by Glena Trachta
Stan had what I'd call an American body: soft yet muscular; and a square country face. Vi had the body of a ballet dancer, except for the boobs, which were bigger than those of a ballet dancer. And she walked tit-forward, which wasn't a ballerina walk at all. Stan had a bulge in front of his pants that stuck out almost as violently as her tits did. So they were both a little shocking to look at: normal, normal, normal and then BAM, big. Very sexy, in a very American way.
Given their mutual good looks, it was natural they would collide. I imagined the first meeting: Stan in the pickup, carrying frames or canvas or other arty stuff, Vi coming down the sidewalk and catching his eye. Light turns red and he barely slams on the brakes in time. Old man crossing the street has to clench sphincter to keep from crapping himself, yells whaddaya NUTZ? Stan drawls an apology in an Okie accent that leaves the old man shaking his head (what, we got farmers onna lowah east side now?) Stan leans out the truck and says, scuse me, miss, and there we go.
Their attraction was the most natural thing in the human world. How could I resist?
I got interested in Vi first. Vi! Great name right? I suspect it was something else but she called herself Vi; pronounced Vee, not Vye. I occupied the apartment just below her, and could hear her in the evenings stomping around in heels until she was ready to go out. The tits were part of it, of course. Not so much I wanted to touch them, though I did, but also I wanted to know what it was like to have that heaviness over your heart all the time, protecting it. My heart has always been weak. Sometimes I think it has crawled out from under my ribs and is sitting there right under the skin. Sometimes at night I hear it pounding, too fast, and I imagine it exploding out my chest and running on stout little vessel-legs, squish squish squish, down the hall and out the door.
I watched Vi. I followed her to ballet class once. She wasn't at all bad; she could almost fly. It made her less human, which I liked. I almost decided to use someone else.
The first time I saw Stan he was walking her home. They bumped shoulders and hips at a rate of exactly .38 times per second, which told me they'd activated each others' genitalia pretty thoroughly. I listened for the drag and slip and groan I figured would be coming through the ceiling. But nothing happened. They mumbled at Vi's door and Stan left.
They had sex the third time they went out. I was on my perch near the ceiling and heard it, although they were very quiet, for the heat they exuded. The next morning they moaned at each other for a few minutes, then Stan hunched down the street towards his truck. Vi walked around and showered and went to her ballet class or her job at that restaurant I couldn't go into because they boiled lobsters alive and I could hear them screaming.
After that, Stan came over regularly. I'd see the red and white Dodge Ram circling the block—two, three, ten times, looking for a parking spot. It'd disappear, and a while later he'd come up the street scowling and sweating like someone who's not used to walking in the city. It made me laugh, because I could walk from Battery Park City to Inwood and back, three or four times a day, even with my poor little heart. I once followed Stan over the bridge into Williamsburg, where he parked near a building on South 8th Street. An artist's loft, of course. Later, a lawyer from Sherman & Sterling bought it. I keep track of these things.
While he tried to park, Vi would sit in her window smoking. The smoke curled down to me, sweet and blue. She'd exhale: tshhhhhh, sounding a little pissed off, then grind the cigarette against an ashtray or cup or whatever she used, CHHHHsss, again with an impatience to it.
I spent their fifth sexual interlude hanging out my window, smelling Vi's soap and tobacco smell, and Stan's turpentine one. It was delicious. That decided me.
The first step was to make friends with Vi. One Saturday I followed her to the Happy Wash Laundromat, on Avenue C. She chose a machine in the far corner, stuck her hand in and ran it around checking for dust, then loaded her clothes in that same pissed off way she put out her cigarettes. Toss toss, stuff, toss, toss, stuff. When the machine started, sat in one of the white plastic chairs and fished a magazine out of her bag. It was Elle, a glossy women's fashion mag—models dressed like birds or business executives posed in construction sites or smoky rooms, columns about sex and makeup, forgettable articles. I like them but cannot touch them due to the perfume strips they place throughout the pages. They do something to my poor little caged heart. I'm told it won't last long, the pressure I put on it, living here on this beautiful Earth.
I found a machine nearby and loaded my own laundry, put detergent in, and then made a big show of searching my pockets. Vi didn't look up.
“Pardon me,” I said.
