She has sort of chewed up hands. I don’t mind; I don’t need her to be perfect. And she’s wearing some sort of cotton candy scent so sickly sweet I’m surprised either of us can keep eating. Even though I am looking for interesting, she orders a trio of cookies for dessert.
We met at a party, when I walked in on her in the bathroom and she was peeing and twisted to her left, snorting something off the tiled countertop. I’d heard four things about her: She’d spent the summer living in a tub with a sex guru. She once made fifty shots from the foul line. She’d had three abortions. She had started calling herself pumpkin head in high school, and even though it never caught on, she still refers to herself this way.
It really is a big head. She grabs for a cookie and at first it looks normal on the plate and also in her frayed hand, but by the time it gets to her face it is shrunken by at least half.
“Sorry?” She’s staring at me, but I heard nothing over her cookie trick.
“Just that I realized I had to let things come to me.” The cookie continues to wane and grow as she dips it in milk and brings it towards her shining mouth.
“Oh, right. And what sparked that?” I let her take all three cookies so I can stay entertained.
“Well when I got my blood drawn later that day and felt better than I had in years, I realized maybe bloodletting really was the key.” She’s smiling just a little. It’s honestly the best thing she’s said yet, and I grin a little too at this thought. She’s encouraged, says, “I mean not for the bubonic plague, obviously.”
“Just your general malaise.”
“I’ll get the check?” I’m already gesturing to the waiter, flicking my wrist around in the air with a flourish that embarrasses the both of us. She nudges me a little with her foot under the table and doesn’t say sorry, just sort of holds my gaze.
There’s a pillow and it’s clear she made it, unclear why. Black buttons are splayed out like watermelon seeds on top of different floral patches. She’s leaning against it and I’m pressed up against her but I keep thinking about all that plastic digging into her back and leaving disgusting marks. I pull the pillow out from under her, trying to make it flirty, and toss it onto the floor. It lands upside-down and the backside reveals itself—also buttoned.
We put some normal pillows under her hips and pelvis and she’s arched like a letter, a lowercase r. Her torso’s sloping away from me and the added perspective helps her head look a normal size. We’re fucking and she just about kills me, telling me I look like a cartoon character, and I can’t help myself. I finish and pull out and she’s smiling like she just knew it.
“We should take a trip. Maybe Vegas,” Her eyes are closed, so I guess she’s not looking to see how I react.
“I did a puzzle of Vegas once.”
“That’s probably all it’s good for.” I’m starting to really like her, I think.
She glows in some pictures, is less focused in others. She is on my mind more than normal and I’ve taken to looking at her on Facebook.
She doesn’t respond at first, so I keep trying. First with variations on the “Hello” theme, followed by some questions. And then.
Susan: What’s up?
Mark: Tell me something else.
Two hours later, it’s dark outside now:
Susan: The voice of your soul is breath.
Mark: OK. Did you write that?
Susan: Got it off a teabag.
Susan: Do you want to come over?
We spend a while fucking before she takes me to her friend’s something party. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, in one of those soft type houses with dim rooms and green velvet couches. There’s the same self-conscious swaying and tight shirts and pants you always find at these kinds of things.
“You must be Mark.” A woman with sort of tilted hips is looking at me. But I am not interested in proving myself.
“Mark, this is Jamie, she’s wonderful,” Susan’s beside me now and her delivery’s dry, like she’ll tell me more about Jamie later. Like Jamie fucked her cousin in the tenth grade or something. She puts her hand on my lower back, her fingers restless.
Stuck, I go with: “Well, I guess I am actually. Nice to meet you.”
The woman with the hips, Jamie I guess, she’s standing right in front of a painting of Victorian dolls in a baby carriage.
“So Mark, what do you do?”
I piece together more of the painting as she wiggles back and forth, turning from Susan to me to the random woman who has joined the conversation a little too late and is smiling vacantly. I let them ask their questions.
The dolls are wearing bonnets. Jamie finally moves away and I learn there’s a cat curled on top of the piled up dolls, smiling churlishly at the viewer.
I stand by the food for too long to give myself a break. There’s a fruit salad and I need to do something, so I keep scooping random wet fruits into a hard, clear plastic cup. I leave the table; my mouth is all pineapple sores.
She is the change we need to see that evening. She moves to put on her shoes without asking anyone first if they are leaving. Instead, they come to her. And say “Susan, you heading out?” and “I think I’m walking your direction” and “I’ll get our coats” and on and fucking on. But she doesn’t seem to care, just pulls on her boots and her blue furry hat that barely makes it past the tips of her ears.
The pack starts to thin as people turn off on side streets and couples go into alleyways to start hooking up. Soon it’s just her and me and she’s walking just far enough ahead of me that I can see her ass sort of swaying/jerking back and forth. She doesn’t look back when she says, “So, you want to stay over?”
I tell her back pockets, “Okay.”
She takes me to a medieval museum and we see puzzle jugs and chainmail and accidentally my college roommate, who looks ten years older. Susan makes a lot of sense here; I can just see her jousting on top of a rippling horse with that big head stuffed into a shining helmet. When we leave the snow is thick and creamy.
“That’s so weird. I just remembered I overdosed in my dream last night from a sip of hot chocolate.” Snowflakes are falling into her mouth and watering it as she speaks.
I taste some wet too. “What do you mean overdosed? Someone put something in it?”
“I’m not sure, but I woke up and checked my pulse.”
“Well, you were still asleep, but mine was slower than yours. I think that means my heart is well trained, like an athlete’s. Yours, I don’t know but it seemed kind of high.”
“Maybe you were just really hungry.” I realize that since her cookie trick I haven’t seen her eat a real meal.
“No, I don’t think so.”
I’m a few beers in and I need to know what the design is on the soles of her shoes. I want to know if they’re practical, made to grip and tread, or if they form a sort of decorative mark in the snow. I don’t want her sliding around on an icy patch of sidewalk.
Mark: Send me a pic of the bottom of your shoes.
Susan: Is this your fetish?
She sends a picture. There’s crumbling dried mud clogging up the designs, flattening the whole surface.
Mark: Hot. (Joking, but thanks.)
The jokes she likes best are the ones referring immediately back to the conversation we are having. I rush to think of them even when she’s not there.
Susan: Send me yours?
Mark: [One attachment]
Susan: Hmm. See, that doesn’t really do it for me.
I’m noticing new things: When she eats in a room full of people she watches her spoon and composes each bite, then when the metal hits her lips, she looks up and stares down the whole of the room. She laughs a lot publicly, but always to herself. I wake up and it’s still night and she’s standing in front of the mirror into her own eyes and can’t look away. She is crying and there are some drops dripping down but mostly her unblinking eyes are reabsorbing the moisture. I want to be invisible and in between her and the mirror, so I can stare right into her without her looking away. She has a note next to her bed with the words, “My pen is orange and so is the socket and there is an urge.” Her eyes are mostly closed when we fuck.
Hi. I’m not sure. I wanted to tell you this a long time ago, I think. It’s sort of like when you’re in a dark room and you have a flashlight and if you move it around quickly, the same shadows keep popping up, like they’ve always been waiting for you. Anyways. I think I love you. I don’t want to freak you out. So I’m hoping this email gives you some space. Excited to see you Friday.
Her response finally comes weeks later when I’m visiting my grandmother. I leave my grandmother to her CDs and step outside.
Maybe it was just that you are warm and I’m sort of lonely and miserable in my own ways. But I’m not really looking for what you’re getting at. You know when people take a photo of your face and they want to do something with it? I don’t know if that’s ever happened to you… I hope you understand.
I’d still fuck if you wanted to,