Alex sounded like a fucking lunatic. His eyebrows were high, his eyes wide; he looked frozen as he waited for a response. She was afraid that she was telegraphing the primordial frustration that was burning through every inch of her.
Why did he have to start talking?
And Min's skin was still so hot, goose-bumpled and engorged with blood, and as sensitive to touch as the tip of her tongue. She was nearly panting, and she was so wet it would embarrass her if she could think straight.
Just a minute ago, she gave in. They were naked and kissing, sucking on each other's breath, muscles tensing, arching and speckled with perspiration, hands and lips and hot exhalations everywhere. Her judgment had crumbled; all the reasons why she shouldn't have sex with Alex seemed to evaporate into gibberish and hallucinations.
She knew what she was going to do. She was going to pull off his boxers and lodge her palm against his chest. She was going to lift her body over his, and lower herself down, and she was going to savor the feeling of him sliding into her for the first time. With her other hand she would clutch the comforter tighter than Alex's flesh could bear. She was going to close her eyes and grind herself deep into him. The orgasm of her life was only a few minutes away, a few minutes of fevered pushing. It was right in front of her.
But then he started talking.
“What is it?” Alex asked on the other side of her eyelids. She didn't answer for a moment, talking down the orgasm that still bubbled and vibrated inside her, so filled with life.
It's like defusing a fucking atom bomb. She quipped in her mind but giggled aloud. She opened her eyes; she had accidentally just laughed in Alex's face.
“Was that funny…?”
“No, no, I was just thinking…”
“…I mean, I guess…” Alex gasped.
“No, I just thought of something funny. Completely unrelated…”
“…What was it?” he asked.
Min paused, horrified that her mind was now utterly blank.
“…did I…oh don't…don't worry about it…I thought…” Alex stumbled.
Min quickly wrapped the sheet around her and threaded her arm behind Alex's back and squeezed him, nuzzling her head into his chest.
“You're right. You're totally right. We bottle so much up,” she answered, not looking up at his face, trying to crush the worry out of him.
“But that wasn't exactly…” he said. She squeezed harder and pushed her thumb into the spot in his side she knew was ticklish. He laughed.
They lay there for a moment, neither sure what to do; their bodies were still ready but neither made a move. They hardly even breathed. Min's mind raced for something more comforting to say, but she said nothing and he said nothing, so Min tried to get comfortable with the most awkward silence she had ever experienced.
Eventually the tension in his muscles gave. She started to try to think of an excuse—any excuse—that would let her escape without incident.
It took nearly half an hour before she spoke up. Min had no job, no appointments to run off to, she didn't have many plausible excuses. But as Alex started to drift off into hungover, exhaustion she whispered into his ear, “I told Mo I'd meet up with him.”
Alex nodded his head, perhaps more awake then he was letting on, and let his arm drop from her waist. She slipped her clothes back on and tiptoed to his door.
“Do you think the fourth horseman of the apocalypse ever, felt, like all, you know, lame? I mean, you have War, Famine, and Pestilence, and then you have just ‘Death' this fourth sort of generic, ‘I'll be back here if anyone needs me,' catchall horseman,” Mo asked, while sipping a cappuccino at The Last Drop two and half hours later. Min had called him after she left Alex's. This way her excuse wasn't a full-scale lie; it was just untrue at the particular time she said it.
“Death is sort of redundant,” she added, forcing a grin.
“…the four horsemen of unfortunate contingencies…” Mo mumbled.
He was quipping incessantly, like normal, but something was off. His eyes were baggy, his face tired, and when silences came he let them lie there like plastered corpses until Min offered something. In these silences she wanted to disgorge everything about her and Alex, about how he ruined his cute attempt to wine and dine her, about how close she came to jumping in. She wanted to confess how horrible this morning was with the bad poetry and the crazy eyes and how dread spiraled in her at the thought of seeing Alex again. She wanted to tell him about her poorly timed and somewhat novel sexual voraciousness, about how she felt she could never face her mother again after all these months of neglect, about how she was afraid she was already losing her mind, but instead…
“Glory dumped her loser boy last week!” Min exclaimed.
“Hell yes. She told me all about it.” Mo said.
It was the oddest thing to Min. Glory and Mo were friends now. She kept forgetting. It seemed so…
Then Min remembered the last few conversations, when Mo brought up how “hot” Glory was.
It's just a fucking smokescreen, Min decided at that moment. Just come out of the closet, for God's sake. All bottled up in there. Is that what this vibe is about? Are you jealous that Alex is with me? You can have him.
Something black and sticky was swirling through Min; her over-stimulated skin was agitated, angry at her, compressing her viscera like a boa constrictor.
Then Min felt a tug on her shirt. She looked over and Liam was looking down at her.
He was smiling, showing every tooth his mother had probably paid a fortune to straighten. He had shaved the goatee, and now he had big, thick mutton chops racing down from his greasy, scraggily head. He had on a t-shirt with the word “Polkacide” above a skull in an alpine hat. He opened his mouth, revealing a bright blue piece of gum.