“Yeah? Oh, hey. I know you, right?”
Close up she wasn't as pretty as you'd think. She had crooked teeth and freckles that looked funny on olive skin and hair that frizzed around her face. But she had a good smile, and the tits made up for a lot of other faults. “I think we live in the same building,” I said, “but I didn't want to say the line.” I smiled, flashing teeth. I'm generally very handsome to human females. I have dark curly hair, a wiry build, and a big smile, like every actor in every movie ever made about Spanish Harlem or Latino Brooklyn. “Can you change a five?”
“Maybe.” She fished in her bag and counted out quarters. I thanked her and started the machine. She turned a page and the sudden stink of perfume made my heart wobble. I bent forward and grabbed the back of one of the chairs.
“Hey,” she said. “You okay?”
“Fine. It's the perfume. I think I'm allergic.”
“Oh.” She shut the Elle and stuffed it into her bag. “I've heard of that. Here, sit down.”
I sat down and took a couple deep breaths. She smelled infinitely better than the magazine.
“I've never been in this laundromat,” I said.
“I come here all the time. I don't care for the Artemis. The boss is a pervert.”
“Steals underwear. I mean I can't prove it, but I lost two...well you don't want to hear about...”
“I'm gay, honey,” I said. “I love underwear stories.” She was a dancer, and therefore the kind of girl who would warm right up to the gay talk.
She smiled and reached into her bag. “Cigarettes bother you?” she said.
“Want one? We have to go outside.”
We stood in front of the laundromat, in the cool, green, wild sun and wild cloud, and the street got bright and dark and a warm wind blew our smoke away. We talked and she told me less than most people tell me, which was interesting. There was no dysfunctional family story, no sex confession. She talked about waitressing and getting fired from waitressing. Nothing about dance, and nothing about Stan. It was surprising. Most humans tell everybody everything.
“You're a dancer, right?” I finally asked.
“Wannabe. Hate auditions. Want the perfect job to fall on my head like a blessing from the gods.”
I'm a kind of god, I wanted to say. But not the kind you probably want. “Does that happen?”
I liked her. I definitely liked her. I almost decided to look for someone else.
“What about you?” she said. “Bet you're a poet.”
“Ha. I can't even read.” I wasn't kidding but she thought I was. She laughed.
“I read enough for ten people,” she said. “Mostly crap. Science fiction, horror.”
“Aliens, mutants, and badly disfigured men with vendettas,”
We became friends. I made up a long distance boyfriend so she wouldn't get the idea of palming me off on some lonely ballet boy. I also made up a job in human resources, with a split-time schedule to explain my strange hours. Human resources was a pun I liked.
She introduced me to Stan one Wednesday evening. I'd seen him drive back and forth six times, then come hoofing up the street with the usual scowl on his face. After about ten minutes, Vi knocked on my door. I opened it too fast, forgetting in my excitement to disguise the fact that I'd been perched just beside the door, sniffing and waiting.
They both looked startled. If she was less pretty close up, he was more so. Sunburned, set-jawed, like he'd just stepped out of the wide and wonderful prairie—sun and grass and scurrying and flying and thundering animals. Before I could help it, a prairie formed in my mind, but not a beautiful one. In Stan's prairie roads cut everything into flat squares and big white stems grew enormous, spinning blades, and a carpet of broken birds spread out below. Men in orange overalls came out of a van and swept up the bodies, moving slow, as if the only thing left to them was the ability to stand still longer than allowed.
I bit the inside of my lip to kill the vision, my bad little heart making my neck shake under my cool cotton collar. They didn't notice. Vi smiled wide and Stan smiled tight, full of innocent male distrust.
“Hey,” I said and stuck out my hand.
He took it and gave it a healthy pump. “Stan,” said Vi, “this is Paul, Paul, Stan.”
“Pleasure,” I said, “You want to come in?”
“Maybe later,” said Vi. “We're going to see Paul Taylor.”
“I heard they were good. Even if you don't like dance.”
Stan relaxed, visibly. I wasn't going to gush or do anything gay.
“Rain check,” he said.
“Yep. I got a bottle of Jimador with your name on it.”
“Jimador!” he said. “Tequila? Now you're talking.” I'd known it. Art school types love tequila, especially if it's not Cuervo.
