Tuesday, August 31, 2010

THIS ISN’T ME; IT’S ALL FUNCTIONAL

By Barry Graham
 
"You can spend the night beside her, and you know that she's half crazy, but that's why you wanna be there" – Leonard Cohen 
         
          All months are secretly October. She has that kind of power. She’s all food and drink. Eggplant parmesan and vegetarian nachos and iced tea and diet coke. Gallons of it. The shit can’t fall down her throat fast enough. It’s the pills she pops that causes that kind of appetite. Unquenchable she says while she sweats maple syrup and yanks on my bottom lip when she kisses me and I’m not sure if I like it until I feel my dick get hard against her leg and then I’m certain I do like it, but she feels it too and stops kissing me and pushes my face away like it’s my fault she’s there and the bed bugs are biting through her socks but she can’t leave because her car’s three towns away and I’m holding out on giving her cab fare until she tells me why her skin smells so much like pancakes even though it tastes like aspirin when I lick it. It’s the seizures she says, the goddam seizures and the pills, thirteen pills. She told me all their names but I forgot them. That wasn’t part of her charm. Her charm was consuming things that never belonged to her and reminding you you’re not good enough to be as close to her as you are and all of this is my fault. She promised me it will always be October and I believed her. This story is not about bed bugs.

          I want to keep kissing you all night, but I’m so sleepy. Lay here and don’t do anything to encourage me she says then she pulled her shirt up and flatbacked and her tits were small even when I tried squeezing them together and she smoked three joints and bitched between every hit because only niggers and hippies still roll joints, she says even though she kept rolling them but didn’t consider herself either and her intention was to make me feel like shit because I’m the one who bought the Zig Zags even though I don’t smoke unless I’m peer pressured then I smoke until I’m really high and just pretend to hit it the rest of the time instead of simply saying no. This isn’t me she says, it’s all functional and I pinch her left nipple until she winces, then, I know baby. I know. Even though I have no fucking idea what she just said and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to or if she’s crazy or if its all part of her magic but that isn’t likely because her magic never includes making me feel good. 

          The bill for lunch was fifty-six dollars. Just order it, I’ll pay she said and her Visa was blue and pink and Hello Kitty but she couldn’t find it when the delivery guy showed up and she couldn’t turn the light on or take her panties off or get out of bed to shower. It’s the pills, she says, the goddam pills and I miss her now that she’s gone and she wasn’t gone then but I still missed her. I quit heroin cold turkey, she said, cold fucking turkey. I can do anything. I’m a fucking superhero. And she was and she ate two bites of her sandwich and a handful of french fries and drank three extra large diet cokes one after the other and made me throw away the rest in a small trash can with no bag sitting on the shitty blue carpet beside the TV that wouldn’t change for three days through Cartman and Colbert and Zach Galifianakis and we laughed and kissed and I sucked on her tongue when I caught up with it and clenched it between my teeth until she smacked my face then I did it again and she put my hand between her legs on the outside of her jeans and I wouldn’t rub it because she wouldn’t take them off and she pulled her shirt back down and her neck smelled so good, not just pancakes but buttery pancakes left saturated overnight in generic syrup and she’s not here and I miss her and she wiggled her hips. Lay down bitch, she says. Did you just call me a bitch I say and she ignores me and presses her palms against my shoulders and I look out the window through the mirror behind the TV and the leaves are falling and it’s still October and I get out of bed and chop carrots and zucchini and potatoes and broccoli and add them to the stew already stewing in the crock pot. 

          Come back over here and cuddle with me, she says and I do because the lights are off and she’s a superhero and her car’s still three towns away and I still haven’t given her cab fare. What were you thinking calling me a bitch, I say. Haven’t you ever wanted to do that, just grab someone and roll them over and call them a bitch, she says. I thought about it and wasn’t sure if I agreed or disagreed but her goddam skin makes me hungry and now I know what feeds her appetite. Better pancakes than heroin. At least for her sake and I felt her fill a needle with junk and stick it through her syrupy skin and shoot it into my brain and I saw the spot of blood trickle from my skull onto the pillowcase and felt her soft red hair come to rest against my chest with her ear against my heart. I’m a fucking superhero she said again because my thoughts were too loud and she told me about shooting up orange soda in a bathroom stall at an elementary school in North Jersey a half an hour before she chaperoned her niece’s field trip to the state house and I told her about my father beating a man to death with a tire iron at an intersection during a snowstorm in ’82. I used to write speeches she said and she pulled up her right sleeve and showed me 118 tattooed on her forearm which stood for the number of democratic seats in the state legislature and I pulled up my sleeve and showed her my Corinthian cross tattoo and praying hands and I told her Jesus saved my soul because it’s true and because she’s Jewish and I like saying that to Jewish women. Won’t that number change I said, the 118, doesn’t it change all the time and she hated me for saying it but she kissed me and pushed my face away harder than any of the times before and said yes, but they can never take that fucking minute from me, that one fucking minute and she grabbed my iced tea from the bedside table and drank it in one swallow and the leaves were still falling outside and through the window I watched through the mirror and I flipped her over and called her a bitch and she laughed at me and told me that’s not how it works but she wouldn’t tell me how it does work. 

