We’re in the Rathskeller. It’s loud, smoky, and dark, and I say something like, “I don’t know how to do this.”
I say something like, “I’ve never felt this way before.” I don’t know exactly what I’m saying but I know exactly how to explain what it feels like. It feels like I’d started dying from something that stained everything inside me with the exhaustion of running up sixteen flights of stairs with thirty-pound weights on my ankles while watching all my friends having sex.
Nothing I do makes me feel better. I sit still doing absolutely nothing until the futility of that becomes an almost religious torment, and then I need to be out of my skin. I need to be someone else.
This is one of those threesome nights you have in college. You know the ones—the couple goes back to one of their dorm rooms and makes love till sun up and the odd man out goes back to his or her room and either jerks off if he’s a guy, or cries herself to sleep if he’s a she, or something like both if they’re really messed up.
Tonight it’s Chuck and Sandy and me drinking fifty-cent beers on the Miller promotion and talking about what we're going to do on winter break. The band is loud and the place is mobbed as half the students there are finished with mid-terms and the other half are beyond caring.
Sandy is sitting on Chuck’s lap looking gorgeous, draping her long blonde Rapunzellian hair over his face, alternately nibbling his ear and pushing her breasts into his face, and I tell them both to go get a room and come back when they're done. But at nineteen you’re never done, are you?
“You can join us,” she says, staring me in the eye and running a fingertip over her lips.
When Chuck doesn’t say anything I feel I have to.
“The only reason you asked is because you know I’ll say ‘no.’ ”
“This is a problem,” she says, and she hops off Chuck’s lap and into the seat beside him. Leaning over her elbows her face is half way across the table when she tells me I’m hiding behind my naiveté. Then she drinks the rest of the beer in my plastic cup. She comes around to my side of the table, thrusts her fingers into my hair, and kisses me.
Every clock that had ever been created comes to an irrevocable, terminal halt.
The band is playing a song by Duran Duran called “Hungry Like The Wolf”. It stops in mid-note. There is a guy at the table next to us wearing a buckskin jacket that makes him look like Davy Crockett. He’s smoking Marlboros and the trail of blue-white from the ashtray has frozen in the air like paper-mache. His girlfriend is wearing a yellow halter top. Carter is president. He’s just seen a big alien rabbit on the riverbank while he was fishing.
Had my heart been beating, my pulse would be one-hundred twenty beats per minute.
My left sneaker is untied and because time has frozen it can never be tightened down again.
She's got on some kind of lip-gloss that tastes like waxy strawberries. Otherwise her mouth tastes like Anna’s tastes like mine. Her breath is mine.
Clinically, it’s nothing. We exchange a little local flora. I learn she had a ridge on her right incisor.
Mentally, it’s Armegeddon. Most of this stuff is in your mind, right? I could be kissing Anna in the woods by the supermarket in Perryville. I could be lifting her shirt over her head, unfastening her bra.
Some day when the sun goes supernova and vaporizes the planet to glowing gasses that moment will be left hanging in space like dogwood fur suspended on a warm breeze. That will be my contribution to the universe.
All at once I remember being born, what I had for breakfast Saturday morning three weeks ago, and where I left my student ID.
Sandy sits down next to Chuck and it takes me nearly a minute to get my eyes to refocus so I can see and realize that she’d stopped and left me French kissing the air. People are laughing as I gasp, taking he first breath of the rest of my life.
Some indeterminate time later my brain resets and I remember where I am. But when it starts it isn’t me that’s in my head. It’s a version of me. Mitchell prime. Mitchell II. Some guy named Rocco that Anna’s looking for.
“She really likes doing that,” Chuck says. “I’ll bet you’ve never been kissed like that before.”
I'm going to protest when Sandy says, “No shit, Sherlock. He’s never been kissed by anyone but his mother. Ain’t that right?”
And she wasn’t much of a kisser, either. “Yeah. I mean, no,” I stutter as my stomach turns cartwheels. Do I tell them about Anna or save my pride and let them know I gave her my virginity like free money at a derelict festival.
