Your eyes are two different colors. Heterochromia, you tell me. I tell you I like that word and you ask what other words I like. Cartographer I say. And I tell you I can draw a map to you. There are a lot of men here and I can drink wine I say when you ask me what I am talking about, what I am doing. I put my glass on the table and take a pen from my purse, grab a stiff hay-colored cocktail napkin from the top of the stack. I draw a small skull and crossbones, a fat heart, the outline of Kentucky—a crazy jagged, pointed elf’s shoe with no foot. Something that is almost nothing. You ask me what it means and I tell you I forgot the X so I draw it. Write YOU ARE HERE underneath. Then I cross everything out one by one and throw the napkin away after I kiss it and finish the rest of my wine. You are slightly buzzed. I can tell by the way you don’t shake your head when you tell me I am a piece of work. And the “c” sound in the word “piece” doesn’t snake out as slick as it should. It sounds like your tongue tripped and stumbled out of a thick, rustling bush at night with its eyes closed, its hands straight out in front of it, feeling for anything.
We’ve met before. No one is surprised when we leave the party together and walk and walk and walk. The neighborhood smells like everyone’s laundry and dinner. Our arms reek of peppery-lemon citronella, stolen sprays from the bottle of DEET-free bug repellent by the back door. This neighborhood is rife with mosquitoes I warned you. And I know where we are going. I am leading you to wet grasses and backyard clover. We lie watching the evening clouds and listening as if we can hear them click into place, watch the curved world shift from simmering-sunset light to firefly light. Moonlight, starlight when you devour me like I am a sweet, little cake—worship me like I am a cooling token in your hot-hot hand or a prehistoric translucent-winged insect in a perfect square of warm, clear amber. Something you could slip a string into and wear around your neck for good luck. Tonight I am your amulet, the bundle of snapped branches long burned white.
Our first official date isn’t even a date, it’s a science experiment you say when you’re as sober as a kitten. We fell asleep in the vegetable garden. I don’t know what time it is and I don’t care. I tell you I hate science and shrug when you ask if you can see me again. Smile when I say stay here because you are seeing me now. You are slipping a flower behind my ear when I tell you I’m hungry. We go inside my house, clatter in the kitchen. I pull a white paper box of chicken from the refrigerator. I wilt spinach and green onions in a cast-iron skillet. We sit across from one another, under the gauzy-white low-hanging kitchen table light. We clink and drink unsweetened iced tea with the little lemon bars I made the night before. Baking as therapy I say. My ex-husband has a new wife and our son is with them for the weekend. I tell you my son’s hair is like blackbird feathers and I hook my thumbs to make bird wings with my hands. How am I drunk when I only had one glass of wine? I laugh but we both know I am not drunk, I am sad. And tonight those words can mean the same thing. So can man and friend. Kiss and talk. We use our mouths and tongues for both of them, don’t we?
Your phone rings and I’m sure it’s your wife. Sure you’ve been lying about everything. You answer and I turn away from you, an attempt at gifting you a private moment. I think again and get up from the table entirely, take our dishes to the sink, wash them by hand. The faucet water sounds like rain.
It’s your daughter you say. She needs a ride. She got in a fight with her mom. They do this all the time. This is what they do. I better go get her. They always end up scratching each other. You make a small claw with your hand, scratch at the air. You tell me you were never married. You tell me your daughter is very thirteen. You slip your phone back into your pocket when you say it, slip your hand in too. I say you can drive my car and when we get downtown, the sun is coming up. Your daughter has been crying and her long, wet eyelashes look like black butterfly wings behind the slight lens magnification of her thickish red-framed glasses. She is beautiful and short and brown. Zaftig. You tell her, I’m your friend, I let you drive my car. You drive it to your place and when we go inside you make a big pot of coffee. I drink it black out of an auto body shop mug. I never drink it black but I don’t want to bother you by mentioning soy milk and stevia because you don’t seem like the kinda guy who has heard of either and I like that. You point at the mug and tell me you used to work there. I look closely at the design and see your name at the bottom written in white cursive. Above it, there is a drawing of a half-naked woman with huge pointy tits. She is resting on the crushed bumper of a broken car. It’s so stupid it makes me laugh and makes you laugh too. Your daughter comes out of the bathroom and says she’s going back to bed but then she asks what’s so funny. We try to explain it but it’s not funny anymore. Our laughter swings down slowly, like a feather to the floor. You hug her and kiss her head and I tell her goodbye, that I hope I see her again soon. Maybe. I say I like your dad without really meaning to, like stubbing my toe.
I finally walk onto the porch to leave and you hold the mug out for me. Tell me to keep it. I hug it to my chest like it’s a sick baby bird. You ask if you can kiss me and I say why do men ask—either do it or don’t. And you say you are a gentleman, that you are only being polite and I say we’ve already kissed and like, done things, so I don’t know if it counts anymore. I whisper yes, gentleman, please kiss me. You do. You kiss me with the deliberateness of carefully pouring acid from one beaker to another—the slightest mistake and we could have a Situation. This chirping summer morning, ever so surely our catalyst.
When I get home I text hey you left your socks. You write me back wow I didn’t realize I took them off and ask if you can call me later. I write yes, gentleman. I tell you I will take off all of my clothes and put on your striped socks and sleep in them to keep them warm. You send me a word you like. Erstwhile. I send you summer afternoon.
Photo By: r. nial bradshaw