July 24th, 2017
He grabbed her by the mouth with that iron grip pinching the corners of her moaning gasp. By the fifth thrust, she began to wiggle away. By the seventh, she had enough and with one hand against his chest, pulled him out of her and let him stand in the naked, cold air. Erect and sweating.
“Why are you rough today?” Ophelia threw a wet pillow at him.
“What do you mean?” Dion went towards her for a touch. Like a lion at play, on his belly, rolling. He inched closer to her. She pushed his face back.
Keep the predator at bay.
“You’re rough. Get it? You were much more gentle the first time. Now you’re just…a dog, what the f***?”
“You like it rough. Right?” He asked. She stared, tilting her head to the side, nodding her head. “Right?”
He lost his erection immediately. He stood upright.
“I’m just distracted. Sorry.” He looked down. “Some things in my mind have come back up.”
“Right? The things that made you come here?” She rubbed the temples of her skull. Rubbed her eyes. Put a palm against her face and shook her head.. “I knew it. I knew this was a bad idea. I knew the moment I saw your crying, moping face. Goddamnit.”
Ophelia stood up and reached for her clothes that hung by the edge of a bleached-oak countertop. A tank top, some pajamas. She started working her hair into a bun and Dion just stared, with the rose water smell in the air and the velvet underneath like smooth, warm sand, his fingers dug into it and the mattress and he watched. He was naked, flaccid, and outstretched.
He felt cold.
And he shouldn’t have been. The room was hot. Ophelia radiated heat from her pink cheeks, like a candle flame. He had no reason to be cold. None.
But seeing her alone and seeing himself in this stranger’s bed, he couldn’t help but feel like a speck of dirt. Cold. Lifeless. Easy to flick off.
She turned around and sucked in her lips. She could only massage her scalp as she looked at him. He didn’t mean to make a sullen expression, it just came out that way when he tried to smile.
His forehead, his nose, his eyes, all down. His breath, sighing.
“I think I asked once why you came here. You didn’t answer.” Ophelia said. “It just sounded like you needed a place, and I owed you one. But now you’ve been here for four days, I’m starting to get the idea that you don’t want to leave. So I have to ask, why are you here? Where did you come from?”
He looked at the pretty cabinets and the reflection of the soft pink lights from the lamp in the corner of the room, a large fixture in the shape of a salt rock or a totem. He couldn’t tell. His clothes were in a corner and in a square plastic box, the faux-lion carpet beneath his feet felt comfortable, a massage of fur for his toes and a panacea for the growing tensions in his muscles that made his calves spasm.
There really isn’t a cure for nervous ticks though. Just suppressants, but no cures.
“I don’t want to tell you why I’m here.” He said.
“Yeah, you said that before.” She turned away, opened a drawer and took out a cloth. She left for the restroom and seemed to take the glow of the room with her. Dion put a pillow against his face to suffocate, it seemed, the last of his hope.
“I’m sorry I put this on you.” He muffled.
“Why?” Ophelia asked. “I made the choice just as much as you did.”
“You’re married though.”
“Was planning to marry, actually. And you were depressed and to honest, I’m too happy about my prospects. I guess I just wanted to have one last fling.” She said.
“Is that fair?”
“You.” She eyed him. “Are the last the person who should be judging me.”
“It was sex though.”
“Sex? Who cares about sex? It’s just a biological process. Like breathing. Like eating.”
“You’re starting to sound like someone I don’t like. Please stop.” Dion said.
“That Apollo guy?” She said. He groaned.
“What I’m trying to say is I’m sorry.” He said. “For getting you into this. For your marriage, all that.”
“Don’t feel too guilty. My fiance’s f***** every girl in a five-mile radius. There isn’t a whore moan in the city I can’t trace back to him. It’s like a radiation trail.” She said. “Maybe I did this for a little payback, you know?”
She threw water at her face. Dion saw her imperfections. Freckles, a lazy eye, the years of strife on her forehead that made her wrinkle early. Imperfections like anyone else.
“You know? When you helped us at the club? I kind of wish you didn’t. Kind of wish you let them go in on my boyfriend a little longer.”
“You don’t mean that.” Dion said. “You’re better than that.”
“I wonder.” She said. She rubbed water on her face. She walked back in and sat next to him and rubbed his cheeks with tender hands. Then frowned. Dion went forward with puckered lips, she pushed his shoulders back.
“I’m glad you came, really.” She smiled. But he knew what the tone meant. “You made me realize I wasn’t ready for marriage.”
“With him, right?” Dion asked.
“With anyone.” She said. He frowned.
“And…us?” He asked. “It’s meaningful, what we’ve done. It’s the consummation of love, you know? It’s sacred.”
He put his sad mask on again, the face he made that made her think of the night four days ago. The wrangled dirty boy. It was an innocent sadness then and it looked like it again, now.
“Dion. You say that, but you treat me like a vending machine.” She said. “Not that I mind that much. But there’s no future between us. It was just sex.”
She let go of him and went to the closet and the small square package of clothes. A new dress shirt, some new shoes. She took the bundle and put it to his lap.
“Had ’em washed for you.” She said. He didn’t look.
“Nothing ever works out the way I do.” He said. “And the more optimism I have, the worse things seem to get.”
He looked up to her.
“No.” He said. “You really don’t. You’ve got a life you understand. You know where your train tracks lead. Me? I’m lost.”
He wasn’t crying. He was sweating. He wiped his forehead.
“Me? I’m f-f-f*****.” The word came out, dragged and forced. Cursing was hard. Always had been for him. But f*** was the word that best described his feeling.
He wasn’t sad or upset or filled with trepidation or incurably condemned the hostilities of his conscience.
He was f*****.
She narrowed her eyes.
“I can’t help you. I wish I could.” She said.
“And you need to help yourself?”
“What does that mean?” He put his hands out. As if receiving the holy body of Christ.
“I wish I could tell you.” She caressed his cheeks. “Part of life is dealing with problems your own way, because that’s the only way it’ll make any sense. No bible can teach that. No science. No philosophy.”
“Where do I go?”
“Where were you before all of this?” She asked.
And he got an image he didn’t want to see. An image of Apollo. Of that little apartment, of the burning building. Of the bodies. All of them.
It didn’t take long for him to put on his clothes, to brush her helping hand away. To walk out the door.
He put his hands in his pocket and went past the vases and pictures and other novelties, a bass fish that sang with a button press, a collection of postcards from all corners of the earth, self-help books on top of self-help books. One read, the five steps of grieving.
He was a little mad.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay?” She rushed behind him.
“No.” He walked out. Away from her, until she couldn’t even see him from the door frame she stood in. He kicked the dirt.
He kicked cans. He kicked glass, into the streets from the sidewalk where the white-painted thatched fence lined up for miles. He kicked the particles into the even level road, into the curb gutter where giant orange u-haul trucks waited for this rich and wealthy city block. Like life buoy. Because the rest of the city really was drowning.
He was drowning. He could feel it in his chest, the growing pain like water filling his lungs.
After a few blocks, he keeled over and held his chest and he cried.
And he cried.