Erikas boyfriend was the only one I could see fucking. He had long thin limbs and big eyes like an insect. He was a waiter so he was always late to wherever we were gathered and she would warn us when he hadnt made any money. Hes in a bad mood, she would say. He would drink car bombs on those nights, and rest his chin in his hand, while I touched my cheek and attempted to make eye contact. I was prettier than Erika. Didnt it all boil down to this? The rest of the boys had small chins. I could look past their chins, and their DD-214s. But I could not look past everything. I didnt have the tools to crack them open.
* * *
The guy has an unkempt goatee and a large dog, the kind of dog that poor people steal. They wait in front of a house with a magnolia tree, its limbs heavy with blooms. My dog goes berserk. My dog is small and ill-mannered, black and white fluff, a belly full of poison oak. The guy says, My dog is friendly. His dog does not look friendly. It waits for a command, calm in the manner of something trained to kill. I say, My dog is not friendly. What I mean is, I am not friendly. Her breasts are very large, is what hes thinking. I wonder where she stays, is what hes thinking. Poor people always stay. They dont live. There are three dogs, unchained, swarming from the house opposite where we stand. They dart into the street and pull back like flames. A car comes fast over the hill. The weenie dog is almost hit. It is very exciting. The guy says, People shouldnt leave their dogs out like that, and hes right, it is a lot of dogs, too many dogs. I smile into the magnolia tree. Then I say, Come on, girl, and yank the shit out of my dogs neck.
* * *
She digs her nails into my arm and I let her because this is what she knows of love. You dont want to hurt me, do you? I ask and she nods her head yes. She shows me the scars on her legs, gifts from her daddy. Little nicks of missing skin, tiny craters. I let her leave her marks. Im the adult. Shes the child. But both of us want to see blood. She presses not quite hard enough to break the skin and stops, leaving crescents up and down my arm. Its not nice, I say. Is that nice, to hurt me? Yes, she says. Its nice. But then she runs her hand up and down, smoothing out the dents, trying to make them go away.
* * *
Frank went on a camping trip with his buddies and came back with a swastika carved into his chest. Frank did not hate Jews. Frank only hated himself.
He showed me the swastika at a party on New Years Eve. Id braced myself for the unpleasantness of the holiday, the build-up to nothing but cabbage and black-eyed peas. We were in somebodys mothers bedroom. I combed his hair with somebodys mothers hairbrush. He pulled the sweater over his head, dropped it to the floor. His chest was tan and muscled, the swastika red-rimmed. Crusted over. The problem with Frank was his outside. It was too beautiful. Only he could see how ugly he was.
Ive been rubbing it with this vitamin cream but I dont think its working.
Keep doing that, I said. Itll get better.
I picked up his sweater, held it to my chest.
I really fucked myself up this time, he said, shrugging like oh well. Then he sat down on the bed and lifted his arms so I could put his sweater back on.
* * *
We grill chicken, corn, sweet potatoes. There are only two of us but we cook for many more. You cut your toenails, drink ice water, eat popsicles. I drink beer, smoke cigarettes. The mosquitoes swarm. Marriage, I say: a death sentence. And then Beck comes on the XM Radio. You squeeze my arm and I ask if you want to have sex later and you say yes. You made a promise to God and everyone else, I used to say, before. But now I dont mention God. And I dont mention everyone else because theyre not here. Its just the two of us, in this house, and the dog in the backyard, awaiting our scraps.
* * *
Once Upon a Time, Bananas
Elizabeth came back and then she left and then she was back again.
It was the three of us at the kitchen table, empty except for a combination salt and pepper shaker and four madras placemats. Mother looked to me.
What is there to eat in this house?
Oatmeal, rice. Once upon a time there were bananas, a whole bunch of them, all yellow and shit.
Mother rolled her eyes. Elizabeth smiled. She was a drug addict, or else she was experimenting, we didnt know. I wasnt sure there was a difference. Mother told me shed smoked off and on for 20 years, could have a single cigarette with a beer just for funsies. We werent addictive people, was the point.
Later, Elizabeth and I split a 12-pack, stood in the mirror and lifted our nightgowns. We could still fit into the old ones. Her breasts had always been bigger but now they were smaller, comparable to common fruit. I said something derogatory about the size of her nipples and she called me fat and then we went into the kitchen to look for something else to drink. We took shots of whiskey and fell asleep in my bed with our backs to each other, woke up tangled.