I feel sick and happy at the same time. No need to go into what Anna and I did all those nights ago. Let them think what they want. It’s easier to strike when they think you’re helpless. Sun Tzu said that. Or somebody.
I’m somebody named Rocco now. Some big Italian guy who wears leather driving gloves, carries a crowbar, and packs heat. Wait till I’m in the movies.
“Welcome to the world, honey,” Sandy says, and she’s leaning over the table again, the neckline of her low-cut top well below the limits of modesty, “If you want this woman, you have to tell her how you feel about her. Women need to hear the words. You can be Prince Charming and sweep her off her feet on your big white horse, but if you use the wrong words, she’s going to walk no matter how big it is. Now you tell it to me like I’m her. Tell me why you’re in love with me.”
It takes me a second or two to remember how to speak, and another half a minute to convince myself I’m not in love with Sandy.
“She’s got, I mean you’ve got great…” An acceptable noun wasn’t coming to me. I keep thinking “breasts”.
If only she wasn’t leaning over like that.
“You’ve deflowered him,” Chuck says, and Sandy kicks him under the table and orders him to get us all some more beer. When he leaves he warns us that if he finds us fornicating on the table he’ll kill both of us.
That won’t stop me if Sandy’s game, but she’s gone from mistress to counselor. Now she wants to be my big sister.
“Wrong-o, Clark,” she says. “You have to tell her how she makes you feel. Half of being in love is about being in control when you’re out of control. You’re not controlling yourself. You’re letting the other person control you. Get it?”
I tell her I don’t. I want her tongue in my mouth again. I want my hand on her breast. I want to feel the nipples I can see through her shirt because it makes me feel like I did when I was with Anna. We’ve conceived a little monster and it’s living in my guts, just below my diaphragm.
She's become Anna. Everything is Anna, and I am in love with everything.
She says, “It’s like when you surrender. You’re just falling. You warn the other person you’re going to drop out of the sky and you want to know they’re not going to let you hit the ground. It’s like that. See?”
“Can you kiss me again?” I ask her as quietly as I can and still have her hear me over the music.
“Shit.” She waves her hands in disgust. “I’m trying to help you but you guys are all the same. You’re all pigs.”
The little monster is chewing up the thick crust of my defenses. I feel I can say anything and not get hurt.
“Can I come with you and Chuck and make love?” I ask, meaning it. “Can we go right now?”
“Shit,” she’s getting frustrated and rolls her eyes. Then with an exasperated breath she blurts, “Like—NO,” and I watch her breasts rise and fall as she sighs. I wish she’d just keep doing it so I can keep watching.
“Then why did you ask?”
“Because…because I didn’t think you’d be such a little creep.”
Just then Chuck comes back balancing one beer between two others. He plops all three onto the table and I grab mine and down half in one gulp.
“Woah, what did you do to him?” he asks Sandy.
“He’s out of control,” she answers.
Chuck laughs as he finds his seat. “You’ve created a monster.”
I smile at the two of them. For a little while I’m not so lovesick.
“He’s hopeless. He’s gone… totally dangerous. Absolutely a sick puppy,” Sandy says.
“Is he in love with you?” That’s Chuck, getting worried.
Sandy smirks. “Right now he thinks every woman is Anna.”
“Then what’s the other half?” I ask.
“Of what?” she says, scanning the room as if she’d stopped paying attention to me.
“You said control was only half of being love. What’s the other half?”
Chuck slides an arm around her waist and nuzzles her neck, “Did you tell him about the Kama Sutra?”
Sandy pushes him away. “No I didn’t. I made a mistake.”
She gets up ignoring Chuck’s protests for her to stay.
Chuck: “What the hell did he say to you?”
“Nothing. You guys. Men. You’re all such dickheads.”
“What the hell’s going on here?” Chuck complains and slaps his palms on the table.
Sandy grabs her purse and leans over me. “What’s your favorite color?”
“Is this a joke?” I say, laughing a little. “Like that movie?”
“You don’t have one, do you? How about horses? Pinto? Palomino? Appaloosa?”
I shrug. “I don’t know anything about horses. I don’t get it.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so.”
She leaves Chuck and me to contemplate the eternal intricacies of sex and the human mating ritual.