. On the contrary, that seemed to prove what some might term as “
which are probably, no, strike that, very much better off left to the realm of the imagination, seeing as how that's where the entire state of our togetherness currently lies.
for her habits or the fact that she sighed while being tickled -- sighed! to think or even see such a thing seemed remote,
. I could hate her hair, her possessive hair that would swallow galaxies whole, but preferred instead to just get in the way whenever I came in close for a kiss...
“Hi, it's me. Yes, I've been drinking. No, I know I shouldn't call. Are you awake? Are you there? Is he there? I don't even know if there's a he. I'm assuming there is. Why wouldn't there be? You're aces. All aces. I'd be unhappy for you if there weren't a he.”
“But why did it ever matter? Why did we even care in the first place? Were we even happy? Were we just two random elements that circled briefly in a confused and newly born universe, dancing and humming with the excitement of electrons and the prospect of good head?
“If I hurt you, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry...”
But I'm not, really. I just think everybody has to have this sort of thing on record, some incriminating late night babble so when they take you away for good some woeful girl can stand up in court and yell out at the very tip top of her cancerous lungs, “That's him. That's the one. Would call and go from accusative to penitent in five seconds flat,” and, though I'm kind of new at this, I'm pretty sure that this one will hammer it in properly.
“Screw it,” I say into the phone, clattering the change inside as the receiver hits the catch. I stride out the door
and brace for the sobering effect of winter just outside. The sidewalk is as firm as I want it to be, but I fall against a lamppost anyway. Exhaling, I look up at the light. My breath is foggy, fleeting, not at all as connected as smoke. It's gone in two seconds, and I walk home, hands in pockets, heart in my coat, eyes set straight ahead of me, taking little drunken penguin steps all the way.
”I'm sorry, but I believe those are mine.”
I didn't see the owner of the voice, didn't even want to look. I had spent an hour waiting, staring at the wall of dryers, most of which had clothes that were much dryer than mine. Finally impatience got the best of me and I took matters into my own hands. Picking an idle dryer at random (well, not exactly at random, but, rather, in close proximity to my wet clothes, which had been wet and outside the washer for far too long, stuffed in a basket and glared at by so many Sunday mothers who, under better circumstances, have been known to kill for those carts), I switched the clothes. As suspected, they are perfectly toasty.
Disgusted and dismayed at their owner's callous alacrity, I left the clothes in a pile on a nearby folding table. Left them there to rot for all I cared.
It took about five minutes of staring at that crumpled heap for guilt to kick in.
I should do something with them. I shouldn't just leave them there. That's rude.
(no. whoever left the dryer is the rude one. fuck ‘em.)
I should just fold ‘em or something. Really, it's not like I'm doing anything else.
(you could read the paper. fuck ‘em.)
I'll just stand up and pretend like they're my clothes, my clothes that I'm just folding. Maybe they're having a bad day.
(no. fuck ‘em. fuck ‘em. fuck ‘em fuck ‘em fuck ‘em fuck ‘em...)
I walked back across the crowded laundromat and stared at the pile.
(don't do this. it's stupid and pointless.)
But I need to do something. I'm better than that person. That person would just leave someone else's clothes, unfolded, unguarded.
The first item my hands found was a bra, black, lacy, meant to titillate, seduce, lift, separate. I set it aside and pulled out a pair of panties, yellow with a white elastic band. Was this a load of unmentionables? Why are they called unmentionables on their own? Underwear isn't racy when it's not concealing anything, is it? In that regard, are condoms considered obscene? I suppose some people might think so...
My chain of thought continued like that as I sorted through the pile, folding t-shirts, jeans, anything that I wouldn't get in trouble for laying my male hands upon. I was halfway though when the owner arrived.
“I said,” and there was a considerably more sinister bent to her intonation this time, one which made me wonder how effective giving the silent treatment to a total stranger was, “those are my clothes, pervert.”
I looked up with as much spite as I could muster in my eyes. “Fine. Take ‘em. I was just trying to be nice.”
“Nice? You were probably sniffing my underwear or something while I was outside.”
My mind started racing for a plausible excuse concerning why my hands would have been glancing against her racy under things, but then I realized that I had no reason to lie to her. “Actually, I didn't want your clothes sitting here getting wrinkled while you left them unattended in that dryer for an hour.”
