Remember The Last One

     Vibration on your leg. It’s a text from a number you don’t recognize. It reads: Are you here yet? It must be a wrong number, you say to yourself. After thumbing in your passcode, you open the messenger app to reply, “Wrong number,” but before you even start to write, a greyed out speech bubble with an animated ellipsis pops up on your screen. Vibration in your hand. It’s a picture of a blonde girl smiling, in her early 20s, maybe late teens, you hope. You erase the message you began and as you do so, she writes in all caps: ARE YOU HERE YET?!!.

     You fumble your phone and drop it face down on the gritty asphalt. Damn it. As you reach down to pick it up you notice a red Ferrari parked across the street. A young, blonde woman steps out of the driver’s side. That’s her. It’s the girl from the text. She removes her dark sunglasses, bites the earpiece, and hangs it gently on her bottom lip, clad in a red-rose lipstick. She waves you over and you point to yourself, surprised, and mouth: Who? Me? “Yeah, you,” she says. “Get in,” and she opens the passenger side door. Before you cross the street, you look both ways and make your way across. As you step into the car, the blonde, wearing a red trench coat and black Louie Vuitton stilettos with the red sole, gets in on the other side, slams the door shut, starts the ignition and steps on the gas.

     “No, wait,” Ray said. “You’re getting it all wrong. I told you, I don’t like the color red. It makes me gassy.”

     “Oh, I see that now, Mr. Dodds,” Olivier said, scrolling down Ray Dodds’s online profile. “I’m sorry about that.” Under the category “Things I dislike,” it read: “The color red reminds me of spicy food.”

     “Listen, I gotta go,” Ray said. “Fix it and get this done by tomorrow.”

     “Okay, will do, Mr. Dodds,” Olivier replied to a dial tone.

Olivier worked at a Los Angeles-based Augmented Reality company called LifeVision, which created immersive adventures featuring real human actors fulfilling the fantasies of their customers. Olivier and his coworkers were tasked with gathering information from customers looking for “Extraordinary experiences for people of all ages”— LifeVision’s official motto. First, the customer needed to fill out a 34-question online survey inquiring about the customer’s likes, dislikes, fears, turn-ons and turn-offs, age, medical conditions, and other vital information.

     Second, the customer partook in a video conference call with a VisionCoach, in this case Olivier, who took notes on the type of adventure the customer wanted to place themselves in—     the “You Choose Your Illusion” plan— as well as any patterns in the customer’s mannerisms, way of speaking and any bit of information that the webcam captured. A survey conducted by LifeVision demonstrated that 89% of its customers preferred stories that incorporated an element of their subconscious behavior. At this point, Olivier also suggested possible scenarios or outcomes to the stories, most of which were rejected.

     Many of the other AR companies created stories by having their customers fill out a form, similar to the ones you’d fill out to get a free coffee gift card. Just a name, last name and email. That’s it. That’s all they needed to generate a rudimentary and often pleasant experience.

     “It’ll get your rocks off, but it won’t take you out to dinner and cook you breakfast in the morning,” Olivier’s boss, Roger, would say.

     Once the script was completed by Olivier, and revised and approved by Roger, it was then delivered to the production team who would shoot the scenes with the actors and then send the product to the IT department who would convert the footage into an “Augmented” experience, viewable anywhere the customer wanted. If you were in your bedroom, CIA agents would break into it or board a public transit bus if you were on your way to work.

     Olivier created stories mostly for people who were too lazy or too rich to raise their kids and relied heavily on the use of smart devices. iParents, as Olivier referred to them. What he hated more than working in the only department that made use of prescribed templates and writer-castrating censors was writing stories for people too lazy to interact with the living, breathing humans around them or, at least, ones with fake online profiles. People like Ray Dodds. Those were his best types of customers: parents and perverts.

     Olivier’s typical day at work began with clocking into a computer on the ground floor that kept track of every minute he was at work. As he rode the elevator up to the 21st floor, his stomach turned due to the unnatural vertical displacement of his body and the grumbling from a hungry stomach, craving the caffeine fix that came from his morning coffee— a blonde roast, blonde with too much milk— blonde on blonde. Olivier could taste its sweet, beige maltiness lightly scalding the nooks and crannies of his mouth.

      “Oh, hey Olivier,” Autumn said.

     “Hey, Autumn,” Olivier said, burning his esophagus. Autumn was one of his coworkers. She actually worked in the cubicle right across from his, visible to him by a thin sheet of glass above the low gray partition. She technically worked for the Production department, the people in charge of filming and producing scripts like the one Olivier’s department created. Their cubicles were about 13 steps from each other. Whenever Olivier wanted to look at her, which he did at least 55 times every hour, all he needed to do was look up and turn 8 degrees to the left. He liked the gut-churning instability that he contracted every time his eyes met hers. There was a dangerous glint in her eyes. Olivier was never quite sure about what she was thinking.

     “I see you’ve got your morning coffee,” Autumn said, staring straight ahead at the elevator’s stainless steel double doors.

     “You know I need my cup of Joe,” Olivier said, turning his neck slightly to look at Autumn’s curly brown hair. “If you ever want to get out of the office for a second, I’d love to get some coffee with you.” Olivier turned his head slyly to see that Autumn was already looking at him. She pushed the retina-burning red “Emergency Stop” button on the elevator’s control panel. Although no alarms went off because of it, as Olivier feared, the tumbling of the shaft and in his chest produced a small ringing in his ear.

     “Yeah, I’d love to,” she said with a soft giggle. “Only under one condition.” Olivier’s coffee hand seemed to be on fire, not from the scalding liquid, but rather, from his heart trying to escape his body through his fingertips. He switched the coffee cup over to his other hand and took a small sip, an excuse to gulp down his nerves.

     “Sure. What is it?” Olivier found the exuberant energy emitting from Autumn both seductive and menacing, wanting to evacuate the metallic enclosure through the emergency hatch above them and at the same time, stay trapped in there forever with her.

     “Surprise me,” Autumn said, laughing at the confused look on Olivier’s face. “In other words, don’t just ask me awkwardly when we bump into each other in the elevator.” She released the button, the door dinged open and Autumn rushed out before Olivier could even finish processing the volatile sincerity of her request. “I’ll see you around,” her voice echoed in the hallway.

     When Olivier arrived at his desk he had a missed call. It was from Ray. Before calling him back, Olivier played back the message. It was loud and panicked, most likely due to him speaking into a hands-free device, hands busy doing something else. Although Ray liked the direction in which the story was headed, he felt that there was something missing.

     “I think it needs something with a punch,” Ray said. “I’ve got two letters for you: S&M.”

     Olivier plucked a pen from his steel mesh pencil holder and penned Ray’s requests, which included the use of patent leather, whips and for the blonde in the blue Ferrari to beat the “living fuck out of me,” as he so poignantly described it.

     “I want this thing to have some real conviction to it,” Ray said, laughing under the weight of his own ingenuity. His breathing became heavy, the type that comes as a result of an accelerating heart rate. “You know what I mean, right? I mean, I want to wake up in a fucking dumpster somewhere after this bitch is done. Oops, pardon my French. After this lady–” he smirked, “is done with me. I don’t know, that’s just my opinion. You guys are the experts.”

     Olivier returned Ray’s call, but the secretary at the law firm where he worked told him that Mr. Dodds was currently out of the office. Just as he finished recording his message, Olivier saw that Autumn had returned to her desk. Although he had just seen her a few minutes ago in the elevator, Olivier thought, what better time than now to ask her out to coffee? It would be a real surprise as she probably wouldn’t expect his request so soon.

     Olivier walked over to Autumn’s section of the office and stood flush with the cubicle’s partition. She didn’t look up.

     “Uh, hey Autumn,” Olivier said, clearing his throat. The gesture wasn’t necessarily to dislodge something stuck in his throat as it was to unstuck himself from having to walk back to his desk pathetically, unseen in plain sight. “I wanted to see if you wanted to go get some coffee.” She looked at him flustered, with the look of a high school girl caught smoking cigarettes in the bathroom. Before Olivier could get another word out, two women came out of the office next to Autumn’s cubicle and began pillaging through her papers, like secret service agents trying to find out information on Nixon and what happened at Watergate in the early 1970s. Autumn looked at Olivier with tears in her eyes, communicating that she couldn’t go.

     “Let’s go get a cup of warm coffee, yeah?”  Olivier said, raising his voice hoping to lighten the mood. “There’s nothing like a warm cup of coffee to lift your spirits.” Olivier thought he was being adventurous, charming and a little bit of a jerk. Just the right amount to make him seem like a bad boy, but not too much that it would make him seem like an asshole.

     “I lost the credit card,” Autumn said, dropping her head on her forearms.

     “Oh, don’t worry,” Olivier said. “I’ve got you covered.” Autumn’s boss, one of the women in the room rummaging through her papers told him, “What she means to say, Olivier, is that she can’t go with you.” She walked past him, nudging him slightly. The other woman, Irina, laughed forcefully and added, “What she’s trying to say is that Autumn is not allowed to go. She lost the department’s credit card.”

     “Hm, thank you ladies,” Olivier said adding a nervous chuckle. He walked back to his desk, afraid of even taking a glance to check up on Autumn. Olivier was so disturbed by the exchange that he didn’t even look up and to the left to look at his dream girl, for the remainder of the day.

     Olivier heard footsteps amidst the flood of sound gushing out of his headphones, encasing his outer ears and bashing the eardrums. He felt the warmth of someone’s presence staring down at him, but he was too timid to even glance.

     “Hey,” Autumn said. The placement of her delicate hand falling onto his shoulder startled him for a second. He removed his headphones and gave her a sleepy smile. “I just wanted to apologize for my boss’s behavior earlier today.”

     “Oh, don’t worry,” he said looking up at her. “I know that she can be a real ornery person sometimes.” Olivier wanted to say the words “bitch” and “all the time,” but refrained because aside from being a bitch, Autumn’s boss was also an eavesdropper.

     “God, I want to get the fuck out of here. Want to get a drink after work?”

     “Yeah, sure. I’d love that.” Olivier was raring to spend time with Autumn outside of the confides of the office. He felt that their flirtation needed to reach the next stage in the timeless art of seduction: Drunken flirtation.

     Autumn removed her hand from Olivier’s shoulder, which was now warm and balmy, perfumed by her scent, one that was chiseled into his nasal passages.

     “Okay, great,” she said. “Let me just finish some stuff over here and then I’ll wave you down so we can go.”

     He felt comfortable with the ocular exchange they shared, but the fact that she was aware of how easy it was for him to spy on her made him feel like a pervert. His whole body went cold, including the sultry hand print left behind by Autumn.

     The phone rang. It was Ray Dodds.

     “Hey, Olivier,” Ray said. Ray used to enjoy the fact that the words “hey” and “Olivier’ rhymed. He was so proud of himself for having come to that realization all on his own. “What do you have for me? Hopefully something that’ll make me come.” Ray broke into a cackle. “I’m just kidding. Only, I’m not.” The cackle returned, more devastating than the first.

     “Hi Ray,” Olivier said, trying his hardest not to give Ray anything to riff off of. “I liked your suggestions and I think we can definitely use them to create a great experience for you.”

     “Can we have that ready by the end of the week? I need this bad.” Ray’s breathing became haggard and drawn out.

     “Yes, I believe that’s feasi—”

     “Feces,” Ray yelled and broke into a fit of laughter. “God, I love that word.” Olivier heard gentle sniffles and pictured Ray wiping tears from his eyes. “Alright sir, I’ll let you finish working on my stuff. I almost said shit,” he said, not withholding any laughter. “Okay, okay. Bye.”

     “Bye,” Olivier replied under his breath.

     The bar that Olivier and Autumn decided to go to was a block away from work. It was posh and inhabited mainly by men in business suits and women in tight skirts and too much makeup on their faces. The place was packed. Olivier motioned Autumn towards a spot on the bar that had just been uninhabited, the vinyl upholstery of the stools still warm with ass sweat. He waited until she sat comfortably on the high bar stool, a manifestation of his gentlemanliness. When he finally hopped up onto the stool, he added a couple of humorous bounces. Autumn smiled.

     “Sorry for taking so long to leave the office,” Olivier said. “I just needed to finish a call with this guy named Ray Dodds.”

     “Oh, is that the guy who always requests those weird fetish experiences?” Autumn said, resting her right cheek on her right fist, elbow resting on the glossy mahogany bar. Olivier noticed how easily distracted Autumn was. Something needed to happen in order for her to be interested.

     “Yeah, that’s him,” Olivier laughed, hoping that his boisterousness infected an ailing Autumn. He immediately stopped as he finally was able to make eye contact with the manic bartender. Knowing that he probably wouldn’t be able to get the bartender’s attention for another hour or so, Olivier asked Autumn to name two drinks that she would like. She ordered a Cosmopolitan and a vodka martini. Olivier also ordered a vodka martini and an Old Fashioned. He hated the taste of the latter, but wanted to seem like he knew his liquor in front of Autumn.

     “I hate this fucking job,” she said. “I feel like a glorified and dignified phone sex operator.” Autumn took a long swig of the sweaty, ice-cold water. “I have a fucking Master of Fine Arts, for Christ’s sake.” Upon hearing this, Olivier took a drink of water, not really swallowing, but merely buying himself some time, thinking of something witty while at the same time encouraging to say.

     “Well, at least you get to write for a living,” Olivier said. “It could be worse. You could be an actual phone sex operator.”

     “This shit isn’t writing,” Autumn said, pecking down on the mahogany with her index finger, so harshly that it started to bend backwards. “It’s like skipping the joys of cooking and eating a meal, and simply shitting it out. This is shit.”

