Thing Can Move

Oscar and I disagree on poetry. I think that it is an outdated literary form and, well, he doesn’t. He once wrote a very long poem about an intense relationship he’d had with a German woman who lived at his father’s house one summer. The title was “Heart Mind Body” and it went on for a “Pale Fire”-like 999 lines. I read it twice – once quickly to experience the tone and feel of it, and once with the kind of detailed, word-by-word attention that my college professors used to devote to self-indulgent poems that didn’t deserve it. On the first reading I was just kind of lost, and on the second reading I noted references to the color of the grass along the Charles River in Boston, scathing indictments of the interference of foreign powers in Tibet and East Timor, a brief history of the decline of the iambic measure, and something about the view of the Rockies from a café in Denver. Parts of the poem were too opaque (“for your pedestrian, prosaic sensibilities,” said Oscar), and there were a couple of words I could not find the meanings of even in the OED (thrisendiforal, nerchaze).

“So, did you fuck her or what?” I ask.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that there’s a lot in there about a lot of stuff, but I was kind of expecting from the word body in the title that at some point you’d be boinking each other.”

“Could you possibly phrase it a little less demeaningly than that?”

“OK, sorry,” I say. “Let me try to be a little more objective. There is a lot here, Oscar, but I for one can’t see much about Monika – sexually, intellectually, or spiritually.”

It’s been more than a week since he’s called now, and I can’t really press him too much on this particular poem because – well, because though he is a soul mate whom I love deeply, the horrible truth is that about half-way through their relationship, one drunken July evening when Oscar was visiting his Christian sister in Alberta and his father was vacationing in Turkey, Monika and I “slept together” (are there any un-lame terms for this sort of thing?).

If only we had slept I would be able to look Oscar in the eyes for more than five seconds, as I used to do for endless hours when we’d talk about everything from the non-existence of God to the relative beauties of the fonts used on car name plaques. Now I have to make my points quickly with him, state my case, avert my eyes, and then listen to his reply while I am staring at my feet. Get in, get out.

Monika and I both accompanied Oscar and his father to the airport when they were flying off on their respective trips. We were in my old Prelude, Oscar driving, Monika’s hand cupping his on the stickshift, and Oscar was extolling the souped-up features of the car, technical things he’d learned from the previous owner, something about the engine, the exhaust, even something about the tires and the aerodynamics of the body.

“Thing can move,” he said.

We were all silent for a moment, until Monika looked over at him.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Think and move?”

On the way back from the airport I drove. Monika was silent until we got back to the driveway of the house.

“Alexander, what do you do tonight?” she said, the misplaced stresses and intonation giving the question an eerie tone.

“No plans, keine …,” I said, expecting her to supply the German.

“Will you join me for dinner? I can make something so we need not go out, if that pleases you. I am not liking to be alone.”

In the house she switched off the air conditioning and opened the huge sliding doors that led onto the deck. The bay was calm, a few windsurfers and sailboats in the distance, the sounds of a few straggling swimmers closer by.

She made gin and tonics for us (mine was at least a double) and by the time they’d been emptied and replenished (at least a triple this time) we were sitting at right angles on the couches, our feet up on the coffee table, touching occasionally when either of us laughed or moved suddenly.

“These drinks are going to my hair,” she said, and though I laughed at first (hitting her foot with mine accidentally, her asking “What is funny?”) I was finding that after one, two, some number of refills the gin was affecting my own damn hair as well, my whole body stupefied and aroused at the same time. I found myself just staring at her as she sipped, found that I had to work my way through a short but forgettable mental checklist every couple of minutes. Tick, what this woman’s name was. Tick, she was my best friend’s girlfriend. Tick, I shouldn’t try to seduce her.

Still on the couch, while we fitfully watched some show or other on TV, she shook those ringlets of hers and thanked me for teaching her the meanings of lame.

“Most people in my class knew it can mean handicapped but only I knew also the other meaning.” She paused. “Their vocabulary was pretty lame,” she said, and then laughed and looked at the TV again, some guy in a friendly sweater now reciting poetry or selling barbecues.

I moved closer and whispered more meanings to her, leaning over more closely than necessary, feeling her wiry curls on my cheek, my neck, perhaps only imagining one poking down my collar.

I took advantage of her request to know the meanings of the word sucks to mention its transitive senses in the contexts of hard candy and sex.

“Let me take you on a little tour of my body,” I said to her, emboldened. “My feet are medium-large, ten and a half. I’m flat-footed and have patches of hair not only on top of each toe but also on my instep. I’ve done a little research: this is not common. Notice the tan lines. My feet are part lightly tanned (a sort of red-brown) and part whitey-white because I always wear the same deck shoes when I’m outside in the sun.

“My tan extends only to about two inches above my knee because I always wear the same style of shorts, too. Nothing too short that would reveal more of my body than I’m comfortable divulging to a harsh public.

“I have decently toned calves and thighs as a result of all those years I spent running and biking. Notice also the predominance of hair: as we proceed, this will become a familiar theme.

“My genitals are unspectacular. A small circumcised penis – the three inches almost double when aroused – and a scrotum as flaccid as the next guy’s. But let me add probably a little immodestly, Monika, that they are humble tools but they work just fine.

“I have to steel – no, E-E-L – myself now because above that wiry little tuft is my first fatty roll, and then the crevice that my belt has made, and then the roll of my belly. It’s like a roller-coaster, Monika, only hairier.