“An hour? I was just outside for a smoke.”
“Whatever. I needed the dryer, and your clothes were finished.” I was going to win this. The gloves were off and I was going to take this to its inevitable, bitter end.
“Fine. Great. Just don't touch my clothes.”
And I'm about to say, “Fine, I won't,” but that rare filter kicked in and made me realize that a laundromat is a far cry from a school yard. So I just planted myself in front of the dryer and stared menacingly at her as she finished my folding job.
That hair. I think it really was the hair that got me: a dark brown that could easily be mistaken for black until the light shone through it, bringing out a deep walnut hue. As I watched her, occasionally she'd move a strand or two out of her eyes, and then run her fingers behind her tiny ears, down the length, ending at her shoulders where she'd make a little tap before withdrawing her natural comb from that devilish mass.
It is the hair, that cola sin, that gets my attention that night at the Mull & Collie as it strides through the smoky windowed doors and plops itself on the barstool next to me with only a hint of a sneer.
“Buy me a drink,” she said.
“Pardon?” I was a couple of beers into my weekly ritual and it took me a while to place that hair with the significant events of the day.
“You're the asshole that folded my clothes, right?”
“Oh! Yeah.” No ill feelings returned, so I guess most of my spite had been spent on staring at her that afternoon. “What do you drink? Why am I buying?”
“Whiskey sour with a twist, and you're buying because you've manhandled my unmentionables.” A pause, a glance to the side, a drop in tone. “And because I'm trying to make someone jealous.”
“Oh, well, by all means...” I plunked some cash on the bar and nodded to the bartender. One whiskey sour for the lady, another pint for myself. Yes, yes, keep the change.
“So who's the lucky guy?” I asked after she has a sip.
“Girl. This confused soul who thinks we're made for each other and I'm... not her type.”
“I see. Listen, I'm sorry about today...”
She cut me off mid-apology. “Forget about it. I've just been having a rough what-have-you, so you were a convenient person to beat up on, even if you were doing something nice. I probably would've just left the clothes in a pile somewhere.”
“How did you find me?”
“Pure chance. You have the same taste in bars as my admirer over there,” and she nodded in the direction of a blonde seated at a booth with a couple of other girls.
“How's my taste?”
Internal laughter, external wry smile. “Bad. I can't stand dives. Or even bars, really. Do you always come here?”
“The Collie? Nah. It's just close to the laundromat. I figure if I spend an entire day huffing cleaning products and having my soul sucked out through my eyes, I might as well cap it off with an artificially heightened self-esteem and, if there were some particularly bad stains that didn't come out, some potential toilet hugging. Usually I just sit at home and get to know my inner drunk.”
External laughter. Forced? I wasn't sure. I couldn't tell if she was really putting a lot into the act. Am I talking too much? What the hell was I supposed to say? Was that my one good line of the evening?
Any slack left in the conversation was taken up by her. “So do you always go to that laundromat, then?”
“Well, I'm between maids right now.” I paused, took a sip. “So why don't you just avoid this girl?”
“God.” A roll of the eyes, a toss of the hair. “Because I see her at work every day and she won't take subtle hints. She's always flirting with me, making little jokes about sex, touching my hands, shit like that.”
“You sure she's not a man? Because that's exactly what I do.”
“Funny. No. I mean, I can't just quit my job. So I'd rather demonstrate in a practical environment that, of the many possible ways I could swing, hers isn't one of them.”
“So you'd rather be subtle and manipulative than direct and honest?”
“Yeah, basically. Isn't that how women are supposed to be?”
This threw me. If I agreed, I was automatically a chauvinist asshole. It's like laughing along to an anti-Semitic joke when it's told by a Jewish person: just not kosher. But if I disagreed, I'd look like some spineless jerk who just wanted to get laid. So I showed some backbone, just to tease the line a little.
“Don't ask me. You guys were the ones that ate the apple. We were perfectly content with paradise and sex without consequence and all that. Actually, I think men would like to be underhanded, but we just lack the balls.” A nice neutral answer, peppered with wit and big words.
“Oh, I know plenty of underhanded men. But I'm pretty sure it's an accidental underhandedness. Like the last guy I dated: he wanted to have two women in bed at once and somehow he thought that cheating on me would get him closer to his goal.”
