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INVERTEBRATE

by

David Massengill



Though he was one of them, he mostly hated men who love men. They swarmed the city core like glittery termites, chewing through department stores' most masculine-looking designer shirts, chattering in unison up independent movie theater aisles when he simply wanted to hear the final music in solitude. During his adulthood, they'd tugged and gripped and massaged and kissed and tongued and suckled his fleshy body, and during those same years they'd gouged his emotional self, making holes equal in depth of shock, diameter of hurt.

Sometimes he tried communicating with them -- asking why they'd slipped him fake-digited phone numbers or crept onto a drunkard's lap right after they'd embraced him in a dancefloor spotlight. But they flew away fast, or replied only with an approaching abdomen. A few flashed him their pronged tongues, and he was horrified by how fiercely he spat in return. He handed his heart to one -- years ago, when he searched the gazes of men who love men for little safe flares of romance, not the frenzied fire that means fucking until one is devoured and the other is wiping his dick with a designer shirt before exiting.

Inspired by this spite -- and the fear related to the awareness that his skin was becoming an exoskeleton and his blood chilled ooze -- he took a ferry to escape men who love men. He relished seeing the far-off skyscrapers look flaccid through the boat's spray. The passing islands were submerged ovals of evergreen wooded so densely that a guy could only lose his way inside. He envisioned how far he'd hike after he reached his destined peninsula. Once ensconced by trees, he'd claw at leaves, tunnel through dirt until he'd found himself within Earth's shell, that pre-evolutionary place where there is no love or hate or species but the quiet comfort of bedrock.

Yet when the ferry shored, his eyes settled on a man -- beefy-limbed, thickly bearded, utterly mammalian, utterly attractive. He watched the fellow while sauntering down the ramp, letting ladies and baby strollers pass in the hope that this person would glance up from his task of drilling into a concrete dock. Their eyes never touched, nor did he achieve intimacy with any of the other men he encountered that afternoon.

The one working at the Visitors Center stared at him like he had antenna bulging from beneath his forehead, and asked, Why the hell would anyone want to go hiking alone when it's going to get dark soon? He sat on a bench outside while this man looked for trail maps. Trucks tore by, and a peninsula woman cackled heartily on a nearby porch. He crossed his legs and then carefully re-crossed them so the ankle of his elevated limb didn't venture below the knee. He was noting how sensitive he was to the cold when he spotted the bug light above him. Every few seconds another insect swooped into oblivion with an electric sizzle sound. He wondered what these creatures thought before their ends, and if they ever warned each other that they were all dying the same way. Before the man could point him to the forest, he started back toward the ferry terminal. The glow of his city lit the way.







ABOUT THE AUTHOR

California always had kisses for David Massengill, but Seattle convinced him into an LTR. In Northwest bliss, he has written fiction that appeared in The Raven Chronicles and Little Engines, among other literary magazines. He has also written nonfiction for American Book Review and Seattle Weekly. Email him tender words at villid@yahoo.com.




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