     The bartender jack-and-the-boxed between them breaking up the tension, beginning to sediment on the date Olivier wanted to believe that he was on. The tight-shirted man placed the four drinks in front of them and vanished, appearing again at the other end of the bar like a ninja.

      “You want to try some of my Old Fashioned?” Olivier said, expecting Autumn to be as intimidated by its foreignness as he was.

      “Nah, I hate the way those taste,” Autumn said. “It reminds me of nail polish remover.”

     Olivier needed to change the subject quick, at least if he wanted the kiss he yearned for at the end of the night.

      “So, what are some of the things you truly like to write about?” Olivier asked. “What really gets your heart pumping?” He noticed a glimmer of interest amidst the gloom in her eyes.

      “Well, I mostly write literary nonfiction,” Autumn said, twirling the thin, yellow lemon twist, agitating the red sea of Cosmopolitan. “But it’s based on my life experiences.” She took a sip. “Nobody’s going to want to read about how my mom was a cold and conniving witch.” She chugged the rest of the deep pink libation. The grimace on her face made Olivier uncomfortable.

      “I think that as long as you’re writing from a place that’s real, then people will find a way to relate to your writing and even grow to love it.”

      “Ugh.” Olivier didn’t know if that reaction was to the bitterness of the cocktail or to the mushiness of his saccharine comment. The ambiguity was killing him.

      “It’s because everything is driven by people voting thumbs up or down,” Olivier said, trying to sound self-righteous, and not like one sitting around with his thumb up his ass. “It’s all about likes.” He leaned forward. “It doesn’t matter if nobody actually reads your work or even gets your message because as long as you get that vibration in your pocket, that sensation of acknowledgement, you could care less.”

     Olivier’s motivational speech seemed to have an adverse effect on Autumn, who was looking down, her merlot tresses curling over her face. The doubt in her eyes crept down to her hand, pivoting at the wrist, off the bar’s edge. Olivier gently slid her soft hand into his. She looked up, half surprised, half pleased.

      “See? I knew you liked me,” Autumn said, buzzed from her one and a half drunk cocktails. “I like you too. You’re easy—” She lifted her glass to her lips and finished the remainder of her vodka martini. “I can tell exactly what you’re thinking about just by looking at your face.”

     Her response to his advances took Olivier aback. He didn’t know what to say.

      “You’ve got the softest hands,” he finally said as he rubbed her porcelain-soft hands in the soothing manner of a manicurist.

      “Well, you’ve got the sweetest eyes,” she said with a crooked smile. “I like the way you look at me from your desk.” Autumn leaned forward and whispered to him that sometimes she looks at Olivier’s glass partition just to see if he looks up to meet her eyes. Upon hearing this, Olivier extended his hand towards her face, placed her pointy chin in his palm and lifted gently. She smiled at him with her big, tipsy blue eyes. Olivier peered forward and closed his eyes, a second after she closed hers. The tips of their noses caressed past one another and the warm embrace of their four individual lips created the hot-blooded contraction of a fist ready to punch with an intent to kill. Autumn’s lips tasted of tart lemon and piercing vodka. Olivier’s acetone breath didn’t seem to bother Autumn, I guess she doesn’t mind my old fashioned approach, after all, thought Olivier.

     Their lips were inseparable. The bartender kept coming up to them to ask about another round, but after the second time of being ignored, he disappeared completely leaving behind the bill, his calling card.

      “Let’s go to my place,” Autumn suggested, the inebriating ambrosia coursing freely in her bloodstream. Olivier agreed. He fantasized constantly about this very moment, when he was introduced to Autumn, three months ago, during his onboarding at LifeVision. Besides, it was late and he had to take the bus home, which became weirder and more violent as the night grew older.

     As soon as they arrived at Autumn’s apartment, there was an air that they were going to have sex. It was a product of the unspoken passion they had danced around for the past few months, and the way she was rubbing his thigh on the way over, creeping a few inches short of his crotch. It was only a matter of when and how. Her apartment was organized in a disorganized sort of way. Autumn was under the spell of her own clutter, the way that people who don’t wear deodorant think that they don’t smell.

      “I like your place,” Olivier said. “It’s so you.”

      “Really? You think?” Autumn laughed nervously.

      “Yeah, it totally channels an eclectic vibe. It’s homey. I feel like I could live here.”

     As the last words were coming out of his mouth, Olivier began to look around the apartment associating certain places, pieces of furniture and appliances with different events that would happen before and after the sex. A playbook, one might say. That’s the bathroom where I’ll go psyche myself up before I go into her bedroom, and pee after I’m done making love to her, Olivier thought. That’s the refrigerator where I’ll pull out a cold water bottle to drink and hold up against my forehead— wondering whether she drank Pellegrino at home as she did at work— and that’s the couch where I’ll sit completely naked, thinking about what had just taken place in the bedroom and reflecting on what the conversation should be in the morning. Maybe he would have to come back to the couch in the early hours of the morning to polish off his post-coital speech while she still slept.

     Autumn’s kiss on the cheek woke Olivier from his reverie.

      “Would you like some water?” Autumn asked, opening the refrigerator and looking back at Olivier. “I’ve got sparkling and still.” Olivier took a second to admire Autumn’s curvaceous, yet delicate silhouette, created by the artificial sunlight beaming out of the refrigerator.

     “I’ll take some still water, please” Olivier said, his hands clasped politely behind his back.

     They took a seat on her frazzled, yellow couch and placed their cold glasses on her coffee table, chipped from moving from apartment to apartment. As soon as they placed them down, Autumn placed her cold palms on Olivier’s fevered face. She leaned in for a kiss and he placed his hands on her thighs. Every time he opened his eyes in between kisses, he was greeted by a wall of smile. It was the first time he had seen her this happy and this interested in him.

     “You’re probably going to think I’m weird,” Autumn said, combing her lower lip with her upper teeth, and scratching the skin under her nose with the tip of her index finger. “But do you want to hang out in my room? My roommate is probably going to be out for the night, so you can sleep over if you like.”

     “Yeah, sure,” Olivier said, excited, then immediately regretting how excitedly he had reacted to the proposition.

     They picked up their glasses and made their way to Autumn’s bedroom. Before they got to the room’s doorway, Olivier asked Autumn to carry his drink into the room for him.

     “I’ll catch up with you,” Olivier said. “Let me just use the restroom.”

     “Oh, sure,” Autumn said. “It’s right over there.” She kissed his lips— drawing it out with a tremulous hum— turned around with a glass of water in each hand and walked into the room.

     Olivier took his time in the bathroom, peeing for a few seconds, shaking his penis to get out every last drop, and looking down reassuring himself that the thing that was dangling in his grip was going to be big enough for the task at hand. He washed his hands and splashed water a few times on his face. The purple towel hanging on the loose rack next to the sink was frayed, like everything else in the apartment, so he slowly lifted it and dried his face. It smelled of Autumn. Olivier gave himself a final look, raking his fingers laxly through his hair, from one side of his head to the other. He smiled.

     When Olivier entered the room he took a panoramic look at the place. He then started to focus on individual items, such as the window, wedged open from too many thick layers of paint. The room was surrounded by color-coded piles of clothing, heaps of worn out books, and rows of shoes for every occasion, from brown suede hiking boots to silky black stilettos. Every piece of furniture looked like it had been inherited at least twice, from family or a thrift store. All were decorated by at least one or two withered candles. When Olivier turned to look at the moon-lit bed, he noticed Autumn lying on her back, fully nude, her arms and legs slightly splayed as if she were a knife thrower’s assistant latched onto a wheel of death.

     “Oh, I didn’t know you’d be— “ Olivier said. Autumn immediately lay on her side, reacting to Olivier’s surprised look.

     “I told you I’m weird,” Autumn laughed, lying completely on her stomach, placing her chin down on her joined hands, windshield-wiping her lower legs side to side, causing the fleshy mounds of her buttocks to tremble like ripples in a still pool of water.

      “No. You’re not,” Olivier said. He walked towards the bed, hemorrhaging clothing as he approached it, struggling to kick off his shoes and unbutton his shirt simultaneously. “I’ve thought about this moment for a long time.” By the time Olivier arrived at the foot of the bed, he had stripped down to his striped boxer briefs. He crawled onto the bed and towards Autumn’s pale body. He kissed her and lay on his back and flung off his boxers. She straddled him.

      “There’s something else,” Autumn said, looking down, not making eye contact. “Guys, don’t last very long inside of me.” Olivier took this as a challenge and thrusted up with a passion. The bedsprings sprung as Autumn fell on his chest. She was making love as if she was trying to make a point. A statement. Olivier was trying to contribute to the cause, but was mainly trying to keep up with her demonic heaving and arrhythmic limb jerks. After a while, he simply hung on to her spastic hips and lay back for the tumultuous ride. All the way until she came down her peak.

     Olivier held Autumn in his arms, her leg draped over both of his. The cold night air felt nice on their sweaty, sultry bodies. Their exhalations formed clouds of steam, similar to those that follow a long cigarette drag.

      “Oh shit,” Autumn yelled, as the sound of a key lodging inside a lock, a deadbolt retracting and a door knob twisting the creaky door open filled the frumpy apartment. “You need to hide.”

     “Wait, it’s just your roommate,” Olivier said, continuing to take his time inhaling and exhaling.

      “My boyfriend is my roommate,” Autumn yelled in hush tones. She pushed Olivier off the bed, grabbed him by the hand and looked frantically for an Olivier-sized hole she could stick him in. He went from feeling like a French lover to an extra can of French onion soup that didn’t fit in the cupboard. “Here,” Autumn said, pushing Olivier down, “hide under the bed.”

     Olivier didn’t even know that Autumn had a boyfriend. She’d never mention him during their flirtations. Not even by accident-not-by-accident, such as when girls want to let an interested gentleman that they are taken: “What did you do this weekend?” the guy asks, “My boyfriend and I went to a movie,” the girl replies. Man down. Erection averted. Move on to the next girl. Autumn broke the rules.

     Under the bed, Olivier soon realized that the reason why Autumn’s room was marginally in order was because she swept much of her clutter under the bed, himself included. Suddenly, his clothes and shoes smacked the side of his face, tossed haphazardly under the bed by Autumn. A Judas kiss. Olivier, constricted by the limited amount of space under Autumn’s bed, morphed his body into a human jigsaw puzzle piece. He heard a man’s voice— flinty, almost childish in manner— and four footsteps getting louder and louder as they approached the bedroom. Olivier saw Autumn’s bare feet walk by, the same ones he had in his mouth, wearing the toe ring that she used to tickle his testicles earlier that night, and her boyfriend’s, who were dressed in jeans and retro Adidas shoes. He seems like a nice guy, Olivier thought. If anybody can turn a nice guy like this into a fool, it’s definitely her.

     After Autumn and her boyfriend turned off the lights and got through the small talk of how their day went, Olivier began to plot ways of escaping. After a long period of silence, he dozed off losing track of time. Five hours could’ve flown by, for all he knew.

      “Hey,” Autumn whispered. “Come out, slowly.”

     Olivier palmed his way out of the sliver he was in and tiptoed his way out of the bedroom door, not looking back to see the cuckold’s face. He wanted to continue to think of him as a good guy. Autumn led him to the door, placing her bangs behind her ear, avoiding eye contact.

     “I’ll see you tomorrow?” Olivier whispered, the hiss in his voice sounded like yelling in the flat silence of the empty hallway. She nodded in the affirmative.

      “Now get the fuck out,” she whispered as she pushed him out and closed the door silently.

     Olivier walked out in his boxers, his clothes bunched up in one hand and his shoes in the other. Riding the 2:34 a.m. bus home, he fit right in.

     When Olivier woke up the next morning, he was surprised to find that nobody was on the other side of his bed, as he swung his arm over, not even the heat of the sun. He was expecting it to land on the soft nook between a woman’s rib cage and her hips. It read 8:55 a.m. on his clock, he started work at 9:00 a.m. Fuck. He sprung out of bed and mad dashed to the bathroom. He cleansed his body in the manner by which he’d heard courtesans of old did after an unscrupulous night of gallivanting. It matched his current emotional state, that of being a total slut. A homewrecker.

     As he clocked in, he remembered that he had yet to complete Ray’s story. He had taken it home to work on after the thing he had planned with Autumn. Olivier knew that he only had two hours to complete the script and submit it to his boss for approval. Leaving Autumn’s apartment was the only thing he could think of, so he used the script format to journal and digest the emotions that were eating at him the same way Autumn had eaten his penis the night before. He was breaking the first rule of Write Club, his boss Roger’s spoof on “Fight Club”— the movie, not the book— one of his many failed attempts to be an asshole who could also be your friend. The first rule about Write Club was that you don’t write about yourself. The second rule of Write Club was that you don’t right about yourself because this isn’t your goddamned diary or memoir.

      “Stick to the data, people,” Roger would say. “We don’t want a lawsuit in our hands.”

     When he finished, Olivier looked up and Autumn shot him a smile. He smiled back. She mouthed to him: “I’m sorry” and protruded her lower lip in a frown. They both laughed. Having tested the waters, Autumn walked over to Olivier’s desk and leaned on his cubicle wall.

      “Hey,” she said in a low voice. “Are we okay?” Olivier pretended to type something on his keyboard, partly to fight his fidgetiness.

     “Yeah, we’re good,” he said.

      “I’ve decided to submit some stories to a couple of literary journals,” Autumn said. This brought a smile to Olivier’s face. Maybe last night did mean something more than sex, he thought. “If I get published, I won’t have to worry about somebody masturbating to my work anymore.”

     “Well, I’ve heard that there are a number of perverts in the literary journal reading community,” Olivier rebutted. They broke into laughter. Autumn’s boss popped her head out of her office and shushed them.

