I. The Universe is Benevolent
It’s Halloween. We’re alone on the balcony, and our smoke rings mix with the milky clouds hounding the moon. I say something about being alone, and he challenges me. We press our noses together. I try rubbing the fat pad of this thumb, but he tells me to quit. We sit like that, probably until a friend needed to smoke or vomit off the edge of the house. Ten months to define love to his satisfaction.
“Or move to Austin.”
A worn black codex hovers at the edge of my vision. Earlier that day I met a large man, Terrence, in a coffee shop across town. He had a thick ring of good cologne about him and wore stylish, pilling clothing. We talked about musical theater, perhaps, and being mean. We retrieved his car and went to my house, on the south side by the stadium, where I parted his legs to lap at his slightly sour shorn scrotum. He bit me hard on the upper thighs. I didn’t have a frame for my bed, but he gave me his number anyway. I wonder if Rift can smell him on me. I see the book peopling with myths I will sacrifice to Rift.
The stillness excites me. I feel hot tears running down the inside of my face, and the bright orange lapse of a missed heartbeat, but it’s all just the transitive approaching November wind. Invisible strings of his restraint tug at the hairs of my arms. Rift will always be tugging on a choke collar I can’t see, or choose to ignore. When I exhale, it’s hard to tell where the smoke stops and the chill starts. I can already hear people telling me to watch myself around Rift.
I won’t understand the next morning how I slept at all. Making tea alongside my friend Alectrona, I will say as though a question: “I think I’m in a relationship with my friend Rift?” I will open bills and type and mince garlic and dab at stinging oil burns and think only of how he alternately hoards and shares axillary energy when he dances. How I’ll never remember the name of the scent he daubs on his wrists. How it elevates the dated leather cuff he usually wears.
Rift is tall and lean and shows me the zines he and his friends make. His roommate gives me one about a family vacation that lingers on my desk under some exquisitely printed tabs of acid I buy but never take. It’s too cold to do acid and I tell Rift we’ll do it the first nice day next year, but I forget to put it in the freezer. Rift’s beard is much shorter than mine and he screams very loudly. I start plotting where to artfully hide him when I get my hands on that big black book.
And the book was the challenge, wasn’t it? Heel, boy, heel. I picture him inserting himself between my parietal and temporal lobes, gently fucking the very stuff of my brain. For now I can laugh off the absurdity of the image. I know my own ways. I take out a lined composition book and draw scarves and ties in the margins of my love letters. I tune my guitar to EADGAD and set “Annabel Lee” and “Jabberwocky” to music. With a judicious amount of nutmeg on my eggs and Swiss chard, I watch my landlord move leaves back and forth and cannot imagine anything disturbing me.
It was after all the time of onions and white wine and smoked king’s cheese and toasted bread. I might cut myself after four martinis trying to slice into a very old bagel, getting blood all over my shining denim shoes, but all I needed was some paper towel and a rest so I could slice dates for cake the next day. It was obligingly snappy outside, and I could drink all the coffee I wanted. Making my own vegetable stock felt like reclining on deep purple pillows while someone else cut my meat. And I could buy sweaters and donuts and smile and shiver. I could take so much speed that all the words turned into the cube root of three sevenths. I just wasn’t sure what to tell Terrence the next time we met.
“I would love to see you again, Terrence. […] Yes, I had fun, too! […] Oh, that would be nice, yes let’s try that. […] Uh-huh, yep. […] Say, Terrence, there’s just one thing. I wanted to mention before we saw each other again that I, uh, have a boyfriend. […] Oh, I don’t know, about a week? But that’s not really important. The thing is, we love each other and don’t want anything to jeopardize our relationship. But we both have freedom to do as we wish.”
In truth, I wasn’t sure if any of that was true. I pictured the smoky moon and our noses, judging these as the logical parameters of any agreement Rift or I may have come to. A fat black bookish cat jumped up onto a nearby trashcan. Yes, I think Rift would agree with all that.
How many times did we spit off that balcony? Between us, how many cigarette butts? I saw Rift later that week at Old Town, sitting across from his friend Jersey. Her cropped black hair seemed embarrassed for me. I asked him what he thought might constitute cheating in our relationship. “I don’t won’t you to miss out on finding your happiness,” Rift says. “But what if it’s with you?” I ask. Jersey shifts, maybe coughs. The perspiration off their glasses is blinding under the muted brown glass lamp. I return to my booth, my friends, my composition book and my own perspiring glass and explain, “That’s the boyfriend.”
Days were filled with rubbed tarragon and my opinions about sage. Terrence held me down, fast to the bed. Sometimes he wore a cock ring to my place and I would rub him through his jeans on the screened-in back porch. We bit each other higher, then lower. I got a lot of mileage out of a high cowl-necked brown sweater, my hair smoothed down toward my neck. Terrence wore a lot of green and maroon and often could not find his glasses when we were done.
I made soup and bought cookbooks and made more soup. I roasted whole heads of garlic with olive oil and butter in the hollows of squashes. I opened bottles of white wine, splitting them between my soup kettle and my glass, opening more when friends arrived. Alectrona showed me how to use her French press when I broke my tea ball. And all this time I had the almost too hot feeling around the walls of my abdomen that I was loved.
Rift was tall and lean and made straws out of the bodies of ballpoint pens. I was perhaps too prideful that he was mine. I relished too much the touch of his hand on mine in front a waitress he said he went out with once or twice. When we openly drank vodka at Liberty and Division, it was his vodka. Sometimes alone in my roiling room at night I would finger myself through a hole in my boxers and leave the ejaculate on my excited chest, not sure if I had been thinking of Rift or Terrence.
Good raspberry granola falling into a shallow old bowl. I remember walking south on Division once and telling Alectrona about another triangular arrangement, parts and genders akimbo up and down the lane. Somehow none of these were the one to buy me plain white handkerchiefs; that was a fair-haired virgin from the first snow of another year. We kissed under some awning on Main Street, and I didn’t really want to go to the movies, not with that awful package of handkerchiefs back at home, bathing in the glow of the bank across the street under my too short blinds – another item he saw fit to correct. One of these, the hypotenuse of my first triangle, did once buy for me a vegetarian Chinese cookbook. I forget on the odd occasions when I do open it that I have left the accompanying birthday card inside: “Love you, Ergi!”
That too hot feeling in my middle could have been vodka and soup and things we did with ballpoint pen straws, but in my view, in that space, it was all of these things that gained signification from the feeling itself. It was that twitch that, somewhere on Third Street, someone might be thinking about me. Tuning his guitar up or down, telling a story with me in it. Stapling together reams where I played the part of a thundering sea god.
If I wanted to buy him soap, I do feel bad for it. He lived in solitude with another man who lived in solitude. Had we met earlier in my life, I might have snuck in to clear the hairs from the sink and shower, planting cosmetics and grocery store flowers as I went along. I did like that none of his furniture matched and that we could smoke all we wanted in his living room. Sometimes we sat together on the same broad leather chair, smoking. Rift was tall and lean and it seemed he could fit in any space if he really wanted to.
Terrence and I would smoke on my screened-in back porch. Once when he arrived, before I invited him in, and once as he was about to depart. I said things like “next week” and “drive safe!” Later, I would sit with Rift on the porch’s hulking green couch. We were always holding hands, smoking. I would be silent and nervous, or framing the plot of an old Polish play. He would ask me for updates about my mission.
“I think it’s really starting to come together in my mind. I can even see it – all velum and gold. There are so many stories I feel I can shoot this arrow through. It’s a little Platonic, capital P – as though discord itself somehow proves my point. I’m going to succeed, Rift.”
“I hope you do.”
Ten months to define love.