          I worked for the goddam governor she said. Don’t you remember, that’s how we met? We never met until this morning but I wasn’t sure why she pretended not to know that or who she thought I was or wanted me to be. A friend of mine told me about her and she emailed me out of the blue and asked if she could come see me and I told her yes and we walked right passed each other on the sidewalk and stopped after five steps and turned around and looked at each other and she hugged me like she knew me forever and maybe she did and she kissed me and followed me to the bar even though she wouldn’t drink. It’s the pills, she says, the goddam pills then it made sense why she drove from Trenton to Camden to meet someone she might have just met. I’m having a fucking breakdown. Ice my head down, please baby, please ice my head down and I iced her head down and she told me she knew it was me as soon as we passed each other and that’s why she stopped and she knew that I knew it was her and that’s why I stopped and that’s when she told me it will be October for as long as I wanted it to be and I said I wanted it to be forever and she took a bite of her nachos and licked my top lip and I tasted the salt from her chips and I paid the bill with cash and called a yellow cab that never came so I called Al’s cab and they came fifteen minutes late and she held my hand and asked me for my jacket which I gave her. I kept the ice on her head the whole way home and after it melted I froze it again and put it back on but it came open while we slept and the water soaked our pillows and shirts and blankets and even then she wouldn’t take her clothes off but I didn’t mind because by then I didn’t want her to.

          Quit your fucking snoring she said. It’s my bed I said. You’re bed? You want me to hit you in your mouth? Not really I said, can you make it my nose? I have to use my mouth for work. I’m sorry baby, I wouldn’t really hit you she said, but really, quit the fucking snoring already. I couldn’t stop and she flipped and flopped and grabbed my neck and put me in a headlock and forced my lips against her skin and I tasted heroin and she told me to kiss her all over and I did and she rubbed her hips against my dick then rolled as far over on the opposite side of the bed as she could without falling off. But really, quit the fucking snoring already. She told me her mother made her father sleep alone in the guest bedroom because he never stopped snoring and I told her my father came home from the bar after getting jumped by four bikers and woke my mother up to load his shotgun and when she ignored him and tried to sleep and wouldn’t stop snoring he beat her on the side of the head with the butt of the gun until her left ear stopped working. My mother filed for divorce when I was twelve she said. My father never fucking got it. My father’s in prison and my mother’s dead I said. My father never got it either. She stopped bothering me about the snoring and the bed bugs penetrated her socks and started up her ankles and calves and I kissed her on the top of her hand and she smiled and the leaves were still falling and the stew was still cooking in the croc pot. 

          I don’t want to leave but I have to baby, I’m starting a new job in the morning. I’m working for myself she said. I scooped two bowls of stew and handed one to her and I ran my plastic spoon down the center of her chest and around her nipples and stirred in her sweat before I took a bite and I kissed her when my mouth was full and she turned her head so I let the stew fall from my mouth down the side of her cheek and I licked it off and she put her head back down on the pillow and took off her shirt and unzipped her pants and dumped her stew on her stomach and the juice pooled in her belly button and I slurped it up and she pushed my face further down and she’s a superhero so she pushes me away. Oh, my head baby, please get more ice for my head she said and a drink please get me a drink. I gave her more iced tea and rubbed her head down with ice until it melted and I leaned in close and kept my lips pressed against her skin. I need a fucking shower. Why’d you dump this shit all over me she said. I handed her a small white towel and she asked how long we’ve known each other. Since October I said it will always be October. It’s the pills, she says, the goddam pills and the lights are off and I found her Hello Kitty Visa on the floor beside her purse and she kisses me and pushes me away and her head and her hands start to shake and I curl beside her and pet her hair which is slowly getting sweatier and I turned the TV off and there was only darkness. 

          My parents aren’t really divorced she said. My mother’s not really dead I said and we both laughed and her bangs are wet and I brushed them out of her eyes before I looked at her. My father doesn’t even snore she said. I know I said I’ve met him, remember and she closed her eyes and nodded her head and the bed bugs had her wrists and arms bitten and she scratched the bites until they bled. Come back over here and cuddle with me, she says and I tell her I’m still here. Why can’t I feel you she says and I kiss her on her bottom lip and bite and pull it but she can’t feel and none of us can feel and I’m not sure if we were ever meant to and neither does she and she says so before I do which is one of her charms. What can I do for you baby, what can I do I say. I could really use twenty dollars for a cab she says and I hand her a twenty. I feel like a prostitute she says. Prostitutes take their panties off I wanted to say but didn’t. I kissed her on the cheek and called a yellow cab that never came so I called Al’s cab and they came fifteen minutes late and she held my hand and I kissed it. All months are secretly October she whispered into my mouth and the leaves outside were falling as I watched her walk away. 
          
Barry Graham teaches writing at rutgers university and he wrote the national virginity pledge. His favorite word is sandwich. Look for him online at www.barrygfunk.blogspot.com

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