We go to meet her parents, out in the country. It is hot and August and the trees are parched. When we get to the rural roads, I lean my head against the plastic near the window — but not the clean glass of the window itself because I do not want to leave grease stains — and the branches thwack their dryness along the glass while I watch. I try to summon some kind of wetness for the part of being the devoted partner later, but every drop I believe I can muster must have been robbed from me by the August sun, by climate change, by the oppressive heat that no machine seems able to defeat.
We step into the gasp of air conditioning and French doors. A shih tzu snuffles around our feet. Is it better to greet the dog first or the mother? The dog goes to my girlfriend, and her mother looks at her with an adoration that rubs up against me like a cat’s tongue. Adrianne’s eyes glance at mine — no, not at mine, off mine, like light off a hot metal slide on the playground. I see in the way her mouth quirks, the way her mother’s hands rasp against mine when she draws me into a hug — I understand that in this family, my love, my care is incomparable, is nothing like this mother’s love, is inferior. Her hand finds my neck. She kisses my cheek without asking.
How did I get here? I am as uncomfortable as I was the first time I was crouched on the side of the winding dry dirt roads of our little country house when I was still too young to read books with chapters — few were available anyway. My childhood best friend and I were scooping up the fine dust that fell off cars and tractors and Amish wagons and gathered along the edges of the asphalt.
“Fairy dust!” Megan declares and dances in a circle and for a moment I want to be very special friends with her, for her to hold me up above all other friends, for her to blow that fairy dust in my face and to have it transform me.
Would it work?
“Turn me into a fairy!” I call to her, gesturing to my little pudgy face. She blows the dust towards me, brown eyes and brown hair blinking in the sun. I cough. It is not fairy dust. It coats my throat. I am hacking the kind of cough that gets all the worse the more you hold it in, bent over, bare knees pressing into the gravel. She smacks me on the back, my knees meld with the decayed asphalt road and she reaches to undo the choker round my throat. I shake my hand. She tries again. I push her onto the ground. She cries out. I cough and hold my throat. Her mother comes outside just as the first wail makes it past Megan’s lips and cries out over the treetops and so high into the sky I am sure all the other neighbor kids can hear.
For a moment, among the Queen Anne’s Lace and the ground apples, I thought she might kiss me with those lips and make me a fairy princess like her, one who could roller skate and ride a bike and who knew the things she knew because she had older brothers.
We’re alone after dinner in her parents’ guest room. It’s been a long drive and a devastatingly long dinner. I lie back on the bed, ready to peel sticky clothes off of me, wondering if it would be better to shower now or in the morning or if their water bill might let me do both without getting noticed.
I am gross, disgusting. Unlike the blissful days of childhood, I now know about deodorant. I apply it religiously. Her hand grazes my leg that was shaved three days ago. Her smile crooks lightly while she flicks her hand to drag against my stubble.
She puts her weight on me. And I like it. I like it enough.
I look at the Pier I Imports guest room around me and meet her blue eyes with my brown ones.
“Do you believe in fairies?”
“Of course. I saw one once,” she says and reaches for my neck. She does not elaborate. Her finger nudges my ribbon and a tiny bit of dry thumb flesh catches on the tight emerald weave.
She places her fingers around my neck but does not squeeze, watching me, eyes flickering despite the fact that we are in suburban lamplight and not the candlelight of my too-often electricity-deprived city apartment.
Every seam of the fabric of my clothes tightens. My skin is thread wound too tight around my bones, my veins squeezing the blood up until pressure threatened my eyes, their tethers loosening. Maybe they will pop out when she squeezes me again. I shift, aware of my underwear, my stockings, my shoes and my hair, threads, twisting and hanging down on my shoulders, of string theory and the threads of the universe that vibrate and hum and hold us together and the electron ties between my atoms scratching at nothing because there is some nothing in me.
There is a nothing in me that wants out, that wants whatever she wants to do to me.
“Don’t untie my ribbon.”
Because, no, I want to exist. That other thought is something else, something dark and deep and un-me, something that wants to undo me, that wants to take apart my knot and make me not anything at all and I have to not want that because I am something, right?
“Oh, like this?”