We first made love in her blood, and from then on she always saved her period for me so we could wallow in our crime. Her cleanliness was for another place and circumstance, for another man... I received the remainder, the slime and fuck. There was a violence to her affection that could only blossom in the indifferent turns of flesh, a spiteful collapse into one another as we rolled in blood. She would smile in the dark and her teeth glistened like a knife half-sheathed in her mouth. I had seen this weapon unsheathed and used, slashing at the conventions around her, tearing into the weakness of love. She hated men, really, as all little girls do, and she hated the fucking that she craved and the marriage that she didn’t. In her soft times she would sob against my chest, “I don’t want to be married anymore... I don’t want to be married.” There was a tragedy up her skirt just waiting to unveil itself.
One day we visited the zoo, anxious to find animals more base than ourselves. As the sunlight feigned warmth around us, she held my hand with an awkward intimacy, as if it were more than a stupid and dishonest gesture. Puffing hard on a cigarette, she was beautiful, a cheap actress oozing flirtation and false sentiment as she dragged me out before the world. I was a souvenir of her treachery.
“Smile, baby. It’s a lovely day. Smile, damn it, and I just might reward you later...” She winked at me and giggled, as if her cunt made her witty. I smiled anyway.
“It is a nice day.”
We joined in a brief kiss and broke eye contact. Occasionally, there was something that quivered in each other’s eyes, something shiny and deathlike that made us afraid. I feared knowing her any better, and she was terrified of being known. It was a relationship.
Bathed in crisp daylight, the zoo was a market of madness. Bird calls and exotic stenches, cruel shrieks and popcorn, a delirium of caramel and disease. There was a throbbing in the air, a tangible buzz reminding us that animals of all sorts fell here to copulate and die. Children were everywhere at once... kicking through puddles, dueling with plastic dinosaurs, hanging from the gallows of their mothers’ arms. One was next to us, screaming like a demon over his spilled ice cream. I turned from the child to her. She was ecstatic.
“I want one... They’re so cute!”
She spoke as if gazing into a shop window, eyeing a new purse. Her comment wasn’t directed at me, so I ignored it. She wasn’t serious herself in any realistic way. A hamster would give her trouble. We both knew it. Still, maternal instincts welled up in her from time to time, as rarely as tears or gas.
The monkey pavilion was the first exhibit, which was eerily quiet considering how many little bodies were crowded in there. Underfed, picking at their mange, they appeared to have lost their clamor. Too tired to even throw their feces, they clutched at it limply, sullen and opiated from their incarceration. A pack of kids came by and laughed and pointed like there were a million clowns before them. I lit a cigarette. The match flashed and blinded me momentarily, and in that instant I desired the flame to be larger, a heat and roar engulfing everything around me, a flame that was the world itself. Some of the monkeys were also transfixed by the flash, as if sharing my desire, and it was then that I knew there was nothing languid about their hatred. They waited and hoped, like all of us, for horrible things. For what seemed like an hour, I watched the human brats hurl insults at the cage, until a hand gently rescued me from the squeal and nightmare.
We purchased some cotton candy and tainted our fingers with pink fluff as we strolled through the aviary. All was good for a while. I licked the sugar from the corner of her mouth, just as another couple approached to say hello. They were friends of her other man. I was not introduced, so I walked away and let them chatter as though I didn’t exist. In these sorts of circumstances, I didn’t know whether to feel rage or apathy, so I churned with one and feigned the other. The idea that I could feel such emotion over her was ludicrous, but it was fact, and anger pressed softly out my skin, warping me into something more or less than a man. A rustle caught my ear, and I watched a peacock in full bloom, bristling with a murderous radiance, trying with a flourish to burst the wire around him.
After her conversation, she met me at the bears, who paced across artificial rocks and swayed their heads insanely, denying their predicament with one ‘no’ after another. I told myself that I was projecting, anthropomorphizing, but submerged in these assertions was a deeper uneasiness that spawned the beginning of a kind of terror. The birth of some sort of awful knowledge about the workings of the world. All I knew was that the sight of all these creatures made me squirm. Animals were caging each other, fucking each other, enraging and confusing each other... I felt there was no longer any importance to concepts like humanity, such grandiose lies were foreign to the carnality of my own life, and this knowledge seemed of greater consequence than death. She was reading the placard about the mating habits of bears, squinting with a drunken look to her features, trying to grasp the purpose of the words. The factuality and brute calculation of the language stared back at her. Here, in this zoo called earth, degradation was sovereign and it covered everything like dust. I spat on my own shoe and refused to wipe it away. Nearby, a lion yawned majestically as it rotted in the sun.
I grabbed at her, this woman I did not love, to keep from sinking. But she had already submerged herself.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. This just isn’t what I expected. Can we go?”
She shrugged in agreement and we slowly made our way out past a pair of elephants. They stood tossing dirt and straw across their backs in a sluggish attempt to cool off. Or hide themselves. The shame was palpable, stirring at the scent of filth in the wind.
