The Things We Do
We’re lying in bed, breathing, when he claims the third of the three pillows—right before he falls asleep, right after we finish doing it. We have one each, and one lodged between us as a kind of compromise, but he pulls it out and smushes it under his head and starts doing those little fake snores that come right before real ones.
“Hey,” I say.
“Mmm babe,” he says.
“Where did the pillow go?”
“You know I need it,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of dreams to prop up tonight.” He looks over at me with sad hamster eyes, so I soften and say, “Okay.”
Actually, what I really I say is, “What are you going to dream about?” but right at that moment his breath changes cadence and he’s gone, so I think he takes it as an “okay,” is what I’m saying.
It takes me a long time to fall asleep. Every time I start to slump off, my arm drifts over and instead of downy feathers it brushes against clammy, furred skin. I know it’s rude to shudder, so I hold all the nerve endings in my body tight between my fists, and concentrate on the in and out of my breath.
Eventually, I start to dream. In the dream, I’m swimming in a highly chlorinated pool with a creature that is part dolphin and part squirrel. It keeps nudging a brightly colored ball in the air and goosing me with the tip of its tail.
When I wake, he’s pressed hard against me from behind, his penis wedged between my thighs.
The sun is shining, so I get out of bed, ready to feel good, and make us heaped bowls of yogurt and toasted sunflower seeds and sliced strawberries arranged in cartoon Valentine hearts.
There’s only one spoon, though.
My mother told me it was a mistake to have an ill-stocked cutlery drawer, and I didn’t listen, and now it’s breakfast time.
Still, I bring the spoon to the table and place it between the bowls and smile at him like Lady in Lady and the Tramp. I have visions of a slithery pasta highway connecting the lonely service stations of our lips, but instead of spaghetti it will be yogurt, and instead of a highway it will be a fierce and passionate river.
Except he picks up the only spoon and starts shoveling his own breakfast into his own mouth, and my lips sit there alone, long-distance lorry horns blaring.
“Aren’t you having any?” he says, and I know how lonely it is to eat alone, so I sculpt my hand into a small digger and lift handfuls to my mouth, smiling, licking my nails erotically.
“Why are you eating like that?” he says.
“It’s macrobiotic,” I say.
He grunts, and pushes the bowl away with a clatter.
I know that all he needs is a little encouragement, so I tell him that if he wants to join me at my therapy appointment at eleven, we can spend a little more time together.
“I know we’ve only known each other for a night,” I say. “But I think it’ll be good for us.”
“I don’t have problems,” he says, but he comes with me anyway. After we talk about the biases of the music industry against men with guitars and the hardships of gentrification, he climbs onto my therapist’s knee and starts licking her earlobe.
“Sometimes I wonder if it’s wrong to try to force intimacy too soon,” I say.
“Mmmm,” says my therapist.
“Do you think maybe that’s my problem?” I ask.
My therapist unfastens the top three buttons of her starched white shirt. He starts sucking on the skin just above her collarbone, and she bounces him on her knee like Santa.
“When I’m alone, I just feel like I want a body close to mine,” I say. “But as soon as I get that, I start questioning everything. Do you think I might be sabotaging myself?”
When he pulls away, the hickey pulses like a huge purple leaf on some rancid jungle plant.
“Listen,” my therapist says. “Sometimes we all have to help ourselves, you understand?”
On our second date, we go to play mini-golf. I’m calling it our second date, but I guess it could just as easily be our first (if you don’t count me taking him home from the bar) or our third (if you count the therapy session). I’m supposed to be being kind to myself, so:
On our third date we go to play mini-golf. I’m pretty good at mini-golf, if I say so myself, which I don’t.
“I have terrible aim,” I tell him, and I hit the ball hard and careless. It shoots into the windmill, leaps into the air, performs a triple pike, and plops into the hole.
“Beginner’s luck?” I say.
He doesn’t reply, but I can tell he’s mollified by the way he sways his hips on the way to the hole. Until he hits the ball off the base of the windmill four times. Five times. Eight. “This fucking golf club,” he says.
“Do you want to use mine?” I offer.
“Oh sure,” he says, but he just shoots me a withering look and doesn’t take it, so I reach into the base of my chest and snap out a rib.
“Try this.” The bone is wet and tangled with something that looks a bit like intestine, but I figure it’s at least sturdy and, you know, maybe it’ll help?
He takes it between his fists and mimes three golfer’s swings, swooshing through the air like Tiger Woods. It’s cute. I start making a growl in the back of my throat but when I see his shoulders tense, I turn it into a cough. This time, the ball goes straight through.
“Congratulations!” I say. “Hey, if I was a dude, I could give myself blowjobs now.” At least, it’s supposed to come out like that, but the blood is gurgling up a little in my throat, and it sounds more like “gnughh gung blobjoth.”
But I know he’s thinking about me and blowjobs now, so maybe we’re on our way.
We go for ice cream at a little stand covered in fake plastic palm trees. He orders mint chocolate chip, mango, bubblegum, and tiramisu, all in the same cone, and I have a banana scoop with rainbow sprinkles.
“That’ll be $25,” says the man in the stand. I look at him for a beat, and he points at the sign. “Bubblegum’s organic.”
