In the Garden of Love

June 22 – Oregon

It crawl.

Breath rasp in throat. Fur fall out in patches. Skin blister. Skin break. Skin sores weep. Gum bleed. Teeth fall out.

Weak. Weak. Weak.

Crawl.

In dirt. In mud. In brush. Thorn tear flesh.

Limbs heavy. Head heavy. Drag self. Mouth ache.

Eye blister. Eye red. Eye water. Blind dog. Eye ache.

Bone ache.

Claw click sidewalk. Breath wheeze. Blood mouth. Needle the flesh. Break the needle.

“Good dog.”

Hand touch head. Skin slough. Fur shed. Snarl mouth. Blood mouth. Claw click.

“Are you okay boy?”

Weak. Tired. Weak. Lift head. Boy face. Hate boy. Needle? Mouth snarl. Blood mouth.

Shoe squeak sidewalk. Claw click sidewalk. Blood mouth. Tooth ache. Weak. Boy. Man. Needle.

Bite.

Boy scream. Boy kick. Bone break. Boy stomp. Boy kick. Skull break. Skin break. Body break. Eye break. Ache. Ache. Ache. In dirt. In mud. In white room. Under white light. Needle. Hate needle. Eye roll over. Mouth in mask. Eye in glass. Hate needle. Chew leg. Chew self. Eat self. Ache. Break. Chew wire. Chew fence. Teeth break. Mouth ache. Crawl. Crawl. Bite. Kick. Kick. Break.

Dead dog.

July 4 – Oregon

Fireworks are blooming over the lake, and all down the shore picnickers huddle on checkered blankets, half-eaten sandwiches and sticky beer cans scattered in damp grass. Light painted on upraised faces, blue and red and gold. A man stands at the grill, turns the last few hotdogs over glowing charcoal. A crag-featured veteran stands against a tree and smokes a cigarette, shaking at every boom and not looking and swallowing back bitter memory. A young girl runs on the edge of the water, throwing stones out to break the reflected faces of the fireworks on the water. Above the lake, just under the shade of long low elms, a boy in the backseat of his father’s station wagon leans close and presses his lips against his girl’s mouth.

This is America.

She lays back. He can feel the muscles tense in her back and neck, in her arms her legs her thighs. His weight is against her, his heavy male weight. Hers is such a presence. Her mouth is open. He leans down over her, covers her with himself. The heat of her mouth is more than he can bear. Her hands are everywhere, caressing, squeezing, stroking, reaching in. Her hands hot on his skin. Her eyes alive with feverish light, her breath a hungry groan. She touches his cheek, kisses him.

Fireworks trapped in the glass, in the windows. Caught there and raining down. All of this light is raining down.

His fingers trace along the sheer nylon length of her leg, up toward the hem of her skirt. Twitching skirt. He slides his hand under. She catches the wrist. “Do you love me?” He kisses her fierce and hard. The word means nothing to him. No word has ever meant anything. This is a time before words. He has such a need of her. Such a desire. He covers her mouth with his mouth. He covers her body with his body. The animal is awake.

Touching her underpants. The thin hot fabric, silky and clean and tight. Thin as anything. He can feel her inside, feel her right through. The smooth mons curve, the soft bristle of tuft hair, the wanting lips. The wet heat of her. His finger slips around, back of the knuckle run up and down that slick vein.

She is shuddering, head arched back, eyes squeezed shut, hands in tight fists, legs bracing. Her teeth are pressed tight, her lips parted. Her body shakes. He touches her.

“Have you ever done this before?” her voice small and brittle.

He shakes his head. Wordless question, unspoken: Have you?

She says, “I want it to be you.”

He kisses her. She is reaching for him, toward the bulge in his jeans, the masculine form. But she pulls back. He unbuckles the belt himself, unbuttons the button, unzips the zipper. He tugs down his jeans. She reaches out, touches. Her fingers wrapping around the stiff smooth thing, light, gentle. His entire body shakes with his need for her, his want. His breath shakes.