“Yeah. I'm still trying to find a taxidermist that'll mount testicles.”
I cleared my throat. “Well, I'd ask my uncle, but I think he might take it personally.”
“He lost his virginity to an antipersonnel mine in ‘Nam.”
“Ick. That's worse than a bitter girlfriend.”
“Well, to tell you the truth, I think it was actually a bitter girlfriend that did the job, but it makes a better story if he ‘lost his boys in the jungle,' you know?”
The night progressed in a similar fashion: I tried to analyze her motives while staying as witty and minty fresh as possible. Around closing time, she leaned near to me.
“Is she gone?”
I glanced around. “Nope. She looks lovelorn, but not defeated. I think her having not come over says a lot, though.”
“Well, let's put one final nail in the coffin: can you take me home?”
This was it. Sex was definitely going to happen, and I was completely in awe of myself, of her. The important thing, of course, was to not sound anxious.
“Sure! I mean, are you sure that's all right?”
A thin smile dancing across unspeakable lips whispered, “Very.” Her hand moved a cigarette up, her lungs sucked in tar and nicotine, the cigarette was stamped down into the ashtray, traces of smoke wandered up and mingled with the dim lights above. She grabbed her purse and stood.
“Well? You ready?
The way she picks up a fork is like a shot in a canyon. The clatter of thrift store silverware against family china underneath pasta echoes on and on and on and on and the candles, a last ditch attempt to provide some sort of romantic feeling to the meal, don't even flinch.
A cleared throat in this room could deafen.
It's the way an uncomfortable glance seasons the air that really just kills the ambiance. Our conversations haven't strayed from casual inquiries about the other's day for a week or so now, and sex...
Insert, thrust, moan, repeat, stop, sleep. We're regular machines now.
I've found one of the biggest problems in life is that the difference between a niche and a rut is hard to see from low altitudes. We don't yell, we don't fight, we treat each other right, and by many standards this is the perfect relationship. We have all the foundations and they're mighty strong, but somewhere along the way we forgot insulation. It's a cold cold house.
My fork scrapes against the bottom of the bowl and she shudders, “I can't stand this,” and the words are depth charges exploding in a sea of silence.
“Yeah. I know. What's happened to us?”
“I think it's obvious.”
“What's obvious?” I ask, knowing full well that the next words she utters are going to be precision, laser guided secondhand smoke, aimed to cause cancer.
“We don't love each other. Not anymore.”
Whack. Thud. At least one of us is dead on the floor, but still she wants more. This is what's been held in her lungs for the last seven days.
“And, frankly, I'm wondering if we ever did.”
It wasn't always like this. The relationship of the century didn't just die of exhaustion: it was a slow, deliberate disease, one that seeped its way into our souls and mutated all precepts of kindness that had once existed. If a specially trained team of forensics experts were to perform an autopsy on the body, they would find a string of innocent conversations and occurrences, scar tissue and tumors in an otherwise healthy body and, if they had to trace it back to somewhere, one specific event, it would start with her disbelief.
“I don't believe you.”
Those words were a tribute to either her stubbornness or insanity, and they always threw me for a loop.
“I don't believe you,” she'd say, and punctuate it with a feather of smoke. “In my opinion, the last thing you said was a ludicrous statement, one not worth placing stock in, and, furthermore, I think the research that went into making such a sentence possible was either fraudulent or half-assed.”
Her ability to sound like a psychology textbook on top of all this never helped ease my suddenly reeling mind. “But all I said...”
“It doesn't matter what you said. All that matters is that I don't believe you.”
One had to admit that it was a perfect argument. I could provide proof to back up whatever I had said, try my hardest to make her a believer, and yet, in her mind, the words that had left my mouth were not to be believed. Her twin ideals of truth and reality could not be punctured by any of my lilliputian bullets of logic.
So I would try to change arguments, throw her, appeal to her sensitive side. “Don't you think that's a little harsh?”
“Would you rather I blindly agree with something that I can't even believe? Everybody complains about the world being a place of insanity and irreverence, but if we told each other flat out when we didn't believe something that was said instead of nodding and smiling, then all the lines are drawn. The boundaries are forged.”
“The armies are waiting.”
“It is a rather combative frame of thought, isn't it?”
“What's wrong with combative if it keeps people from bullshitting each other?”
