I stub my toe on a woman. She's spread out next to the tub. Her breasts rise and fall. I reach down and rub the hair on her legs. There's a skirt over her important areas. She's got a face like a sprain. If she wakes up, I believe I can help her. I'm not a bad man. The poor girl. She's got lipstick all over her face. Her mascara has smeared and those eyes keep going back and forth. I've got to shave, but I step backward instead and leave the bathroom door open in case she awakens terrorized or dies.
Through my window overlooking the street, I watch the drones in their burlap suits hurl rubbish into the garbage truck. One of them pulls a lever and the mechanical mouth crunches bags. It's as if the drones have faces made of cake and glue. They all wear the same bloated expression and heat comes off their tongues. It's basically dark out, the beginning of morning, and I try to focus on their meaty hands. They grasp so many and so much.
The garbage truck steams away.
The woman staggers into my living room. “I can't find my bed,” she mutters. She rubs her face, smearing lipstick onto her cheeks. She plops down on the couch and takes a sip of cold coffee from a cup sitting on the table. “It's the end of the world if I can't find it.”
I remember that I had encountered her in my bathroom.
“Did I wake you up out of some nightmare?”
“Don't interrupt me,” she says sharply. She rubs her already messy hair. “You always interrupt me.”
Her face is blotchy. She says nothing. I smoke two cigarettes and imagine her holding my baby, rocking the child in her arms. I am next to her. I actually picture myself: skin straight out of summer, a brawny chest without hair, and a navel that does not look like my own. There are three possibilities:
1. She's my wife.
2. She's a stranger.
3. She's not human.
“Have you ever lost your bed before?” I ask. She looks up at me and there is terror in her pupils as if she has crawled out from a fissure in the air.
“I haven't lost it per se,” she says. Somehow, I feel as if this isn't her natural tone of voice. She lifts her skirt just above her knees and I have a flash of anger. My face reddens and I begin to railroad cuss through my brain. I focus on her kneecaps.
“You said I always interrupt you?” I am aware of an itch roaming through my body. I focus on my neck, throat, chest, and then stomach, all of which become hot. “That means we know each other.”
She fishes through her purse.
“Of course!” she screams. “I'm your wife.” She gives me this coy look while holding a condom.
I can hear the garbage truck making its rounds somewhere down the block.
“Oh shit,” I say under my breath, looking at the condom. “The mechanism.”
She saunters toward me. Her eyes are like small, deep-sea prey. How gorgeous and strangely green! She pulls her skirt up a bit further. “Machinations,” she whispers. Her thighs are muscular.
I begin to shake.
“Don't pout, puppy dog. Don't you want to be me?” She has unzipped herself by this point. She wears lacy undergarments and a smell that would drive most canines frenzied.
“I don't know you.”
“Don't play shy.” She's jigging her plump bottom in front of my mouth. “I'm an historian for god's sake!” I yell.
“That job has got you tame,” she throats. “Always searching for meaning.” She strips to her nakedness. “Don't forget who you are, now.”
“And what's that?”
I had come to show very little affection for my wife. I was aroused only when I pretended she was a stranger. In the beginning of our relationship, it was different. She would often have her hair in a bun. She wore oversized clothes around the house. She was soap-like, clean. I can say that her breath was humid. We met in college. (She once said she had spotted me from several yards away and thought we would have smart, bigheaded children.)Her face was an illumination.
She had asked me to meet her at her apartment after I finished class. She seduced me. “Come on,” she said. She summoned me with her finger. She licked her very white teeth. She was a shape in the doorframe. There were thirteen steps to her front door. She looked at the ground, but I know she meant to lure me. I picked up my leaden feet. Clunk, clunk! like Frankenstein. “Come on...” I was a goof. My jacket was too big, a terrible shade of green. Her hair was wet and she wore a robe and sandals. Muffin, her cat with a missing right eye, rubbed against her legs and meowed. “Come in,” she whispered as I reached the top of the steps. She placed her palm on my unshaven face. Sheeeiiit, I thought. She must have been talking to me. I was peeking into her home (e.g., vacuum cleaner still plugged in, a pile of books in the hallway, bed without a frame, waft of lemon furniture polish). Her palm arrived at my lips. Was I supposed to kiss her fingers?
She grabbed my arm and was nibbling on my ear.
I stared at the orifice in the cat's face where his eye should have been.“
That's Muffin,” she said. I could see gigantic areolas under her robe.
“Those are large,” I said.“
God, you taste good.”
We kissed sloppily. I unbuttoned my jacket, threw it on the bed and almost tripped. Muffin followed us, purring.
