‘You can’t do that!’
Her teeth halt their gliding into the hard yielding flesh of a beeswax candle, eyes curious, wide open, searching. Drool slips down the side of her mouth, and drops with a hand-clap splash onto the floor. Her jaw loosens its grip and she slurps the spit, and swallows.
‘I can’t?’ Asking in the wake of the voice, though it sounds more like ‘A ant?’, because the candle never left her mouth.
‘No-o!’ Comes the answer with a little surprise in the young man’s voice. ‘I’m pretty sure anyway.’ This last addition gives him away. He doesn’t work here.
She relaxes and meets his eye. Her teeth sink all the way through and the candle snaps in two inside her mouth. ‘Oh’, she says. She spits the pieces out into her hand, slothfully scouring her mouth with her tongue for rogue pieces of wax, which come out through her lips in a thick slime. Like broccoli from a kid’s mouth. She then unloads it all into his hand, and passes to other things. The young man’s awe fades, as he watches her disappear into another aisle. He looks down.
‘What is thiiis!?’, he says, louder with every word, as he wakes up to the mess in his hand. Like when an itch becomes a spider. ‘Whaa.. Who does that?!’ Dropping the candle slime onto the counter, nauseated, but mostly also perturbed. He shakes his head, dismissing the thought, dismissing the girl, and eventually, he is able to carry on with his shopping. Only his eyebrows are the lingering proof of his indignation. What an odd thing to do. He walks through the aisles, listlessly, unable to concentrate on the task at hand. Unaware of his wandering eyes. Like watching murder on the news. His mind needs a who, a why. He watches from a distance as the young woman saunters aimlessly, her hand blindly grazing all objects on their way, upsetting careful symmetries of pencils, pens, markers, brushes, and turns the corner into another aisle. His mind returns to him as he encounters that which he had come to purchase. 18’’x24’’, 16’’x20’’, or go all out and make it small, 11’’x14’’. He couldn’t decide, and why hadn’t he asked what size would best suit the project, and whether it mattered? When had he ever been happy? His eyes still periodically scanning for the whereabouts of that weird girl. He then catches sight of the display of off-white canvases, and totally gives up. He grabs two of the first ones his hand falls onto, resolves to keep the receipt for, not ‘if’ but ‘when’, he would be sent back to the store, and is about to leave but thinks twice. He looks down at the 16’’x48’’ canvases he ended up with. ‘If’ was better than ‘when’. At least he would try. At least. On his way back, he crosses the half-profile of the young woman chewing on an eraser at the end of an aisle. One of the thick brown smearing erasers too, and his gums start to tingle, tickled by the proposed softness, the squeaky resistance, the yielding flesh, the chewy tastelessness. His teeth clench.
‘No!’, he can’t help but yelp through the aisle, angry at himself, and surprised at hearing his voice so loud. He also points his finger at her, or at least that’s what he feels he does. Her eyebrows raise in lazy surprise. He pays for the 16’’x32’’s or whatever the hell they were, and leaves. His angershame ringing in the bell above the door, though its stiff hinges and probable foam lodged in the door frame, don’t allow for the slam he intended.
‘Yes!’ He walks swiftly to his room, ditching the frame on the couch, next to his indignant father, and closes the door of his room, this time with a much-needed slam.
At least here one can think. The soundproof privacy. The intimacy of a small room. No one would even know I’m in here. This is my time. No one can yell at me. No one can… god that girl was weird. I hope she doesn’t go to that art thing too. They’d probably kick her out for licking the paint! Dad would lose it. Oh! he would lose it. And we’d all get kicked out because of her. At least my shame is private. I keep my shame from the ears of others. The silence is so obsolete that the sound of my shame is all there is. It fills the air and reigns undisturbed. And I’ve slowly grown fond of it.
On Tuesday, he returns the canvas. His teeth clench as he enters the aisle, and the memory of her. Who does that, he thinks, shaking his head again, withholding a smile. And still shaking his head, he steps out of the store and sets off down the street. What if everyone acted that way? He nearly trips on his thoughts, and luckily so, for he was heading straight for an intersection, although the light was actually turning red, and he might conceivably have made it safely. He whisks the thought outside of his mind, with a brush of his purposefully ungainly hair. He doesn’t care. The world and his father might as well judge. He is free to dress as he likes, free to do what he wants, and feels a rush of emotion as he reminds himself of this.
