Moment Thirty-One (Trade)

 

I told the tall man with the beard and the round glasses that made him resemble a teacher that I knew my way back home. I was already out of the bathroom when he asked me that. I had washed my hands in the sink by the green shower curtain, and used the fancy-looking liquid soap whose dark green plastic bottle reminded me of avocadoes for no apparent reason. I had dried my hands with the pink bath towel hanging from the wall by the mirror. It might have been his towel or his roommate’s. I had not met the roommate. The roommate was but an immaculate white door at the end of the hallway.

When I came out of the bathroom the man with the beard and the glasses, whose name I did not know how to spell, was wearing a different pair of underwear. It was the first thing I noticed when I came out of the bathroom and went into his bedroom, where he was moving around, supposedly arranging things. It was then that I told him I was going to take my coat and go because I didn’t know what else to say or do. It felt weird to come out of the bathroom and go straight to the hanger by the entrance door. That’s why I went into the bedroom one last time.

His eyes were suddenly so big that I couldn’t look at him.

I was so embarrassed I could only look at the high mattress bed with the white sheets and the white covers, their whiteness so blinding in the light coming from the windows. Those unforgivable rays of light coming through the shutters and the naked windows overlooking a parking lot. The light in which I had watched him fall asleep and heard him snore, felt his muscles twitching under me. In that same light I saw his face gradually relax, his lips parting. In that same light I saw a string of saliva extend between his teeth as his mouth opened to take in gulps of air. In that same light I saw dust motes dancing and his face catch fire when I was desperately trying to fall asleep but couldn’t. I tried everything except counting sheep. I tried measuring the symmetry of the white closets closed neatly, tried mentally silencing the whirring of the radiator. I looked at the laundry baskets stacked on the closets. I tried not to think about the fact that I had wiped my hands clean in his pajama top. I tried to ignore the smell of cum that mingled innocently with the smell of his eau de toilette whose name he couldn’t remember.

His body was unresponsive. I knew it when his hand slid down my back lifelessly. I felt it when I caressed his other hand lying on his chest.

And all I could think of was the roommate, the immaculate white door at the end of the hallway. Had he heard the man with the beard and the glasses moan? Had he heard that final release when the man with the beard and the glasses told me he was going to cum? He must have heard the apologies at least. The argument with the stress relief, he must have heard that.

Minutes earlier we had cuddled under the white covers, and while I pinned him down against the bed with my head lying heavy on his chest, he kept pushing my right hand downwards towards his crotch and moaned from deep inside his chest when my hand reached its destination. Slowly, I kept moving my hand over his erection just to hear him moan because here was a man who had picked me up, had bought bath tissue and avocado oil from Costco, had taken me to a park and then to his place, a man who had held all that power over me but who was now moaning because I was touching him.

There had been an uncanny detachment between me and my hands. As when I asked him whether he could drive his car with only one hand so that I could hold his other one. Maybe he felt the same detachment between him and his right hand, the one that felt warm and heavy against my knee. Maybe he felt the same detachment when I watched him take his sweatpants off.

Then I stopped touching him, and the moaning ceased, and he got on top of me and kissed my neck. There was hesitation before the kiss, I felt it, as if for a moment he had considered kissing me on the lips but concluded it was dangerous.

A visit to Costco and a nearby park doesn’t say too much about a guy anyway. Not even the jokes about the huge wallpaper with Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

When my hands were no longer moving, his right hand started to dig into my t-shirt until it found skin, and there rejoiced and bloomed into a series of circular movements that felt ticklish. I begged him to stop and he stopped. I told him I wanted to make that moment all about him and not about me because I was all about that, about satisfying a bearded tall man who was more than ten years older than me.

It was then that he told me I should continue doing my job.

And so I slid my hand under his shirt and felt the hairs on his stomach and chest; then found one of his nipples and circled it with my index finger.

He started moaning again, but only when my hand went down there.

I told him to slow down. Shshsh.

You can’t tease me like that, he said.

I can do whatever I please, I told the man with the beard and the round glasses whose name I did not know how to spell.

He knew perfectly well that it was going to happen.