His leg throbs. A searing constant ache. The two crescent-moon marks of the dog’s teeth throb there. The wound does not seem to want to scab over. It runs sometimes with a clear liquid, like pus. Burns with bleary fire. He has grown accustomed to the pain. He will not allow it to worry him, the unhealing hurt. Why does it not heal? It was a sickly dog. He had seen the sickness in its eyes.

She pulls him inside her. She cries in her throat. An open-mouthed noiseless cry. A curve of the spine. Inside she is all soft and wet. He shudders. He is inside.

It was not like he thought it would be. He does not know how to think. This is something beyond his knowledge of the world. His mind burning, his skin afire. Her arms wrap around, nails scraping down his back. Her teeth bare, bite the soft skin at his neck. Her breath is hot on him. Something in him is burning. A great fear rising in him, a fear that he will be drawn in too deep, will disappear into her and never find his way back out, wander forever in a blissful darkness.

The fireworks are building toward a great finish. Fire fills the dusk sky, and color. Night is falling. Flashing flashing flashing. All the world on fire. Independence day. Everything is burning.

“I can’t stop,” he says. He is so afraid. His leg is burning. Burn radiates from bite. He thinks he can feel thick blood running from the crusted wound, winding down his leg. There is a wet gathering between her legs, sticking to him, clinging.

“Don’t. Don’t stop.” Her face wreathed in pain, or something like pain.

The sound of the fireworks obliterates everything. He sees her groan and cry but hears nothing. He moves with panicked effort. The light blossoms hot in the sky. He works desperately. Outside it is like the end of the world. His father’s station wagon glows under the eerie flash. He buries his face in her hair.

And then the show is over. The last echo rumbles away way across the lake. Faint smoke over the water. A smattering of cheers, of applause. A silence that shows all the dreadful noise lurking beneath. The whir of insects. The rocking of the springs. The lap of water. The moist violence of his penis sliding into her vagina. A sucking squelching sound. Her soft exhaled breath, her little cries. His grunting, his heavy breathing. Under the silence there is so much sound.

She clutches him tight. Everything in him is building towards something terrible and beautiful. He cannot stop it. He cannot turn back. A shudder moves through his body. The glow of the fireworks is still in his eyes. He goes stiff and tight all over and

He can feel himself letting go. He feels it pouring out of him, flowing into her. He is spilling life, and a feeling like death fills him. Weak in the limbs, shuddering, lips open but unable to form words. The bite across his leg throbs wickedly.

All that he is flows into her.

July 30 – Oregon

She coughs. Deep hacking cough from way down, from the innermost self. She can’t shake it. Two weeks now. Like her lungs are decaying, tearing away through the throat. A weight in her chest.

They lay on their backs around her like in an immense morgue. They could be the dead after a natural disaster or a war. Hanging from metal trees over them are slow-filling blood bags. The needle goes in at the arm. They stare at the ceilings while their blood pumps out.

Men and women in blue paper face masks move slowly among the beds, checking needles, feeling arms, feeling veins, plunging the needle in, taking it out.

She stares at the clipboard in her hands. The words elude her, flitting in and out of focus. Now a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, and then a squiggle. No meaning. She puts the pen against the paper, puts it to the center of the little box. Tick. Next box, another tick. Counting down all the reasons. Purity of the body and spirit. Healthy vessel. She feels like she is bursting at the seams with blood. She want to have it out, give it away, smear it on the walls if she has to.

An empathetic girl, they called her. Selfless. An angel.

She is no angel, no girl, no child. There is a deep well of selfishness inside, she can feel it. A need for pleasure, a need for admiration. She gives because it makes her feel. Take from me, take take. Strip me bare if you would. All I am is yours. Take. Make me alive.

The words swim into focus, out again.

Unprotected Sex?

She hesitates, pen in the box. She withdraws. Does not make a tick. A little ink-mark remains, the faintest smudge. She puts her thumb to it, to wipe away. It will not come. The merest touch of the pen. It does not come off. She bites her lip. Nobody will notice.

She can’t tell them. It’s been two weeks, more. She feels fine. A little sick is all, but that’s just a cold probably. She’ll be better soon. Anyway, there’s no reason for them to know. She feels an angry determination over it. By what right can such a question be asked of her? Is she impure? Despoiled? All those things her mother would say. Ruined, a ruined woman.