      “Okay, I should probably go back,” Autumn said. She turned around midway to her desk. “We should get coffee sometime.”

      “Sure,” he said. “But you’ve got to ask me by surprise, not awkwardly.”

      “Okay,” she said and laughed. When she got back to her seat, Autumn looked over at Olivier and winked at him. Just as he was about to return the gesture, the phone rang. Incoming call from Ray Dodds.

      “Oh my fucking God, Olivier,” Ray yelled, his voice crackling in the receiver. “This thing you wrote right here is real good. It’s better than the low-budget porno I pitched to you yesterday. Speaking of pitching, I’m pitching quite the fort—”

      “Ray—” Olivier interrupted. “Ray, I’m so glad you liked it.”

      “Yeah, it just feels so real and fresh. Like something that could’ve happened to you. It’s very personal. Good job, kid. Hey listen, I’ll talk to you later. Bye.” Olivier hung up the phone. He was relieved that the story worked out, but was nervous that Autumn would eventually find out about it. He opened up an email window and began to type in Autumn’s address, when Irina, Autumn’s office friend approached Olivier from behind.

      “Hi Olivier,” Irina said softly. Olivier stood up to see if Autumn was at her seat, but she was gone. “She’s in a meeting,” she added. Olivier, as well as the whole of LifeVision, knew that Irina was engaged. What would she want with me? Olivier thought. Engaged women are the lepers of the dating world, more so than married women. They still hold true to the illusion of a happily-ever-after life. Irina kept mentioning to Olivier about how her boyfriend stood her up to go to a stupid baseball game in San Francisco.

      “I’m going to be all alone this weekend,” Irina said, twisting her finger on a lock of hair.

     Olivier sympathized with her, having just gone through an emotional tempest himself, but continued wondering why she was telling him this. He wanted to swat her away, because aside from having the reputation of an engaged woman, she was also known for being a snoozer and a bit of a snitch. Irina deflated her puffed cheeks, letting out a long, resonant sigh.

      “Yep. I’ll probably just get into my lace night gown and drink a ton of wine,” Irina said, eyeing Olivier. Her breasts were bouncing as she rocked back and forth, heel and toe, on her kitten heels, felinely teasing him, the words meowing out of her Cheshire smile.

      “Well, that’ll be nice,” Olivier said, worrying that Autumn had told Irina about the night before.

      “I wish my fiancé was like Autumn’s.” This sent a lightning bolt down Olivier’s back, similar to those that prelude the first rains of fall. “She told me that he came back early from his business trip last night and proposed to her over breakfast. That’s so romantic.” Fuck, Olivier thought. Here he thought that maybe he could take Autumn away from her boyfriend, every single man’s delusion when they fall for a taken woman.

      “She’s engaged?” Olivier asked himself out loud.

      “Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are,” Irina answered. “They weren’t even having sex anymore. I seriously thought she was going to dump him.” Olivier began to realize that Autumn just needed to blow off some steam, and that he was the release valve. “She told me that last night was the first time she had sex in a while,” Irina added.

      “With who?”

      “With you.” Olivier reached over to his office chair, which swiveled out of control, trying to prevent himself from collapsing. “With her boyfriend, silly,” Irina said, slapping his forearm.

     Olivier realized that he loved Autumn and that his heart would continue to shatter, shard by shard. He gave himself into Autumn as gradually as autumn gives itself into winter. He hated Autumn only because she would never love him. Not because she didn’t want to, but because she was incapable of doing so. The only consolation he had was that he wasn’t going to sleep alone on that cold autumn night.

      “Hey, Irina,” Olivier said. “You want to go out for a drink after work?” He knew that he wouldn’t be able to get over Autumn on alcohol alone, that he would need the warmth of a woman’s body, even one he would regret avenging his honor with at a later time. Irina agreed. Her acceptance comforted him.

     That and the fact that it was going to be another good story to sell to Ray someday.

 

Photo Credit

Rubbing elbows with phones leads to job [Photograph found in Valley Times Collection , U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, Los Angeles]. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2017, from http://jpg1.lapl.org/00133/00133556.jpg (Originally photographed 1949)

Going Home

     When Julian looked into his little brother’s big brown eyes, his became glassy and itchy with tears. Thiago wanted to come along with Julian and his friends, but Julian didn’t want him to slow them down. Julian was embarrassed of Thiago, who was 2 years his junior, because he had short stubby legs and winced at the first sign of trouble. If something dangerous were to happen, Julian could imagine his brother getting hurt or even killed.  He would rather put Thiago out of his misery by leaving him behind rather than to see him get his body or feelings hurt by his friends’ rough play. Besides, their cousin Manny couldn’t stand him.

     “He acts like a little fag,” Manny told Julian once. “I just want to beat the shit out of him every time I see him.” It enraged Julian to hear Manny refer to his brother in that way, partly because he agreed with him.

     The tears rolling down Julian’s face were of impotence– that he wasn’t brave enough to abandon his brother or adequately strong to defend him against his older cousin, if Thiago came along. Julian knew what it felt like to be left out of things. On his last day of elementary school, all of the boys in his class were nowhere to be found. He was a leftover of a 5th grade apocalyptic rapture. As Julian exited his last class of the year, his ass numb from inactivity, he bumped into his other classmates who were all laughs and smiles. When Julian asked where they had all been, one of them boasted that they had been watching jungle porn at his house. They had all conspired a day before to do so and didn’t even think of inviting Julian. They had made a pact and drunk the poisoned punch. A mass deflowering. It didn’t bother Julian that they thought that he was a loser. It didn’t bother him that he didn’t get the chance to enjoy the exquisiteness of jungle porn. What bothered Julian was that they had thought that he was too young to understand.

     “Just stay the hell back,” Julian yelled at little Thiago as he descended the hill upon which his grandmother’s house was located. Julian hated excluding his brother, but he wanted Thiago to see him as his strong older brother and the other kids to see him as one of their own. From a distance, Julian waved to his brother, as a way of saying goodbye and telling him to go into the house. But Thiago remained, looking at his brother drifting farther and farther away from him, his sputtered whimpers drifting into the loud howl of an abandoned puppy. “Just shut up,” said Julian, looking at his brother’s distant silhouette. “Don’t make me go up there again.”

     The other boys were waiting at the bottom of the hill, impatiently for Julian to hurry up. Although he wasn’t the youngest in the group, Julian felt less wily than the rest. He hung out with them because they were tough and Julian wanted to toughen up. A menace by association. These street kids could rough you up and rob you blind without a moment’s notice. Julian liked that about them.

     Julian’s hiking party included his cousin Manny, who, unlike Julian– in Tijuana solely for summer vacation– was living in Mexico due to his parents’ finances. They grew up together, and being only a year apart, this meant that they were in constant competition for their family’s approval. Success in this gauntlet meant more to Manny than to Julian due to the former’s lack of parental affection. Manny’s parents had too many kids to care for and too little time to care about them individually.

     The youngest kid in the group was nicknamed Rabbit, but he also went by “El Sex” because his mother was one of the town’s prostitutes. Rabbit was never home, and nobody ever visited his house or even knew where it was located. He was always at other people’s houses, and the only time you could assume that he was home was when all of a sudden you couldn’t find him at anybody else’s house. For all they knew, Rabbit didn’t even have a hole to call home.

     The last kid’s name was Coco. He wasn’t really a kid though, he was way older than any of the other kids and looked more like a man than a kid. He was charming and had a smile that made Julian’s face fill with warmth until his temples began to perspire. That smile was the same he placed on Julian’s eyes with the grace of a dove as Pastor Emmanuel invoked the name of the Holy Spirit, dunking Coco into the local church’s baptismal waters. When he emerged from the small pool, Coco blew water out of his nose and took suffocating breaths. Once he found his composure, he stuck out his tongue as though he had just helter-skeltered down and out of a water park slide.

     “Guess who I caught fingering herself?” Coco asked as he hopped excitedly around his three companions.

     “Who? Who did you see?” Rabbit asked, wearing a big grin, its malice augmented by the length of his buck teeth. “Was it your mom?”

     “Ugh. No, stupid. I saw Dora. Dora was the one. I caught her dipping her fingers into her hole when I went to visit her brother.”

     “Was she all naked and shit?” Manny asked.

     “Yeah, pretty much,” Coco said with a chuckle.

     “So, you saw her big tits?” Julian asked.

     “How do you know she has big tits?” Coco asked.

     “Yeah, how do you know?” Manny asked.

     “Yeah, how do you know?” Rabbit echoed.

     It came as a surprise that Julian would have that form of sexual reconnaissance, given that he had such neatly trimmed and combed hair and a fresh, round face. The face of a cherub. He was deemed too cute to know of such things. To them, Julian was a larger version of his younger brother.

     “Well, you can see how big they are when she wears tight shirts,” Julian said.

     “Yeah, that’s true,” Coco confirmed with a smile.

     Coco told the others that when he saw Dora pleasuring herself, he froze. It looked as though Dora was trying to wedge her whole hand into her vagina.

     “Ugh, I don’t think I can shake her hand ever again,” said Rabbit, wiping his lips with his shirt sleeve, then spitting. Rabbit always punctuated all of his remarks with spit. Sometimes loogies, but even when he didn’t have any saliva to spit with, the mere puff of precipitated air expelling through his puckered lips was enough to satisfy his oral fixation.

     “That was like a month ago and she’s probably washed her hand a million times since then,” Coco assured him. “Plus, you shake a person’s whole hand, not just one finger, stupid.” Coco enjoyed calling everyone “stupid,” especially kids younger than he was, right to their faces, and to adults behind their back and under his breath.

     “So, what happened? Did you bang her?” Julian asked, allowing the sparseness of the town’s edge to loosen his tongue and start talking like an adult.

     “No,” Coco said, looking down sullenly. “I had the chance, but I was too chickenshit to take it.” As he led the way towards the surrounding hills, Coco told the story of a similar thing that happened to him years ago, when he used to accompany his mother to clean rich people’s houses.

     “Well, she wasn’t my babysitter,” Coco said. “She was babysitting the son of my mom’s bosses.” On one occasion, the babysitter was under the impression that Coco’s mom wasn’t coming to clean the house, so she decided to take a shower and walk around the house naked. “When she saw my mom and me in the kitchen, she freaked the fuck out.”  The sitter tried to unwind the knot on the towel wrapped around her head, but it was wound so tight that she had to reach for a small dish rag. “She had some big ol’ titties,” Coco said, jumping up and down. “They were just bouncing and bouncing. Boom, boom, boom.”

     “Did you get to see her pussy?” Manny asked. Manny was obsessed with vaginas. A few years back, Manny, Julian and their older cousin Stan, who had just turned 18, rented a couple of porno videos. Up to that point, Julian had only heard of porno movies but had never actually seen one. He was very excited, but he also needed to pee and he didn’t want to miss all of the loving, so he held it in. The nudity took longer to reveal itself than he expected and by the time the first woman revealed her silicone-enhanced body, Julian was about ready to burst.

     “Why don’t they show the girl’s pussy? They just keep showing her tits. Man, I wish she would turn around so I could look at it,” Manny said.

     “Just shut up and look at the girl,” Stan replied.

     “Um, I’ll be back,” Julian said as he jumped off the couch. “I gotta use the bathroom.” Julian ran past Manny and Stan, hunched over with a double-handed grip on his crotch. While the other two boys were under the laughing assumption that Julian’s testicles had spontaneously combusted, Julian was unloading his bladder, hosing the toilet as quickly as possible, trying not to miss the scene’s penetrating content.

     Coco said that he got a little glimpse of the sitter’s pubic region, but that she kept covering it.

     “Then what happened?” asked Rabbit.

     “My stupid mom started yelling at her, which woke her the fuck up, and the fine-ass babysitter ran with her big ol’ booty into the bathroom,” Coco said, licking his lips. “Man, if only my mom hadn’t been there. What I wouldn’t have done.”

     “What would’ve you done?” Julian asked.

     “Well, I would’ve jumped on her and fucked her, stupid,” Coco said, incredulous in the face of Julian’s naiveté.

     “Yeah, stupid,” said Manny.

     “Yeah, stupid,” echoed Rabbit immediately after, both acting as if they themselves knew what Coco was alluding to and would have taken a similar course of action.

     My cousin Manny and Rabbit had become inseparable ever since the former took a beating in lieu of the latter. Rabbit had the mouth to start fights and Manny the body to finish them. These two were so close that they used to masturbate in each other’s presence, covered in blankets, to Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, “The Doors.” The scene from which they drew the most inspiration was one depicting Nico, from the Velvet Underground, performing fellatio on Jim Morrison. When Julian met up with them after one of their “blanket sessions,” as they used to refer to them, they were practically holding hands. Even when it came to coming, Manny would come first and Rabbit would echo right after.

     Julian felt left out, as he had on multiple occasions. He loathed his baby face because of it. To make it up to him, Manny decided to treat his younger cousin to an all-American, fun-loving pornfest. Upon Manny’s pushing play, the video flashed a splash of illumination onto the dark wood paneling, consuming the room with light. The image of a brunette woman lying on her back, legs splayed open, and a man with the biggest penis Julian had ever seen, took over the screen. This thing protruding out of the man’s torso was inserted slowly into the woman, who was as surprised as Julian and Manny, to see how it kept fitting inside of her. She made it disappear completely. “But how?” Julian wondered. It was an act of magic, for all he knew. A miracle.

     “Where did it go, and how did it get there?” Julian asked. Manny and Rabbit snickered quietly.

     “It’s because chicks have three holes,” Coco said, stopping the expedition and turning around to face Julian. At an incline, Coco looked bigger and wiser than usual. “One of the holes is for shitting, the other for pissing and the last one’s for fucking.”

