Oxygen: Sudden Fiction
He was in the library. Or he was in the TV room. It was such a big place. That’s where they hugged, in the laundry room, chastely because she was a lesbian. That’s what he didn’t understand; he didn’t understand that women moved through her like oxygen. Women were strong cups of coffee. She’d had her whole hand inside women; there was no inside to men at all, that she could see. He wanted her to look so she looked. She saw young long arms and legs and a staunched eroticism behind his blue skin. His teeth were very white. She was looking hard; she said so.
He looked hard, a pretty boy. Oh pretty in the TV room, beige on beige. Oh pretty in the volleyball court; pretty boy. She called him pretty.
He was in the library. At the bar, solid table between them. In her car where she did not grasp his hand. She was sitting under two white candles. Concentrate, she said and called up memories but they were cacophonic like nightclub music, they beat at her senses. He beat at her senses. He beat at her with pure white limbs, with his eyes.
It’s nothing to you, she said. Or less.
They walked into a rocky meadow of elk.
He bent over her. She thought he was going to kiss her but he said, It happens dozens of times.
I’m mad at you, she said. She wanted his kiss. She was disappointed to miss that kiss. She was high in her shoulders about that kiss.
Shrubbery was growing. It was possible to see there might one day be flowers. The elk were sitting on their bellies, sagging their horns. It was a northern climate.
His voice was fur and rolled her over her desire for women. He said, It’s apples.
She thought of a woman named Mickey who had a pierced nipple. The notion made her float but the sky was very dim and cold. You make me feel ashamed, she said, settling down on a rock beside him.
He tried out a smile. His smiles were good smiles. They were the smiles of an adored child, very well practiced. She fell into his mouth. It was a good mouth, full of the smell of hops and faint trails of tobacco. An elk glanced up curiously.
What is it? he said.
It’s you, you bastard. You think I’m attracted to you.
Are you? he said. There was a rosy hue above the mountains.
She thought of letting him inside her except it was all a taunt, she knew, a game with muscle. She was used to holding women in deep, spasming around them. He was a very young boy. She could make him scream for her touch. Maybe she remembered that? Maybe she did. So what? she said. So what?
He was blurring. He could fade in three seconds. His long limbs fell around her. She thought they moved like fences. Women are clouds, she said, get off me. I don’t understand why I’m doing this, she said.
It’s my story, he said and lay on the rock like an animal, belly down.
She said, You just like the power. A woman on her knees.
You’re a woman on your knees, he said.
Guess again, she said and turned into a mule deer, a trick of the light. The sky was pulling her leg. She watched it elongate but paid hardly any attention. She trembled. On top of the mountains was snow. She said, I’m coming to my senses about you. I know what you’re up to. Get off the pot, she said. You jerk.
Oh, pretty, she thought. A boy as pretty as rain on an unwashed day. An admirable child. Don’t look at me that way, she said. You cretin. I hate you.
Will you cry? he said.
An elk slipped on a beer can. But she was certain of the laundromat. She was certain she was up on her toes imagining herself upside down; she was positive about women. He was in a field of beasts. In the library she was having a hot bath. She turned the water on very strongly. She sat in the library watching naked women and put her head in her hands.
What else could account for her wet thighs? She said, I won’t cry, don’t be a fool.
They walked through books as if they were on a casual stroll. The moon shimmied above them. He took her hand companionably. It was a lot to forgive.
Don’t bat an eye, she said.
-Jane Eaton Hamilton, from Ergo, Bumbershoot Literary Magazine, #8