It had happened already when I asked him whether he wanted me to go. He said he didn’t want me to go but he should probably get out of bed and take a shower because a friend of his was supposed to stop by in the next couple of hours. I told him I was going to go and he said okay. I got up and went to the bathroom to wash my hands.

He knew it was going to happen when we were still at the park. I saw it in the way he looked at my crotch when we were contemplating one of those works of art in the park by the river.

I believe it was called Trade. The work of art I mean.

We were looking at the little plastic animals covered in what seemed like petrol. One of them was a giraffe. Another one was an animal whose name I was unable to recall.

I’m sure it had something to do with trade because there, by the door, before I left his apartment, he hugged me and thanked me, and it all felt like a handshake, the kind of handshake merchants do at the end of a successful transaction.

Letter to an absent friend (Wednesday, December 30, 2015)

How-to-Draw-a-Face-5-2-by-Drawing-Academy-2-2

Dear friend,

All of my letters to you are coming back to me. For no reason apparently, since there’s no reason listed on any of the envelopes. The mailman refuses to speak to me whenever I try to question him. At times I believe he is avoiding me. He tiptoes into the apartment building, then runs away like a bandit. It’s not his fault, I know. Maybe you’ve moved to another place without leaving behind a forwarding address, without telling me. Maybe you’ve instructed your landlady to return any letters coming from me. Regardless of this, I shall keep sending these letters to your old address because it’s the only one I have and because, well, you’re the only one I can talk to at the present moment.

I had the chance to reread all of my past letters to you since they were all returned to me. For an instant, when I opened one of the envelopes, I had the eerie impression that perhaps you had opened the envelope, read the letter, and then sent it back to me as a sort of reproach. The paper felt strange in between my fingers, the words oddly aloof and cold. It was as if I had not written them myself. In fact, for a long while after I had resealed the envelope and put it in the drawer on top of the other letters, I thought that, considering that sudden first impression, the letter had not been written by me at all but sent from some distant, parallel universe, where we were still together and were able to actually share these words.

It doesn’t matter anyway, I shall keep writing to you, and this is not the reason I’m writing to you today.

I write to you from distant lands, where the winter feels unnecessary, and the holidays are colored in green and red, and the women in food markets speak of broccoli and avocados, give voice to the promise of quiet dinners that stretch long into the night. I sometimes listen to them because the promise is so soothing that I suddenly want to inhabit it. I desire to have those dinners, in homes that actually feel like home. I wish I could offer you that feeling.

One of the things I like about the cold in winter is the steam that comes out of people’s mouths on freezing mornings. It feels as if they actually have a soul reaching out to stretch its limbs. I say as if because I do not believe they actually have a soul. I know, it sounds like the momentary wisdom of a child, but have you ever wondered why people can’t see the fire in your eyes, why they are so heedless of the fact that, at times, molten rock bleeds from your nostrils and eyes when you suddenly feel a wave of affection for the world that surrounds you? It’s not because you lack that feeling. It’s there, you can feel the warmth of it going through your hands and legs, it makes your eyes wet, you cannot deny it, and you feel as if there’s nothing else that could better prove the existence of the soul, your soul. And it’s not because they are incapable of seeing it. Their emotional antennas haven’t been numbed by repeated exposure to television drama. It’s because there is no fire in your eyes. You are not bleeding molten rock. The warmth you feel is but a slight change in your body’s temperature. Language itself has given you the fire and the molten rock, and these gifts are so paper thin that they wither the very instant they are given to you.

Yet, is there another way to speak to you? Steer clear somehow of this eccentric matron, our language, that comes to sit in between the two of us every time I try to reach you? If I speak to you of love and friendship these gifts have already withered, centuries ago. If I touch you, no matter how sensual that touch may be, my hand has withered long before I made the decision to reach out and touch you. The letters that have come back to me have not returned to encounter me but a creature so withered that I cannot distinguish the piece of paper I’m writing these words on from the hand writing them. You have withered as well because the people you don’t see every day parch and then crack like plaster. You see what language can do to us? It turns us into plaster, makes us bleed molten rock, and burns our eyes.