     “Oh, that’s where they stick the semens, right?” Rabbit said. “That’s what they call artificial cocks. Right, Coco? Semens?”

     “No, stupid. Semen is the shit that shoots out of your cock when the tip starts hurting so much that it makes you want to pee. Semen is pee that comes from your balls.”

     “So what’s the name for artificial cocks?”

     “Those are called dildos, stupid,” Coco said as he turned around and continued the walk.

     The hike brought the boys closer and closer to the hill’s summit. As they traversed its steady incline, they came across different types of desert creatures, such as lizards, butterflies, big cockroaches and rats, suicidal squirrels and intrepid gophers, all of which served as target practice for the boys.

     “Holy shit,” Rabbit screamed. “Did you see how I almost clocked that gopher on his stupid, pointy teeth?”

     “You almost did, gopher teeth,” Coco said, as he, Manny and Julian broke into laughter. “I actually dated a girl with big, fucked-up teeth. She was the first girl I did it with.”

     “Did what?” asked Julian.

     “Sex, you idiot,” Coco quipped.

     “Why do you always talk about sex, man?” Julian asked.

     “Because sex is everywhere,” Coco replied, spreading his arms like wings, palms facing up, twisting his torso from side to side. “The birds sing because they want to fuck other birds. We’re here because our parents fucked. Rats fuck like crazy. That’s why there are so many goddamned rats in the world. You see how the bees are buzzing around the flowers? They’re fucking them.”

     “Wait, really?” Manny asked.

     “Really?” Rabbit asked.

     “Yeah,” Coco said. “I want to fuck every girl I see because fucking feels so good. In fact, if Julian were a chick, I’d probably want to put my fingers down her panties.”

     Manny and Rabbit went into a teasing frenzy and started to push Julian around, poking him with the sticks they were using to mutilate all of the innocent creatures that they came across and weren’t smart enough to run away. Julian was the only innocent amongst them, or at least the only one who wasn’t afraid to admit it.

     “Alright, stop acting like faggots and leave him alone,” Coco commanded. “Yeah, so this girl was all up on my nuts. She kept telling her friends about me.” When they finally reached the top of the hill, Coco turned around to face the other kids. He planted his walking stick perpendicular to the ground, and they all took a seat on whatever they could find.

     “So, then what happened?” Manny asked. “Did you see her pussy?”

     “Yeah, did you see her pussy?” emphasized Rabbit.

     “Well, one day when I was walking by the bathroom I saw her walking out. So I pulled her into the guys’ bathroom and locked it,” said Coco. “After that, she started jerking my dick and I put my fingers in her pussy.”

     Manny’s mannerisms became jittery, manic. He was receiving the drug upon which his brain depended. Rabbit, who was sitting right next to Coco, couldn’t take his eyes off of the storyteller. Julian was worried. He was hoping that Coco and his girl didn’t get caught. He wanted to hear more but was afraid that an adult in the story would find out what Coco was doing in the bathroom.

     “Did you dildo in her pussy?” Rabbit asked, not blinking once.

     “Man, are you stupid or something?” Coco asked, exasperated. “I’ve told you a thousand times, dildos are fake cocks. Man, you should know. Your mom probably sticks a couple of them in her pussy when she’s not getting fucked by half the neighborhood.”

     Coco and Manny started laughing, coughing because of the amount of dust their giddy feet were kicking up. Rabbit laughed, taking his friends’ reaction as a compulsory laugh track he subconsciously needed to obey. Julian laughed under the same pretenses, but he could see that the remark had hurt Rabbit a little bit, his upper lip drooping slowly, draping over his chipper smile.

     “Yeah, so then she bent over and spread her ass for me and that’s when I shoved it in,” Coco said. “Man, she was so fucking tight that I busted a big-ass nut in her.”

     “How long did it last?” Julian asked. All eyes turned to Julian. How come I didn’t think of that? Manny and Rabbit wondered. This was the main reason why the boys hated and liked Julian. He was intuitive and sensitive. He thought of things they would’ve never thought possible, making them feel curious and stupid, all at once. After a second or so, all eyes went back to Coco.

     “I think it lasted like a minute,” Coco said, scratching the back of his head, the tingling feeling that accompanies nervousness. “It’s because once you stick it in you automatically come.” The boys’ eyes bulged in disbelief. “One time I had sex and held my come inside my balls for five whole minutes.”

     “Damn, that’s a long time,” Manny said.

     “A long fucking time,” Rabbit said, padding Coco on the back.

     “Yeah, I felt like my balls were going to blow u—” Coco said, suddenly interrupted by something he saw.

     “What happened?” Julian asked.

     “I don’t know,” said Coco, “I just saw something black run behind you guys.”

     “Yeah, me too,” Rabbit said.

     Manny and Julian turned to see what the other boys were so alarmed about. Coco stood up in one clean motion and pulled his wooden Excalibur out of the earth. He brought his index finger up to his face and formed a cross with the line between his lips, whispering, “Shut the fuck up.”

     The other boys rose up slowly and spread out around the bush Coco had motioned to.

     “Rabbit, when I tell you, you’re going to throw this rock at the bush,” Coco instructed.

     “Okay,” Rabbit whispered.

     When Coco mimed the stone throw, Rabbit launched the rock into the bush. The bush shook for a moment. Nothing happened. With a look of puzzlement, the boys took a step forward. The bush rattled once again, and a piglet, brown and hairy, bolted out as if on fire, past the four boys. Coco yelled out to follow it. As they sprinted downhill, right behind it, the piglet kept looking, unsuccessfully, for another place to hide, swerving left and right, jumping over rocks and fallen branches. The boys picked up rocks along the way and threw them at the fleeing animal, trying to injure it. The piglet veered away from the points where the rocks collided, gliding through the clouds of dust rippling around it.

     “Look, it’s going into that cave,” Manny said.

     “I’m not fucking going in there,” Julian said, curtailing his stride, falling behind the pack.

     “Yeah, you are, fucking pussy,” Coco yelled, trying to catch his breath.

     The piglet ran in, as did Coco, Manny and Rabbit. It took Julian a few seconds, but he reluctantly joined them. When he finally caught up with the other three inside the dark cave, Manny was shining a light on the creature.

     “It looks like a baby,” Julian said, alarmed by how small and defenseless the creature was. Its shivering vulnerability reminded Julian of the nights when he used to console his brother after he’d wake up from a nightmare.

     “You look like a baby,” Rabbit scoffed, poking Manny’s ribs with his elbow.

     “Let’s kill it,” Coco said as he began to gather several rocks. Manny and Rabbit did the same. The piglet was trying to burrow itself, digging desperately into the dirt.

     “Get him! He’s trying to get away,” yelled Manny.

     The boys began to hit the piglet with a torrential rain of rocks, eliciting ear-piercing cries from the animal, similar to those of a child. This was the very reason Julian had refused to bring his brother Thiago along. He could picture his brother being tortured in the same fashion by the gang. Julian closed his eyes. The boys laughed. The symphony of pain and play reverberated through the cave walls and through Julian’s tortured eardrums.

     “Coco, it’s running towards you,” yelled Rabbit. Coco kicked the piglet like a soccer ball, its little, broken body thudding off the wall and bouncing on the dirty ground. “That’s my boy,” Rabbit yelled, as he and Coco hand-slapped, echoing over the piglet’s dying whimpers.

     “Hey, Julian,” Coco said, “open your goddamned eyes, you little pussy.” Julian opened his eyes and saw the piglet heaving violently, its last breaths interrupted by spastic jerks. It looked like a run-over puppy. “Come over and kick it a little. Don’t worry. It’s almost dead.”

     “No,” Julian said turning his back to the boys. “It wasn’t hurting anybody.” Hurting things was fun, Julian thought, but killing was different. He imagined it felt like drowning, like being thrown from the third story of a building and not knowing whether you would survive or never open your eyes again. “Just do it without me.”

     “What?” Coco asked. “Bring his faggot ass over here.” Manny and Rabbit ran over to Julian, who was beginning to run towards the mouth of the cave. They dove towards him before he could exit and grabbed his legs, knocking him flat on his face. They flipped him over and dragged him by his feet towards Coco, who was standing over the piglet’s tenderized body. Manny and Rabbit picked Julian up and each held him by his arms.

     “Here, kiss your baby boyfriend,” Coco said, picking up the bloody pig from the ground and shoving it in Julian’s face. The piglet’s eyes were hanging out of its sockets like a landfill baby doll, and blood was gushing out of its baby snout. It was shrieking in pain. “I want you to kick me, Julian,” Coco mocked, snorting like a pig.

     Julian knew what he had to do. The piglet would never be the same. It would never run or play again. Even if he refused to torture it, it would die at the hands of his friends or in agonizing pain if he were to convince them to leave it alone and go home.

     With one eye opened and the other half-closed, Julian saw the piglet on its side, running in circles with the only leg that wasn’t completely broken. He took a deep breath, a big gulp of snot and closed his tear-lined eyes. With tears rolling down his cheeks like drops of blood, Julian let out a loud cry that filled the totality of the cave and jumped up in the air, breaking free from his captors’ grasp. As he landed back on the dirt floor, Julian crushed the piglet’s skull. The sound was similar to that of stepping on a raw egg, the bloody yolk bathing the ground adjacent to it. Julian’s shoes were spattered red with blood and muddy with purple brain matter goop and bone. He released it from their cruelty, just like he would’ve wanted someone else to do for his brother. To end his misery in the face of brutality. To send him to heaven instead of living in hell.

     “What the fuck?” Manny yelled, “What did you do, stupid?”

     “What did you do, stupid?” Rabbit yelled, or maybe it was just the cave’s echo.

     “That’s okay, guys,” Coco reassured them. “We were going to kill it anyway.” Coco began to unzip his pants and motioned the rest of the group to do the same. “Let’s pee on it now.”

     Julian was apprehensive once again, but he also knew that if he didn’t comply, it would take them even longer to head back home. As the boys whipped out their baby penises, Coco pulled out his large, over-developed one. Manny and Rabbit started to spray and splatter their urine on the piglet’s desecrated carcass almost on command, but Julian was having trouble starting. Manny and Rabbit were laughing and crossing streams and Coco kept tugging and jerking at his penis, which looked erect. Julian was first to finish.

     “Hey, Coco. What the fuck are you doing?” asked Rabbit.

     “I’m jerk—”

     “Aw, dude. Are you jerking off?” Manny interrupted.

     “Yeah,” Coco answered with a smile.

     Julian remembered what that looked like from the pornos he had seen, but it wasn’t until that moment, until he saw Coco release semen, that he figured out what had happened to him a few months back while watching Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film “The Godfather.”

     The scene where Michael Corleone undresses his Sicilian wife Apollonia, exposing her small, perky, olive-tone breasts. That sight gave Julian a strange sensation in the pit of his stomach, as if he needed to pee. After everybody went to sleep, Julian rewatched the consummation scene, and the sensation in his pants returned. The organ that had delineated his boyhood was slowly petrifying and cobblestoning the way into his manhood. The scene passed, and so did the feeling. Julian rewound again, and again the feeling returned, a little more intense each time. The rush that it elicited was an addictive feeling. Julian did it over and over. He was transfixed on Simonetta Stefanelli’s Barbie-doll breasts. Julian stared at her body for an eternity. The amount of time necessary for Julian to thrust himself out of childhood and come forcefully into manhood. When he reached the unbearable feeling Coco had mentioned, he felt a warmth emanating from his innermost being. Julian imagined that this was what Mary, the mother of Christ, must have felt when her body was inhabited by the Spirit of God. It was complete and utter envelopment. A baptism by fire.

     After the intensity of the moment allowed Julian to blink and move his limbs again, he found that he had soiled his white cotton briefs with the same substance that Coco was dripping onto the piglet’s cadaver.

     “This is the cave of dicks,” Coco said proudly. “And I’ll beat the crap out of you, like I did this pig, if you mention this to anybody.” They shook on it and zipped up their pants.

     They were greeted by a darkening sky as they emerged from the darkness of the cave. Everybody was quiet, even Rabbit. Julian wished he had stayed back, playing the stupid games his brother wanted to play. He knew that they had a long way to go before they saw any streetlights. Coco would probably run off before then, with one of his real friends. Rabbit would disappear like he always did. Manny would start acting as if he was Coco, talking about things he knew nothing about. And Julian would go back to being his brother’s older, chubbier twin. But he knew that even after he crossed the threshold of his grandmother’s house, he would never be able find his way back home.

Artwork by Cory Bilicko

Bilicko, C. (2016). Pee-Shy [Painting]. Oil on canvas, Long Beach, CA.

Naked Pigeons

     Jara.

     Jara Milner was the love of my life.

     All I wanted was to lie beside her. All she wanted was to be admired.

     Jara was a result of a complex, well-tempered arrangement of economic and eugenic alchemy. I was the product of an equation that joined two immigrants with uncontrollable urges. Jara’s birth was a preconceived notion, a dream that two college-educated adults brought to fruition. I was a happy accident derived from the fevered boredom of a child of 34 and a woman of 21. Jara’s parents were childhood sweethearts. Mine were a pair of people in which each person was the sum of the two preceding people.

     She was a princess. I was a Fibonacci number.

     Before we kissed for the first time, we used to interlace our fingers, twist and turn them into various positions and shapes. Nothing below the wrist was allowed. We performed this seated Renaissance court dance for about two weeks, traversing a Kamasutra’s worth of fingerings. It was the preluding hand puppetry before the real play began. I always wondered if things would have moved more precipitously had I been born handless. A Fibonacci stumper.

