What You Aren’t Most
In the sepia twilight, shuffling past crude signs advertising sex in every flavor but love, he came to her. She helped him off with his sweat-soaked shirt, filthy slacks, and mud-caked boots; lay him on the mattress, and climbed atop.
“The factory is closing,” he said, laying spidery hands across the accordion of his rib cage.
She shrugged, letting the faded rayon slip fall off her shoulders.
‘Jesus,’ he thought. ‘Would you look at her? All bones. Not a scrap of meat on her. Just a mop of hair, toothpick neck, giant God-damned nipples, and that sad little bush of hers. Just pieces, glued down on bone.’
“What are you going to do?” he asked her.
“What do you mean?” He always forgot how young she was until she spoke, little adolescent voice.
“Factory’s closing. Not much work here after that.”
She said nothing, just guided him into her, all business. Like a joint-fitter, linking two pipes. Nothing to it. He was in her: a cool, pink desert. Barely any sensation of human contact at all, just a sudden rocking of her shapeless, tiny ass against his balls. Silent, papery sex–dry and rasping, like two corpses rubbing together. Spongy eunuch friction. Looked up at her, saw an empty skin tent peering back at him, and almost lost his erection. He closed his eyes, dreamt of Maria’s soft warmth. Vast oceans between her legs, dark endless smoke behind her eyes. Orgasm came shortly, like water poured over salt, spilling all over his belly. She rose, all business, grabbed him a bowl of room temperature water and a rag, let him clean himself while she pulled her slip back on.
“That was nice,” he lied.
She lit a black cigarette.
He coughed. “I said ‘that was nice.'”
She blew smoke, smacked her lips.
He blushed, began slowly pulling his clothes on. “What will you do?”
“With the factory closed.”
She looked at him, then smirked. “I have a boyfriend who has said he will take care of me.”
“Does that surprise you?” she asked, dragging off her cigarette.
“What?” he stammered. “No! Of course not! A pretty girl like you? Oh, no…I mean, why wouldn’t you have a boyfriend?”
“Because I’m a whore,” she purred.
He stood up abruptly, lost his balance, fell back down. She chuckled. “Are you embarrassed?”
“Of…of what? Of course not!”
“You’re married, aren’t you?”
“That’s none of your business,” he snapped.
“I just told you I have a boyfriend,” she said, grinding out the remains of her cigarette. “Don’t worry. A lot of my tricks have wives. This isn’t a town for families. Just working men. I get it. You send money home to your little wife? I mean, whatever you don’t spend on whores. You send that home, don’t you?”
He coughed so hard she thought he’d throw up.
“It’s okay,” she said, lighting up another cigarette. “If the factory’s closing, you’ll be leaving. Going back home to your sweet little wife. These things happen.”
“Your boyfriend,” he sneered. “He know what you do for a living?”
She laughed, smoke shooting through her nose.
“And he still lets you kiss him, knowing what you do?”
She nodded, obviously amused. “Does your wife let you kiss her with yours? Knowing what you do, of course. Because your relationship, it’s so much more honorable than mine.”
He rose, successfully this time, reached into his pocket. “You know what, all I tried to do was be nice, you know? Let you know the factory was closing. Give you a head start or something. Advance notice, so you could move on.”
“That’s so sweet,” she said, nostrils flaring. Her words fell like ash. “Do you tell me you love me, next? That you just want to make sure I’m all right? That you care about my well-being, even after you’ve cum?”
He huffed, cheeks glowing. “I don’t need this. I was just trying to be, you know, trying to be–”
“Nice,” she finished. “I get it. Because ‘nice’ is the same as being ‘good’ to people like you. You can lie to your boss, drink away the money for your kids, get your friends fired, cheat on your wife; because you can always tell yourself how nice you are. How deep down, you’re really good people, because you’re so damned charitable when you’re not politely fucking each other over.”
“You’re crazy,” he said. “Here’s your twenty bucks. Spend it on a psychiatrist.” Rushed for the door.
“Tell your lovely wife I said ‘hello’!”
Night settled. He made his way past the aliterate signage, back to the main boulevard, and got in his truck. The streets were empty this time of night, so he made good time out of town. In twenty minutes, he was back on Route 8, only a few minutes from his house. By the time he reached home, he was crying, hands trembling. Skipped the front door, went directly around back to the dusty, weed-bitten yard.
“Maria,” he muttered. “So sorry, Maria. I’m just going to tell her–I’ll tell her, and I’ll tell her how sorry I am, and I, I, I…oh God…oh God, Maria, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
He repeated it like an evening prayer, long into the night, even as he collapsed into a weeping ball.
Beside Maria’s grave.