“I've wanted you ever since Revolutions of the Twentieth Century.” She stuck her tongue in my mouth for a bit, and then paused. “When you stood up in class and said, ‘Lenin's centralization of the Party led directly to opportunism, Stalinism, totalitarianism, and 20 million dead!' I mean, wow!” She grabbed my crotch.
“I would amend that,” I said.
That's when I noticed the shelf. On it was a row of dildos and a .357 Magnum. “Jesus, Laconia, crucify me!” I screamed.
“Yes!” She disrobed. “Do you think you can satisfy me? Do you think you have what it takes?” Her breasts jousted.
I eased backward across the bed. She crept on top of me and grabbed and flipped me over. She was a big girl. Off with everything! I had no choice. The room smelled and I think I was happy. She grinned from ear to ear, showing off her perfect teeth. “Oh!” was the chorus of our matrimony. Muffin climbed on my back for a great ride while Laconia and I made love. The cat dug its needle-sharp nails into me. “God damned!” I screamed at the cat. “I'll fuck your eye!”
Four months later, we got an apartment together.
I don't mean to misrepresent her. Sometimes, we play this game. I pretend to have discovered Calculus and the bending-by-stars around our bodies. “Venus gets to 900 degrees Fahrenheit,” I tell her. This pretension of genius: my hand rubbing against her inner thigh bringing her to moan. She said she always wanted to marry a genius. All I need to do is stroke her or raise my fist at her and she emits a smell akin to vinegar. It isn't vulgar, but what is that burning-off smell? Now having postulated that I love her, she caresses my bottom and reaches out with her eyes. The way one does this is subtle. Do the pupils dilate? Do the eyes bulge? She would have me be her. “Venus indeed,” she utters as we cum.
“Wife,” she says a moment later.
“OK.” I reach for my cigarettes. “Would you like a cigarette, dear?” It's the proper etiquette after sex. Smoke escapes into the ceiling.
“Laconia,” she says.
“Where is she?”
“My name is Laconia.”
If I were to characterize things before Laconia disappeared, I would have said things were peachy. We sat almost motionless in bed most days. Please, kill me, she whispered in her sleep. In hindsight, I would have paid more attention to the little things: hairballs the size of tumbleweed, balled-up underwear near the bed, algae in the shower, etc. Not even coffee aroused her out of her stupor. We started to watch television much too often. She loved aliens and claimed to have had an extraterrestrial daughter. I dragged in a stationary bicycle from the sidewalk. The rusty bike's seat was chewed. I pedaled while she tried to sleep. The bike made a despicable ratcheting sound. As I cycled in the nude, she would lie on her back, her mouth half-open. My textbooks began to collect dust and cat hair. Sometimes, Muffin swiped at my legs as I rode the bike. I thought of smashing her. It would have been fun to smash her.
“Don't do it,” I heard Laconia say.
Sirens whirled southward like a sound pool. Somewhere, a person was in trouble.
It's afternoon. That woman who claims to be my wife lies in my bed under the covers. She does not move. I face the mirror, part my hair on the side. I sweep the crust from my eyes. I'm dressed in a pinstriped suit that I wore to my high school graduation. I grab the flyers I made the day before. I chose my favorite photograph of Laconia for the flyer. It's centered under her name and the heading, “Missing.”
I stand in line like a soldier, waiting for my coffee. The coffee clerk's eyes are two bloodied eggs. How I've grown to hate him. I drink coffee with a furor. I don't like sugar, milk, creamer, honey, vanilla or whiskey. Caffeine by itself goes straight to my dopamine house. The clerk stares at me. I don't know what he wants. My hands shake and I look over my shoulder. The fat woman from my apartment building (the woman who put a litter of dead kittens in the trash one time) is behind me. “Leland,” I think I hear her say. “Are you still looking for your wife?”
The clerk sneers. I could have sworn the fat woman said, “Laconia's not in zone 10025,” and, “She's dead.” I try to stare straight ahead, but my legs begin to wobble. Finally, the clerk hands me my coffee. “Have a good day,” he says. I turn to walk out. The fat woman wipes her porky hands on her face. I smile because I'm polite. As I pass her on my way out, I whisper, “I know who you're hiding in your bedroom.”
The fat woman frowns.
I walk the streets and post flyers of Laconia. This is what I do. Her face is plastered next to ads for moving trucks, etc. I have never gotten used to this city. I moved here in a whim with four packs of cigarettes and a hundred dollars. How many bricks are there in this city? I bum a cigarette from a teenage girl and rip off the filter. Night approaches. Lights appear like fireflies in a blackening sea. People rush by as cars do their quick rounds. There are horns, voices, clanging, steam, screeches and a song even. Cars again, and I think it's the same half dozen clunkers over and over, perhaps with different drivers.I must have been walking in circles.