     After the yearning of hand gymnastics came the hugging, erotic wrestling as I used to call it. Greco-Romance. As with the hands, we explored all of the various positions in which a couple of fully grown adults could embrace one another. Facing each other, Jara giving her back to me, I giving mine to her, spooning with me as the big spoon, spooning with me as the little spoon. Seated while she nestled her large buttocks between my legs seemed to be Jara’s favorite position, of cuddling that is. She would relax the full weight of her body to fall back on my bony chest and I would use the full strength of mine to become a firm, yet pliable, flesh and bone upholstered Barcalounger.

     When we finally arrived at the kissing phase, she hated the way I kissed.

     “Get the fuck outta here,” my mother said with the side of her mouth, taking a long drag from her cigarette. She exhaled a cloud of smoke from her side smile, drawing away the nicotine wand from her lips and tapping it on the ashtray. “How do you know that?”

     “Because she fucking told me ‘I don’t like the way you kiss me’,” I said, fanning away the fumes.

     “Well, what does she expect?”

     What did Jara expect? Her lips were full, the size of a vital organ, muscly like a heart or a liver. Soft like the labia majora and deep fuchsia like the minora. They tasted of the beeswax lip balm she moisturized them with. All I wanted was to submerge my lips in their pillowy wetness, suck on them, and do whatever I wanted with them. That’s what I was dying to tell my mother, but I didn’t want her to start asking me about the sex I wasn’t having with Jara.

     “I don’t fucking know,” I said, swirling around the hot ash in the translucent black tray. “I guess, I can kiss her how she wants. More politely.”

     “She’s kissing you like you’re a fucking idiot. A snot-nosed poopy pants,” my mother said as she placed a new cigarette in her mouth. “A peck on the lips like two little Easter chicks? That’s bullshit.” The notion of another woman rejecting the seed of a son who came out of her, by the seed of a man she herself rejected years before, infuriated her. Oedipus on its head.

     The kissing fiasco got better. All I had to do was make my thin lips as thin as possible, a cartoon’s mouth, and make sure that its width didn’t surpass the dimensions of Jara’s blossoming lips.

     “You have these cute little duck lips,” Jara said, sucking her lips into her mouth, doing an impression of a toothless hag. “I could just kiss them all day.” But she wouldn’t.

     We only kissed when Jara wanted to and I was only allowed to mention the act, or have any desire to perform it, when she was ready. There were no impromptu public displays of affection to speak of, and my craving of being scolded or reassured by complete strangers, regarding the inappropriateness of our amatory performance, went unrequited. Any complaints regarding our lack of kissing sent Jara barging out of any room.

     When the time to kiss did finally arrive, I needed to be in a seated position so that she, in turn, could sit on my lap. Not straddling because, according to her, only whores straddled. The space between my legs could not exceed a 34-degree angle. During this period of unbridled pleasure, my hands were to be above her belly button, but below her sternum. They needed to be digitally-interlaced and shackled around the most erogenous of zones: the love handle.

     I was not to dip my hand down her panties to rub her ass, or up her blouse to fondle her breasts as this would elicit in me feelings of a sexual variety. The same ones that brought me into existence. If my penis did poke his head into our amorous exchange, Jara was very diplomatic in thwarting it. She was Franklin D. Roosevelt, stalling my hammer and sickle.

     “Oh, don’t worry about it, baby,” she said with a motherese tone, massaging the back of my head against the grain, “we’re not ready for sex, yet.” Then she gave me a maternal peck on the forehead, veined like a map of occupied Germany after World War II. It was during these moments of repressed rage that I really could’ve used a diaper. A Fibonacci umber.

     Jara was a full-figured girl and she was fully conscious of it. It was one of the reasons why I fell in love with her, and the main reason why she didn’t want my hands to idle amorously around her expanding waist. Once these conditions were met, the kissing could begin.

     Jara loved her big juicy lips, caressing their rim with her tongue in a seamless circular motion.

     “That’s why I’m a great kisser and you’re not,” she assured me, “because I’ve got big, beautiful lips.”

     She would place her nose under mine and breathe deeply, pollinating my restlessness. At this point, if I went for the kiss she’d say “Don’t even think about it,” pulling her face away from mine.

     Her upper lip nestled itself between my nose and upper lip, an area that needed to be shaved smooth or the kissing would immediately come to a momentary halt. Her bottom lip burrowed itself between my lips like a cat between a pile of blankets. And then, we waited. Our kissing sessions carried the vitality of a pancake stack. One of her favorite moves was to lick my lip-beak, flicking it side to side with the tip of her tongue, but as soon as mine slithered past my teeth’s threshold making contact with hers, she asked, “Do you want me to stop?” I swallowed an empty gulp of saliva.

     “I want to keep going,” I replied, my voice cracking in desperation. She mocked my voice break, gesticulating violently.

     “Then stick your tongue back into your fucking mouth.”

     There were several triggers that could put a stop to a kissing session. I wasn’t allowed to look at her, opening her eyes periodically, making sure that mine were closed; movement of any kind was highly discouraged; breathing needed to be controlled, pleasant, and in no way possess the qualities associated with moaning.

     “Why are you breathing like that?” Jara asked, mimicking a donkey’s bray and blowing her nose on my eyes.

     Then came heavy petting.

     Jara hated stimulating my genitals because she felt that, like a bumbling stutterer, it took me way too long to just come out with it. Besides, the mere thought of warm come spritzing on even the minutest part of her body sent rigor mortis shivers up to the crown of her head and down to her tail bone. This explained why she handled my penis in the manner one would tug a turd clogged in a toilet bowl.

     “Shut the fuck up,” she’d whisper, as she stroked haphazardly, looking over her shoulder, chafing away the upper layer of skin from my erection, losing partial feeling. Fibonacci numbness. She felt that my verbal manifestation of pleasure would wake up her brother sleeping in the room adjacent to us. “I’m gonna stop if you don’t quit squealing and grunting like a fucking pig.”

     Jara was afraid that her brother would tell her parents that she was having sex again. She had brought dishonor to her family once before in the way of a leaked homemade video of her having sex with her boyfriend at the time. Said boyfriend had posted the link on Facebook and tagged all of her family members, immediate and extended. That night, over 55 people saw Jara’s large, pale breasts, punctuated by carnation nipples, convulse randomly as a dark, out-of-focus presence thrusted harshly from behind.

     I found the video when I accidentally snooped around and clicked on folders I had no right to open.

     “Why the fuck do you have a porno video of a guy doing you doggy style?” I yelled.

     “He was my first boyfriend and I didn’t know any better,” she yelled louder.

     “So why do you still have it saved in your computer, along with all of these pictures of him kissing you and grabbing your ass?”

     “Don’t ask stupid questions,” she replied as she walked away from me. Any question that she didn’t want to answer was stupid. Apparently, I was full of stupid questions. “They remind me of when I was young and thin.”

     Jara told me not to worry about the contents of that folder because she was going to end up with me anyway.

     “What happened before we met doesn’t matter,” she said. “Let’s pretend that we were born the instant we met.”

     This was our first real fight, or at least one in which I expressed anger towards her. I felt remorse for attacking her on a matter she probably had no control over. A senseless case of revenge porn. Fortuitously, this argument allowed us to talk about the highly awaited— a year, two months, three weeks and five days in the making— topic of intercourse.

     Our first night of passion unraveled at a dingy Motel 6. In 1962, this fine establishment used to charge $6 a night. In 2008, they charged me $89 for the room that we used for a whole of eight passion-filled minutes. That’s all Jara needed and to her, well worth the $11.12 per minute. By minute two, I was already feeling the pressure to perform.

     “You’re going to come for me, aren’t you?” Jara asked, breathing agitatedly while gyrating her hips uncontrollably, mortar-and-pestling her pubic bone into mine.

     “No,” I replied.

     “Yes you are,” she said baring her teeth, forcing a smile. “You’re close. I can feel it.”

     By minute five, she was letting me know that she was about to come and that if I wanted to come inside of her, I needed to do it now.

     “I better see milky discharge in that condom when I pull your dick out of me,” she moaned.

     Minute eight came. She came. I didn’t.

     Jara released a sound I had associated with hoofed animals and dropped the full weight of her full figure on me and dozed off. She had been slain.

     When she came to a few minutes later, I was still inside of her.

     “Are you gay or something?” she asked as she held my penis in her hand. With a disappointed look in her eyes, she yanked the condom by its empty reservoir tip off my sad flaccidity. “What the fuck? You’re not even hard.”

     I knew I wasn’t. I hadn’t been since minute two when she first requested my seed. I looked down and gave her a look of shock, mainly to pity her.

     “I guess, your mom only makes faggies,” she said, as she flung the stretched out condom off to the side. She was referring to my older and younger brothers who were both gay. One closeted, the other out and loving it. “You should’ve told me you were a fucking faggot and I wouldn’t have wasted my afternoon and the past year trying to build this relationship.”

     She turned around, readjusted the loops of her bra, snugged each breast in its respective cup and hooked the closure in the back. Still bottomless, Jara lay back on her pillow, reached for the remote and turned on the television. “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” was on. Watching her watching the film we had seen together in theaters earlier that year, reminded me of how good we were and how fucked up we were now.

     “Why are you such a goddamned, fucking bitch?” I yelled, jumping off the bed, the sound still reverberating on the popcorn ceiling. This was the start of our second big fight.

     “What did you say?” Jara asked, with just enough dexterity in her nervous rage to mute the TV.

     “Why do you treat me like shit? All I want is to be beside you and admire you and kiss you and make love to you.”

     Jara’s eyes welled up with tears of rage, of fear. Crying wasn’t something new in our relationship, in fact, it was so common I had grown immune to it. But this time it felt different. I walked towards her side of the bed and sat next to her.

     “I’m sorry for calling you a bitch,” I said. “I don’t really feel that way. I’m just so frustrated, with you, with us.”

     Jara was silent, the most silence that had ever come out of her. All she did was sniffle every couple of seconds. Her weeping was the sobbing of a hoofed creature in pain. I placed my hand on her back and she dropped her head on my shoulder.

     “Listen, I’m here for you,” I said.

     “I know,” Jara replied, her voice crackly with mucus. “It’s just that I wanted us to be different.” She turned her head and gave me a long kiss. Her blue eyes, specked with shades of brown and green, dilated a void, leagues-deep, full of vulnerability. She told me about the sexual trauma she had experienced with her ex. They had only been together for a month before making the sex tape.

     “That’s the reason I’ve been so apprehensive with you,” she said, “and a little bit of a bitch.” We both laughed. “Okay, a huge bitch.” I kissed her forehead, each eyelid, her fairy-tipped nose and then her big, beautiful lips. She was protecting herself from herself, from trusting too much, from men, from that shame ever happening again.

     We sat there for what felt like days, my lower back burning from discomfort. I motioned to the bed with my neck and Jara lay her body down on it. I untucked the raspy covers, that seemed filthy regardless of how many times the chamber maids claimed to have washed them, and pulled them over her. She smiled and closed her eyes.

     Smiling back at her droopy eyes, I began to realize the reason behind Jara’s deliberate delay of intimacy. I kept visualizing the poorly-lit and grainy quality of the video clip, and replaying the acts of violence Jara’s ex-boyfriend put her through. His cocky smile, her labored moaning. The overpowering, gaping, shoving, choking, crying, gagging, nose-breathing, nose-pinching, coughing, cumming, swallowing, more gagging and even more crying. And hurting. Lots and lots of hurting.

     This pain led to her taking things way too slow. The addition of the current mode of affection to the previous one started to make sense. First, hands only. Then, hugs plus hands, followed by kissing, hugs, and hands. It was a pattern. A Fibonacci sequence. When it came to sex, she was out for control because she felt out of control.

     I walked out of the room with shriveled balls between my legs. In the bathroom, the thundering swoosh of the shower curtain opening gave way to the shriek of the shower faucet’s handle knobs turning. The water shot out skillet hot, bouncing off my puckered back. I twisted and turned the hot and cold knobs like a safety vault trying to find the right combination. Reaching an agreeable temperature fogged a curtain of steam in the room. This, in conjunction with the water’s scalding pH, momentarily impaired my vision. In spite of it, I caught a glimpse of Jara approaching me. A blurred Eve.

     She joined me in the shower, embracing me from behind. A Fibonacci nabber. She kissed and suckled on my shoulder blade. I turned around and placed her head on my water-falling chest. Quiet. Listening to the sound of drops splashing, one by one, on the swampy tile, rolling faster and faster, around and past our wrinkled interlaced feet, the closer they neared the drain. A golden spiral.

     We were two virgins, each imagining the other being born that very instant. A double fantasy.

     We washed away the pain. We cried away the shame.

     And after that, we were never the same.

 

Artwork

Bilicko, C. (2014). Being Open [Painting]. Acrylic on canvas, Long Beach, CA.

Seizing The Rope

     A woman standing listless in front of a periodic-table-sized Greek menu stared blankly, her eyes shrink-wrapped with insomnia and hatred for the world, waiting for Peter and me to order. She didn’t seem amused by my indecision, so I picked the only thing on the menu that I could pronounce.

     “I’ll have a gyro,” I said, pronouncing it “ji-row.” Peter chuckled.

     “What he meant to say was ‘yee-ey-roh’,” Peter said to the woman, followed by an apologetic smile on my behalf. The woman didn’t seem amused by Peter’s kind gesture either and continued her unblinking, writhing stare, waiting to put in our orders, head back to the kitchen and instruct the cook to defile our food.

     To my surprise, my order came with a large side of fries, a large salad and a large drink. This establishment was one of those B-graded places that try to compensate for their shitty food quality by stuffing you with a large quantity of it. Peter ordered a side salad and a Styrofoam cup for water.

     As I struggled to chew the dry strips of rubbery lamb, crunchy with bits of ground bone, Peter made an attempt to educate me on whatever bullshit was floating around in his head. It was a habit of his that I didn’t find particularly amusing. For tonight’s lesson, he was going to teach me about the finer details of Greek cuisine.