‘Hey!’ That’s all he unexpectedly says, for he is speaking to the window of a bulk store. Blinking a few times to make sure she is actually outside his mind. ‘Hey!’ Again he stays brief in his convocation, as he struggles in confirming that indeed she is outside his mind, inside the bulk store. At it again, he thinks. Hooligan!, he thinks. Someone ought to, he thinks, looking down the street, empty for the Tuesday that it was. I ought to, he thinks, though at first he fails to. Breathing to the sky, and with a hand inside his tangled ordered hair, he walks assuredly into the store.
She freezes. Her right hand is forearm deep in cocoa nibs, wiggling deeper, and her left, in couscous, doing the same. At his shout, the wiggling ceases. Her neck dips, and her shoulders rise, but already the voice begins to ring familiar. Then she recognizes it. Pfffoooush.. she exhales with her shoulders, not acknowledging the young man’s presence. The wiggling resumes, and she closes her eyes to the two different scraping against the back of her fingers, the prickling and the smooth against the palm of her hands.
‘Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to behave?’ He wasn’t prepared for this, so those are the words he utters. Then, he just waits. Stares at her back until she gets bored. She is dressed as the day before of course. Her style could not easily be identified, but by exactly that feeling of yesterday’s clothes. The dress she wears sways above bruised legs and her feet aren’t much cleaner than you would expect for the worn Birkenstocks she wears. She withdraws her hands. The pleasure was gone. That’s right, he thinks in answer to the delayed reaction to his authority and presence. The girl looks down the aisle and feels a swoop of lazy boredom sway through her limbs. So she turns, fully facing the young man. Her traveling stare does not fully acknowledge his presence. His eyes get lost in her eyes and, for a minute, he too stares at himself. He is beautiful, with his new and clean version of what you would find at a thrift store. His neatly trimmed ‘yesterday’s regrowth’ facial hair. When his eyes find his hair, he sees a hand in it. The fingers splayed, and gliding forward. He closes his eyes on the pleasure. Reaches up and interlaces his fingers. His hair feels stiff. It feels dry. Craach craach craach. And also, there is that upsetting sound. Craach craach craach.
The wasabi peas are cracking loud in the amphitheater of her open mouth. Ooooh, she vocalizes, and holds her nose against the mustardy sting. Ooooh, and she sneezes green. And again. His eyes are open and staring at her down the aisle. Both his hands are inside a spaghetti bin, digging. His cheeks flash swedish berry candy red, and he looks away so she won’t see. On his way out, he tells the cashier about the girl, sampling in aisle 3.
‘And if you use the other tip of your brush you can re-create the lines of texture by scratching the fresh paint out of the way.’
It was his dad’s stupid idea to do an art workshop. Neither had ever painted before, so their attempt at Edvard Munch’s Scream reflected just about exactly how they both felt about their attempt at rekindling their relationship through new and positive experiences. When his dad punches a hole through the canvas with the butt of his brush, they both have to leave, because the teacher is not understanding just how much of an idiot she is, how Eddy Munch was a fraud and an amateur, and how much more of an idiot she is for thinking he wouldn’t write him an email about it!
His dad’s car has driven off before he reaches the parking lot. So he goes to the park and sits on a wet bench. It’s not a quiet park. A bunch of kids are kicking a plastic bottle against the plastic climbing wall. Their moms are on the phone. Am I the only sane person left in the world?, he thinks, clearly furious, and stands up, but then someone sits down next to him on the bench, so he stops.
‘Hey’, light and familiar-like.
‘Oh. It’s you. Shouldn’t you be somewhere…’, he steps over to the kids, grabs the bottle and chucks it in the trash, … ‘licking something’?
‘Can’t do that!’
‘So you’ve learned?’
‘No you. You can’t…’, she steps over to the trash, fishes out the bottle, and gives it back to the kids, …’do that’. She sits back down. The kids look at the bottle, and back at the strangers.
‘Whaaat? Sorry, I’ll have to call you back, the kids are fighting again. We’re leaving!’, she yells over. ‘You want to fuss? Let’s go.’
The kids look down at the bottle, the smallest one of the bunch kicks it towards the strangers on the bench, but it bounces off the curb of the sand pit, and lands short.
‘Come one let’s goooo’, the ‘o’ stretching out like the ‘a’ in lame.
‘Don’t forget your bottle!’, the girl shouts at them, laughing. One of the kids gives them the finger, and she barks.
‘Sweet kids’, she says, but when she turns around he is already walking away. ‘Hey you!’
