Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Fiction: "Eden"

Eden was launched by the design house of Cacharel in 1994.  Its release was accompanied by a lavish party in an airport hangar in France in which nude teenage models were hired to be part of the scenery on a fake tropic island.  The scent itself is a sweet green concoction, beginning as a canned fruit salad and evolving into a pungent, decadent patchouli musk.  Throughout the scent’s progression it becomes ever stronger, almost suffocating, creating a humid, sweaty greenhouse atmosphere around the wearer.  It lasts on skin interminably.
Driving home Jon remembers it’s there right nearby, right down the street.  Emboldened by liquor and a recent viewing of a documentary on pre-AIDS urban gay hedonism he says to himself Why Not.  He performs a quick U-turn fifty feet from his house and heads toward Lennox Avenue.  It’s somewhere on Lennox Avenue but he can’t remember if it’s close to the highway or on the opposite end.  After some confusion he spots it, a three-story brown box with only an underlit sign a foot high reading 4608 to identify it.  There are two small parking lots on either side of it and the entrance faces away from the street.  He fails to notice that there are only four or five cars parked outside.
Stumbling and smiling to himself and clutching his wallet to make sure it’s there, he walks up the zig-zagging wooden handicap ramp to the double door.  A cacophony of bathroom and pool smells-- chlorine, industrial-strength air fresheners, shit, sweat, and ammoniac urine- blows onto his face from an air-conditioning vent.  He is in a small, white, linoleum-floored room with a desk and glass partition on one side and a locked door on the other.  He approaches the partition.
Hello how’re you doing tonight?
Fine.  How can I help you?
Oh, I’d like to get in.  I don’t exactly know what to do.
OK, you’ll need a valid ID.  There’s the list of admission prices.  It depends on what you want.
The haggard boy behind the partition points to a ballpark-style menu of options with varying prices.  Jon spots one that says STUDENT: $10.
He hands over the money and his ID and the boy files them away in a box.  He is given a towel and a key through a hole in the partition and the double doors are unlocked with a loud beep.  Inside the smell is stronger and the room vibrates from pulsating, far-off Hi-NRG disco that is coming from the floors above and below.   The bruise of fluorescent light near the entrance fades into a watery red-black after several yards.  He sees an assortment of unoccupied exercise machines in one corner, a square section of lockers nearby, and a glass-walled room with a large television casting a sleazy blue glow on some empty couches.  There is a stairwell from which the red light emanates.  There isn’t a human in sight except for the boy behind the counter.  The room has the abandoned feel of a department store after closing. 
After finding the locker that matches the number on his key--it is on the very bottom row, so he has to crouch on the floor to access it--he undresses totally, laughing out loud at the absurdity of the situation, telling himself he’s doing it for anthropological purposes like an undercover journalist, not just because he wants to fuck the first warm male body he sees.  He wads up his shirt and shorts and stuffs them into the locker, retaining only his cigarettes and lighter.  The towel is not quite large enough to stay around his waist so he has to hold it up with one hand.
A short pig-like man in a tank top carrying a stack of towels abruptly passes by.  He is fully clothed so he must work here.
Hey, um, can you help me out?
So what do you do here? Jon laughs.
What do you mean?  The pig makes his impatience known.  The pool’s out there, there are private rooms upstairs and down below.  I don’t know what else you need to know.  He waddles off with a sigh and enters the area behind the desk. 
Up, up the stairs to the second floor.  The disco gets louder, the stairs thump harder.  Cigarettes, lighter, and key in one hand, towel clutched to his waist in the other, it is not easy walking up two flights.  At the top all is totally red and before him are a serious of numbered rooms stretching thirty feet to the left and right.  The walls stop a yard short of the ceiling.  He turns left and walks to the end and around the corner.  More rooms, more numbers, more flimsy thin walls. He takes the first left down another cramped hallway and then right.  After this he doesn’t think about which way he is turning.  He is savoring the surreal atmosphere and the feeling of endlessness about the place.  Cartoonish female voices, sped-up to an ominous distortion and bolstered with pounding, shattering bass and icy electronics, act as an advertisement for the drugs he wishes he had.  His mouth is parched and his throat keeps sticking to itself, causing him to gag.  Occasionally he will pass small fluorescent-lit corners like condensed doctor’s office waiting rooms with two chairs and a small table on which sits a bowl of condoms.  It might just be one corner that he passes multiple times, he can’t tell.  He looks up at the end of this particularly dark stretch of doors and sees blue light leaking from one that is slightly ajar.  Padding toward it he sees a small television, a bald man, and a pair of legs.  Some tinny pre-recorded moaning registers under the disco.  Frightened, he heads back in the direction of the stairwell.
