This book is hard to write. I've been working on it for at least a year, and I think I'm about half-done. I just hope the final work is coherent. Read chapters one, two, three, four, and five.
I get to work thirty minutes early, and Leslie rewards my initiative by having me stock the shelves with the new shipment of vibrators. I don’t know what he does with the old ones; mystery people must rush in as soon as I leave and buy them by the handful. A green cactus toy feels cool and smooth in my hands, like river-worn stone, and I can tell it’s a serious implement built for a serious purpose. It speaks to me, if you know what I’m saying. It whispers platitudes in a strong yet reassuring tone, and I don’t mind listening to the same old things as long as they are murmured with just the right amount of irony. The plastic tag speaks my language; it advertizes long battery life and water compatibility. I’m contemplating stuffing it in my purse when Leslie sees me eying it and suggests that I use my employee discount.
“I have an employee discount?” I ask.
“Ten-percent off. Fifteen-percent if you buy fifty dollars worth of merchandise.”
“Since the shipping company fucked up and sent me one-thousand vibrators I didn’t order.”
“Well they’re not produce,” I point out. “At least they won’t go bad.”
“Have you seen the stockroom? Christ, you can’t find anything in there. There’s fucking dildos coming out of the vents. I saw one moving the other day and just about had a heart attack. Somehow had turned itself on. It made a moaning sound.”
The door swings open and a group of teenage boys strut in, buffoonish grins on their three faces. One has acne all over his knobby face; the other two are hefty and brutish, with short, stout appendages. Leslie looks at them like they’re lepers.
“Let him know if he can help you with anything,” I tell them, moving toward the back room.
“Yeah,” says pimple boy, picking up a rubber dildo. “What are you supposed to do with this, exactly?”
“You can shove it up your ass,” says Leslie. “Or your friend’s.”
“Oh,” says the boy, his buddies snickering behind him. “Thanks for clearing that up.”
“Did you come in to mess with my merchandise or are you gonna buy anything?” asks Leslie. I shut the door before they answer.
“This is Jasmine speaking. What’ll be your pleasure?”
“I want you to eat me, lady.”
“Like, eat your asshole?”
“I want you to describe eating me. Like a sandwich. I am fitted in-between two toasted pieces of rye bread. I’ve been slathered in mayonnaise, and there’s a tomato bleeding all over my naked body. The cheese is Swiss, and it smells pungently footy. My head is sticking out of the sandwich, and I’m looking up at you. You are gigantic, like eighty feet tall. Your breasts hang like mountains; your hand, so elegant and soft, is reaching toward the sandwich. I look delicious, don’t I?”
“You look exquisite. I have a bottle of Chianti open, and I’ve just taken a large swig from it, in order to be prepared for my first bite of a man sandwich. You are so small, lying helpless between two burnt pieces of rye. I pick you up and hold you by my mouth, giving you a good look at my teeth, which are square and ivory and dripping with saliva. I’m hungry, you see. I am so hungry for my man sandwich.”
“Do I look like a man of authority, my limps dangling limply from in-between the two toasted pieces of rye?”
“Maybe if you weren’t so small, so tiny, so scrumptious. You look like food to me, honestly. You could scream and cry and fight and you wouldn’t be able to escape. I take a bite of your leg. It tastes raw and crunchy, and I get a little splinter of bone in-between my teeth. Your face has taken on an expression of reckless abandon. I think I spy tiny tears running down your cheeks.”
“You do. Those tears are genuine. They are the tears of a helpless morsel. I am in terrible pain, but it feels so sweet. My erection is trying to poke through the tomato that coats me with its juices. I cry for you to stop, but you can’t understand me. My voice is a pathetic squeak.”
“Your feeble protests mean nothing to me. I take the top piece of rye and lift it off to get to the tomato. I can’t stand tomatoes. I fling it off of you. You are covered in red slime. Your penis is like a tooth pick, disproportionally large for such a microscopic creature. I touch it with the tip of my tongue. You yell in your Lilliputian language, and I touch it again before biting off your other leg.”
“I am impatient now. I yearn to be devoured, to cook in your warm stomach juices. It’s like going back to the womb. Kronos consumed his children, fearful that they would overthrow him. I wish to go back to the beginning, to rest, to surrender my burden and perhaps be reborn.”
“I stuff the rest of the sandwich in my mouth greedily. I barely even chew as I swallow. I feel you going down my throat, sliding into my stomach. It’s so warm there, you’ll be comfortable. It’s dark but warm. I take another drink of Chianti, and the wine’s fine flavor mixes excellently with your savory aftertaste. I go to sleep thinking of you, of how you squealed, of how tiny you were. Warmth spreads from my torso down to my nether regions. I masturbate frantically. After I come, I fall to sleep immediately.”