‘I can tee-ell! Come back.’
He stops. He shouldn’t have stopped. Because now he is in love, and he has to go face up to it.
‘We have to go.’
‘Why? We just got here.’
‘I’ll tell you on the sidewalk.’ She takes her coat, and leaves the Café. He follows her with his eyes until she is on the sidewalk, sidestepping back and forth like a child with a full bladder. He laughs, and shakes his head. Countering his annoyance with a quiet pride for his own patience. He puts his book into his backpack, picks up her forgotten gloves, and follows after her.
‘What is it?’
‘Mrrr’, she grunts and then whispers in confession, ‘I’ve got an itch’.
Where? I can scr…
‘No! You can’t just..’, her eyes begin to water. She takes his hand and drags him into the dollar store next to the Café.
She picks up a spatula from the utensil aisle, and hands it to him. But when she turns around to indicate the spot to him, she catches sight of a better tool. And then another. And another still. Until he is left holding a handful of miscellaneous items, while the itch remains unscratched. She disappears for a moment, and when she comes back, she is holding a sponge in her hand.
Why with a sponge?, he asks laughing, as he drops the mysteriously inadequate tools into a nearby bin.
‘I don’t know why with a sponge. Now would you please!’ She lifts the back of her shirt exposing the spot. ‘Softer!’
‘Yeah, softer. That’s it!’ And her sigh of relief is so loud that he blushes. When the deed is done, she pulls down her shirt.
‘Did it work?’, he asks.
‘Bah, not quite’, she says, and they both share a good laugh.
‘Do you have an itch?’, she asks.
‘Ok then, let’s go.’ She throws the sponge over her shoulder. And when she sees that he is about to pick it up, she yells: ‘Clean up in aisle four’, just for good measure; takes his arm, and runs out the door.
His basket is full, and he hasn’t seen her for a while. When he’d suggested they should go pick blueberries at his uncle’s farm, he had suspected she would probably eat them instead, or put them up her nose or something. So when he calls out her name, he isn’t wholly surprised to hear her voice coming from a greenhouse at the end of the field.
‘What are you doing?’, he speaks through the plastic sheet.
‘How do you get in here?’
‘Umm.. I don’t know.’
‘You better not have a blueberry up your nose!’
‘What? No! Come here!’
He walks to the end of the greenhouse, and steps through the many overlapping plastic sheets of the entrance. Then out of the blue, a blueberry comes hurtling towards him, and hits him in the eye.
‘What? Why!’ He hears her laughing her lungs out in the corner, and shouts: ‘That better not have come from your nose!’
‘Yahahes!’, she wheezes.
‘Oh-ho no you didn’t!’
‘What are you doing in here?’
‘Oh right!’, she sobers up. ‘Come here.’
They step through the tomato vines hanging from the ceiling, him rubbing his eye, her scanning the ground. They stop in front of two rotten tomatoes on the ground.
‘Take your shoe off.’
‘What? No! I know what this is. I don’t want any part of it!’
‘Take it off.’
‘Off!’, she bends down and takes it off for him.
‘Now step on it.’
‘This is your thing.. I don’t…’
‘SQUISH IT!’ She is screaming at him now. So he does. Squish it. And the rotten skin yields immediately and the warm juice fills the space between his toes. And his love slips through the tight grip he holds it under and spills into the warm humid air. When he looks over, she is squishing too. And he has never felt it as acutely as in that moment. Squishing each other’s hearts to a warm, wet, sour smelling mulch. She takes his hand.
And then he feels the warm flesh of another tomato sliding between their interlaced hands. He looks into her eyes, and him into hers, and the juice begins to trickle down from their fingers.
Then she asks him: ‘Why do you like me?’
And so he decides it is time. They leave the blueberries there in their baskets, and one foot bare, one shoe in hand, they walk to his car. They drive in silence. All the way to his dad’s place. He tells her to wait outside while he makes sure no one is home. A moment of doubt creeps into him like a chill. But it is too late now, they are already inside the WC. She enters first. He shuts the door behind her. The air seems to swish out, whisking all sound along with it. The silence is made obsolete by the egg cartons lining the walls, the foam around the door, the carpet. Not a word is spoken, unable to break a silence so complete. Like two ants inside a drop of water. She moves aside, and he passes by her solemnly. In a fluid movement, he takes off his pants and goes about his messy business. The sounds of his shame fill the air.
She reaches over and takes his hand.