He is in a large Jacuzzi with another pig-like man.  This one has an upturned nose and wide, flaring nostrils.  He looks like the other one in a previous evolutionary state.  His chest and shoulders have recently been shaved and poking out of the skin are thick black bristles. 
So where’re you from?  Jon tries to sound casual and seductive and makes an effort not to slur.  He is aware of his erection underneath the bubbling water.   He gets his cigarette wet and the lit half breaks off and falls in.
I’m from out of town.
Have you ever been to a place like this?
No.  I’m from out of town.
The pig is not interested and exits the Jacuzzi with a splash.  He retrieves his towel and disappears inside.
On a couch in the TV room sits a bearded man in a towel.  His body is taut and wiry.  His feet are resting on the coffee table, next to a stack of magazines.  He is staring intently at the news program on the television, black blocky closed captioning running underneath the female reporter. 
Can you believe they’re doing that?  The whole system is so backwards.  America is fucked. 
The man is the first person in the bathhouse that speaks without being spoken to.  Jon finds him instantly attractive and moves from his isolated chair to the couch.  He props his feet next to the man’s, on top of the magazines.
Oh I know.
Any idiot knows that doing that will just increase the deficit.  Any idiot knows that.  Me, I’d just let it run its course.  I’d just let it run its course and then we’d be back on our feet. It’ll heal itself.  As it is the system just fucks over the people like me, the people like you and me.  Well I don’t know anything about you but it certainly fucks me over.  Twenty-five years I’ve been dealing with this, no, more like thirty years-- I forget how old I am.  They keep interfering and the deficit’s just gonna get bigger, and you’re gonna be paying for it.  I’ll be dead but you’ll be paying for it.
Oh I know.  Jon slides his foot up the man’s firm leg and pokes at the hot, tightly closed thighs.  This requires some awkward positioning on the couch.  The man continues talking, seemingly unaware.  Jon doesn’t hear a word he says but attempts to pry open the hot thighs with his big toe.  Eventually they give and he brushes against something hairy and gelatinous.  The man scoots down further away to the opposite end of the couch and continues his speech.
Down the stairwell to the bottom floor.  It looks like the second floor but the walls are splattered with day-glo paint.  The rooms on this floor are arranged in a square around a large open space in which hang various chains and stirrups and harnesses.  All are unoccupied.  Surveying the scene, Jon notices an open door across the way.  Not cracked accidentally, totally open.  As he approaches it, his testicles shrink up close to his body.  He sees a prone, naked figure lying face-down on a cot.  On the small table next to the cot are a pair of glasses, a box of tissues, and a wallet.  There is a towel crumpled on the floor.
Hi, he tries, tentative now.
Hey handsome.
The figure doesn’t turn over.
How’s it goin?
Fine, fine.
After a pause Jon says, I want to fuck you.
Surprised that it was that easy, he crouches onto the bed and gets astride the man and turns him over gently.  The man has a full head of black hair and looks to be of Latino descent.  Jon cannot easily ascertain his age.  In the darkness he can see a pair of hollow black eyes and a thin-lipped wet mouth, slightly ajar.  Jon presses his weight on top of the man and inhales his scent.  Around the neck is a powdery, faded barbershop odor that reminds him of his father.  His head travels to the armpits and he presses his nose in the damp, straight hair, savoring the stale cumin ripeness.  At the navel he inserts a stiffened tongue and licks a trail down to a nest of wiry fur.  He presses his nose under the man’s limp penis but does not place it in his mouth.  The scent of the man’s genitals mirrors the armpit but is amplified, enhanced.    
I won’t do it without a condom.
Well then go get one, the man says, annoyed.
Jon hurries out of the room to one of the condensed corner doctor’s office waiting rooms and scoops a couple of condoms out of the bowl.  He is still fully erect.