They left, bumping and tickling and nudging, down the stairs and into the street. Good, start, I thought. I'd been the perfect, non-faggy gay neighbor. And, I'd seen a hint of something in Stan's face, like he wasn't entirely pussy-oriented. Probably unconscious, but there.
A week went by and it was summer. Air conditioners bled from windows, fans sold out in all the stores for those who couldn't afford the AC. Women put on thin-strapped dresses and men without jobs stripped to the waist and walked around with shirt slung over shoulder daring you to stare. I stayed in my apartment most of the day and went out at night to walk: up to Inwood, over the Broadway Bridge to the Bronx, east to Pelham, over the Third Avenue Bridge and down the east side to Chinatown, the financial district and finally the Staten Island Ferry. I thought that when I finished with Vi and Stan I'd go out to Staten Island for a while. It was a different world, maybe better, with all that water and the people who hadn't changed since 1964.
Stan and Vi grew languid in the heat. I'd hear them near her window, smoking and talking. Stan got philosophical after sex. He'd talk about how they were in the greatest city in the world, with people behind all those lights, hoping, dreaming. What were their dreams? What did they want? Vi didn't say much, just yeah, every now and then, with that same little impatience in her voice as always, as if she just wanted to cut to the chase and go to bed. Not to have sex again, but just to have the day over and get back to her beloved ballet class. This is me saying all this. I'm fucking perceptive, but who really knew about Vi.
One morning I had trouble getting on my perch—an attack of dizziness. The next, I saw a streak of dark blood under the skin of my chest. My heart, telling me to get on with it, or die here, on your beautiful Earth. Get on with it. Do it, or bleed from your eyes and dick, until there's nothing left of you. I'd let myself go too long. I put my hand over my terrible little heart and promised it, soon. Soon. Feed the incubus, it said. Feed it, fool.
The next day I engineered a meeting with Vi near the mailboxes and asked her what she and Stan were doing later. She shrugged. “Supposed to see some of his art buddies,” she said. “I'm not into it. They act like children. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Stan's fucking a dancer, woo woo. I'm too old for that shit.”
“Why not stop by before? Have a drink. Get you in the mood.”
“Yeah! Sounds good. All Stan could talk about after he met you was how cool you were.”
“I'm very cool.”
“You are. See you later then.”
At 8:15 they pounded the door. Or Vi did, giggling and snorting. I opened it and got momentarily dizzy from the heat coming off them. Vi kissed me on the cheek and said don't you look fetching, or some shit. She was in high-gear, party mode. Stan looked like his pants were pinching a few hairs. I motioned them to the couch, a very pretty red one the former occupant had left. “I've got beer, wine, whiskey,” I said, once they were snuggled in. “and of course, tequila.”
Stan sucked air through his teeth. “Jimador if you've still got it.”
“Same,” said Vi.
I went into the kitchen. I could see Stan from the door, shifting his eyes around, trying to find clues of my alleged unsavory sexuality—Mapplethorpe prints or comics with super-endowed men dressed as construction workers or cowboys. He found nothing. The place was fucking stark although I'd tried to gentle it up for human consumption. I'd kept some of the furniture and a nice little rug that reminded me of the inside of a bird's nest, brown and red swirls, although I preferred to perch on the windowsill or the shelf I'd put in for sleeping.
Vi wiggled around on the couch, probably trying to make her tits bounce. She did that a lot around Stan, as if she was afraid every second he'd find something better to look at. His response was usually favorable. It was now, too; he whispered something that made her giggle. I like watching flirtations, generally, although I was a little too preoccupied to appreciate this one, different as it was from the usual variety. A lot of human flirtation is face to face, people saying insinuating things and locking eyes for a little too long. But Vi and Stan weren't subtle like that. Their flirtation was very primitive. She stuck her body at him every chance she got and he stared and grabbed every chance he got. They were the perfect couple.
But—I hadn't made a plan. A terrible oversight. I was losing perspective or something, thinking too much, acting too little. Getting old. We die fast here, someone once told me. Was it my mother? I can't remember, but I know I always did better with a plan. As I poured the tequila, I reviewed my options. I could get them drunk, but that was a long road and didn't avoid the loudness problem. Also, there was something about Stan that made me nervous—a dull violence that alcohol tends to increase. I wondered if I had any morphine sulfate left. I decided I'd start them on the tequila to avoid suspicion, then look for the pills once they were drunk.
