Galia knew she should be hurt by this, but in truth, she was relieved. This was not so bad, she thought. This was not the worst thing that could happen. Vladi’s words were not kind, but they also were not untrue. Vladi saw her for who she was — one of those fake Gucci purses that looks okay on the shelf but splits at the seams as soon as you put anything inside. In a way, she was grateful Vladi already understood this about her. There would be no surprises.

Tears seep from the corners of Galia’s eyes. She is overcome with gratitude for this unexpected reprieve. Her nightdress is damp with steam, and her curly hair has frizzed into a thick wedge. She was in the bathroom too long, fretting about whether to lock the door, what to wear, the things they would do when they shared a bed. She had worried until her head hurt and her hands trembled and her gums bled from brushing her teeth. Even after all that brushing, she can still taste Vladi’s smoky kisses — on the church alter, the municipality stairs, the dance floor — three of them in total, each one lasting a little longer than the one before. Looking at his lips now, she tries to remember how they felt, pressed against hers. Mostly, she recalls that they tasted of cigarettes and that, at the moment they kissed, Vladi had closed his eyes.

… she can still taste Vladi’s smoky kisses — on the church alter, the municipality stairs, the dance floor — three of them in total, each one lasting a little longer than the one before.

To her mother’s chagrin, she had not followed suit. “Ne taka, Galche,” Maika had said. “The next time, you close your eyes. You’ll scare him if you keep your eyes open like that.” Each time, Galia vowed that she would close her eyes, but each time she failed her mother’s command. “Why do you do that?” her mother hissed at her in the bathroom stall. But Galia could not explain the tenderness she found in the oily lines that creased Vladi’s eyelids. Though she knew from the movies that closing one’s eyes was normal kissing behavior, she believed then, as she does now, that with Vladi it was something more — something borne not out of habit, but intention; not out of disgust, but mercy.

With Vladi asleep, Galia is more alone than she’s been all day. She was not allowed to dress herself or do her own hair. Once she was securely fettered by button, clasp, and pin, her mother had followed her everywhere, even to the bathroom, where she held the gown out of harm’s way. Galia had been squeezed and kissed and hugged and carried — none of which was as difficult for her to bear as the fact of the purchase, the sale being celebrated.

That Vladi is sleeping through the final stages of the transaction by no means nullifies the deal; nevertheless, Galia feels more peace than she’s felt in months. There is comfort — albeit small— in knowing that moments like this will exist, that they can share the same room and not be together. That, several hours into her marriage, she is unchanged and untouched, safe and separate and alone.

Leaving the TV and lights as they are, Galia sinks into a chair, moving quietly to preserve Vladi’s sleep. The room is too cold, but she does not mind. The flow of air from a vent in the wall gives her something to think about: how her goose pimpled arms look, thin and milky blue in the nightdress she has chosen, a thick, pink cotton, pleasingly opaque so as to reveal nothing. Only now does it strike her that the tiny embroidered flowers sprinkling the gown are suggestive of something — sweetness, purity. At once, the gown seems oddly out of tune with the night’s intentions. The hotel bed is, after all, as long and wide as a trampoline.

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