“Yes, I have hair on my chest but it’s not that Tom Selleck kind of hair that is so adorably sexy. And if you flipped me over you’d see all that accursed back hair, which makes me feel like a gorilla. Also, the less attention given my ass the better for both of us.

“My head – well, I have good skin for a 38-year-old man who shaves with a blade six times a week. My face is acceptable, and that’s fine with me. Beverley, that woman in your class, says I have a good haircut for my face, and most days I am inclined to agree with her.

“You’re right, I’ve completely forgotten my arms. My biceps and triceps – the muscles at the back there – are more toned than they were ten months ago, but the forearms seem hopeless. My hands are small but –”

– She was holding mine now, looking toward the kitchen and talking as if there was someone out there.

“Fuck her,” she seemed to be saying. “You’re going to have to fuck her.”

“What’d you say?” I asked, dazed.

“Supper, Alex. What are we going to have for supper?”

We both went to the kitchen. Things seemed to be happening in slow motion. I walked behind her, white T-shirt revealing the strap of her bra, jeans curling around buttocks, bare feet – when had she taken her socks off? We fumbled around in the cupboard and fridge, pulled out corn chips and salsa and Corona and made that a meal.

She got up and poked around in the cupboard again, looking for something. I ate and drank. A long time seemed to pass and when I looked up she was simply standing in the middle of the kitchen, staring up at the ceiling fan, her eyes closed and her body swaying slightly. I got up and stood in front of her. The breeze from the fan whooshed over me. I put my hands on her hips and she moved backward, her hands reaching for something to support herself.

And she was asking me, telling me to tour her body, too. “Explore our charming vistas,” she said, echoing some dumb ad we’d just watched on TV. She was laughing when I ran my fingers over her hair and face, down both sides of her neck, like a sculptor.

“These are my breasts, Alex,” she said. “It is a good thing for me that you are knowing the meanings of sucks.” And I sucked one, teased the nipple out further, while I cradled the other one and then tried to press it flat against her chest.

“My tummy is not so interesting,” she said.

I undid the button and zipper of her jeans and pulled them and her panties down to a heap at her feet. I sank to my knees, was kneeling there on the kitchen floor and she was backed up against the counter, my tongue on and in her, my arms raised, my hands on her breasts for support, the heel of one of her hands in a bit of water on the counter and the other one sometimes running through my black curly hair, sometimes grabbing at it, and I was thinking, God, don’t take us one at a time, take us both now, send whatever you have into this kitchen, down on our poor heads, and take us while we are connecting like this.

I looked up and saw her head thrown back to the left, her teeth biting at her lower lip. I stood up and her feet flailed a little to the side, knocking over a fruit bowl which clattered and squished onto the floor – and now my body was straining at her, my toes pushing me in, my hands cushioning her shoulder blades from the hard cupboard doors.

She turned around and suddenly for me this orderly tour of her body, sector by sector, was over, and what I wanted was to experience all of her all at once. I was not rational any more. I was frantic, my face pressed hard against her ass, my right forearm now damp between her legs – her hair, that nub of flesh, her breathing short and fast, and dripping, she was dripping on me, and now I turned to face her – the scent now, and still wet, my arm still wet, wetter – and I found myself lapping like an insane man, and she was reaching back, a hand on my shoulder, the other around the back of my head pushing me gently but then hard – and I didn’t even know or care what I was doing any more, what parts of her got touched and licked.

“Gott im Himmel!” she said as she came.

Oscar and I are driving Monika to the airport for her flight back to Germany. They’re in the front, Oscar driving, and I am in the backseat playing with his cellphone.

“Hey, man,” I say, “does this thing have speed dialing?”

“Sure. I have only programmed in a few, though. You’re number four.”

A powerful, illogical fear immediately rushes through me that he knows about Monika and me, that perhaps last night in the tenderness of spending their last night together Monika confessed, hoped he didn’t hate her or me, assured him that she loved him, that it had simply been a night of sex, “just sex,” with me, that she’s sorry it happened, that –

And in my perverse feverish brain all I can imagine is Oscar immediately going to his cellphone, demoting my speed dialing number from one to four, so that instead of being at the numeric beginning, suddenly and deservedly I follow, perhaps, his mother, his mutual-fund company, his hairdresser.

They’re both staring straight ahead at the road. We drive by a car whose alarm is blaring.

“I know all about it, Alex,” I think I hear him say.

“Fuck, man, I’m sorry, man,” I say, but he interrupts my babbling.

What? Sorry for what?”

“Nothing – I’m just – What were you saying?”

“I wrote all about it – the trip to Alberta. A new poem. I think you’ll like this one better. It’s got the essential details in there, but they’re not obscured by the language and structure of the piece. I think it works. Shit, even a dough-headed fictionalist like yourself could understand it.”

“What’s the title?”

“’Heart of Alberta’,” he says, and then recites some wonderful stuff about shaving his head after the first day there so he could look like the outsider that he felt he was, and being kicked out of a revivalist service, and spending his nights camped out alone in a prairie park, “insistent stars.”

We escort Monika to her gate. She hugs me, kisses Oscar. She makes her way to the plane, looking back as if she’s lost or forgotten something, and then hiking her backpack over her shoulder and directing herself briskly down the corridor.

“Supper,” I say to Oscar on the way back to the car, planes overhead, traffic bustling around us. “What are we going to have for supper?”

“Yes,” he says. “She went down on me in the kitchen.”