger and begged the staff to let me use an electrical outlet. They could tell I wasn’t lying when I said that it was important.
Once I had power, I sent him a text explaining the situation. By this time, I was about 40 minutes late for lunch.
He wrote back: Forget it. Just go back to the apartment. I’ll meet you there.
(I would later learn that his friends had to cancel last-minute because of an emergency at work, which meant he’d been sitting at a table alone 40 minutes.)
I apologized profusely and took the subway back to his place. I changed out of my dress and went to the kitchen to make a sandwich, because I still hadn’t eaten.
I was two bites into it when he walked in the door.
“I am so sorry about this afternoon. The traffic was horrendous and I was stupid not to make sure my phone–”
He walked right up to me, snatched the sandwich right out of my hand, and threw it in the garbage can.
“If you won’t eat with me, you must not be hungry,” he said.
I stood there, blinking in surprise, letting it all sink in.
Finally, I sighed and nodded. I understood: he was pissed and punishing me for it. Okay, fine. Personally, I didn’t think it was fair–the traffic wasn’t my fault, and I’d left in plenty of time–but, well, that’s life.
I guess I’ll have to wait till dinner, I thought.
I picked up a glass and went to the fridge to use the water filter. I’d been in all that heat and I was very thirsty.
“No,” he said when I put my hand on it.
“No water?” I asked.
He shook his head.
I put the glass away and checked the clock. Only about five and a half hours until dinner–unless he was working late or coming back to town completely jetlagged, he was a pretty consistent dinner-at-8 guy. And when I was there, we always ate together.
Five and a half hours of thirst. Not fun, but I’ve had worse.
“Stay in the library,” he said, and walked out.
I thought of dashing to the fridge for a bottle of water and immediately decided against it. Better to wait.
I got my laptop and played on the internet for a few hours. He came in to check on me every now and then.
Thirst isn’t fun. I can ignore being hungry. It’s much harder to ignore being thirsty. My mouth was dry and it felt like my tongue was swelling.
Then I got a “bright” idea: the next time he poked his head in the door, I asked him if I could take a shower because I’d sweated on the subway all the way home (he’d taken one; I’d heard the water running).
“Why? So that you can drink from the faucet? No.”
I kept waiting, and at about 7 PM, he came back, and this time he was happy.
Oh thank God it’s over, I thought.
“I’m making shrimp scampi for dinner!” he announced, smiling.
“Great! Do you want me to help you in the kitchen? Set the table?” About half the time, he wants me to help him make dinner. He’s a good cook, and he teaches me things. Other nights, he prefers to do it alone–besides torturing women, I think it’s how he relaxes after work.
“No, I’ll do it myself.”
Soon, I could smell the cooking and started envisioning a plate of shrimp and a few big glasses of ice water. With condensation dew on the glass. And a wedge of lemon.
“Dinner is ready, Margo!” he called from the kitchen.
I practically ran to the dining room.
It looked how it always looked, unless he was in a big hurry to get back to some work project: tablecloth, cloth napkins, two candles. He was already seated. Beautiful, aromatic plate of scampi, rice, glass of white wine, and water.
I pulled up to my place.
There, in the middle of the plate, was…a single piece of toast.
You son of a bitch, I thought.
“Please, sit down,” he said, gesturing with his hand.
I stiffly took my seat.
“You know, I think I lost my appetite,” I said.
“But I cooked for you!” He laughed at his own joke (it was true–he had, after all, toasted the bread). “It would be rude not to eat. So eat.”
Get it over with, I thought.
I picked up my toast and took a bite. It was unbuttered, dry, and crunchy, and chewing it took forever in my desert of a mouth. I couldn’t produce any saliva. It scratched going down.
He sat there and ate his meal, happy as the proverbial clam, no doubt getting lost in self-congratulation at what a witty and clever fellow he was.
“This wine really matches the dish perfectly,” he said.
If I’d had cutlery, I just might have stabbed him in the hand with my fork.
I got about halfway through the slice of toast when I couldn’t take it anymore and meekly asked if I could have some water.
“Of course!” he said, rising from his chair. He went to the cabinet and selected a wide, shallow soup bowl, which he filled with water from the sink and carefully carried to me. Then he took his chair.
I stared at it. What the hell was I supposed to do with it?
I looked at him. No feedback. He just watched me and ate his food, smirking.
I reached out to grab the bowl in both hands–I guess I was supposed to tip the water out to drink, and hope it didn’t spill out the sides of my mouth and down my chest.
“Don’t use your hands,” he said, sharply.
“Well, hell, can I at least have a straw?”
“No,” he said.
The bowl was shallow and had a flared rim. There was no way to drink the water without literally putting my face in it.
Should I have been stubborn? Refused? My dignity was already gone, and I was thirsty.
I bent my head to the water and slurped at it. It took a few slurps to get a mouthful of liquid, and they were loud. The human face is not designed to drink that way.
When I sat back up, I felt water running down my chin. He hadn’t given me a napkin, so I wiped it with the back of my arm.
“Better?” he asked.
I didn’t respond.
“Well, wetter, at least,” he said, and chuckled.
I finished my bread, took a few more noisy slurps of water, and asked to be excused from the table.
“No,” he said.
So I had to wait for him to finish his food and clear the table. He blew out the candles, came up behind me, and put his hand on my shoulder.
“Ready for bath time now?” He always gave me a bath after dinner unless he had really important work to do. It was part of our nightly ritual when we were together.
Was it over? Finally? Was he done; satisfied? I was angry but I was more than willing to let bygones be bygones if it meant he was finally going to forgive me and relax and I wouldn’t have to be stuck in this house with an unpredictable sadist anymore. If he was happy with me again, well, hell, what’s a little Humiliation by Toast? I’ve had a fuck of a lot worse, believe me. In fact, I’ve done a fuck of a lot worse.
I pulled back my chair to stand up to go draw the bath, as usual.
He gently pushed me back down into the chair.
“I’ll do it tonight,” he said.
Uh-oh, I thought.
TO BE CONTINUED (it’s not pretty)