She does not feel ruined. She is whole and right in the world. He loves her, she is sure of it. And she, she loves. He loves her, that’s important. She can still feel him, still call up the memory clear and perfect as anything. They are still in the backseat of his father’s car. Still touching. She didn’t do anything wrong. She is not ruined.

She feels grown. This body is too young for her. She would step out of it if she could, leave it behind without a backward glance. Let them take from it what they will, she has no need of it.

She signs her name at the bottom of the questionnaire. Here am I.

The doctor – a man with graying hair and a stooped back and wide wrinkled hands – sits down across from her. He looks over the lists of questions. Points to one, asks a question. She shakes her head. He nods, makes a note. I see. She looks away.

She has so much she wants to give.

She saw a man bleed once, bleed to the point of death. Laying on the side of the road in a pool of light. The lamppost stretching up toward the night sky. Her brother running for the nearest house to call an ambulance. Her father kneeling beside the man, trying to stop the blood. She standing by the car, watching. The man’s truck was on fire. The light of it flickered and writhed in the darkness. The blood flowed out, filling in the cracks in the pavement, spreading. So much blood. She had not thought a man could hold so much blood inside him. Her mother held her around the shoulders. Don’t look. She couldn’t not look. She had to look. The man was gray and shaking when the ambulance came, his limbs quivering. Death spasms. There was so much blood on the road.

She gave blood every year since. She has this to give.

The nurse leads her to the closest empty bed. The sheets are faintly discolored, a yellowish stain of sweat, now dried. She lays down there, her skin prickling. The nurse talks idly as she assembles her needle.

She coughs. The nurse holds her arm. Pushes the needle in. A moment of pain, like a bite. She shakes, like she did when he put himself inside her. Her mouth open, her eyes shut. And now it is beneath her skin. She stares up at the ceiling. She can feel the blood drawn out, like bearing snake venom from a wound.

What would her mother do if she knew? It’s only sex, mother!

Would she be cast out? Abandoned to the world? One of the world’s children now, not mine, not my little girl.

She hates her mother, and is afraid of losing her. Of being lost herself.

She is late. A week late. She worries, cannot sleep for fear. A week late. She has never been that late. She hasn’t yet told anybody. It will come, please god let it come. Please god.

She is afraid. Is there something inside me? Something growing? Some malignant being wanting to stretch out little fingers to choke out her life.

Please god, I’m still a child. Let me be empty inside.

She lays back. She can feel the blood running out of her. Just let it all drain away. Let it all be gone from her.

August 18 – Idaho

It hurts to breath. Hurts even to be.

He cannot see.

Purple-red darkness, a throbbing primordial blindness like a cotton gauze in his mind. He feels the swollen flesh around his eye. Christ, will he ever see again? He cannot bear the thought of going blind. He thinks he will kill himself rather than go on like that. He remembers the boot-heel striking his face. Remembers a shooting pain through his skull.

He cannot hear.

Something rings in the distance. High painful timbre like a tiny bell shaking, frozen mid-chime. The sound pierces his mind. He feels like a child, like he is again in the womb. Hands striking the sides of his head. God, the hurt of it! He remembers the face, the beloved’s face pressed against the sidewalk concrete. He remembers the high cawing laughter of the men circling round. Blood and broken teeth.

He drifts off. Sleeps awhile. His dreams are terrible. He cannot wake from them, cannot escape them. Waking and dreaming twined together. He drifts in fear like cloud on water. He longs to be free. Morphine dreams murmuring beyond. The beloved’s eye wide with terror, ringed blood red. Stares into him. He cannot see but into that eye. He falls through the iris. He wonders if his beloved died looking at him.

Where does this hate come from? Who made this world?

He wakes and he can see a little, hear a little, feel a little. The steady blip of the heart-rate monitor. The soft cotton sheets. The clean-rot hospital smell. A faint light. Voices over him. They seem so very far away. Bodies on a distant planet, murmurs from another world. He strains to hear, to hear if they know anything of his beloved. His everything.