A poster of my wife is glued on an overhang.
Naturally, I stop.
Who should I call?
Aliens must've abducted the wife.
Did I ever report her missing?
Is that really her? I thought she had hazel eyes?
Was she Jewish?
I think I hear my name floating through a crowd. “Beat it, buddy,” some guy says trying to get past me.
“I lost my wife,” I say.
He looks at me. “Be grateful,” he says.
I lower my head.
I find myself downtown. I fold a flyer of my missing wife and put it in my wallet. There's a pair of binoculars on a bench.
“Hello, son,” a woman says as I'm looking through the binoculars from the wrong end.
“Mom? I thought you were dead?” I turn around. It's only a nun.
“Can I sit with you?” she asks.
“I'm not sitting.”
“What are you doing?”
“Looking through binoculars from the wrong end. It's not illegal, I swear.”
“May I look?”
“I'm afraid not, sister. This is a job for professionals. When you look through the wrong end of binoculars, you don't see close-ups. You see the insides of people. It's horrible. That pregnant woman over there actually has a stomach full of quarters.” I point.
The nun begins puffing on a pipe.
“Are you from that funeral party over there?” I ask.
She lets out a sphere of sweet pipe smoke. “Do you think the universe has a memory?”
“I lost my wife,” I say. “I don't remember much of anything.”
I sit next to the nun on the bench. She puts her chapped hand on my cheek. “There's a place where all of history is recorded.
“65 million years ago,” she continues, “an asteroid killed the dinosaurs. We took over. But it's all here. A gang of asteroids and comets swing in ellipses around our sun. They will strike again.” She folds her hands on her lap. “Do you have children?” she asks.
“No.” I open my wallet and show her a photograph of Laconia.
“I like the sheep skin covers on the couch,” she says. The nun's hands are dry as ash. “Who's the beautiful girl?”
“That's Laconia. I may know her and she is missing, I'm told.” “Did she kill herself?”
I snatch the photograph from the nun's hands.
She puts her hand on my thigh. Laconia would've been amused. “She's so young and beautiful,” the nun says.
Stomach acid leaps against my ribs.
“What happened?” the nun asks again. “To her? To you?”
I begin to mouth an answer as if I were trying to pin down a fading dream. “I feel like I should know,” I say.
Her attention suddenly turns toward the black sky. “I think it's the comets,” the nun says.
“What is?” I place the photograph in my wallet next to my expired driver's license.
“Comets are balls of heavenly ice. Their molecules record every event that has ever happened. They can tell you everything.”
I walk away.
She sits on the bench in the dark with her head down.
As I open the front door, I hear the television. The apartment's filled with a blue glow. It smells sickeningly sweet. Bed sheets lie in a ball in the hallway. I step over them. The woman is watching the news and sits on the couch wrapped in a blanket. I turn on a light and she whips her head around. Below her nose and eyes is a patch of dried blood. “Turn off the light, please,” she says. I turn it off and plop down next to her.
She grabs my hand and massages it.The Drake Observatory reported that an asteroid came within 200,000 miles of hitting the earth, an anchorman reports.
“How are you?” she asks.
I force a yawn. “I'm fine, just a bit tired.”
We sit in silence and watch the news for a few minutes.
“I wish you wouldn't spend all day away from me,” she says and wraps the blanket around her body.
“I spent all day looking for you. You're either missing or you're dead.
”Her thumb and forefinger dig into my palm.
“I was all over the place,” I say.
“I dreamed about you,” she says, rocking back and forth. “I miss you, Leland. I miss you so much.”
“Yeah,” I say.
I can't bear to have another wife, I think.
I find myself at the end of a cigarette I don't remember lighting. The room feels like a capsule in orbit. My stomach flutters and I'm lightheaded. “You're gonna end up marrying a whore,” I recall my father saying to me. I was about eleven years old. He handed me a used Swiss Army knife because it was my birthday. His wife stormed in from the kitchen. She was scraping her red, raw hands. “You can't give him a knife,” she said. “What if he murders somebody?”
“I never meant to hurt you,” I mutter through bubbles of saliva. I must be crying. “You gotta believe me.”
“Stop it,” Laconia, says. “There's no use feeling guilty.”
The glow of the television traces the outline of her body. She stands up and leads me by the wrist into our bedroom. We lie on the bare mattress holding hands and stare at the ceiling.
“I loved you deeply,” I whisper into Laconia's ear.
On the street, a garbage drone heaps rubbish into his truck as the mechanical mouth bites down on it all, nearly to the bone.
“Of course you did,” my wife says.