I returned with the glasses—two Jimador and a little shot glass of water mixed with honey for me, to simulate the tequila's golden color. We toasted. “To art,” or some shit. Stan took a sip and said, “Ah that's it. It used to be you couldn't get Jimador here.”
I told him my mother was from Puebla, and he got very respectful. “Good people,” he said. “Mexicans. Soulful.”
“I don't know much about the soul,” I said. Vi smiled. A very wicked smile.
I kept pouring. Stan started asking me questions. What do you do, how long you lived here, did you come here to be an artist? I'm from Oklahoma myself, and I'm a painter. Most people in this neighborhood are artists or junkies and you don't look like a junky.
“Actually,” I said, “I'm a parasite. You artists come in and make the neighborhood white, then office dweebs like me move in to take advantage of cheap rents and the little whiff of danger that remains. We lead such sterile lives. The most we can hope for is an illicit romance consummated in the abandoned office of the latest downsized salesman. Weird places those, patches of flattened, darker carpet where the desk was, cables sticking out of the walls like viscera or torn sinews. Are you a hunting man, Stan?”
He sat back with his mouth open. Vi punched him and giggled. “See?” she said. “I told you! He should be a comic right?” She nodded at me, crooked teeth, my best audience.
Stan lifted his glass. “It's funny, but it's true,” he said, not to be outdone by the snarky gay guy. “Sad.” His face twitched. There it was, that look—violence or lust. I couldn't tell which.
Something slipped inside my chest. My poor heart, going liquid on me. Breathe, calm down. Only a little longer. Neither one noticed anything. I poured more Jimador. Stan got up to urinate in my little toilet, a long chortle chortle splash. Vi ignored it like people do in small apartments and I pretended to, but relished every sound and thought about the urine coursing the length of his Sainted Benediction, and my poor little heart went loose again and for a second the pain was exquisite.
Vi mouthed, “What do you think?”
I smiled. “Hot,” I mouthed back, pretending to wipe sweat from my forehead.
Stan came back with the Benediction lovingly tucked back into its denim casing. He bumped the table as he sat down, and reached for his glass. For a second I couldn't see either him or Vi, just white where they'd been and a terrible buzzing sound.
It was time to look for the morphine.
Being a predator is hard. Please do not look down on me for wanting the easy thing, for being tired of the screams and struggles. And, don't talk to me of who deserves and who doesn't. There are things every human should pay for, regardless of individual culpability: Bombs, rat poison, rotating blades, dead mountains, slaughterhouses, skies full of smoke and chemicals, bad water, bad air, governments, money, religion. Their ridiculous prudishness about sex, which causes all the other stuff.
“I know you like Jimador,” I said, “but you haven't tried Baracunata.”
Stan swung his head around. “Baracunata? I've heard of it.”
“Better than Jimador,” I said. “My mother grew up in a tequila family. She said she'd never tasted anything like Baracunata. Pure fire and heaven.”
Lies, all of it. There was no Mexican mother, no tequila family, whatever that was. No “Baracunata.”
“Yeah? Damn. What are we waiting for?”
I smiled and he went a little pink and stared into my eyes a little too long, and then his eyes went south like he couldn't help it. He looked at Vi, quick. But Great Wonder, there it was. Man checking out other man's package.
I went into the kitchen and opened the drawer. In back lay a vial, with six little tablets inside. Vi giggled from the front room. Stan said, maybe we don't need to go to Michael's, his voice muffled because he had his head in her tits or something. The sounds sharpened me up a little. I uncapped the vial and put two pills in each tequila glass and poured more Jimador in, swirled it around to melt the pills. I poured myself another glass of water with honey and raised it to my reflection in the cabinet door. “Buen Provecho,” I said. My wicked heart poked me in the sternum.
I brought the glasses back into the front room. Vi was smoothing her skirt, her face red and her blouse rumpled. Stan bent forward and took his glass reverently. “Fucking Baracunata,” he murmured.
“Tastes like Jimador,” said Vi. Stan gave her a look of pure disdain.