Back in the room he kneels at the end of the bed and spreads the man’s legs.  He opens the condom wrapper with trembling hands and extracts the greasy object inside.  The harsh, medicinal smell of latex bursts into the air.  Examining the condom, he momentarily doubts that he’s putting it on the right way.  He slides it over his penis and presses it to the base.  The man hands him a greasy bottle of lubricant, which makes a loud ketchup fart when he squeezes it.  Jon coats his penis and squeezes a stream down the man’s furry crevice.  The legs are lifted over his shoulders and he presses on the sphincter.  It gives with surprising ease, and he is inside.  The man releases a high, child-like moan and a sharp, musty odor fills the space.
No, noo, noo no.  Yes.  Noo, no-oh, no-oh, nooo, aw yeah, noooo.
What’s that you’re wearing?  You smell great.  Jon is sitting at the foot of the bed.  The familiar guilt that floods his head at the precise moment he orgasms is making him feel clammy and nauseous.  His mouth is drier than ever, and he wants a tall glass of ice water and another cigarette and the safety of his own bed.
Old Spice.  With an insinuating tone, the man asks, And what’s that you’re wearing?
This?  Oh, it’s called Eden.  Cacharel.  I just got it the other day.
A pause.
Well, uh, thanks for a good time.  Jon mechanically kisses the man’s cheek.
The next day he throws the nearly-full bottle of Eden in the trash can.

-November 2011

Fiction: "Cats"

I picked up the book I’d started three months ago, traded the harsh gray overhead light for the old fashioned metal work lamp on the night stand, undid the top button of my pants, and lay back.  Like clockwork the cat was already at work kneading my belly, nudging the book out of my hand with her little head, soft clawless paws pushing out and in, out and in.  As the motions swelled in intensity a paw veered dangerously close to my sometimes ambivalently undescended left testicle.  Her little pink mouth dropped closer and closer to the fabric of my shirt, stopping an eighth of an inch before landing and smudging a couple hot drops of saliva. 
I scooped her up and kissed her roughly on the mouth, pressing the small protuberant fang with the pillow of my bottom lip, clumps of hair sticking to recently applied Vaseline like sticker burrs.  The cat blushed, turned her face away in coquettish embarrassment; wriggling free of my grasp she turned a woozy circle on top of me, exhibiting her posterior in the direction of my face just long enough for me to catch a glimpse of a petulant sideways squid beak dotted unevenly with white fur.  A quick journey down from the familiar, gender neutral, endearingly comedic asshole.  The beak’s lips parted slightly like a Muppet mouth, just enough to hint at a vast, black, cavernous recess within.  Unnerved, unsettled by this sudden display of primordial sexuality, I tossed the animal off the bed and resumed reading my book for a meager fifteen minutes before switching off the light.
            “Where are Cookie and Phyllis?”  I asked the next morning at Blake’s new apartment.  I knew full well what it meant that the litter box was no longer in his closet but I asked anyway.  I stared at the clumps of fur and the mottled shit scoop sitting, shadowed and impotent, next to where the box had been. 
            “Nick said he didn’t want any more cats and it’s Nick’s house and Nick makes the rules. “  Seeing my face fall, Blake quickly added, “It was Safe Pets, a no-kill shelter.”
            I didn’t mention it again that morning.  I do everything in my power to avoid face-to-face confrontation because I know I’ll start crying at the first raised voice, in the way that my dog runs to the back room and cowers under the bed if he hears anyone use the word fuck.  I blocked the cats out of my mind and stared listlessly out the car window as Blake drove me to school, hoping to evoke a thick mood of understated drama.  He had had those cats as long as I’d known him, when he lived in that shady efficiency off Lincoln Avenue.  They were skittish and unfriendly but they’d earned a place in my heart in the way that a hideous piece of furniture becomes endearing if you keep it around long enough. 
            “I love you, Mark,” Blake said as I exited the car.
            “I love you too.”  I smiled so wide my gums showed.
            Within seconds of his departure my cell phone was out and I was composing a text message.  “Blake just told me he left his cats at a shelter.  This is so disturbing to me.  Can I break up with him for this?”  Because I only sent the message to girls—girls are particularly ruthless at character judgments in situations where animal cruelty is alleged, while guys have an obnoxious tendency toward sensible, mature, egalitarian, hard knocks pronouncements about such things—I received a unanimous vote of yes. 
