Before we start, he drapes his red do-rag across the top of the lamp shade. It doesn’t much improve the tight rented room. He claims it makes mood. It does keep the roaches at bay to have light. In total darkness I’m afraid to be here. He knows it. Undressing me slowly. “How’s this,” he says.
The air conditioner croaked last week. I shiver through the heat and cooking smells that drift down. Pierogis again upstairs? The room is dirty. Especially the plank wood floor. I could write my name on this floor. I could write Remember Me. The ceiling is water stained from the upstairs landlord. Yellow irregular shapes bulge it like collapsing countries. I suppose it could cave in. Three stories of beach corrosion and decades of neglect. I lie there and contemplate which bulge will fall first. An old drunk, the Pierogi cook. A landlord who overflows his tub periodically. His sink. From where I am in the bed I can glimpse the fire escape. My one true friend, that rusted ladder, should the landlord fall asleep with a cigarette.
“I hope my bike is OK,” he’s saying. “This neighborhood sucks. Too many gangs down the shore now,” he says just before parting my legs.
I think of the cows from my childhood moseying through sweet grass.
Though his body is going to fat, most of the muscle tone lost, his waist has stayed small. Almost tiny. Feminine. A light bulb tapering to its source. No beer belly here, he has said from time to time proudly thumping it. In the lumpy bed he’s careful how he handles me. Knows I’m this close to decomposing.
When I’m finally ready he asks did I take my birth control pill.
“Myra, why do you always wait till the last minute? What if you forget?”
The possibilities are infinite.
“Sometimes I think you want to have a baby.”
“We can stop here if you like,” I say sitting up. “We can go out for drinks and a burger.” I watch the vertical vein down his forehead start to pop.
“I need to finish.” He groans and smacks the bed. “You’re disorganized, Myra.”
It’s true. I’m a disorganized mess. Have been since… forever. Since Trevor after taking Gray Death. He knew. Just once he said. So I can cross that off. I remember him grinning. Wind blowing red-blond mop of hair in his eyes, everything on the bright beach glistening. A perfect day. Not a cloud and the surf churning white. Love. Buckets full. Like the kids kneeling at the water’s edge filling their rubber pails. And I was staring at Trevor, and I was thinking: Does everything have to be a fucking contest? And what if you lose?
“Where are your pills, Myra?” He sounds controlled as he pushes off the low bed.
My eyes ride the crack in his ass when he bends to rifle through my purse. “Why do you women have to carry these huge bags?”
“Look in the zip compartment.”
I think of Trevor all over again and my body starts to pour. “Hurry up. Just pop one out of the packet.”
“Damn! I dropped it.” He’s down on all fours, looking under the chair, dresser. “It must’ve rolled. Christ. Oh, OK, I got it!” He stands again. “But these floors are kinda dirty.” He’s blowing on the pill cupped in his palm. His erection still alive.
“That’s OK, just hurry up.”
“I don’t know. Should I get another one?”
“I have none to spare. It’s one a day. Plus it’s getting dark. I don’t like it here when it’s dark. It’ll be OK. It’ll be fine. Just kiss it up to god.”
Susan Tepper is widely published and the author of seven books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry. Her forthcoming novel titled What Drives Men will be published this spring by Wilderness House Press. Tepper has received many awards and honors for her work which include eighteen Pushcart Prize Nominations, a Pulitzer Prize Nomination for the novel What May Have Been (Cervena Barva Press), Second Place Winner in The Million Writers Award, 7th place in the Zoetrope Contest for the novel 2006, Best Story of 17 Years of Vestal Review, and more. Tepper is a native New Yorker. http://www.susantepper.com