Any sympathy I'd had for Stan was gone. My hands and the top of my head were already numb and it hurt to breathe. I wasn't ready to die, blood streaming out my pores, Vi and Stan horrified and maybe a little bit self-righteous—probably AIDS, the poor fuck. All I could think about was getting their clothes off and fucking both of them until they bled, then drinking the blood, soaking in it, until my strength returned. I'm not an angry incubus. But I was starving and it's not my fault they aren't built to take it. I mean crickets can have thousands of sex partners in a week and still chirp their wild little song for more more more. Poor, paltry humans.
They drank the tequila, toasting and laughing. I calculated ten more minutes of torture. I touched the top of my head, dismayed to feel the numbness creeping down towards my ears.
I hadn't figured on Stan's resistance. Halfway through the glass, just when both had gone quiet and I was starting to breathe a little easier, he started talking. And he talked. And talked. Vi woke up enough to know that this was Serious Talk. She tucked her legs under her and stared at him with glass pressed into tit and a pensive look on her face; the suddenly supportive girlfriend.
He made pronouncements about art. How primitive art was dead and conceptual art was dying, how the German Expressionists had influenced his own work, but how he'd tried very hard to capture the “American Soul,” and thought he was on the right track. From there he talked about his mother, how she'd believed in him and his art and was a wonderful and funny person herself, how dinners with the family were so hilarious sometimes you couldn't eat for laughing so hard, how funny mom had gone so far as to get hold of one of those Heimlich maneuver signs and post it in the kitchen as a joke but also in case something got stuck in the wrong pipe.
The first tremor shook my hand so hard I stuck it between my legs. Stan had gotten onto art school, and how bad most of the art was, how no one wanted to deal with serious and soulful themes, they just wanted to grab onto the latest trend. He used the word soulful a lot, to describe his family and his philosophy of art, and neither Vi nor I questioned it. Me, because I couldn't talk well at that point, my mouth was dry and my tongue stuck to the roof of it. Vi, because she'd never been to any kind of higher U.S. Education and Stan's blah blah blah was the closest she'd come to philosophy of any kind.
There was a cast iron skillet in the kitchen. I could use it to hurry things up. But I didn't think I could get to the kitchen nor hold onto the skillet; my hands were already curled like claws. And I hated that kind of mess. Why did you wait so long? said my heart. Don't you know you can't wait that long...
And, I didn't want to hurt Vi like that. I really didn't.
Stan took another swallow of tequila and started on his life in Boston, before he'd come to New York. Boston was his first experience of “the east” and he was very passionate about what that meant to him—the accents, the cold, and the first girl he'd really fallen in love with. At that, Vi lifted her head and her knuckles turned white on her glass. I'd thought she was down and I only had to wait for Stan. But goddam. Goddam if the goddamn green jealousy fairy didn't wake her up. She looked at me and I motioned towards the bottle of Jimador. She reached for it but couldn't get there. She settled back into the couch and her face went slack. After a second, her eyes closed. Good.
Stan kept talking. “It's a sad story,” he said. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from passing out. Were the pills expired? Where the hell had I gotten them? Thieves and addicts, probably, long dead. Fuckers. Stan put down his glass and gestured, loopy and slow but still surprisingly coordinated.
“She was a virgin,” he said, “I was her first. And that was very important to me, I mean there's something holy about that...”
Vi jolted awake again and folded her arms over her famous chest. “Holy as shit,” she said, slurring. Stan didn't hear, or didn't care.
“We went out for a while and I was bad,” he said. “I cheated, I lied. I did everything wrong, but she was always happy to see me, always funny, always sweet. And that virgin thing—always very sedate in company, dressed very conservative. But we had good sex! Good. Fucking. Sex.”
Vi didn't move. I felt sorry for her. Stop it. That's not useful.
“Then,” said Stan, “the bitch broke up with me! She made some excuse—said she wanted to concentrate on her career. Art management.
“I was pissed off but relieved too, at first. I'd been feeling trapped.” He looked at his hands and shook his head as if they were making him dizzy. I thought about the chop chop wind farms and the dead birds. Maybe I could break the glass and cut his throat with it.
“Then,” he said. “I found out the truth. She'd been seeing someone else. Some asshole I knew from art school. A bad artist, but popular. Conceptual shit. Political. Turns out he'd been in her pants all along.”