            Feeling justified, I continued raking Blake’s reputation over the coals for the rest of the day to any female who would listen.  Women love hearing about fag relationship problems in the way they love dressing animals up in tiny clothes.  They think it’s so fucking cute that fags have their own little relationships with their own little problems and their own little break ups, and the fags just eat up the attention like fat hungry suckerfish.
            I was thrilled that I’d found a terrific reason to break up with him again.  He was irritatingly absent of glaring flaws—he never yelled or cheated or did anything irrational or complained that I always topped and he always bottomed.  We rarely fought.  I was just so fucking bored that the little things began to get to me:  his sloppy table manners, his endless parroting of my opinions back to me as though he’d thought of them himself, his insistence on watching movies he knew he’d find boring with me, just because I wanted to watch them, just to be nice, just because he wanted to spend time with me. 
A more sinister list of complaints had begun pooling subconsciously beneath the surface trivia as well. His stale morning breath.  His ogre-smelling feet with their visible cartoon stink waves—I worried that people would think it was my feet that smelled like that.  The revolting conditions of his bathroom, with its urine-splattered toilet seat, quarter inch layer of shaving stubble, and wads of toilet paper littering the ground.  The pervasive smell of shit when I fucked him, a perverse thrill during the act but a source of neurotic terror afterwards.  The mucousy animal presence of his large uncircumcised member, so different from my own small, dry, callused, all-American cut one with its safely decreased tactile sensitivity.  The stretch marks and large pockets of loose skin that hung down from his abdomen--battle scars of a former fat kid that mirrored everything I tried to deny about my own body.
My stomach in knots at the thought of actually talking to the person I’d been trashing all day, I prepared myself with several fingers of scotch.  I thumbed the icon on the phone that represented his unmemorized number, put it to my ear. 
“Hey Babe,” he greeted me.
“Hi, I just wanted to  tell you that I don’t want to see you anymore because I think what you did to your cats is wrong, totally wrong,” I said without a breath.  “I will need my Hitchcock set back, though.”  I did my best to sound authoritative and firm.
“What?  Mark…”  His voice sounded high and creaky, like he was going through puberty.
“Just what I said.  What you did to your cats is wrong.  I want my DVDs back though.”  I hung up on him.  The bastard had decided to break up with me the first time while he had all of my Mary Tyler Moore and Degrassi Junior High DVDs and I’d had to harangue him endlessly until I received a huge white box in the mail, shipping cost $16.95.
I started crying because a break-up is a good excuse to sob about vague, nebulous  things of threatening importance like What Will I Do With My Future or I’ve Failed at Everything but you can tell everyone you’re crying about the relationship.  I chose to cry this time because I was fat and it’d be difficult to find someone else that liked me as much as Blake did.  Through the tears, I relished the moral high ground I had claimed by standing up for the cats even though I didn’t have a car and Blake had been serving as my chauffeur for the ten months of our relationship. 
Two months later I was shitfaced at a gay bar and I ran into him.  I’d just gotten a tattoo on my forearm and I’d clawed the saran wrap off it and it was bleeding fat drops through the Vaseline.   We made eye contact and I ran away and told all the friends I’d come with in the appropriately horrified tone.
“Oh my God, Blake’s here.   I haven’t talked to him in two months and he’s here.”
            “If he says anything to you I’ve got your back,” replied one of the girls reassuringly.
            “I just want to, like, tell everyone here that he’s a pet abandoner, you know?” I sniffed.
            Getting drunker and drunker, I made a big production of avoiding him until one of the girls, in a moment of unexplained boldness, brought him over to our group.  What the fuck was she doing?
            Ten minutes later my tongue was down his throat and I was grinding my knee on his cock.  He was even more hammered than me.  I told my friends I didn’t need a ride home.  They all thought it was adorable.   I felt him up on the ride home, shoved his hand into my pubic hair.  I’d had several unsatisfying hook-ups with strangers since I’d dumped him in which the overwhelming fear of contracting an STD had outweighed the sexual thrill.  I wanted sex with someone that I was used to, that I’d used up, someone I could do anything around unselfconsciously.  Sex with an ex-boyfriend where fucking without a condom was considered a forgivable, relatable, possibly cute, lapse in judgment, not the reckless, villainous endangerment it was otherwise.
