Noni Jones in Harlem #17: Pleasure and Pain


Pablo Picasso had his blue period. Geneva has her black periods. La vie noir. Crazy stretches of time when the world’s rotation slows and seconds inflate like beads of water. Everything is covered in soot. It feels like the sun doesn’t want to rise. Like even the sun doesn’t give a damn. It feels like slumber. It feels like sleep, sleep, sleep.

Caroline and Noni left town. I really didn’t want to go to work. Would rather have laid in the comfort of my small room, damp, unwashed skin against satin sheets, and have stirred in and out of sleep. I didn’t want to have to shower and dress and do my hair and face anyone.

Too bad I had to go anyway. I mean I basically did nothing. It was me and the director there all day. I read 15 pages of a script we are considering and clicked around on Facebook, .staring at faces I haven’t seen in person in years. She left early, around three. I waited fifteen minutes and went home too.

My roommate had made some sort of spaghetti concoction that I helped myself to. She wasn’t around and her dogs were barking. The windows were up, letting in a nice breeze, but the sound of kids cackling on the stoop below was driving me crazy. I shut the windows. I shut my bedroom door. Nodded off.

I was having this crazy dream, like I was in the theater of night by myself when some man break in. I couldn’t see his face, just a tall body, tan arms. No face. I froze, even though he was coming for me, my legs couldn’t find the strength to run. It was like my mind was ordering them to flee and my legs were paralyzed. He reached for my neck and tried to take me down. I was screaming, but I wasn’t actually making sound, like someone had yanked my voice. He started shaking me, violently- And his cell phone was ringing, loudly. It was in his pocket. It wouldn’t stop ringing, went far beyond the standard four rings. I wanted him to answer it so I could plan my escape. Give my legs a second chance. I felt like I only needed a few seconds.

The phone was ringing.

I woke up.

My cell phone was in the bottom of my purse. It stopped. One missed call. Paul.

I threw my body across the bed. He’d called twice before and I didn’t know what to do. At the point, I felt like Paul was the reason my life was fucked up. The reason I didn’t want to wake up, or go to the theater or to yoga or comb my hair for that matter. He was the dark cloud and the thunderbolt. He was the darkness.

I stared at the ceiling. My heart was racing, my breathing heavy.

I don’t know where the courage came from, but I found myself digging for the phone, as if I had something to say. I speed-dialed his number, and then hoped he didn’t answer.


“Hey, I missed your call.” I sat on my bed.

“Yeah, yeah…. I’m on campus,” he said. I heard a crowd of voices around him. He had to be outdoors. 

“Come meet me.”

“Paul, I’m taking a nap.”

“Then I’ll come over there.”

“No… I mean, what’s wrong? Why do you want to see me?” I didn’t want my space invaded. I was craving loneliness.

“I’m trying to see you. What’s good?”

I wanted to stand up to him, and treat him like he treated me. With silence. But I couldn’t. “I mean, I kind of don’t feel up to hanging out today.”

“Can I come over when I finish up here?”

Damn. “Okay, fine.”

I rolled over and half-way went back to sleep. I think I was scared I’d return to that night mare.

He came over hours later. The sun was setting behind the curtains. I still didn’t want to turn any lights on. The dogs weren’t barking any more, I realized as I went to the door. My roommate was home. She’d fed them.

“Hey beautiful! What’s going on?” He entered my world like a pin ball. Arms swinging, he was full of energy and full of life. We had swapped moods. I was low. He was elevated. Sometimes I wondered if his brain worked like mine and if our volatile mood swings was the tie that really bonded us.

“Hey.” He engulfed me with his hug, buried his nose in my hair, and kissed me.

He followed me to my room. The sun was sinking fast. It was charcoal gray pierced by the light of my computer screen.

“You straight?”

“I’m alright.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing… nothing I want to talk about.”

He kicked off his shoes, and laid back. He pulled me down beside him. He turned to his side, kissed my ear lobe. His hand crept beneath my shirt. It felt natural.

“Let me know what’s on your mind.”

“I just, you know, sometimes don’t feel like myself.”

He covered my neck , cheek, and ear lobes with feather weight kisses. He paused. He was familiar with my dark periods. I think it was this side of me that turned him on. Made him feel powerful, and normal.

“What happened?”

It was the time to confront him about the woman who’d rang my phone, the old woman with an attitude. I should have told him then, that I had a gut feeling she was the same woman he’d been on the phone with that night. And then, without opening my mouth, I would tell him that I was terrified of being without him. He was my first love and his craziness was a part of my world now. But I didn’t tell him any of that. I just said,

“Nothing, going through a moment.” I couldn’t tell him my truth because I didn’t want to face his.

I let him be the hero.

I wondered if he knew about the phone call. He didn’t let on to it. Instead he acted like he was a roots doctor, with the cure to my ailment. Like his jism was the cure to my sickness.

He rolled on top of me, forced himself between my legs. I felt myself sinking into the mattress, the heat of his breath spread over my face. I felt him growing and at once, wanted to shove him off and egg him on. I didn’t want to be entered but I wanted him to be happy. He undressed me, suckled me, as if he was doing this to make me happy. As if his virility was penicillin.

He rolled off me and undressed. His sex faced me and I faced the root of my problems, the sex that enslaved me and made me crave him and the sex that always made me forgive him even when he was an ass.

He was violent. He went deeper than what was comfortable. He made the bed shake. He made me scream, partially because I was reaching an orgasm and partially because I was in pain. It was like each thrust alternated pleasure and pain and the more I cried out the harder he went. I was his cheer leader cheering him on. He pulled out to finger me, and to speed my satisfaction. I realized that he wanted to see me come. In the midst of his feeling powerful, he needed to feel the ultimate power. I did and he did shortly after.

He rolled over and fell into a deep slumber. By then it was dark. The dogs were quiet. I could hear nothing but the hum of silence. The ripe smell of sex was taking center stage. It was all over both of us. He looked so happy. I suddenly wished I could take back that orgasm, and give him back all of the pleasure and pain. I felt dirty. I felt like he knew how to control me. I felt as if he had found me in my darkness and taken advantage of me at my most vulnerable moment.

I put my panties back on and tip toed into the backroom. I shut the door and turned on the shower, the sound of the water drowning out the wail of my tears.


- Geneva

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