     “Tzaztiki sauce is made out of cucumber,” he said, as he angled the greasy bottle onto my food basket and squeezed it, ejaculating a spurt of sauce onto my sinewy cuts of meat.

     Up to this point, all of our interactions had been kept strictly within the confines of the college bookstore we worked at. We were friendly, but weren’t really friends. The foreplay that two people enjoy during the beginning period of their acquaintance, before they decide whether to become real friends or people that they used to know, was nearing its end for us. This was our chance to see if our relationship could survive beyond the book stacks.

     Peter was older, in his late fifties, maybe sixties, and preferred not to socialize with college-aged employees. A loner by choice. He believed that his intellectual superiority wouldn’t allow them to keep up with his wit and sense of humor. He spoke German and wore rings bearing strange sigils that had obscure, mystical Celtic significance. The fact that I was a few decades younger than Peter, and still able to carry a stimulating conversation with him made me believe that maybe we could indeed be friends.

     My coworkers didn’t see this other side of Peter. They refused to. They were too focused with his obsession of correcting their grammar and accusing them of contaminating the English language. I admit that it wasn’t easy to be around Peter, but I refused succumbing to the same prejudices my coworkers had built around him. Besides, it felt dangerous to hang out with the most despicable person in the bookstore, a man that was even disliked by management. The boss kept Peter around because he couldn’t just fire him for being grossly unpopular.

     The unknown quality that had at first attracted me to Peter, the challenge of winning over someone you admire and proving to them that you are worth their time, soon became the very reason why I grew tired of him. The more I got to know him, the needier he became. I found his presence suffocating, especially the excuses he would fabricate just to have something to talk to me about. His constant checking up on me. He was aware that I enjoyed the occasional dirty pun, but he soon began using this licentious liberty to introduce sexual anecdotes, such as sharing his opinion on what outfits my bare chest would look good in, and live updates on the erectness of his penis and the reasons behind its petrification.

     Peter had a unique way of demonstrating his affection towards me, prodding the small of my back with his index finger as I bent over to pick up a stack of books, and whispering “Freeze!” into my ear. When I would turn around to confirm that indeed it was Peter, he’d burst out laughing in what sounded like a combination of a seizure and an asthma attack. “It’s a little something I like to do,” he said. “It has a sexual connotation that I’m not comfortable discussing at work.”

     After a while, it didn’t matter what the topic of conversation was, Peter seemed to find a way of twisting and turning it into something sexual.

     “Are you here to ask me something or to look at my legs?” he said, as he was standing on a tall ladder. He was wearing shorts, as he commonly did, exposing his pale, harry legs, striped with varicose veins and spangled with leaky capillaries.

     “No,” I said, wincing at the thought. My attraction towards Peter was intellectual and the only organ of his I wanted to interact with was his brain. “I just wanted to ask–“

     “You know I have a foot fetish,” he said, bursting out into his spastic laughter. “Don’t be such a tease.” As I walked away, half indignant, half appalled, Peter kept calling me back, promising to be serious.

     He often mentioned how he and his partner were devout practitioners of the Wiccan religion, according to him, his ancestors’ true religion. On one occasion, Peter described to me a secret ritual that took place at one of the covens. One in which he and other members of his sect would receive fellatio from a young initiate, who would then take their semen and swallow it.

     “They really are a ton of fun. You should join us sometime,” he suggested.

     At the time, part of me knew that the relationship Peter had with me was of a predatory nature, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and simply see it as one of his many quirks. Embrace it as part of his personality, as part of what made him unique. However, Peter mistook my willingness to be open with him for vulnerability. Because I hadn’t made it known to him that his advances were bothersome, he accepted my silence as consent.

     “So, can I see your feet?” Peter asked, as we waited for our bus outside the Greek restaurant. I was taken aback by the directness of his request, but not completely surprised. I couldn’t really think of a reason why showing Peter my foot could potentially backfire. His attraction towards me wasn’t as subtle as he thought and his flirtation had replaced the witty banter we once shared. Maybe if I gave him what he craved for so much, he could see that there was no chemistry, get over it and move on. Maybe by doing this, Peter and I could find that first high and rekindle our intellectual conversations.

     As I began untying my sneaker, Peter sat there slapping his hands on his thighs.

     “I didn’t know that you also took this bus,” Peter said. I found his attempt of making this situation less awkward to be pathetic, like a cop trying to be your friend as he’s writing you up for speeding. “I wonder why I’ve never seen you on it.” I laughed, rolling the slightly moist sock off my foot and balling it into my empty shoe.

     I was aware that we took the same bus for a while, even before we had stricken our first conversation. Back when I agreed with most of my coworkers that Peter was a fucking weirdo. I used to avoid boarding the same bus as him, opting to wait another hour or so for the next one to arrive.

     “Yeah, what a coincidence,” I said.

     “Well, I think the word you should’ve used is ‘serendipitous’,” he said leaning back on his seat, stroking his rogue mustache and beard with his thumb and index fingers, drawing an oval from the base of his nose, around his lips, down and around his chin. “What you should’ve said is ‘How serendipitous’.”

     This was the way that Peter treated people, preferring to be right in spite of being perceived as an asshole. He only ate peanut butter sandwiches for lunch out of a scratched-up, microwave-mutilated, green-lidded Tupperware that was the exact dimensions of four soggy bread slices. He was getting a Master’s degree in Magical Arts and never divulged what he planned to do with it after he graduated. His hair was long and oily, wispy with barely enough girth to support a hair tie. He didn’t care if his druidic peanut butter breath and armpit stench bothered anybody he came in contact with.

     “It’s just cheaper if you don’t care about what people think,” Peter once told me.

     As I rolled up my pant sleeve to my left knee, partially cutting the blood circulation, Peter took my foot with such gentleness and care. The soft night breeze grazed cool on my skin as Peter held my foot in his sweaty palm. He was acting differently, unlike the aggressive, combative attitude he took against argumentative customers or incompetent coworkers. This was Peter the lover. He looked at my foot from all angles. I thought of him as a doctor, a podiatrist. At least, that’s how I decided to feel about it. He analyzed the sole and thumbed his way down from the ball of my foot to the heel. Every couple of seconds he hummed softly, “Hmmm…hmmm…hmmm.” It reminded me of a foot exam, as if he were approving my foot, saying “Hmmm, yes. This is a strong, healthy foot.” I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the massaging gestures of his hands felt great, almost therapeutic after walking in a maze of books, for four hours straight. The hums started to morph in to moans, dropping the Hippocratic “h” altogether. He raised my foot closer to his face and readjusted his glasses as he squinted.

     “Please don’t put it in your mouth,” I requested, slightly retracting my foot, laughing nervously. It was my version of the call girl “no-kiss-on-the-lips” clause. I wanted to keep it casual, but the pressure he was applying to my foot, along with his breathing, became more violent. More amorous. His thumbs were pressing themselves into the folds on the plant of my foot, past my nerves and muscles, into my bones.

     As Peter placed my sweaty foot on his lap, I was trying to think of ways to desexualize what was going on between us. An argument in which him deriving sexual pleasure from touching this utilitarian extremity was not akin to cupping a breast or jerking a penis. It was only my stinky foot after all, it wasn’t like it was my mouth or my ass being used for erotic purposes. I caught a hint of peanut butter as he crinkled his nose, letting his jaw drop and sticking his tongue out, as he did every time he analyzed something. He did it to read the fine print on book receipts and as he stared intently at my left toe.

     Being treated as a sexual object took me by surprise. I was fully aware that Peter had a foot fetish and, thanks to internet porn, what a fetish itself was. I was there, at our store’s Christmas party, when he broadcasted to the whole staff that he had an affinity for feet. I laughed nervously when our boss teased Peter of being a pedophile. I was the one that went up to Peter, after all of our coworkers had had their fill of ridiculing him, and asked follow up questions about his sexual deviancy related to foot worship. If I had indeed initiated this, then why was I wishing I had never initiated it at all?

     Moments later, Peter began to tug repeatedly at the fabric in his crotch. It didn’t look as though he was pleasing himself, it seemed like he had already taken care of that part during the moaning. His face showed signs of discomfort. When I studied the area, I noticed that— even in the dim street lighting— a small stain had bloomed and puddled on his khaki pants. The dark circle was immediately concealed when he placed his backpack on his lap. The warm build-up and release now left both his crotch and my foot out in the cold.

     Peter was gay, so what did that make me? I knew this for a fact because he had shown me a picture of him and his partner once. He was married to a man who looked like his identical twin. Together, they looked like Gandalf the White embracing Gandalf the Grey. Like Thing 1 and Thing 2. But now, not even the vastness of Seussian wit could help to name the thing I had just taken part in. This man had just made love to my foot with his hand and stained his pants as a result.

     Had this made me gay, even if I hadn’t derived any form of pleasure from the act? I couldn’t feel relief even after we had consummated Peter’s strange request. Not when semen was spilled. My mother once told me that when a man comes, he only does so out of love. Women can fake it all they want, but men can’t.

     “He feels it every time, even when whacking off a quick one in a bathroom he wouldn’t even take a shit in,” my mother once said. “It’s like spilling blood.”

     If Peter were to be found dead later that night, the police would bring me in for questioning after they found my DNA— skin cells and lint— under his dirty, lifeless fingernails. I could be convicted of his murder based on what we had just done. Brutal, bizarre Los Angeles Murder Case, Began with sex and suicide, the headline would read. I had played along with Peter’s fucked up joke and I figured that I wasn’t the first person ever to use sex as a weapon, as a means of getting what I wanted, having seen my mother do it many times before.

     Peter looked away as I slipped my toes back into the cold sock, over my instep, rolling the cuff midway up my shin. He was such a gentleman. I broke the silence by mentioning to him that it had been my first time eating Greek food.

     “It’s quite good, isn’t it?” Peter asked, scratching the bald spot at the crown of his head.

     “Yeah, I think I’m starting to develop a taste for it,” I said, mirroring his uneasiness. It was our way of checking to see if the other was okay. Of asking, “Was it good for you?”

     As I tied my shoelaces, I looked up at him, he was sniffing his hands, snorting the sourness of my feet, taking deep breaths of my essence. We continued to sit there without exchanging a word or glance. All I could think of was of the great pun that this encounter had created. One about a man who had helped another pour cucumber sauce all over his leg of lamb and, in return, had needed to use the latter’s foot to help the former pour his cucumber’s sauce. The night’s demureness and the wind’s howling aversion told me that it probably wasn’t an appropriate time for joking. Peter continued to drum his palms on his thighs.

     When the bus finally arrived, Peter shot up and walked briskly towards the door. He looked back, a gesture that he was waiting for me to board.

     “You know, I actually need to stop by the library to pick up a book,” I said. “Go on ahead without me.” Peter went inside and the bus drove off. I sat back down on the bus bench and waited another hour or so for the next bus to arrive.

     After that episode, Peter kept asking to see my feet. Sometimes, he would approach me and not even bother with a greeting of any type or even say “Freeze!” He’d simply ask to see my feet with the ease that one opens the refrigerator, and grabs a beer with the only goal of satisfying a longing. He asked multiple times a day. The same question.

     “So, when can I look at your feet again?” Peter asked.

     I was neck deep into something I only wanted to dip my toe in. Did he expect me to kick my shoes off, throw caution, along with my socks, to the wind and show him my feet in broad bookstore with coworkers and students walking around? Did he think we were lovers? And I, his mistress?

     After I realized that our encounter did nothing to improve our friendship, I did what my mother would do and I began to distance myself from Peter. Like her, I tend to attract needy people in an effort to feel needed. My mother attracted and nurtured a doomed relationship past the torrents of marriage and the penal system, for as long as she could, until my father served her the divorce papers from prison. My relationship with Peter had reached this point.

     My disassociation from Peter began to garner as much attention in the bookstore as when I first started talking to him. The staff continued to view Peter as strange as ever and me a little less so.

     “You guys looked fucking weird together,” a coworker mentioned. “He looked like your grandfather.”

     I wanted to tell her that he actually was a very nice guy and that he was weird for reasons other than the ones she and everybody else thought. Reasons unknown to her. But I withheld the real reason out of respect for Peter. His work life was already hard enough with all of his neuroses and stigmas that came from being the oldest person around. I didn’t want to add the title of pervert, which he was, onto his plate and the title of gay lover, which I totally wasn’t, to mine.

     “Yeah, he’s a fucking weirdo,” I replied, taking the most humane route, a mercy kill, and giving my coworker the validation she so callously craved for.

     I walked towards the bus stop after another late shift. Peter had worked that same shift with me, but he wasn’t waiting for the bus at his usual spot. I assumed that his partner had picked him up, as was sometimes the case. I boarded the incoming bus, looked around and I didn’t see him there, to my relief. We both knew what I had done to him. We had both used each other, but I felt that I had done so with a wicked motive in mind, and he was merely satisfying his basal needs.

     The bus arrived at its next stop and a group of people got in. Peter was one of them. I fixed my gaze on him, trying not to blink, as to not miss the moment when our sights could possibly cross. He paid for his fare and walked down the seat-framed walkway. As he neared my seat, he didn’t even glance towards my direction. When he passed me, I got a hint of peanut butter mixed with the ripeness of compounded underarm sweat, two scents that I had nostalgically associated with him. Peter found a seat near the rear of the bus.

     I kept looking back, partly to see what he was doing and partly to see if he would finally notice that I was also on the bus, a serendipitous phenomenon he wondered about the night he fondled my foot. He didn’t. He simply looked out the window and dozed off with his mouth open.

 

Artwork

Bilicko, C. (2017). Push, Pull [Painting]. Oil and acrylic on canvas, Long Beach, CA.