Remember the flowers we used to hide in books during the summer when we were children? Remember how the books sucked the moisture out of them and turned them into distant memories? How suddenly the language in those books gained vitality, how much they resembled life. Maybe that is even the reason why those returned letters felt so eerily distant. Their words, I believe, had gained their vitality from that earlier version of me.

I must end this letter by telling you that I am now afraid. Not of some approaching danger, no clouds darken yet the chunk of horizon I manage to see from my window. I am only afraid there is no way out of all this, that the more you dig the more words will come out and I will never be able to find you.

Until I will have proof of that, until I am reassured of the outcome of this premonition, I shall keep writing to you, no matter what.

Your lover.

Chicken: A Short Story

EncounterThe auburn shoes don’t match, they just don’t, and that was the first hitch of the day. His father did say something about the shoes while he was trying them on. It wasn’t the color according to father. And yet he can’t recall exactly what it was. There was something wrong with the way they were made, the whole thing. But he did not confront father and that was always the case because father was never clear about things. Father would mumble as if he was afraid to take responsibility for the things that came out of his mouth. He hated that, the indecisiveness, not knowing how to react, not knowing what to do in such circumstances, and secretly, as if ashamed by the thought, he hoped he would not turn out to be like his father.

Now he is completely aware of it, of the shoes that is, and that gruesome auburn that seems like a splotch on the whole outfit. They seemed so much nicer while he was trying them on. And it’s not just that. What he’s most angry at is the fact that he fell for it. He fell for all that capitalist shopping-aura related bag full of crap that pushed people into buying things they didn’t particularly like. Now he has to deal with the side effects, with the sorrow that comes with realizing that it was a mistake, with understanding that the shoes don’t match and it all boils down to wasted money, money that his parents can’t spare. And now, as he is waiting in line for his fried chicken he has the uncanny feeling that he is being watched by people who disagree with his choice of shoes. Everyone seems to be staring at the shoes and all he can think of is just going home and switching the damned shoes with the old and worn-out navy blue pair.

Even the guy standing in line next to him seems to be staring at his shoes and he feels like saying something to him, telling him that it was the shopping craze, and shops made him nervous. Most of all, he wanted to tell the guy that in the shop the color seemed like a gesture of rebellion, a rule-breaking statement that would disrupt the tediousness of life. But that would be weird and so he doesn’t say anything. People don’t just talk about shoes like that while waiting for their fried chicken.

Instead he pretends to be looking through the menu, and the words don’t make sense because people can’t possibly want roasted nails, they don’t exist, and it’s the shoes again, and all he wants is to get his fried chicken and get out, but the chubby guy at the counter who is supposed to deliver his order is too busy talking and joking around. Italians, the thought furiously takes shape, they like that, talking as if talking were an occupation of some sort. Or smoking. It must have been Wilde, he thinks, a man should always have an occupation of some kind. He’s sure of it. It must have been Wilde, just the right amount of sarcasm. He plays with the phrase in his mind. Italians should have an occupation of some kind. Talking, that is, delicious idleness. Does he talk that much? In the end, he, too, is Italian. Studying all those foreign languages at the university can’t change the fact that he is still one of them.

The guy next to him, he must be Italian, too. His vaguely dark skin and the dark hair, both seem to confirm his Italian origins. He feels a sort of pride in it, in being able to guess the nationality of someone just by the color of his or her skin. It must be because he is Italian too, and he knows. It’s just too easy and too arrogant in a way. He dismisses the thought immediately. The guy seems to have moved closer and as he turns for an instant to look out of the windows of the takeaway he has a clear glimpse of the guy’s underwear just beneath the shirt sloppily hanging over the belt. He turns quickly back to the menu blood rushing to his cheeks. The guy must have seen it, he is almost sure of it; the curious and almost indecent look as that of a child caught red handed in the cookie jar. And yet the image hangs in there as if it were the embodiment of a promise, of something reachable, almost like an invitation, and he can’t get rid of it. He wants to get rid of it as quickly as possible because he feels the guy’s cold and alien stare on the back of his head. Where is that chicken? He tries to make his impatience visible by moving his feet nervously because that’s all he could think of to make the image go away and with it his shame. But somehow the images squeezes itself back and again it turns into a promise. He must be wearing boxer briefs, grey, with a blue waistband.