“Hello, William,” she looked over and her heart jumped when she saw Sunny on a stool next to the tip jar. He was not the friendly Sunny; he had that look on his face, that strangler look. “I see Sunjay is here, too.” She couldn't let either of them know she was scared.
Liam squinted and nodded, “and how are you Mindy?”
“Ah, but, unlike you guys, that's not my real name.”
“Never better,” Min smiled.
“She puking up her lunch again to keep the next guy from leaving her?”
Min stalled for a moment.
When did Liam turn into a fucking supervillain?
Liam snorted hard in his left nostril and wiped his nose with his sleeve. His bloodshot eyes turned to Morowitz, who sat there, lips hanging flaccid, readied for words he didn't have.
“Is this the new boy!?” Liam shouted, half-laughing. “He's adorable? He's like a little Mogwai.”
“Fuck you,” Min blurted.
Liam leaned in, Min flinched, half expecting a fist to come down on her head. He spoke into her ear so loud that Mo could hear. “Oh, but I think you have fucked me.”
Min felt nauseous. It had been her biggest secret, but those rules expired. Everyone probably knew now. Glory probably knew. She looked over at Sunny; he was glaring at her.
“And yeah, you like that word. ‘Fuck.' You like talking dirty.” Liam looked over to Mo, “Isn't that so, friend?”
Liam looked right at Mo.
“Aw man, I'm sorry. Just bringing up old times.” He offered his hand to Mo with a smirk crawling up the right side of his face. “I'm just teasing. We're cool.”
Mo extended his hand and with one quick shake they were done.
“Rock on!” Liam looked over at Min. “It was great seeing you, Minnie.”
As he walked away, Mo's astounded face jerked and twisted and squinted. Min knew his brain was blazing trying to figure out how he lost his last drop of masculinity over the course of a few minutes.
“Let's go,” Min said.
Mo didn't say anything; he just grabbed his backpack and followed her out of the shop. They stepped outside. The air was warm and fragrant from the first blooming trees and plants.
“So that's Glory's Liam?” Mo asked. Min nodded.
“Does Glory do coke, too?” Mo asked. Min had to catch up.
“He was on coke?” Min asked.
“You kidding me?” Mo said. Min looked at him quizzically. “C'mon. A decade in L.A.! I can tell.”
“I'm sure Glory doesn't…she calls it ‘asshole…”
“Asshole powder.'…yeah, that's apt.” Mo finished. Min shook her head to try to adjust to the new information. Min regarded coke as a Neanderthal drug: brutish, dumb, and exclusively prehistoric.
But then Mo said, “So you slept with him?”
Min looked straight up at the sky, wanting to scream. She wanted to tear her fingernails into her eyes, scratch off her ears. Liam was all over her in her mind again, like that ghastly self-loathing night so many months ago: his thin lips kissing her stomach, him on top of her, grunting and thrusting like a seventeen-year-old football player.
Mo said nothing.
“It was before I was really close with Glory.”
“Was she with him then?'
“Did you tell her?” he asked.
Min looked at him. She didn't want to hurt herself anymore. Now she wanted to dig her nails into his eyes.
She shook her head. “I can't. I can't talk about this right now.”
Mo nodded and she cursed his silent judgment of her.
They said nothing to each other for the next two blocks, when she turned and headed to her apartment. She entered her building, still cursing quietly to herself, collected her mail and rifled through the letters as she climbed the stairs.
Final Notice, Final Notice, Ford Federal loans, Final Notice, “Citibank 0% Interest for 1 Year”, Final Notice.
She unlocked her apartment door and let the letters fall on the floor. She walked into her bedroom, picked up her phone and listened to the triple beep. She checked her messages for the first time in two weeks.
There was a pause, a click, and then a game show voice saying: “You have been pre-approved for…”
She erased it and waited for the next message, but there was no next message. Two weeks. No one left a message but a machine. No one.
She walked into the living room and sat down on the couch. She sat in the dark, her face in her hands, trying to breathe. She wanted to murder everyone, she wanted to burn down her apartment, she wanted everything—everything—to go away.
And she wondered if this was how it began for Dad.
There was a time when she could envision infinite future Mins. Every moment she was a new point of origin and from her flowed all the permutations her life might take, each iteration moving in some slightly different arch into time. She used to be able to see paths of great material successes, PhDs and prestigious honors, a sprawling house in California, or embarrassingly domestic fantasies like a loving husband and children who spoke better Spanish than she did. Or even a house in Massachusetts outside a burned-down Anglican Church, but done right this time.
But now, she saw nothing other than facsimiles of herself sitting in that same spot on her couch propagating a few feet forward into the future and then swirling down into an infinite curve in space-time.
Min started to cry again. She hated black holes.
Min's phone rang and she jolted awake, her hands disoriented, struggled to pick it up. She fumbled for the talk button.
“Hel-hello?” she muttered.
Her brain pitched from half way inside a dream world to figure out who this voice was.
“Were you sleeping?”