Till Moons Shall Wax And Wane No More

     It didn’t bother me one bit that he was in his underwear; only the boxer fly between me and his infamous, hyperactive, incorrigible penis. Having heard so many of his escapades, I felt like I had already seen him naked, stitching together in my imagination the graphic details in his stories. I had mentioned to him that I really liked his suit. It was dark blue with brown pinstripes. He completed the ensemble with a white button down dress shirt and a solid red tie. He thought I wanted the suit, when all I really wanted was for him to know that he looked good in it. Now he was proudly handing it to me on a hanger. Looking at his hairy, disproportionately skinny legs, I saw why my family thought of him as being inherently good. He would give you the clothes off his back. That’s the kind of guy my uncle Dario was. When it came to you, he came in second. That’s why he was a notoriously good lover. He was generous. Ladies loved him. His family loved him. And he loved them all. I counted 15 visible hearts patterned on his boxers, and wondered if the one in his chest was stronger than all of those combined.

     “A man needs to be like a dog,” Uncle Dario once told me.

     According to him, a man should have sex with any woman he can get his hands on. As practice. It was what the Lord commanded. As men, we needed to keep our wives satisfied. Even as a child of 12, he felt that it was important for me to know that. In his mind, he was the best example of this. He prided himself on being a ravenous lover and his topics of conversation always fell on the saucier side. They were usually followed by his wife lightly smacking his arm with a dissuading “Oh, you.” Her presence did little to deter his libido.

     “You know, Amado’s wife is quite the knock out,” Uncle Dario said. He liked the fact that she was big and robust. In heels, she was almost twice his size. The prospect of facing a wall of legs piqued his curiosity. What he wouldn’t do to that amount of woman.

     “If only Amado was a damn cuckold,” he murmured as Amado and his gigantic wife made their way from their car to a party Uncle Dario was hosting in the park. Amado and my uncle shared similar physical characteristics. They were both short, stocky and with a perfectly round belly that protruded at their sternum and bulged slightly over their belt buckle. Their upper lips were nonexistent, dense with mustache hair. Uncle Dario appreciated a woman who enjoyed the mild tickling of neatly trimmed love-whiskers. His mustache was bigger than Amado’s. This gave him a sense of pride, as if this fact made him manlier than his friend.

     Uncle Dario’s wife seemed unfazed by her husband’s sensual comments. There was something going on behind closed doors that the rest of us weren’t privy to. Maybe it was her way of occasionally loosening the leash and allowing her husband to sniff at another man’s marked territory. My uncle’s flirtation with extramarital romancing was on her terms, therefore she didn’t feel threatened by it.

     My uncle’s feelings for Amado’s wife went beyond the blinding delusions of lust. They borderlined the condition that all men with diminutive proportions seem to contract at one point or another. The desire to conquer large masses of stuff. Whether it be land or a woman’s body. As Amado and Nancy approached Uncle Dario, I could picture Nancy extending her hand towards my uncle and he extending his while holding his cock in it. Nancy’s hands were thick, her fingers adorned with gold rings set with large rubies and emeralds. To have such a large, strong grip constrict its coils around his manhood was akin to the snake of Eden slithering up and down the Tree. Sin from the source. Tasting the sweetness of the forbidden. Allowing its poison to disintegrate God’s Commandments. All my uncle wanted was five minutes with her. That would be all he needed.

     Uncle Dario was like a father to me, my model of what a man should be. He was always well-dressed, even in old pictures of his youth, taken in the early 1970s. In them he wore his hair long, to his shoulders, with a much thinner mustache under his nose. He liked to be well dressed because he liked to be complemented. It wasn’t necessarily vanity. It was simply a way of meeting chicks. A residual mode of living from back in the day when he was young. Any mention of women and Uncle Dario’s curiosity was soon indulged. For my 13th birthday, my mother posed the idea of renting a bounce house, and filling it with scantily-clad teenage girls, so that they could jump with me in all of their careless nubile suppleness. In other words, her version of what she thought my ultimate fantasy would be. Uncle Dario overheard this conversation and posed that for his 54th birthday, he wanted my mother to leave out the bounce house altogether, and instead have the teenage girls bounce on him.

     When Amado and Nancy finally reached my uncle, Amado outstretched his hand in an act of friendship. Uncle Dario did the same. His hand said friendship, but his eyes were wiping their ass with the Commandment that begins with “Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife.” Instead, he wanted to bash his neighbor’s head in à la Cain and Abel.

     “Let me just take her for one ride,” Uncle Dario’s eyes fantasized.

     When it was time to welcome Nancy, he outstretched his hand to shake hers. In Latin America, it is customary to hug your male friends and to hug and kiss your female friends. We didn’t do that in our family. We were Christian. Only, we weren’t wholly Christians. We were Catholics turned Southern Baptists claiming to be Christians. We were fakes. As fake as my mother claimed Nancy’s breasts to be.

     We shook everybody’s hand. Men, women and children. It helped to stave off creepy pedophile interactions as well as deeply repressed homosexual ones. And in the current situation Uncle Dario found himself in, infidelity. One whose inception stemmed from erection-inducing hugs.

     As my uncle shook Nancy’s hand, his eyes were checking to see if anything else was shaking as a result. Call it the ocular Richter scale. He stared at her breasts for what felt like hours. Nancy’s bosoms were at the same height as my uncle’s head and almost as big. If they were supermarket items, the rack would be at eye level. Premium. Best sellers and leading brands with the highest markup. He didn’t stand a chance.

     “Those tits are fake,” my mother whispered to Uncle Dario’s wife. My uncle didn’t care. Nancy’s breasts could have been two flesh-colored, over-inflated helium balloons partially concealed by her lace brassiere, and they would have continued to elicit the same chemical reaction in his brain and in his trousers.

     “Other than her huge beach balls, she’s got nothing going on for her,” my mother added. “She’s hideous.”

     Nancy’s face was sweaty from all the thick makeup clogging up her pores. From a distance, a thick five o’clock shadow was easy to spot, even under the thick coats of foundation. She used it to conceal her stubble and vellus hairs on her chin, cheeks and near her ears. Her upper lip was beaded with perspiration as it was the area that needed the most concealment. It resembled the make up on Cesar Romero’s 1960s Joker more than the women on the television commercials for that very product. Her thick eyebrows were meticulously plucked into two black furry caterpillars, darkened further by brow pencil. Her eyelashes were drenched in tarry mascara, with small drops of oil-like substance miring on either corner of her eyes. She pressed her bright red lips together— as bright and red as the veins invading her eyes— to wipe the condensation off her upper lip.

     Anything from her chest up didn’t seem to matter to my uncle. Nancy could’ve been headless for all he cared. His mouth was watering from the scent of the meat grilling on the red hot coals and from the flesh bulging out of her push-up bra and hot red dress. She had thick legs, small ankles and a supple pair of buttocks. A horse’s ass, according to Uncle Dario. He was an ass man. When you come from Mexico— a culture that idolizes the round, fleshy parts that form a person’s lower rear area and has over 15 ways of referring to it— you really can’t help it.

     “She wears all of that mask of caked-on makeup because she’s truly a man,” my mother snickered to my uncle’s wife.

     “You guys are just jealous of her,” Uncle Dario later rebutted. “Besides, I think we’d be good so long as my mustache was thicker and she kept shaving hers.”

     As he disengaged from the prolonged handshake, my uncle’s eyes became transfixed on the gentle tremors that accompanied her buttocks as she trotted away. Her dress had the elegance you would expect to see in the first few minutes of a 1980s porno movie, prior to the female protagonist stripping naked. The kind of clothing meant to be ripped off, cummed on and flung to the floor. Disposable. Nancy’s heels kept burying themselves into the muddied grass as she walked over to greet the other guests. I expected Amado to pull out a hoof pick to clean Nancy’s stilettoes  once they found a seat.

     According to Amado, they were dressed up because he and Nancy were going to a discotheque afterwards. Uncle Dario loved to dance and this was a dagger plunging deep in his heart. I could see it in his eyes. The ones he inherited from my grandmother. Sweet and tender. His mind was falling victim to visions of Amado holding his wife— his thumbs pressing up against her hip bones and the other four fingers resting on the upper curvature of her equestrian posterior. My uncle’s eyes yearned to trade places with Amado, for his friend to stay at the barbecue flipping burgers, wearing an apron that read: “…and I can also cook.”

     Uncle Dario’s eyes welled up with tears. Not necessarily emanating from melancholy, or from the black smoke of the fire burning off the fat on the meat. But from yet another place. He wanted to be the one dancing with Nancy and have his head sandwiched by her. Him resting his head on her large breasts and she resting her head on his.

     Uncle Dario loved his wife. He prayed to God at night. But that day, Nancy left without saying goodbye.

     “Look, your girlfriend’s leaving,” Uncle Dario’s wife scoffed as she pointed to his dream girl walking away in the distance. She and my mother cackled heartily. Uncle Dario joined in with a forced chuckle. He turned around to face the roaring flame gently incinerating the meat. He pulled out a bandanna from his back pocket, opened it and wiped his whole face with it, leaving it in there longer than all of the previous times. He needed to forget Nancy, at least for the time being. To reset his thoughts.

     When he pulled his face out of the ornamented cloth, he looked over at me and smiled.

     “Hey you,” Uncle Dario said. “Wanna come over and help me with these?” I got up and ran over to him and he placed his hand on my shoulder. “Look, I’m going to show you how to cook a proper hamburger.” He exhaled the full weight of his arm on both my shoulders and I wrapped my arm around the small of his back.

     “You know,” he said, “that suit’s going to look really good on you when you get bigger.” I felt him inhale deeply and billow out a prolonged sigh as we stood there, staring quietly at the globs of meat change color, from strawberry pink to hickory brown.

     That day, my uncle showed me the signs of when a piece of meat needed to be flipped on a grill. He also taught me that even if you have the ability to ravage a battalion of women, beyond the point of depletion, requiring medical care via intravenous rehydration, you can still get your heart broken by a single woman.

     Sometimes, the wife of another.

 

Photo Credit

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). The Heart Needs [Photograph]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles.

What We Have Left Undone

     Blue Line broke down.

     Again.

     The turd that transports you from 7th Street and Wilshire in Downtown LA to the city of Long Beach had a power outage from the Washington station to its last stop on 7th. For five miserable stops I sat in a crowded bus full of miserable people. Their misery most likely accompanied them prior to drudging it into the bus. An older passenger in particular was filled with the Spirit and, in the fashion of a Prophet of Old, began to raise his voice, and testify that which was in his heart.

     “Fuck you, muthafucka,” he said as a Caucasian cyclist walked past him. The cyclist spread his sweaty, spandex-bound ass cheeks on the seat and didn’t return the gesture or share a single glance with his offender. “You white people think that you can treat us like we beneath you. Well, fuck you.” The old man seemed to be staring at nothing in particular. His slightly closed eyes and the light seafoam green in them gave me the impression that he may have been blind. I wondered if his corneal opacity made everyone that crossed his path look a little white.

     Rhetoric of this nature usually doesn’t come from someone dressed in a sport coat, organic cotton t-shirt and stone-washed jeans. The absence of urine and feces smells emanating from him further supported my theory that he wasn’t homeless. Having been raised in a family where all the men were Evangelical Baptist preachers, I’ve learned that even a good sermon can fall on deaf ears. Especially when the listener doesn’t give a damn about the speaker or subject. When you address the many, you’re really talking to no one.

     An abrupt silence swept the interior of the bus. Some of its passengers perked their ears and peeked their eyes at the big man with the big mouth sitting at the front of the bus. They seemed more interested in seeing what crazy thing might erupt as a result of the old man’s violent speech than with the message itself.

     “My people built this muthafucka,” he continued to yell. “There’s gonna be a day when white people are gonna stop fuckin’ with black people. You best believe that.” The whole thing seemed improvised, relying heavily on verbal fillers such a “fuck” and a soft-pitched “huh.” Every couple of seconds, the tense silence was broken by a muttered “fuckin’ ass.” The way his jaw quivered— after delivering a silence-shattering profanity— came from the adrenaline coursing through his body and not from fear. He had chucked that feeling out the window a few stops back.

     The other passengers reacting to the unraveling of this man began to whisper and giggle amongst themselves. Others were snickering and pointing at him. This heckling reaction did little to defuse the man’s incendiary character.

     “I see you muthafuckas laughin’ and rollin’ your goddamn eyes at me. Well, fuck ya’ll,” he said. “My black ass paid my dues. I served my muthafuckin’ country in Nam, so I can say whatever the fuck I want.”

     “OK man. Just calm down. That’s not the way,” another man in the back of the bus said. His attempt to pacify and meet the old man halfway was no match for the anger seething inside of the latter.

     “Fuck that. You think if a black boy did what that white did, it’d be the same?” The old man was answering questions that not a single person in that bus had asked or had any curiosity in knowing the answer to.

     “It’s not the way,” the same voice replied a little quieter, with a hint of despondency.

     “Fuck that. That black boy be in jail by now. Hell, that boy be dead by now. They’d lynch his black ass.”

     The passion with which the man was speaking brought him to his feet. He had to immediately pull his pants up to prevent the rest of us from seeing the upper part of his ass. His midriff was one amassed as a result of coming home, sitting comfortably on a couch and snacking on your favorite treats while watching your favorite show. It was a privileged gut. The wobbliness in his legs— due either to his age or the bus’s shitty suspension— made him seek the aid of two hooped-straps dangling from the overhead support bars. The bickering amidst the riders got louder and rowdier. They’d had it with him, and random spurts of “sit down already” and “quiet down” began to shower his unstable body.

     “I won’t sit down or shut up,” the old man said in a mocking tone, gesticulating loudly. “My people built this muthafuckin’ country and all of them buildings you muthafuckas work and live in.”