“So she wasn't a virgin,” said Vi. Great Wonder, she was still awake enough for bile. I stuck a finger in my mouth and chewed it. No pain, nothing. Panicked, my little heart pushed blood into my throat. A trickle of it ran out of my mouth. Thanks Vi and Stan, for the terrible wet death of mutant Paul. Burn what's left of me, is my advice.
“She was. A Virgin. Yes. But Brad got there so soon after me it was like...” he tried an obscene gesture, finger in fist. “It didn't. Even. Cool off.”
Vi closed her eyes again and Stan lay back on the couch. He cursed a while, disjointed stuff: sloppy cunt, cocksucking bitch. True colors, I thought, and it's too late for me to enjoy them.
It was full dark now. A boom box went past on the street, playing, “Somebody Else's Guy.” Blood came up in my throat again and I gagged. Neither Vi nor Stan noticed. Vi was gone—to happy dancer-dreamland where she got to be the biggest star of stage and screen. Or to fly. Or whatever Vi really wanted, I never knew. The boom box moved away down the street.
How I hated Stan. His eyes no longer focused, but he kept talking. As if he had to confess every snort and sniff of his tawdry little romance.
“So I got even,” he said. “After a gallery opening. They were both there. We all agreed the art sucked, so we left and went to a bar. I pretended I didn't know anything about Mary and the asshole.
“We got a table, about ten of us. Pretty soon, I suggested a beer chugging contest. Everyone had such a bad taste from the stupid opening they all agreed. Nothing worse than bad art and cheap white wine.” He looked at me, or in my direction. I managed a bubbly whisper.
“Never touch it.”
“Smart. Man. Anyway. We chugged beer and we talked about art. And I pretended to drink, but instead I watched them. Mary and the asshole, trying not to look obvious.”
He put his hand over his eyes. “Man. Man . . . ”
“Sleep,” I whispered. “Just, sleep . . . ”
He shook his head. “I got crazy. I. Didn't. Fucking show it. But later . . . ”
He leaned forward, head in hands, and then fell off the couch and onto his knees, hitting his head on the table. I forced myself up and almost swooned with the pain. Tears came out my eyes. Now, goddamn it. Now.
Blood smeared the table and his face, but he kept talking. “You wanna know what?” he said, “what? I did? I fucking...I fucking. I raped the shit out of her.”
I crawled over the table and got next to him, my pants already open. But he grabbed my knees and pressed his face into them. Hot tears came through the fabric. “I fucking...” he said. “I fucking...”
I put my hand on his head. “It's ok,” I said. Blood splattered into his hair—mine this time. “It's okay.”
“NO!” he wailed, mouth wet on my jeans. “I gotta tell it. I dressed all in black and put on dark makeup, so she'd think it was a black guy. Then I followed her home and raped her.”
“Hard. In the, in the back door too. I left her bleeding.”
He shuddered. I stroked his hair with my claws. Now, said my heart. Now.
“I'm sorry.” Stan slid down my leg until his mouth hit my ankle. He kissed it. “I'm so fucking, fucking, sorry.”
“Shhh. It's okay.
He shook a little, then went slack. I removed my foot from under his cheek and tugged his arms until he lay stretched out on his stomach. I put my mouth at his neck and kissed, felt the heat coming back into my body. My claws unclenched enough to yank his pants down around his knees.
It took a long time. After the initial rush I slowed down, checked his pulse, rearranged him if he started to choke, but it was still a brutal and prolonged rape by human standards. Blood sludged the floor. I licked it, rubbed it on my stomach, prick, over my horrible heart, painted my face with it.
Then I turned to Vi.
Sexy, goofy Vi, with her tits and her talent no one gave a shit about. Her ability to fly.
I couldn't do it.
I leaned over and kissed her, leaving her lips dark red.
I went out the window. I didn't even feel myself hit the ground. My heart was back down where it belonged, calm and quiet. The boom box beat from Avenue C: “Rhythm Nation.” I ran towards it. I felt like dancing with some humans.
Glena Trachta is a former dancer turned writer. Her prose and poetry have appeared in various venues including Narrative Magazine and Foliate Oak. She lives with a lot of cats somewhere in New Mexico.