“Let’s just hope the chicken won’t be too fried”, the guy says moving closer. He smiles and then laughs, a nervous laugh that seems fake even to himself. And there’s that cheap perfume, he can’t remember the name, notorious and with no personality.

 

“It’s so much more difficult in your case”, Gareth says, “when a guy sees a girl he likes, he can only hope she likes him back”. He nods. He and Gareth took the same course in American literature a few years back. They have been friends since then, and if he closes his eyes he can still see Gareth standing outside the building waiting for the class to start. Even now, as he tries to recall the moment, he can still feel the remains of that almost secret wish to become Gareth’s friend. A clandestine craving for his skin, almost sexual, that grew to obsessive proportions while they were still unknown to each other, but then had to be denied because of the inappropriateness of it. There was something about him, about the way in which he looked around him as if terrified by the prospect of an unexpected encounter. Gareth somewhat looked like a harmless deer while feeding, its eyes alert, muscles tightened, ready to leap at the slightest movement in the bushes. He later found out that Gareth was part of a famous band and he inferred that unexpected encounters must have always been on the agenda. Gareth denied that on several occasions and will continue to deny it until nobody will care anymore. Now they’re on the train, heading back home, their friendship strengthened by the many talks they’ve had over the years.

“You see a guy you like”, Gareth continues, “and you have to be very careful because the distinction is not very clear”. Gareth repeats the pronoun as if for emphasis. There it is again, he thinks, the revelatory use of pronouns to make a point, to divide things. Moses, too, might have used a pronoun to part the waters. We’re on this side and you’re on the other, there’s no mistake about that. He always resented and treasured that, the way English pronouns left room for interpretation. Once, while he was still in college, he thought of writing an ode to the omnipotent and oblique you, its superb and almost tasteful indifference toward gender and other distinctions of that kind. The very notion of otherness seemed obliterated by this indifference, thrown into stupor by a language so responsive to the needs of its users that it even reacted to his need for coded language.

“You never know how he’s going to react”, he replies, “he might even punch you in the face or something. You just secretly wish he’s like you“. It rarely happens, it’s a mistake that they do, think that all men are like them, or secretly wish they were like them, and then act according to that false conviction. All men are curious, one of his friends used to say. You can never be sure and you look for hidden signs. A look, or maybe a smile, a timid touch on the shoulder and bodies responding to it lavishly as if that touch is the answer that they’ve been waiting for a very long time. We’re so obsessed with our coded language that we start seeing hidden meanings even in the most innocent exchanges.

Gareth goes on telling him that he met a guy once, a musician, who told him that he would hit on practically every guy because he could never be sure about it. The word stays hidden like an ugly child. There are other people around them and they could hear and jump to conclusions. There’s a self-absorbed teenager sitting on the opposite row of seats. But a game, finally, you pull the lever and three red cherries might pop up. He wants to say that there is always a triple standard, three little boxes that you need to tick before moving in. All three need to be ticked otherwise it doesn’t work. All those fears and the longing that never goes away eventually boil down to that, to three little squares: I like him, he’s like me, and he likes me too. And that’s that, three saintly likes sitting in a tree k-i-s-s-i-n-g. He’s almost furious, because of the unfairness of the whole situation. Then he realizes that he’s missing something else, something that he won’t be able to tell Gareth because then Gareth will end up knowing too much about him. Even now, as the train rushes out of the underground tunnel and into the blinding light, he resents the whole discussion. And then that mouth, miss congeniality. There’s another box that needs to be ticked before doing anything. It’s not a question of swimming or playing tennis. You need to know who’s who. A trivial thing, but still vital: unless one wants to waste a relationship by acting as if one was living in a nunnery, and nobody wants that. He could try to explain it to Gareth and Gareth would smile and maybe say oh and that would be the end of it and the starting point of a friendship lived in awkwardness. And for a moment, Gareth resembles an exhausted friend turned enemy.