He tries to open his mouth. Tongue stuck, dry and thick and useless. He feels cracked teeth in his mouth. Tastes the blood of little cuts opening again. Pain and anesthetic all in a whorl and his eyes roll over into sleep.

Later, hours later, he looks up. He see a plastic bag full of blood hanging over him. Drip drip. He see the clear tube filled with red fluid, traces it down to where it enters his body. Through the arm. He’d tried to give blood before. They turned him away when they knew who he was. What he was.

“I’m sorry,” she’d said, “we just can’t.” The shrug of the shoulders, the shift of curling blond hair. He remembers leaving that room with his cheeks burning, a shame growing inside. Here is the proof. He is less than. Unwanted.

His own mother told him that AIDs was a plague sent from god to turn people like him back to Jesus. “It’s not too late,” she told him, “not too late to come home.” It was the last time they’d spoken. He missed her sometimes, down below the anger and disappointment. Maybe one day they could know each other again. Like it had once been. A good child, the sweet boy. Mother’s child.

His father died when he was a boy. And accident at the factory. He did not know even know what was the cause of death. Many nights he had been kept up by it. A child still, waiting with his covers pulled up under the chin and fear pouring in from every direction. What if… this… or that? Kneeling at the side of the bed, hands pressed together like he’d been shone. Tears in his eyes: Please god bring him home, bring my daddy home please. He feels his lips move, forming those same words again. Would god hear him now, after all this? He despises himself and his weakness. He had been so weak, so useless.

He is sure now that his beloved is dead.

He stares up at the blood; watches it drip in the bag. It is all coming inside him, filling him with life. The hospital room takes shape through his heavily swollen eyelids.

This is my blood, given for you. The words tremble in his mind. He tries to recall when he first heard them. Some Sunday School bullshit, he supposes.

God, but he feels lonely here.

That day is in his mind, the moment of change captured clear and undiluted. Their hands together, fingers wrapped over fingers. The obscene sunshine. Their lips together. The first calls of the men. Rowdy tough men with flat features and brushing hands. Hairy knuckles and flat noses. He remembers laughing at them, taunting them. He remembers waving in their direction and kissing his beloved. He remembers defying them there on the sidewalk in the white heat of the day.

And then they came close, their disgust turning to anger. The anger turning to pleasure. Fist strikes gut. You like that, don’t you? Come here, faggot. Heel pressed down on knuckles. Bones crack, break. Bet you candy-ass faggots never met seen a real man before. Nose crushed against pavement. Belt rattled. Pants yanked down. Held down. Stabbing pain. This how you like it, faggot?

He was ashamed to cry, ashamed of what they’d made of him. He remembers crawling, mouth full of blood, fingers curled in a wretched tangle. Leave us alone, just leave us alone. And the sun showed all this. He remembers raising his head and seeing a man walking down the sidewalk. Going the other direction, looking, walking on. Help us. Don’t leave me here. The man walked on, hardly even broke his stride.

He sleeps in the hospital. Borrowed blood seeps down into his veins. The blood is everything. Pure blood into an impure vessel. He is ashamed of what he is. He wants to die. He wants to die and be again with his beloved.

He shuts his eyes. Sleeps. Blood drips down.

September 3 – Colorado

The young man leans against the dumpster. A cigarette dangles between his fingers, worn and burnt out. The frail glow is like a beacon in the evening dark. He lets it sway, losing ash over the damp asphalt. There’s a clean cool scent in the air, the aftermath of a summer rainstorm. His shoes squelch in the layer of garbage strewn about the dumpster. There are cars pulling up to the gas station. Fat men and fat women standing listless and slack jawed at the pumps. He watches the numbers roll over higher and higher and feels a growing sense of jealous hatred for them.

The headlights sweep through the glassy-wet city streets, reflecting on every surface, diffused in puddles and gloss. Taillights a burning-out red thrown recklessly behind. Cars coming, cars going. He has not moved for two hours almost. His fingers are cold. His lips cold. He shivers. The nights are turning cold. Summer is coming towards its end, he feels it in his bones. His jacket is soaked through.