     “Shut the fuck up,” a young man yelled out. His voice was loud enough to be heard, but with the faintness of one who doesn’t want to call attention to his specific location. The old man turned his head towards the back of the bus and squinted his eyes, trying to use some sort of x-ray vision or echolocation. He realized it would take more than furrowing his brow and wrinkling his nose to sniff out the coward who dared to challenge him.

     “What you say, nigga?” the old man replied, expecting his nemesis to take the bait and come clean.

     “I said ‘shut the fuck up’.” A short teenager emerged from the back of the bus. The over-sized LA Dodgers jersey and cap that he was sporting made him look even skinnier. It didn’t seem to bother him that the old man was twice his size and could easily place him in a head lock and lift him over his head. This would make a really cool story to tell his other baggily-clad friends at a later time. Of how he beat the crap out of a tall black fool. He would probably omit the fact that the man was old enough to be his grandfather. The young man stuck his chin up, wearing the faint wisps of hair covering his upper lip and chin proudly.

     This quickfire exchange propelled the old man to take a few steps forward— out of his comfort zone and out of his coat. As he flung it over to an empty seat, his phone came flying out making a loud thud on the floor.

     “Why don’t you come down here and say that again?” the old man said.

     “Shut the fuck up, old man,” the young man insisted, grabbing onto a stainless-steel pole with one hand and readjusting his balls with the other. He did it to reassert his stripling masculinity and let the onlookers know that he indeed had two testicles and a penis bouncing around in his sagging jeans.

     “I may be 65 years old, but I can still bust your muthafuckin’ mouth,” the old man said. “Bring your ass down here.”

     People started calling out to the driver to stop the bus. What was once a harmless old coot spouting off about black pride and white violence soon became the very type of act that the old man was trying to bring light to. Possibly even attempt to end. The bus driver slammed on the brakes. Most of the passengers started yelling at the brash youth to back down and take his seat. However, the young man was on deck with miniature baseball bats in each hand, ready to bang them on the old man’s bald head. He was now in full Dodger regalia. The youth began to descend the small steps in the back of the bus. When the old man saw this, he braced himself and pulled out a giant half-drunk plastic water bottle. He gripped it with both hands, ready to mildly bludgeon the youth with the power of 8.0 Alkaline pH.

     “You a fuckin’ coward,” the old man yelled. “Put them muthafuckas away and then we can do this.” His voice cracked. The bottle crinkled and popped as his gripped readjusted. His fear was audible. Maybe he had gone too far. You could tell that all he wanted was to vent his anger in a public forum. He felt wounded by the acts of violence that unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia a day before. He was a preacher preaching to sinners who didn’t want to repent, who didn’t want to open their eyes and acknowledge his fears. His pain.

     The young man banged the two bats against each other like a percussion instrument, meant to taunt and intimidate. The old man was looking at the youth approaching him, while at the same time, at all of the people staring at him. Part of him was hoping that the people he was insulting a few moments ago would step up and protect him from this disrespectful teenager. He was 65-muthafuckin’-years-old after all, and when you get to be that age there’s an unspoken leniency. An “old boys will be old boys” mixed with a “he’ll tire himself out” mentality you have to accept when interacting with some elderly people. All at once, the old man was tired of being ignored and scared of being taken too seriously.

     As the young man approached the bus’s rear exit, he asked the driver to let him out.

     “Man, you’re lucky I don’t want to do this right now,” the young man said as he jumped out onto the curb.

     “You a bitch,” the old man taunted with a sense of relief. “You can’t even take on my old black ass.” His emasculated voice regained its full arrogant potency as he saw that his well-being was no longer in question. The old man looked out the window to see the young man walking parallel to the curbed bus, playing his miniature weapons like a clave instrument to the tune of this old man’s derision.

     “Yeah, keep walking, young’n,” the old man yelled out the window as the bus driver resumed his route. He wiped the condensation bubbling up on his temples and forehead. The look in his eyes was that of a blind man who could now see. His close brush with violence opened his eyes and closed his mouth. He looked tired. The dark luster of his skin was a few shades lighter. Cries of “just get off” and “you didn’t serve in Vietnam, you fucking liar” began to fill the bus. The adrenaline that had vacated his body seemed to have aged him a few years. It was hard for him to breathe and get up from his seat. The old man asked the driver— in a calm, respectful manner— to let him off.

     The bus driver stopped, and the man was pushed out by a sea of applause and cheers. The cheering quickly turned to laughter when the old man chased after the departing bus and reentered it looking for his phone. He looked under the seats, and there it was, in his hand all along. He stepped out again and began lecturing a man napping on a bus bench with his head hanging off to the side. Then he approached a group of homeless men sitting in the shade, preaching to them from the Gospel of Sticking It to the Man. He pointed vigorously at them, trying to stoke in them the fire of dissent. The men just stared at him with blank faces, zapped from too much sun.

     The bus breathed a collective sigh of relief. The madness was over. Now they could all go back to worrying about their own personal misery and not be overwhelmed with other people’s crap. That was how these people viewed the old man and how most people view the misfortunes that befall others. Homeless people? Other people’s crap. Racial violence? Other people’s crap. Because it’s not happening to me, it doesn’t matter to me.

     As I exited the bus, I motioned a young man— whose seat was closer to the exit than mine— to go on ahead of me. He did the same. I took a step towards the door and so did he. I gave him a look of contrition and he did the same. We both smiled and said “sorry” in unison. We laughed. He finally went on ahead of me. The smile I gave him stayed on my lips for a few seconds, but the one he gave me stayed on my mind for the rest of the day. We both witnessed the acts of violence that unfolded on the bus. We both knew of the terrorist attacks that took place in Charlottesville. He was black. I Hispanic. But in spite of all that, we both understood that we were both riding on the same bus and needed to get off on the same stop. We decided to be cordial to one another and not allow the violence that enraptured our day to affect that.

     That is what made me smile. The fact that we had the ability to decide.

 

Photo Credit

New bus fares [Photograph found in Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Evening Herald Express, Los Angeles]. (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2017, from http://photos.lapl.org/carlweb/jsp/photosearch_pageADV.jsp (Originally photographed 1952)

Out Of Chaos

     Orchestral sounds are created through a synergy of sound and motion. The players, the conductor and the music all play their part like actors on a stage. The sea of musicians flows and sways to the rhythm of the music. It is an all-encompassing energy that bursts off of the stage and onto the audience. It emanates from each individual musician pouring their soul into the instruments they are holding, the ones that they’ve invested countless hours in mastering. “I kind of view the pages of music backed up against a landscape,” Los Angeles-based violinist Jordan Ann Martone said. “It’s the story I’m trying to tell through the piece of music.” The orchestra becomes an actress whose body language and facial expressions reach the deepest caverns of the audience’s collective soul. “People don’t realize it because music is always there,” Martone added. “It affects people more than they realize.”

     Having grown up in the city of Lancaster, Calif.— located in the northeast part of Los Angeles County— Martone and her family made frequent visits to the city of Los Angeles for various events and performances. “I would always go to shows and musicals with my family,” Martone said. She comes from a musical family and began to play the piano at the age of 4. “When I turned 7 or 8, in my elementary school, there was a strings class,” she said. It was a small strings program in a community that glorified sports and the military. However, the young Martone was convinced that she wanted to take part in this program. Convincing her mother of allowing her to leave the piano for the violin was a different story. “My mom told me: ‘I’m not going to let you quit the piano, but you can add the violin’,” she recalled. Having been raised in a musical home, Martone was familiar with all of the instruments. “But the violin was the one that was really unique— the sound— and I liked it a lot,” she added.

     Because she already knew how to play the piano, Martone found it easy to play the violin. She was the only kid in her school that was serious about playing this instrument. “I was kind of an oddball in my school because it consumed my life,” Martone said. As her skills improved over time, so did the quality of the violins she was playing. “Every violin is completely different because they’re all handmade, usually,” she said. “So you can play something absolutely perfectly on your instrument and then go pick up somebody else’s to demonstrate and it’ll sound terrible.”

     Martone went through a series of violins, starting with a beginner, factory-made, cookie-cutter instrument to one that was high-quality and one-of-a-kind that she purchased from her violin teacher Michael Ferril. “It was something that I could not afford,” Martone said. “But I was so lucky to have been in that situation where I was able to purchase it.” With violin, unlike a piano whose notes are already in tune, you can put your finger anywhere on the instrument and it can sound awful. “Getting it to sound good is so difficult,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s one of the hardest instruments to play.” It takes years and years of sounding bad in order to reach a point at which you can make the instrument sound good. Most people who try to learn the violin get discouraged by the bad that they never get to the good. Martone herself went through a period of self-doubt. “Things started getting hard, and I actually had to practice more and be more involved if I wanted to progress,” she vividly remembers. She started to get impatient with the disproportionate amount of practice she had to invest compared to the small amount of progress she was making. “My mom sat down with me and told me, ‘This is one of the hardest things you’ve had to do in your little 10-year-old life,'” Martone recalled. “‘If you push through this, I think you’ll be really thankful.'”

     She was glad that her mother didn’t let her quit, because that’s what it took. That little extra push. “It took rewiring my brain,” she said. “You do it just purely by your musical mind and muscle memory, which is kind of crazy now that I think back on it.”

     Martone stated that she owed a lot of her career as a violinist to her mother, who is a stage actress and singer. “If I wasn’t a violinist, I might go into acting,” Martone said. She believes that acting teaches you stage presence and performance techniques. “It drives me nuts when I see violinists on stage that are just ‘plant-and-play’ type of people,” she said. “They stand and have no expression. They make the most beautiful sound you’ve heard, but where’s the expression? Where’s that story you’re trying to tell me?” While she’s on stage, Martone takes on the persona of an actress singing a song and really performing it for the audience. “That’s what I know. It’s my performance experience,” she said. She feels that it helps her enhance the story that she is telling through her playing. “Entertain me! We’re in the entertainment business. It’s a big part of what I do,” she added.

     While a student at the California State University in Northridge, Martone was asked to substitute for a violinist in the semi-professional Debut Orchestra. The concert would feature music by the world-famous film composer John Williams, conducted by Williams himself. “I thought I’d be playing somewhere in the back,” she said. “But no. I was playing third chair, second violin and I was freaking out.” She was playing the hardest music that she had ever encountered right under the very man who wrote it. “It was a lot of pressure because I definitely wanted to do a good job. I had to do a good job,” she said. “It was so incredible and so memorable. It was a dream come true and the biggest kick in the butt all in one.”

     This performance set in motion something that Martone had wanted to do ever since she was a child— watching videos of musicians in the studio, recording the music for films like Star Wars. “I have a huge love for film music. I listen to it a lot. I’d say that it forms 80 percent of my listening material,” she said. “It’s my favorite music.” Aside from her live performances and teaching— privately and at local schools— Martone enjoys recording music in the studio. She has played on soundtracks for films, television shows and video games, most of which she cannot discuss until after the project has been released to the public. “The film industry is not as wealthy as it used to be,” she noted. “I realize that I live in a different age now.” Even in LA— the film music capital of the world— there’s been a large amount of outsourcing to Europe and other orchestras overseas in order to save money.” However, Martone remains hopeful. “If I could go to Fox Studios and record for those films every day, that would be my dream job,” she said.

     Her love for film music can only be matched by her love for the city of Los Angeles. “I just can’t believe I’m here,” Martone said. Even in the midst of hours upon hours of traffic, the violinist appreciates the fact that she is in LA. “I don’t care. I get to drive down Highland Avenue, in the city where my dreams are coming true,” she said. Even in her various travels to New York, NY and Paris, France, she has never found a place quite like LA. “It represents so much opportunity for me personally. It’s very exciting,” she added. “I’m so happy to be here. I’m very lucky that I am. It’s a huge deal.”

     Martone is writing the script to her life with a bow in one hand and her violin in the other. Her devotion for film music has led her to become a huge advocate for it. “I wonder how different people’s lives would be if they listened to more film music instead of pop music on the daily,” Martone said. The growing popularity of live orchestras playing along to film has garnered mass appreciation for orchestral music. In an age where this type of music is no longer in vogue, orchestras are losing their footing in people’s lives. “It’s interesting to see the popularity of that grow, because everybody loves movies,” she said. “When they realize that an orchestra is playing that right now, it helps bring the appreciation back. It’s helping the interest in live music a bit more and the classical study that goes behind that.”

     She sees music as the silent hero to the entire world of film and television. “I don’t think people realize how important it really is in everything they watch,” Martone said. “Without film music, you don’t have a film. You have one with much less emotion.”

     Like a seasoned actress preparing for yet another role, Martone approaches each project with the same enthusiasm and curiosity she did when she was in her childhood strings class. “It’s discovering new music or things I can do with my instrument that I hadn’t before,” Martone said. “Because I love music ultimately. That’s the core of what I love and what I do.” When people ask her if she ever gets bored of playing the same instrument she has played all of her life, her answer is always a resounding “no.” “The music is constantly changing and evolving, and there are so many different possibilities out there,” Martone said. “You never know what’s going to affect you the most.”

     She is willing to embrace each role life serves up for her, even if it were one in which she wasn’t a musician. “I would always want to be involved in the arts. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been drawn to,” she said. Whether she’s playing as part of the orchestra’s body or in an all-female electric strings quartet, Martone draws energy from the music, her fellow musicians, the conductor and the audience. “I never know which performance hit the person in the back row,” Martone said. “It’s that thought that keeps me going.”

To learn more about Jordan Ann Martone’s music, please check out her website:

www.jordanann.com

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017, July 30). La Violinista [Photograph]. Silhouettes, stripSearchLA, Los Angeles.