I don’t want to spoil the nice time we’re having, so I pay, and we go and sit on some plastic beer crates to eat our ice creams. It’s delicious, but the dripping from the hole in my stomach is getting heavier, and I look to see a puddle of yellow and rainbows and blood oozing over my feet. It’s giving off a sickly and synthetic odor, and before I can explain anything, a pug with a smushed-up little face rushes over and starts licking my toes. The pug is breathing like a pervert and it makes me feel awkward, so I let my nice-girl drop for a moment and shout, “Hey!”
The pug looks up at me for a second, snorts, and takes my big toe in its wet, toothy mouth.
“What’s your dog doing?” he says.
“Well, he seems to like you,” he says.
“I don’t have my period,” I say. “I know they say dogs are attracted to period blood, but this isn’t that.”
Just then, a swarm of wasps arrive and start buzzing like TV white noise around the hole in my guts.
I’m starting to feel a little light-headed as we walk by the canal.
“Listen,” I say. “Do you want to come back to mine?”
“Now?” he says. “What about the art opening?”
I can’t remember him talking about an art opening, but maybe I’ve been distracted by the blood and the wasps and the day’s activities. I can’t quite remember if I’m allergic to wasps, so it’s not impossible that I’d forget about a gallery, is what I’m saying.
“Is it close?” I say.
“Sure,” he says.
We walk on the same path for three hours, as the canal becomes an industrial wasteland and the swans become haggard cripples pacing in green goo and a flock of crows start congregating on the electricity wires. I want to tell him about collective nouns for birds but all I can remember are the bleak ones—a murder, a conspiracy, an unkindness—and it feels like that would kill the mood, so we walk in silence.
We arrive at a dirty little shack with fluorescent lighting seeping out into the night. We squeeze our way through a flock of people congregated at the door with paper cups and cigarettes, talking loudly around a six-foot tinfoil sculpture of a penis.
The man at the door takes one look at my stomach and shakes his head. “Can’t come in here with that,” he says.
“What?” I say.
“Health and safety.” He shrugs, and makes a noncommittal face.
“I guess I’ll see you later then,” says my date, leaning up on his tiptoes and waving at someone in the room. I take a deep breath, but then he turns back to me, and for a moment his face is as warm and as open as springtime.
“Oh hey,” I say, and smile that big Tina Turner smile I’ve been practicing.
“Do you have a cigarette?” he says. “I know, I know. I gave up. But you know how it is.”
I hand him my packet of Gauloise, and when he fumbles around for a light I take pity on him and start rubbing my hand viciously against my thigh. It takes a while, but eventually the friction sparks and my jeans light up in a small whump.
He bends down and lights the tip of his cigarette, and as the flames lick at the edges of my crotch, I know that I’ll remember this moment forever.
Getting back takes even longer than getting there. I think about calling a taxi, but then I remember I spent all my money on ice cream, and I could offer the taxi driver a blowjob for the ride, but the truth is I’m not feeling so confident about my abilities of seduction right now, so I just keep on walking.
Finally, I get to my house. It smells funny, and I realize the yogurt I left out of the fridge has curdled and become a new home for a colony of ants. They’re swarming all over the kitchen worktop and there’s an ant pyramid apexing at the door to the fridge, and I have a sudden vision of randy ants writhing around in the butter and the leftover spaghetti Bolognese.
My mother always told me I should seal things up in Tupperware, but I didn’t listen.
Anyway, I’m hungry, but I don’t feel like dealing with them right now, so I go through to the bedroom and lie down. The bed smells like him—of spunk and seawater and old mince—and there are two pillows on the wrong side.
I realize my stomach is still leaking a wet oozy mess, and I don’t want to stain the bedsheets any more than they’re already stained, so I take the third pillow and rip it open with a pair of pinking shears and pull out all of the fluffy white goose feathers.
There’s just the right amount to fill the hole in my stomach, and when I stitch it closed with a length of neon green dental floss, it looks kind of great. Punk, actually. I think about putting on a second coat of lipstick and going out dancing, but truth be told, the bed feels kind of great too.
I lie down delicately on my side, being careful not to disrupt my stitches, and pull the second pillow between my thighs.
As I start humping, the leftover feathers rise up into the air and start swirling, and it’s like being trapped inside a magical tropical flamingo snow globe. I get faster, and harder, and before I know what’s happening, I’m screaming FUCK at the top of my lungs. FUCK and FUCK and FUCK YOU. The words all rise up into the air like flocks of birds—a murder, a conspiracy, an unkindness—and I barely notice when I bite my tongue.
When I fall asleep, it is instant and dreamless and no dolphins come to me in the night. In the morning, I’ll clean out the fridge and kill the ants and buy Tupperware. Maybe even a second spoon. I’m going to sort my life out. I’m going to sleep later than I have in a while.
Jane Flett is a philosopher, cellist, and seamstress of most fetching stories. Her poetry features in the Best British Poetry 2012 and is available as a chapbook, Quick, to the Hothouse, from dancing girl press. Her fiction has been commissioned for BBC Radio, performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and published in PANK, Word Riot and wigleaf‘s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions. She is one half of the riot grrl band Razor Cunts and the poetry editor for Leopardskin & Limes.