He lights another cigarette – the last in the pack – and lifts it to his mouth.

One might wonder how a person ends up in his position. He has never wondered, never given any thought to his situation. Life is a force which draws him along, takes him motionless through time. He does not question.

He crumples the empty pack and tosses it toward the great steel bulk of the dumpster.

The car sweeps up out of the gathering night. A wet churn of tire on road, a splash of weight through water gathered in reflective pools. The car idles there, just across from the dumpster.

He rises, stands lithe as if weightless. Rocks on his heels and takes a long drag. Eyes the car. Sometimes you run into undercover cops. But he’s got a good eye for them. Never been caught yet, not really.

The window rolls down. A face pale from inside, thrust out fearful into the night. Looking around, looking at him. He sidles closer, shoulders rolling. He leans down, blows smoke. The guy coughs, puts the back of his hand against his mouth.

It’s the typical sort. Average-looking fag. Round face, sad nervous eyes. He knows those eyes. Eyes that live in fear. Mouth opens, hangs there a moment before: “I’m looking for the bridge?” The usual line.

He taps ash. “I know what you’re looking for.”

“Can you, uh, can you show me?”

“I’ll take you there.” Like actors in a play, reciting the lines night after night. The scenes replay until he knows them backwards, knows them through his skin. Only the face of his partner changes.

“Alright…” a hesitation. Then: click, door unlocked.

He goes around to the passenger side and slips into the car.

The guy’s got old bruises all over his face. Black swollen eye, capped teeth, fingers in splints, busted lip. Looks like he got worked over pretty seriously not so long ago.

The young man’s cigarette twitches in his skinny fingers. “You mind?”

The guy shakes his head. “No. No, that’s fine.” The first-timers never object. Do whatever you want, whatever, just don’t judge me, don’t revile me. Please don’t let me be found here! Shame is thick in the air here, almost tangible.

He leans back and points this way. The guy drives. Wipers flick, sweep away drops of water. Point this way, down that street, around that corner. And they’re here.

The ruin of the fire-gutted apartment complex staggers up toward the sky. Ambition paid in blood. Wipe this all clean. The street is empty and dull. He flicks his cigarette out the window and rolls it up against the night.

The guy’s looking around, all nervous and twitchy. “Are you sure this is safe? Won’t somebody see us?”

He touches the guy. Hand on skin. Guy goes stiff, then relaxes. A kind of pleasure. The need of another human’s touch. “It’ll be fine,” he says, and leans over to unzip the guy’s pants. He withdraws the flaccid cock. Takes it in his mouth. It takes a minute for the pleasure to overtake the fear. The guy gets firm in his mouth, gets hard. The taste of him is musty and sweaty, a biting taste. His head bobs up and down, throat working. The soft wet sounds of this.

The guy puts his hands onto his head, holds him there and strokes his hair. Finding the shape of his skull. Breath in short inhalations, like there was something sitting on his chest.

And then the release. The hot salt taste fills his mouth. Thick liquid silky and slick. Slides down his throat.

The guy starts crying. Weeps like a baby. Face down in his hands, body convulsing with the shock of grief.

He waits. He sees this a lot. Bunch of drama queens. Most of the people who come find him are coming off a death or a break-up. He worries sometimes about HIV, but it’s not a significant concern. Whatever happens will happen. Life will carry him on.

The guy is shaking, half-phrases spilling out: “I never… I don’t… I’m not that kind of…” Confession and denial and regret. He’s used to it.

He waits for the guy to pull himself together before collecting his forty bucks. The guy hands it over rather sheepishly. Two crisp twenties. What’s the fucker’s name? Jackson? He looks at the face and it means nothing to him. History is a distant thing, and irrelevant. He leaves the car and walks back down the street, long legs carrying him back towards the dumpster.

He lays down against a pile of old newspapers and touches his lips.

He can feel the taste of the man’s semen still in his mouth, all that encoded mucus, the whole of the man’s life inscribed on the genetic level. He can feel it inside.

He watches the lights sweep across the rainy sidewalks and he feels like he is alive.