I could see my argument falling apart, watch it stretch and tear and disintegrate. “Well, I mean, it's people like you who end up starting wars.”
“I don't believe you.”
“Wait! Now you're turning it into a cop-out!”
Her face grew somber. “Please wait until the rest of America latches onto my philosophy and turns it into a water cooler joke before calling it a cop-out. This is one of the few things I really believe, one of the last bastions of humans treating each other decently.”
With that she pulled her coat close, shook herself and shrugged her shoulders, then turned back to look at me with a smile that hinted at either immense passion or thinly veiled sorrow.
It was this frustratingly intelligent and furiously curious behavior that seemed out of place in the context of our everyday lives, yet perfectly sane to anybody who cared to take a closer look at the weave of our relationship's fabric. She would never directly discourage an opinion as wrong, outrightly, but would constantly point out fallacies of arguments, inconsistencies of logic, anything that was out of the ordinary to her precise and smoky mind.
Other conversations would be more tame, just as spontaneous. I once asked her how she got to be so sexy. She just smiled and said, “Well, I ain't no Lauren Bacall,” and punctuated that little bit of self-depreciation with a little peck on my lips.
After a while, we had gotten in the habit of lying back to back in the evenings, reading in front of a fireplace (especially if we were at her house, which lacked a television -- such was her resolve to never be sucked in to that insidious whirlpool of modern culture). She read Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Virginia Woolf, the bigwigs, the heavyweights of modern literature. I read Thomas Pynchon, Charles Bukowski, mystery novels, beat generation exposes. The fire would crackle by us, luminescent licks of heat giving their all, dancing on the logs while, underneath, smoldering worms would tear apart the stage of that grand and fast drama. The room would be full of its own noises, the little electricities that remind a person just how alive the inanimate world is, when I would hear her sigh, feel the rise and fall against my back, and I would know that the intellectualization of everyday life was soon at hand.
“Where do you think time goes?” she would ask wistfully as the pages of her book settled into themselves on the floor beside her.
“What do you mean?”
Now I had to defend myself. “I don't think time goes. I don't view time as a river or a current, but, rather, a force that propels us. I don't think time goes anywhere: I think we move through it and don't know how to move back.”
“So does that mean that everything is preordained, if we just move forward through this force that propels us?”
“Not at all. Time can't be spatialized. It's a completely different kind of motion from how we normally perceive movement.”
Here she turned with a slight amount of pressure to warn me that my backrest was about to disappear. She was entering her stance of combat and curiosity. “Didn't Einstein theorize that space and time were, in fact, the same thing?”
“Fuck Einstein,” I said, whipping around to meet her. “Logical people dismiss religion so openly, and yet embrace everything that man said with open arms and legs, and why?”
“Because he was the smartest man of recent times?”
“No. Because he said things we didn't and still don't understand, and he said them in ways we could digest and accept. He was not a modern prophet, he was merely an extraordinary man.”
She cut me off mid-tirade, stood, and walked to the sliding glass door that led to the back yard. “Come with me outside. I need a cigarette.”
I stood and stretched, then followed her siren's song, her plume of smoke. “I'm not saying Einstein was wrong, I'm just saying...” She shushed me with a wave of her fingers, the ash and tar floating to the ground and hypnotizing me momentarily.
A couple seconds' silence wasn't so agonizing then. Now I can't stand in a room with another person without wanting to scream or hum “The Girl From Ipanema” just to keep myself sane and connected.
“How,” she said with an exhalation that would escape and dispel into the stars, “did you envision your life as a child? Your life now, your life in the future.”
I think for a second, reaching back to a now impossible frame of mind. “Sunny days chasing the clouds away. Endless energy. I wanted a job but no work. I wanted to be a fireman, but I didn't want to fight fires. I wanted the concept of fireman.”
“Blue skies and a good uniform?”
“I remember when dreams were hazy, wonderful things,” I said, my voice growing misty with flashback. “Now it's like I wake up and I'm not sure what's happening to me.”
“Separation anxiety. Even from nightmares. Every time a dream ends in consciousness, it is much like cutting the umbilical cord––” Puff, savor. Smokers make the greatest conversationalists: they have physical punctuation, the ability to leave a pregnant pause as their audience sits rapt, waiting for the completion of a thought, continuity, finality. There's concinnity in their motions, mystery. Exhale, “––with a rusty chainsaw.”
