SUBJ: MISS U / WEIRD [EXCERPT]
and my first thought was do not acknowledge, this is going somewhere, let’s just stop ok. (?) i like looked at my phone. he had a stringy ponytail and big, waxy cheekbones. later i saw that his pupils were pale and sharp, like a razor-cut circle where the black bled in…well it was dark! in fact i was in a great mood. she was late and i when i wait for girls i wait at the bar so i was drinking beer from a plastic cup, just on the brink of is this going to ruin the night or what? it was humid, it was crowded. waiting. he could have been there all along.
I HAVE COME FROM THE DESERT
i’m like hehe giggle. partly i’m noticing the thing with the eyes and partly i am trying to concentrate on my sex fantasy. remember i wanted to try whips? she’s good.
A EIGHTY DAY GIG IN THE DESERT
i can’t even describe what his voice is like. (was like?) except like he should have been dead, and he looked our age.
suddenly i’m like, is it he or she? and then a voice in my head (your voice?!) is like, is he or she attractive?
yes, he says, yes, a eighty-day gig. yes, he says, yes, honey, eighty, not forty, eighty, yes, it was eighty days.
he was drinking a bud. which i found funny. big shoulders, dirty jacket.
not any desert honey a bad desert. a skeleton, the pelvic bone. in the desert a terrible thing happened, hence i had the gig, i.e., a terrible thing had happened to the people that lived there. disease. maybe you heard. these are ordinary Americans. what do they want with a disease? you get it you go to hell. is their opinion. fast-forward: it’s an epidemic. they hire an asshole like me to drive around in a van and do gum swabs. piss cups. mostly i take blood.
you’re wondering do you fuck in the van. i can assure you it’s everything you’d expect.
do you ever think, how bad could it get? all this KNOWN is making me SICK. (he looked at me with his thin eyes. he slammed a big fist on the bar. the cups flapped. from the dark, people were looking at him, or were they looking at me, right through him. he slammed his fist on the bar again.)
i love kids, he said.
i don’t have a girlfriend.
my question is in this world how do you even start.
one day a kid came into the truck to get tested and she kept coming back and one day i said you can’t keep coming like this and then she said, what do you know, you’re fucking us over, and i pushed her off the truck i mean wrangled her and this was not easy, she was clumsy but big, she was not weak, and then she ran away like a kid runs away, and after that i was cursed.
i thought to myself was she possibly a gypsy.
it is a cursed silver desert unlike other deserts. the trees of the desert are like the beards of old dead men, silver, and the sand is cursed.
i’m talking some Aryan shit.
there are nice parts. swabbing the skin with the alcohol, the inner arm, that’s nice. there’s a slight tensing. the alcohol makes the skin cool. you chat, you feel for the vein. out the back of the van it’s hot, and bright, and there’s a line, good folks shading themselves with the pamphlets, or they hide under the mall awnings, or it’s slow and the street is dead.
or how the needle slips in and the blood rushes up just—right.
it’s not good reading the results. even when it’s good it’s not good.
after i threw the girl out for a day nothing happened. then i noticed the birds. odd birds, red spots, not desert birds.
the first day it’s routine. she wanted all three tests. okay, she’s young, but i’m not a caveman, i’m a medical professional. she’s old enough to be sexually active. i give her the rap. i swab her and stick her and label her sample and i give her the juice and the crackers and tape her and out she goes. i need another beer.
the rapid was negative. i said in a week she can pick up the rest.
next day for a minute i don’t even notice. it’s not even i’m doing so many a day. mostly it’s driving. then it’s the way she fills out the form, the way she curls her hand around the pen to hold it. she looked like an ordinary kid though odd. i said, didn’t i see you yesterday.
she ignored me.
your results aren’t ready yet, i said. nonetheless i gave her all three tests again. she had good veins.
next day i saw her a mile off. in line, i mean, it was a busy day, i was trying to hold this old geezer still and he was high as a kite and i’m like, this has gone too far. Okay, Miss, i say, when she’s up in the van and it’s her turn. we’re face to face. This isn’t the movies. i was parked outside Century 6, was my point.
i’d like to minimize my risk, she says.
next in line? i call. but the woman behind the kid wasn’t waiting for me, she was picketing me for Jesus. the line was gone. i should have known then it was serious.
so i said fine, but just one. she picked blood. i took it. i said pick it up in a week. she still had the scar and the bruise on each arm so i had to find a new spot.
but she came back the next day, and then twice in one day, and again.
at a certain point i said no more blood. fine, she said, fine, i’ll piss.
till i pushed her off.
when i was done i brought in the sandwich board. i retracted the steps and pulled the doors shut and got lost. i decided to go to the salon. you go where people like to go. plus the girls at the salon liked me.
you are wondering why i picked you to tell. honey don’t trouble yourself. you’re meeting somebody. you’re young.
(how old are you? i said.)
the local paper did not run stories. the national paper ran stories. not flattering. deformed babies, was the implication, lumpy-headed babies on the hips of teen moms, these teens quote unquote prostituted by fatter, older women who were themselves sucking dick for a drug the reader, dear reader, has not even heard of. and the men well you know men.
or later, much later, a faucet i turned on and spiders came out. brown spiders. white spiders. running. her curse.
and i can never get wireless.
nobody outside the salon thought they were sick so i figured i’d go in and chat. i had my hand on the door, that’s when i saw her, the kid. her feet in the soak tub. her hands getting painted by Pansy and Bev. her head tilted back with a blue gel mask on her eyelids, which was surprising. i pulled my hand back like if i kept holding onto the door it would take me too.
what happened was she was trying to push her way into the van. i had said no. i had explained. it was especially hot and the few trees in town had shed this fluff, it was a sticky wind. she was shoving. Miss, you can’t. Miss, there’s hazardous equipment in there. but she punched and clawed. her arms were crowded with scabs, gauze, neon tape. i attempted to block her, i couldn’t, so i took her by the shoulders and shoved her off. she stumbled, she came back, gauze popping out. she tall, and heavy. her elbows were heavy. I tried to grab her around the middle, she kicked my groin. she began to yowl. when i grabbed her arms the skin was hot, and rougher than the skin of the inner arm, where the needle goes, and sticky, and it pushed back against me.
this isn’t how things are supposed to work, she said. the customer is always right.
i thought about it. the test is free, i said.
i was standing on the retractable steps and she was standing on the curb. she had fallen on her ass. i was afraid i had hurt her, throwing her off like that. then she got up. we were both breathless. behind her people were going in and out of the movies. now and then you could feel the air conditioning. the geezer was walking in circles by the coming attractions.
you can’t take me with you, she said.
i had been seriously considering it.
i am mortally tied to this place, she said. i’ll make babies and die here. jk. but i bet where you’re from sucks.
how old are you?
how old are you?
it’s the same everywhere, i said, and we both knew that was a lie, and it was clear to us that this did not help.
one of her eyes was slightly bigger than the other. she was sunburnt.
you’ll probably never feel safe, she said. well, good luck with that.
as i said, i believe she was a gypsy.
the best day, the one good day, was my second day. i saw a yellow horse by a blue stream. i went to a church supper, and the people said they were happy to see me. you could tell they had been taught to say that. still, they were glad to see me. we ate potluck off dixie plates. i was afraid it would be different after they had their tests. but they had their tests and afterward they held each other and touched my hand and said they were glad i had come.