October 11 – Colorado

They live in a dreamy world, bodies entwined, minds submerged in a ceaseless bliss.

He lays there, eyelids fluttering, fingers twitching, muscles tightening. His lips quiver.

She watches him, his long thin body. His shape. The needle still pushing toward the vein. The rubber still wrapped around the bruised upper arm. She unwraps the tube and slips out the needle. He shakes.

A fire burns in the old fireplace. Faint heat. She can hardly feel it now. This world is all shadow. She can see it above, far above, the dim flicker of some faint truth. Some final awakening. She wants to touch it, float towards it. She wants to transcend herself.

The tip of the needle gleams silver in the firelight.

Her brother twitches. He’s been sick lately. She doesn’t know what it is. She is beginning to worry. She tells him not to go out anymore. She blames the cold, growing as it is more severe every day. She blames the johns, filthy strange men with sickness clinging to their bones. She strokes his forehead. He groans, writhes. She strokes his hair, his soft short hair. He murmurs, convulsing, twitching. Feel this happiness.

“It’ll all be okay,” she says, running her fingers through his hair, “everything will be better soon.”

His mouth opens, the lips parting. “I… I… I…” he is very far gone from himself, drifted away, floated out of his body. She aches to follow.

She flicks the lighter, holds it under the stained silver spoon. Waits. Watches the liquid boil and the stuff melt down.

She has lived here in this house with the brother for almost eight years now. Mother died. Father left. Nobody ever came for them, nobody. Here they are in the empty house out beyond the edge of the city. A lonely satellite of the greater being. The paper is peeling off the walls in long low strips; it hangs toward the floor like weeping bodies. Garbage gathers in the corners, under the porch, all around. She doesn’t know where it comes from. It simply is. Their bed is an island in the chaos. The mattress stained and torn, dark with old blood and urine.

She hates this place. Hates the dirtiness of it, ordinary dirtiness. She longs to escape all this. She longs to be above. She knows only this one way to escape. Nothing else has ever worked.

Needle pressed against a bit of cotton. Filthy liquid into the needle. She holds it, fingers clenched. She stares into the fire.

There was so much she wanted to do, to be. She had dreams once. A thousand little dreams. I will make something of myself, she promised. And then she dropped out of school, settled for a job. Then she quite her job, settled for this. She gave up piece by piece on everything she had wanted. It had slipped through her fingers one sliver at the time and she’d not noticed it going until there was nothing left. She had dreamed once.

Eventually, It rules everything. It is a jealous master. It is a sea of pleasure. The sea swallows everything it does not love.

Her brother shakes on the bare floor. She sits beside him. She is half-naked, she realizes. No pants or underwear. She reaches down and touches herself, plunges her fingers into a nest of pubic hair. What am I? she thinks, searching for some part of herself.

She lives in a state of pleasure and pain, alternating grays and color. She presses the tip of the needle against her skin and pushes in. Feel the rush, the sharp clear bite. The veil of real slides away. She sinks into the world, floats up toward the glimmer of light. Everything around her drifts away. She can feel it moving in her.

All the world is connected.

December 21 – Nebraska

It’s dark. Middle of the night. He’s just over the border, blinking away sleep. Snow falls in dicey wet sheets, big scraps like torn paper.

He lifts a fistful of pills to his mouth and washes them down with bottled water. Just to take the edge off. Keep awake. Nothing serious, he doesn’t touch the serious shit himself. Admires it, maybe, but doesn’t touch it. Only business. The lights of his semi blaze out across the wintery parking lot. Mounds of soft snow gathered, shaped. It’s nearly empty, a few trucks, bleary-eyed travelers stumbling in and out of the restrooms, pushing quarters into vending machines for stale cookies and flat sodas, scratching their bald heads over crumpled maps. The shifting lights on the highway are all a blur, a smooth tapestry of light. He watches.

No cops in the parking lot. Not that he expected any.

He steps down out of the cab. His boots crunch over crisp cold snow. It falls on him, dancing under the wide brim of his hat, whirling about his face and clinging to his beard. He goes toward the rest stop, a long low dark building. One light burning above the door.