“But I even want to return to nightmares, to the horrors.” A non-smoker can try to emulate the smoker's pause, but it only leaves a space to be filled, a vacuum that the nature of a conversation so adherently abhors.
“It's because you wish to return to your childhood, your dreamlike lost years. You said yourself that we don't know how to move back through time, which, taken just a little further, expresses your own interest to go backward and stay in an idyllic past.” Having made her point, she stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray on the porch. “C'mon. It's getting cold out.”
The door whooshed aside in front of her, every piece of the world around her at her beck and call, and she left it open behind her, waiting for me to follow her lead.
Some rebellious faction within me wanted to stay outside and find constellations, do anything, but I followed her in. She owned me, and it was hard to be frustrated by such a thing.
Though it seems like such a modern trap, I really think sex is what drove the final nail into the coffin, what tarred up the last clean little air sac we had going into the relationship. Not sex as a concept, really, or a weapon, even. Sex as a passion. Sex on demand. Sex in place of love when love just wouldn't do anymore. Sex as a mechanism to further means that we could never fully understand, even as functioning adults.
She woke me up by raking her fingernails up and down my chest and sides, tickling and annoying me. She heard my protesting grumbles. Before I could vocalize anything, she covered my mouth with her lips.
My eyes were still sealed with the fruits of sleep, so it took a little effort to open them. I was greeted with darkness, a little red light from her alarm clock, maybe some star shine leaking in through the closed blinds. I'd been woken up for sex before, but never in the middle of the night. I sighed back into her kiss and closed my eyes again.
I was comfortable. She could tease and tease and tease, but my back was cradled just right into my groove in her mattress.
Her lips moved down, kissing my neck. She giggled her way up to my ears, plunged her tongue in. She was always so zealous with her tongue, too wet and wild.
I didn't mind the oral fixation.
She traced her fingers lightly down my chest. She sighed and arced and kept playing games. My arms were too heavy for me to lift so I could push her away. This was now in the realm of passive resistence.
She cooed and softly slung her arm around me, then rolled back. If I was on top of her, the jig would be up. I couldn't calmly fall back asleep. I'd have to perform, move, titillate, satiate.
I felt the line being crossed, that do-or-die point of no return as a practically physical realm, passing through me like sound waves. She had the angle, the leverage, and physics was on her side as usual, leaving me no choice but to breathe my passion into her like smoke into her lungs. Not really awake, but more invigorated, I penetrated her, forcing my way in like the brutish bastard I was. If it was animal satisfaction she wanted, she would get it.
(i, breathless and abandoned, now realize i was wrong in second guessing what she really wanted out of me that night. here is why it all fell apart. every little sentimental thing either of us did, conversations and chats and gifts and midnight romantic interludes, would always exaggerate itself in the worst possible way, burning us up, horizontally, in a straight and singular fashion. we packed ourselves in paper, lit the match, and never stopped breathing in.
our love was filterless and all inhalation
no room to exhale, our lungs eventually filled with smoke and tired of love
the only sentimentality that was left was ash in my mouth from when i'd kiss her like licking an ashtray and nowadays i catch a certain smell or accidentally taste that brand HER brand of coffee or i hear the words “whiskey sour” in conjunction with “i dont believe you” and i need NEED N E E D to find a pack of cigarettes expensive and filtered with a book of matches to light up the flavor and suck it all in just to kiss her again
and that's as sentimental as i get.)
I just kept going, dreaming up more stamina, dragging my lips across hers to just make sure she was still breathing after half-an-hour, forty-five minutes, an hour, two, three, dawn. I was rubbed raw, she was crying for me to stop but I was outside of myself and sore and there's a point where pain just starts to feel good again.
I would slow my movements, teasing her, asking if I should stop, and she'd sigh with regret.
So I kept going, and we would breathe each other in.
The sun caught me unawares and I rolled out and off of her. Sweat pooled around us and all my bones liquified at once. She could barely feel her extremities and, if I really put my mind to it, I had trouble admitting I was still in my body. I closed my eyes and only saw light and purity. The air in that room was swampy but full of life, invigorating like a lullaby.
We laid like rivers into each other. An instant lasted forever, and I saw that we were meant for each other, fit just right, like gloves and opposites. Any treacherous waters were navigable.
I am still a fool.