His fist is part of the pain is part of my shoulder. It lands again and again, knuckles conspiring with scapula to gnash like teeth at the muscles between. He punches the same point over and over, until I lean forward too far, trying to get away, not wanting to get away; until he pulls me back with an arm across my chest, until I lean into his fist again. The air feels too hot around my mouth. I gasp, filling it with curses, inchoate sounds.
He leans in. Asks “okay?” almost too quietly to hear over the music, over the quiet space settling around my mind. Harder, I think. “Good,” I say. He sits back. His fist is part of the pain is part of my shoulder. I hear the beat of music, feel it in the impact followed half a beat later by a fugue of white pain like a tooth cracked in half, nerves exposed. I hear voices, calm, sitting at the same table in matching chairs, hear my own voice curse softly in order not to interrupt their conversation. I move into the half beat between impact and pain.
He moves. Shifts to pummel the left side. Back and forth. Six beats on the right. Four to the left. I slip between. The music isn’t a phenomenon of sound anymore. It becomes the beat, the pain, the image of shoulder blade slicing through a pulp of muscle. I twist, lean forward, wish I were sitting backwards in this chair so that its back could stop me pulling away. His arm across my chest again, coaxing me upright. “Okay?” “Good.” I’m amazed that I can speak, even a monosyllable. Sound and pain and light and pain are blending into one sense that I can only describe obliquely. The surface of the table, the bodies in the room swimming across my vision like the green and violet fringes of a migraine.
His focus moves to the right again. It’s surer on that side, steady and bright and explosive; the silent, impossibly hot flare of a spark in a jar of oxyacetylene. I push myself back, towards him, though for a moment there is no him, only moments of bright impact followed by a welling up of soreness. I focus on breathing. I choose random numbers and convert them to base six. List favorite words beginning with P. Anything to keep my mind clear above the pain. Then his arm moves around me again, and stays there, holding my torso rigid and upright as he punches hard, harder, and I am pulled into it wholly. I try to bite back an unmistakably sexual moan, but my mouth won’t close. I let my head fall back against him, eyes closed. “Okay?” he asks. “Fine.” I know it isn’t the same as good, am not sure how much more I can take.
The impact is lighter now, no less pain but the force of it no longer shakes me from wrist to hip. I think I’m approaching a limit, like I’m surfing a good wave but losing my balance. The point of my scapula burns. It will crack from stress and heat, spill marrow, burst shards through skin. The sounds coming from my mouth are cracked already. His fist moves, not far, from infraspinatous fascia to teres major. I lean back into it and for a moment the fist-is-pain-is-shoulder bites down hard enough that I forget to breathe, only for the length of a hiccup, only until the next blow forces air out and I remember to bring more in after it.
He pulls me back against him. I hear song instead of beat, see objects instead of images. I relax. Sit up straight, rotate my shoulder to feel the damage. He flexes his hand, offers water, talks in low tones. I press the fingers of my left hand under my shoulder blade, twist my body to provide resistance. I hear a frown in his voice. “You okay?”
“Yeah. There’s a crunchy spot.”
“Like a knot?”
“Here?” Two knuckles, pressed against the knot.
“There.” He hits the spot, hard, precise, I don’t know how many times. When I rotate that shoulder again, it moves more smoothly.
A day later he sees a picture of the bruises, looking small and innocuous on top of muscles too sore to carry a purse without wincing. I get a message: “Note to self: SAP gloves and kicking next time…”