 

They are both laughing now and he’d like to reach out, see how flesh responds to that other flesh. Epithelium, graspable but still capable of osmosis, people can’t be that, at least, they can’t be like that, as always the body stands in the way. He wants to say move closer, or move over, there are strings tied to his ankles as he moves. The rest of the world is the true density, the air with all its noble gases, that’s it, the body is variation, impure, and still it wants to extend its arms outward. A revelation that comes too late to change anything. A commotion and a plastic bag a voice addressing him. Your chicken, it says, and for a moment he has the eerie feeling that the voice is telling him something else as if in a dream. He cannot tell what it is. It’s too late now because a hand is extended, a palm and on it veins swollen, the outline of a tree, so tempting that he wants to feel it on his face. He takes a step back to make some space. The chubby guy at the counter stops for a moment, mouth open, plastic bag in midair, as if to say something. The plastic bag goes over the counter slowly and the extended palm takes it, some money and niceties exchanged, and that’s it. One final glimpse of the loose shirt and the underwear beneath, and that’s it. He moves, heavily, and then looks at the menu. Those damned shoes.

Letter to an absent friend (July 27)

Childhood_under_the_Sun Dear friend,

I apologize for my late reply, your letters never seem to arrive these days, I guess they just get lost on the way. Yet, I know you write to me every day, I just know it, I refuse to think that you have forgotten me. I refuse to believe I now linger at the back of your mind like one of those memories you refuse to acknowledge.

I would like to write to you about happiness, this imaginary friend that we all look for at one point and in whose company we feel like nothing could go wrong. But things can go wrong, sadly, and happiness is always greatest the minute before you realize something has gone terribly wrong. You’ll think I’m selfish, but selfishness, in my case, is like a declaration of love to you, dear friend. Only I know how many declarations of love I’ve written praising you and your beauty. Your beauty, the one that feels like the innocent cruelty of the sun.

I’ve been places lately, places I cannot even name because in the geography that we humans have created for ourselves they do not yet exist. Our friendship is a place. Despair is a place. Solitude is a place too. This very letter is a place. That is why I’m writing about happiness. I want this letter to be a happy place, its walls filled with pictures of happy people under the sun, smiling, loving people, the people that we both long to become. They are all happy, I swear to you, and because they are happy we must be happy too. I’d like to tell you about how the happiness of the others is really the happiness that we should live for, that I should live for. Think how, really, the kind of happiness that you experience every day is nothing compared to the happiness that we share like the jagged wheels of a huge mechanism powered by those who hold hands, and kiss, and can tell these things to each other while having breakfast. This might sound idealistically grand to you, but I swear, it is the most selfish thing that I could ever fathom. I am happy for you, really, because I know that when you are happy at least one tenth of that happiness descends, like the tentacles of a drug, into my own bloodstream, until I become like a sponge feeding on the remnants of that feast we call happiness. Like the prodigal son I return to you begging for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a kind of happiness too. The kind of happiness that I desire. Will you offer me that?

 

Yours.

Epidermis (VI)

Epidermis (VI) Bodies fall into categories. Like corpses they drop dead, one by one, in tombs tunneling the red dirt of our desires. In the morning, as we both wake up, we wonder if by chance, overnight, our room was invaded by armies of ants, their tiny legs carrying the smell of earth back to our unaccustomed sense of smell. Only moments later we discover our dirty feet and realize that it had been us all along, and not the ants, that we’ve been crossing the night barefoot in search of justification. How long before they find the tracks we’ve left behind in the immense fields of the night? The dirt we have stepped into, hand in hand, was a trap and now we carry clay on our feet as a reminder of our escape. In this game I will be [body number two]. You will be [body number one]. Into those two numbers we’ll fall like corpses, one by one, in tombs tunneling the red dirt of their desires. We’ll carry that deep smell for the remainder of our lives, somewhere in between our ribs and we’ll keep blaming the ants each morning. Only then [our love] shall cross, undisturbed, the night once again.