I silently wished the elephants luck as she pulled me across to the petting zoo. I fed a cross-eyed goat a handful of pellets. He sucked them up in one gulp and rewarded me with a handful of saliva, before moving on to the next person.
“Pretty thrilling, huh?” She snickered at my swearing. I looked around for a washroom but there was none in sight. “Come on.” This time, she took my arm sympathetically and rested her head on my shoulder. We went to the car.
“Are you okay?”
I wasn’t, but I didn’t really understand why, and I was embarrassed to feel such a disconnection. It seemed so tiresome and unoriginal.
“I just remember when shit like this was fun.”
The apartment had the stink and gloom of a cave, and it was infinitely comforting. She kicked off her shoes and dangled her legs over the edge of the bed like some rank seductress. I kissed her, this woman who was fucking one friend, and had fucked another. She clawed at my jeans. One of her mottoes was “sex is nothing but a penis going in and out of a tube,” but this lack of emotional abstraction, which was meant to prove that she was impervious to love, seemed to only increase her desire. Cruel, nonchalant wisdom was her specialty. We shed our clothes in a heap.
She prefaced every blowjob with some ridiculous whisper about how she didn’t usually do that sort of thing, implying that the providence of her mouth had chosen me for this great honor. Surely, her other man was equally honored… In fact, she told me so. He was with us in spirit for every single fuck we shared, like a huge smothering presence over the bed. If my prick grazed the sanctuary of her asshole, she would convulse like a nun and admonish me. “I don’t even let him do that!” She was such a good wife, a martyr really, wrapped in a bundle of cunt and suffering.
As she sucked me, I tugged at her hair with my goat-smeared hand. I said filthy, vicious things to her, but not aloud. I realized then it was the first time that we were both sober during sex. I wanted desperately to be drunk. Pulling out of her mouth, I asked if she wanted a beer.
“There’s no time!” Scowling, she grabbed my neck and opened her legs. Her eyes focused on the clock until they closed in the selfishness of pleasure. Stabbing her with my tongue, I chewed at her clit and watched shivers race up her abdomen and out her throat. Sometimes, I would bite just to see her wince. She tasted of guilt and the iron residue of blood. I worshipped at her belly-button, kissing around its perimeter, imbedding my nose in it, sniffing at the absent bond she had with her mother. I wished then that our umbilical cords were intact, flailing at the night, slippery and useless and gloriously hideous. I whistled and tried to coerce hers out like a snake, hoping to tie us together with a seminal tourniquet. She squirmed approvingly. I sank to her depths, my face groping for her essence. Her scent intoxicated me as she tensed and corralled my head with both thighs. A wicked feast, she lay devoured. Suddenly, she grabbed my wrist with a weak laugh.
“Okay, that’s enough…” For some reason she feared her orgasms. Perhaps they crossed a threshold that she felt she didn’t deserve. It made no sense to me, but I never argued.
“Fuck me, hurry. Hurry.” This word, the least romantic of words, passed from her lips and immediately stained the oblivion of sex with a reminder of time and mortality, ideas that I hoped to obliterate in the bed. Her cunt was in constant peristalsis and I succumbed to its swallow. I forgot her words as I swam in loss, in moving flesh. Mind fluttering, I wanted to peel her open like some rotten fruit, and her to peel me. I longed to shed the gossamer prison of skin and flop around in our blood and entrails, to join and entangle until our slimy hearts touched. Our writhing took on strange dimensions until I burst like a balloon and careened back to earth, lost in the sad pyrotechnics of orgasm.
She crawled out from beneath me, frantically complaining that we were going to be late. It was time for her other man. We wouldn’t even be able to smoke a cigarette afterwards. She ran to the bathroom to wash the muck from her. I was sticky too, and I headed into the kitchen. I scrubbed myself with a moldy dishrag, cock dangling over a week of dirty dishes. Somewhere on the other end of town, my friend was polished and grinning, waiting for us to arrive. We were all going out for dinner. I swooned with the reality of my betrayal, but I fought it and tried to laugh as I pulled on my boxers and jeans. She flew into the room. A flustered whirlwind.
“Shit, shit. Hurry!” She was absurd. We threw on shirts and shoes and scrambled outside. The tires squealed as we sped away. I continued to laugh quietly as I rubbed my face and looked at her.
“I forgot to wash the tip of my nose. I can still smell you…”
She smirked naughtily and checked her makeup in the mirror.
“Just don’t get too close to him.”
I almost loved her then, this woman, because she was so unlovable. Our eyes returned to the road, and with quiet, sated smiles we went to pick up her husband from work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is an editor in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Iowa Review
, Quarterly West
, Other Voices
, The Barcelona Review
, The Wisconsin Review
, Exquisite Corpse
, and The Review of Contemporary Fiction
. He is currently working on Stupor
his debut novel. This story has appeared in Libido
and Exquisite Corpse
, among others.