He jumped on the bed and copped a boxer’s stance. He asked how she could sit by and let the country be taken over by a fascist regime. She said she sat by and let a lot of things happen. He asked if she thought he’d always work in a coffee shop.
If he insisted on talking, she wished he’d ask fewer questions. She said, “You make killer mochas.”
“The best you’ve had?”
He said, “Yeah, well, when I hit my stride, watch the fuck out.” He made a left jab and two rights, complete with sound effects, which drove her to say in a commentator’s burlesque, “That’s it, squash ‘em, boys.” She felt she had a right to do this, but he relaxed his pose and looked at her like she’d punned.
This was all her brother’s fault. He told her older women were IN right now and she should take advantage while the taking was good. She’d said, “But he steams my milk. I’d feel like a pervert.” Her brother said welcome to the sweetest club she was eligible to join.
She picked off the nightstand a stone she’d found years ago. It was cool and porous, like a nun’s skin, and exactly fit the inside of her fist. She couldn’t remember where she’d found it, but so much slipped her mind now—what she needed at the store, what she needed in the kitchen, what dose of this or that she was on. She said, “I want a fridge for lefties.”
He said, “I want to go to Bangkok.”
She wasn’t sure of his age, but he was young enough she felt like she should apologize to someone. Not to him, he was doing fine. After all, she’d been the first to lick him in a place and manner that (news to her) there was actually a word for. Or maybe it was two words. True, she’d done this by accident—slipping while she tried to do something else—but still.
“I’ve wasted so much money,” she said. She watched him. “You thought I was going to say time.”
He ducked and said, “I wasn’t thinking anything.” He was lean, with perfect teeth and rust-red hair that looked like it’d been pulled out of a hairbrush and stuck back on his head. She had no idea what made him hot. Both his parents were professors some place and when she’d asked what they’d say if he brought her home, he said they’d think she was exploiting him. She told him the considerate answer please, not the right one
. He said he was working on that, it was just her age freaked him out sometimes, but not physically, she had no body fat. That wasn’t true, but she understood it was something you said at his age. A subject you had to cover.
He popped off the bed and stepped into a pair of her jeans with a long-stemmed rose stitched down the thigh. As he waggled them on, got them zipped and snapped, he told her he preferred gender-non-specific clothes. Ordinarily she would’ve rather worn a smaller size than a man she was with, but when she blocked out the top of him and took in the rest gender-non-specifically, she thought the pants looked fine.
The day before, he sat in her lap pinging gravel at the outdoor thermometers she’d been hired to consumer-test. He said, “None of these give the same reading.”
She looked around at the dials and mercury shots. “That’s not really the point,” she said.
“How’s the right temperature not the point of a thermometer?”
She said, “You’re so literal, you people today.”
That’s when he started talking about moving in with her. Amusingly, she hadn’t invited him to, but he managed to sound confident and breezy. He wanted to know if she’d be okay when he went out with friends and came home late and drunk and maybe high, and if he chipped in, could they order more channels on cable. She didn’t encourage him, she didn’t shut him down. When he asked what kind of work there was around there, she asked what he was qualified to do. He thought a minute, then said, you. They laughed pretty hard at that, and she felt guilty for not feeling guiltier.
Now, as he watched himself grab his own ass in the mirror, he spun around and looked at the stereo. He said, “Please increase the volume so that I may rock.”
She reached and turned the stereo up. Then he was dancing. In her jeans, dancing. She didn’t know how the song had gotten on her iPod and thought he’d swapped his iPod in until she remembered he didn’t have one, but was still saving up.
The song was fast-paced, electronic; the singer’s voice distant but imperative, like a voice in a well. He swayed and clapped his hands over his head. He had an unusual way of moving—fluid, happy, unembarrassed—in the middle of which he’d break his rhythm, fall into a slow-motion lunge like a person climbing out of a window. Maybe everyone danced like this now, but she doubted it. She’d never seen a person move this way.
The singer sang, I’m out of time, I’m out of fucking time
She processed his dancing like a smell: pure sensory news. She thought in twenty years only this image would remain—not his name or what they’d talked about, how he’d gotten in her house—just this tall slim shirtless kid in embroidered jeans. Even the song she would forget beyond the shape he gave it, climbing in and out of and around it. She’d remember this irresistible terrible broken feeling, knowing no man would ever dance for her like this again.
In her wallet on a Post-it, she kept a haiku he’d stuck to her coffee:
You sit in two chairs
Half the choc-o-late
When the song was over he did a somersault onto the bed and kissed her open-mouthed, winded from the dance, his skin tacky but not sweaty. He gnawed on her ear and said, “What if I ordered you to crawl and get a condom?” All the time he got kinkier and bossier, and more polite. Soon he’d be saying grace before he reached for his zipper.
She said, “I honestly don’t know. Let’s try. Order me.”
“Go crawl and get a condom.”
She looked at the ceiling. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d crawled and figured it might be interesting, which it was for a stretch. She practically busted out an animal strut. But the condoms were in the kitchen so she had to take a corner and crawl fifteen feet on her own. She considered standing and going tip-toe, but to lie about crawling seemed like a nasty and screwy thing to do. No, when she told a man she was going to crawl, crawl she did. That’s the kind of person she was. Dependable.
In the kitchen, passing under the skylight, she watched the push and pull of her shadow on her walking hands. She watched the violet veins knot and unknot, felt her shoulder blades scan her skin like someone deciding how to cut his way out of her. She could see how crawling full time, throat-first, kept you alert and on the offensive, which translated, oddly, into more crawling. More crawling, and this: if he told her right then he’d decided to move in, she’d let him. And if she did and he did, who would get bored first, and would she kick him out or find a note, and would she get to keep her jeans. With her teeth she shook a sleeve of condoms from the box. She did a three-point turn and started for the bedroom. He was in there trying on her pants, trying on her bed, trying on her house, and she was in no condition to stop him.
April Wilder’s fiction has appeared in
Southwest Review and
PRISM International. She lives in Salt Lake City.