Epidermis (V)

Epidermis (V) The body is a phantom limb. It hurts when desire should hurt. The body is the orphaned child coming back to us, tied at the end of a string we name [our love]. It comes back to us at the end of every fear. The body is the child who sleeps silently at the feet of our bed on stormy nights. Once we reach the end of that string the body climbs into our bed, like a serpent, and settles, eyes half-closed, in between the sheets. We embrace it like parents embrace a newborn. Later on, as the night draws to a close, we can hear it whisper: I am the end of the string. And we desperately cling to each other knowing that the end of the string is not only the end of [our love], but also the end of other things. So we make love again to forget about other ends. And we forget about the body that hurts when desire should hurt, and think of how unfair this world is, and how the body sits, unalarmed, at the end of everything, how this defines my love for you, my longing. [Our love] goes as far as the body goes.    

Epidermis (IV)

ToyBarrelOfMonkeys The body is the prosthetic limb of our desires, an extension to our lust, the nerve endings programmed to touch and lead us into despair. The body lets you know there’s a limit to our [love]. Every touch is an ending in progress, the entropy, the heat and the cold. [Love] is a sequence of evil-minded angels descending from heaven hand in hand like barrel toy monkeys. The body unfolds, makes itself visible as the years go by. One of the angels looks back in fear knowing this is no good. But things are now settled. The leader of the pack is no animal. The leader of the pack is an idea. ‘We must love’, he says. Hand in hand the evil-minded angels descend. The one at the beginning of the stream holds all the weight. We make [love] and hold on to a cloud. The act of our creation was not blessed. It does not matter. The way we hold each other, my muscles tightening around your waist, is a blessing. Our love is fury, revenge, happening at the end of that stream of angels hand in hand like barrel toy monkeys.

Epidermis (III)

Inside-the-heart The body is a matter of conviction, a cluster of immovable organs. The organ is the idea. The eye is a matter of seeing. Your hand signifies holding hands. The lips mean kissing, oh, the heart means carnage. There is no way out of this vicious circle. Our love must be ritual. We move around each other showing signs, symptoms. My lungs moving up and down mean to tell you that you take my breath away. When they no longer move in that way I need to say it. Language is no longer referential. We need to tell each other somehow that our bodies long for each other. You need to get ready before I kiss you with the intention of carrying on. I need to make it clear by saying it and making that language referential. I want more than kissing and holding hands, I’d say it, and you’d say all right, just give me a minute. Our love must be ritual. We need to convince ourselves that it must be ritual. We envy their easiness but we make love anyway. Otherwise we would vanish. What am I to do without you?

Epidermis (II)

vertebrae_visible Our [love] is a fleeting moment, our bed is a tomb. We’re making [love] to avoid the word. In the morning I get rid of the skin that touches you during the night and make a suitcase out of it to remember the burden of that touch. During the day touch turns into whisper. We, like many others, have fallen into the cliché of thinking that our [love] must be a fleeting moment. For them, it’s always [he] and [she] for eternity. Their fables show the triumph of that closeness happening between two bodies of a different kind. Although ours are the same we never seemed more different. The fables that we utter must be written in fleeting deictics. Our [love] never stops seeking. For us it’s always [me] and [you], and no one knows who [I] am, and [you] are the atom of negligible presence. Our [love] is the sacrifice we perform in view of our end, when our happiness shall happen elsewhere, most likely in between these pages. We live exiled, reunited, and then exiled again, once more, by these very hands.

Epidermis (I)

8561491015_85bf309db3_z There are strings glued to your eyes. The flesh on your hands is feverish. Your eyes move with the burden of all the things that you’ve seen, and they, like cubs to a mother, hold on to you. My skin burns with your touch. Every patch of scorched skin is my body’s way of remembering you. Your body is a book of rules you and I must follow. A fleeting look is multitude of thoughts. I see the naked men and women that dance in that glance of yours. I can see your ribs moving along the rhythm. And suddenly you seem so small. There’s one more body growing inside your body. Men and women dance, their limbs tied to strings. Your hands guide the blood that flows white through flesh, the page, your hands guide the word. The other body comes out every time your hand touches mine, and with that, the whole of humanity. Sometimes we touch only with this body, visible to the eye, full of intent. We look at it and wonder. Is this the kind of love we feel when two elements meet?