“That was pretty good.”
“You think so? What about my picking off the tomato?”
“It was realistic. You don’t like tomatoes.”
“I really don’t. It’s hard to find an eatable one at the supermarket.”
“You should go to the farmers’ market. I buy great tomatoes there.”
“Like how many hippies are there, though? I try to stay away from hippies.”
“There’s a few hippies. But it’s not bad.”
“Thanks for the recommendation.”
“Oh no problem.”
“All right, Donald. What do you want to talk about?”
“My marriage. It’s in shambles, you know.”
“I recommended that you call a counselor. A professional, rather than me.”
“She just went on vacation with her mother. They went to New Zealand to visit one of her college friends. She sent me an email like six days ago. She said there were penguins there and could I believe it? That was the sum of her email. I told her that’s great, but I’m going to work now. I have a life to sleepwalk through. An hour drive through the wastes of never-ending corn and soybean fields, deer leaping out from the shadows, throwing themselves at my vehicle with reckless abandon. They want to die, the goddamn stupid things. I haven’t checked my email in a couple days. Maybe she won’t come back. Would I miss her, after a while? I don’t think so. She’s a negative person, by which I mean that she isn’t a person. There is little substance behind those cow-like eyes.”
“That’s a pretty terrible thing to say about someone.”
“You think I want to say these things to a marriage counselor? It’s the truth, though. That’s how I feel, at least after consuming a case of Keystone Light. I suspect I’ll feel worse by the light of day.”
“Maybe you should tell your wife that it isn’t working.”
“We have no children, no animals, but we do have a mortgage. That’s something to hold on to, right? A shared burden. I’m not the most attractive man anymore, you know. I’m thirty pounds heavier than I should be. My hair is turning grey. I leer at women like an old pervert, and I’m not yet thirty. I’m spent, that’s what I’m saying, Jasmine. I think I gave up long ago, and now all I do is wallow in my misery. When she speaks to me, I want her to get to the point. There’s no point to her babbling. I don’t care about the people you work with or who pissed you off or what you ate for lunch. Just get to the goddamn point. She doesn’t really like music. Have you ever met someone that doesn’t like music? She doesn’t like to read. Do you think she’s a person? You like music, don’t you? You have interests, no?”
“Everyone has interests.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
I lock up for the night. It is one o’clock a.m., and as I take the key out of the lock, I am greeted by the night song of train tracks and semiautomatic weapon fire. Sound carries in the valley, the noisy clatter of hard-fought lives being lived. The sidewalk is as uneven as a broken back. I fish a cigarette out of my pocket and stop to light it, wondering what lurks ahead on the long road to the bus stop. Every three steps, I find a crack. Maybe there is a code in there, hiding in plain sight, waiting for a real person to decrypt it. The sum of my work conversations weighs heavily in the forefront of my mind. Usually I am able to push out the strange and the unpleasant, or at least file them away for referencing in the clear light of day, but not tonight. Maybe I’m not a person. Well, maybe. If I’m a negative person, I wouldn’t know it.
Candy the stripper is waiting by the bus stop, arms crossed, a cigarette of her own smoldering in-between her red lips.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hello,” I reply.
“Another crappy night in shit city,” says Candy. She’s wearing a silvery shirt that sparkles in the lamplight like trout scales. I reach out and touch it, and it is cool on my finger tips, like it has spent time beneath a rushing mountain stream. Candy smiles. She’s not wearing as much makeup this time, and she is as beautiful as a model, standing in her heels on a broken street corner, waiting for the city bus and all of its miscellaneous entertainments to arrive.
“You’re pretty,” I tell her.
“Thank you,” she says, blowing smoke from her nostrils.
“So you ride the merry-go-round as well, huh?”
“The hobo shuttle. The deadbeat carriage. The circular express.”
“Did you make all of those up?” she asks.
“I certainly did,” I reply.
“You’re funny, Leona. Men like funny women.”
“What do we care what men like?”
“It makes me money knowing what men like, and you as well.” Her eyes sparkle like gasoline pooling on a wet street. I can't tell what color they are. They seem to be every color.
“Going home to your loving husband?” I ask.
“No, more work. The kind you do in front of a web cam.”
“What do you do in front of a web cam?”
“Fake masturbate. Moan and grab my breasts. Display my pussy. The usual. I have my own site. Here, I'll write it down for you if you're interested." She takes a pen and a receipt out of her purse and scribbles down a web address. "There are several free videos. The rest is subscription-based.”
“Are you making money?” I ask.
“A little bit. There's a lot of free porn available, but there's a market for a more personalized experience. I'm building a following. It's nice, you know, making money for yourself.”
“I'm sure.” I mull over why this woman wants me to see her naked and come to no satisfactory conclusion.