There are picnic tables covered over in snow, handicap parking signs pasted-over white. Sheets of cool ice hanging heavy off the sides of the roof.

It’s quiet inside. The faint hum of out-of-tune electronics. A light sputtering. A little stand stuffed with out of date tourist pamphlets. Highway maps and faded pictures of national parks. There’s writing on all the walls, scrawls in red and black of the usual inane variety. An old man is asleep on the padded bench; all the stuffing is spilling out between his legs, seat cushion bleeding. A girl is sitting on the floor. Long tangles of dirty blond hair. Thin face, scrawny body. Firm white breasts pushed almost out of her loose halter-top. There are goosebumps raised all along her narrow legs, bared to the mid-thigh by her shorts. She looks at him closely.

He ignores her, goes into the men’s room. The door swings shut behind, doesn’t even go still before the girl’s already pushing in. She bursts through, looks away shyly when he sees her.

“Men’s room,” he says.

“You don’t remember me?”

“Should I?” He stands at the urinal, legs wide, and pulls out his cock. He can smell piss, not his own.

“I’ve come here before. I remember you.”

“How’s that?” He stares at the wall. The faded stained tile. More scrawled marks in marker and pen, halfheartedly washed away.

“You sold me some stuff before?”

“I don’t sell anything, girlie. Just a driver.”

“Come on, help me out.”

“This stuff I supposedly sold you. How much?”

“Eighty.”

“Yeah?”

“See, the thing is, I-”

He cuts her off, “Get out.” He starts to piss, deep gurgle of liquid mixing with liquid.

She shifts by the door, hands wringing.

He hears her move. Hears her come close. Turns. She is crawling across the floor, knees to the tile, hands spread out, fingers wide.

He watches.

She is at his feet. She lays her head down. She kisses his boots. Tongue on the leather. Long slow lick up the cowhide. Looks up at him through lacy lashes. Hurt eyes, lost in themselves. Liquid filled eyes.

He shakes off his cock. She’s older than he likes, seventeen or nineteen maybe. Small body like a toy, fragile breakable thing. She’ll do. She holds him by the hips, her nails sliding across his jeans. He guides her mouth to him.

Slow wet thing. He leans against the wall. Appears to shut his eyes but keeps one open. Always keep one eye open in a place like this.

Hand pushes into her hair, fingers close, pull tight. Muffled whimper.

The door opens. A man comes in. She tries to pull away, he stops her, holds her in place. On her knees.

Middle-aged man, balding without grace. Weary circles under the eyes. A young man behind him, his son. Eyes wide when they see. He puts his arm around his son’s shoulders. They hesitate, in a confusion of half-sleep. He starts to pull his son away; the boy squirms, squeezes his thighs together. His father stands between him and them as the boy pees. He ushers his son out, turning back to spit. “You should be ashamed. Fucking whore!” A flicker of inborn shame at the curse. This is a good man. His watch gleams on his wrist, his shirt is starch white and shoes new, uncolored. He is unused to curses, to dirty things. He calls himself a good man. He ducks out the door and into the winter’s night.

He leans against the wall, breathing slow. The girl is crying. Fat liquid tears rolling down. He pushes her down. She tries to stop him. He catches her hands and holds them. Pulls her shorts aside, pushes himself in. She weeps, grips the edge of the urinal. Her nails are painted aquamarine blue.

It’s over quickly. She slumps down, curling on the floor, rocking.

He looks at himself. He is wet, slick with her. The water of love. He tucks himself back into his pants, zips up, reaches into his pocket for the little parcel. He tosses it to the floor and she closes her hands around it, clutching it close to her body. She coughs, a grotesque cough from way down in the throat. He leaves her there.

He goes out into the cold. The snow has stopped and the world outside is eerily still. The only sounds the far off murmur of the highway and the crunch of snow under his boots. He climbs into the cab and his truck rumbles back to hot life. Lights spill out. He puts it in gear and pulls back out onto the highway.

He drives. Hours of silence. Night breaks and azure dawn rolls out across the sky. He drives. The familiar road signs come up on him through the morning fog, like something out of a dream.

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