            We stumbled upstairs, through his door, kicked our shoes off.  Before he could flop on the bed his cock was in my mouth.  How I’d missed that uncut seven-incher, the thick musk that was alternately repellant and attractive.  I took it to the hilt, choking on the fumes, running my fingers up and down his crack. 
            His legs were wrapped around me and I had two fingers knuckle deep inside him when he said, “Wait.  I need to tell you something.”  His voice was raspy and dry from dehydration.  I affirmed interest in a purr of stagey affection and gingerly withdrew the digits.
            “You remember when I told you I left the cats at the no-kill shelter?”
            My erection wilted, the drop of pre-cum went cold. 
“Well, that’s not exactly what happened.  I lied.”
            “Uh-huh.”  A pause.  “What happened?”
In the tortured monologue of a Tennessee Williams heroine, he told the story. 
“It was about two weeks after I’d moved in with Nick.  He’d told me that I couldn’t have any cats, remember?   I’d tried everything to find a home for Cookie and Phyllis—I’d posted ads on Craigslist, I’d asked people I knew wanted cats.  I called all the shelters in town, and they all had waiting lists.  Nick would not let up about them.  I couldn’t take it.  So what I did…I didn’t take them to the shelter.  I packed them up in their crates and drove to a vacant lot in the Meuller development, and I said goodbye to them, and I put the crates on the ground and opened the little doors and let them go in a field.” 
            “Do you hate me?” he said timidly.
            “No.  No I don’t hate you!”  My concealed horror was proportionate with the false tone of affection in my voice.  “No.  No I don’t hate you!”  
That night I successfully banished all knowledge of the cats and their fate to the furthest recesses of my brain with the intention of piecing them together later.  I fucked the shit out of Blake bareback, only pulling out to come on his face.  When you find someone that just wants your cock up their ass day and night it is sometimes difficult to sever yourself from these attachments.  In a moment of depraved abandon I demanded he fuck me, too; he got perhaps an inch in before I began screaming for him to stop, writhing in agony and thoroughly eradicating the mood.  Just like old times.  I could never take it well.
             In the morning we awoke, naked, reeking and dehydrated.  I slipped his boxers on and got some water.  When I returned, he was sitting up in bed.  “Wanna know something weird?”
            “Sure,” I said, thinking it must be some funny little story about an annoying coworker or his annoying roommate.  I felt warm and content, having slept in the arms of a man who loved me, a man I might sort of love sometimes.  I had missed that simple necessity, the feeling of waking up on a broad hairy chest.  I had missed the stale morning breath, the fecal intimacy. 
            “Well, I hooked up with this doctor, this psychiatrist, on Grindr one or two weeks ago.  He was, I think, thirty-four or thirty-five.  Anyway, I had sex with him and we were laying in my bed—this was the first time I’d met him—and he said that he loved me.”
            “I know.  He said that he loved me.  So I got uncomfortable, told him he should leave.  Then several days ago I was stalking him on Facebook and I noticed several mentions of…his lover that had just died of AIDS.”
            My stomach fell at the word.  That word.  The word that runs through my mind sixty thousand times a day, the word that causes me to think blood blisters from bad shoes are Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions.  “Well, you used a condom, right?  So you’re fine.”
            “No…that’s why I was worried.  I mean, I called him and asked him about it.  He said he didn’t have it.  He was insistent upon that.  I panicked and got tested anyway, and I’m clean.”
            “Holy shit,” I said tonelessly.
            “What?  Mark, what is it?  I got tested, I don’t have it.”
            “You know that those tests don’t work for two weeks.  Everyone knows the tests don’t work for two weeks.  There’s a window.” 
I spent the weekend with Blake and it was like old times, like the beginning of our relationship when we were inseparable.  A hung over Saturday spent at Waffle House, just talking about movies, eating, fucking in the afternoon at his apartment.  I didn’t go home until Sunday, and that was the last time I ever spoke to him. 

I still haven’t gotten tested.

-April 2012