Yes. She had been sleeping. She looked at the clock. In fact, she had been sleeping for eleven hours. It was mid morning on Sunday.
“Yeah. Are you up for a massage?”
“What?” Min asked, completely unable to understand what was going on.
“I decided to get you a massage for your birthday. You said you never had a real one before.”
Min's mind screeched and groaned as she tried to remember when her birthday was.
“Wasn't—isn't that in, like…two weeks…or something?”
“Yeah. But I might have a few jobs next weekend so I wanted to get you before my wrists and stuff got all exhausted.”
A massage? What the fuck? The venom was still in her belly. Sleep, which had so often intervened and to try to resolve her concerns in scattered dreams, had done nothing for her. Hatred wriggled inside her. But she didn't have the strength to tell Glory to go away, to tell her her gift wasn't wanted and that she wanted to be left alone.
“That's awesome. You're so sweet,” Min said.
“I can be over in half an hour.”
After they hung up, Min lay there motionless. It took a few minutes for her to remember that—judging from yesterday—Liam was telling people about their awful night together. Maybe Glory knew? Maybe Glory was coming over to snap Min's neck, make it look like some chiropractic accident?
Min shut her eyes as tightly as she could but then opened them again. Her contacts were burning in her eyes, and she hadn't showered since Friday. She forced herself up, took out her contacts, and got in the shower. The warm water reminded her of the orgasm that still gasped inside her, tiny and neglected. She hadn't touched herself in months, she hadn't been able to, and taking a moment to really think about why stung.
It started many months ago, shortly after she got to Philadelphia. She was lying in bed, and her fingers moved down to the right spot. As soon as she began to feel good, a horrible thought flashed in her brain: her father looking down from heaven at her….or him looking up from hell, with all of the other sinners who had taken their own lives. It was burned into her, a compulsion to see those eyes watching her. She couldn't shut it off when she was sober or by herself. Studying science, living in New York City, even ecstasy and partying hadn't killed the terrorized Catholic girl inside her. But what if they really were all watching us?
Min dried off and began to put her clothes on.
The doorbell buzzed. Min buzzed Glory in and waited by her door, wondering what would happen when they saw each other. Glory had to know by now.
Min opened the door, but without her contacts Glory was just a fuzzy shape holding a colossal, blurry folding massage table.
“Hi,” Glory said.
Min quickly got out of her way and momentum carried Glory into Min's living room, where she briefly rested the table.
“Is here good?” Glory asked. Min nodded.
Wordlessly Glory set up the table, unfolding the legs, locking them in place, pushing in the horseshoe shaped headrest. When Min moved in close, Glory looked up at her and gave her a lunch mother grin: all lips straining against the muscles in her face.
She knows. She really is going to kill me.
“What do I do?” Min asked.
“Just take off your clothes,” Glory said as she tucked in the sheets on the table.
Min thought for a moment and went back into her bedroom and took off the clothes she had only just put on. Emerging from her room in a towel, she was wracked with the absurdity of it all. Yesterday she wouldn't have thought twice about stripping in front of Glory, but she couldn't bring herself to get naked in front of her today. It seemed against the rules of etiquette for an execution.
Glory responded to Min's bashfulness by looking away as she dropped the towel and slipped under the flannel sheets to meet her fate. Min lay face down in the head holder, stifling allusions to Marie Antoinette in her mind.
I just hope she makes it quick.
Her last thought before Glory's hands descended on her neck was of something Mo had said. Once when they were talking about Catholicism, Min mentioned how creepy it was that she could go to hell if she didn't get anointed with holy oil right before dying. What if she missed it? Morowitz recommended designing some sort of constant, holy oil dripping hat. It is a shame they never got around to inventing it.
Glory's hands touched Min's neck. They were cold, and rougher than she remembered, and she could feel the powerful muscles in Glory's hands grow harder and harder. Glory's thumbs pushed into the back of her head. Min yelped, and her body tensed preparing for the snap.
But Glory just held her thumbs there, pushing up into a knot where Min's neck and spine came together. She could feel pressure behind her eyes and a numbness ringed her head like a halo. Min could feel the knot, which had once been like a diamond, dissolve into a mass of normal flesh.
“Oh my God,” Min whispered.
Glory kept working. She was using oil with spearmint that tickled Min's nose. Glory worked her way slowly down her spine. She reached a point right around her bra line. Min gasped.
“Hmmm. Your heart Shakra…”
Min spoke, surprised her lips could still move, “What does that mean?”
“Repressing anything?” Glory asked, with a small, short laugh at the end.
Glory knew. Min was sure of it. Maybe she hated Min. Maybe she was working out some weird issue by massaging her betrayer. But Min couldn't worry. Min loved Glory again. As Glory pushed her hands down on Min's low back and pushed her vertebrae as if undoing the pull of gravity, Min could feel the blackness in her belly bleeding out of her pores, dissipating on her breath.
“Hey, Glory,” Min said dreamily without meaning to.
“Hi Min. Having a nice time?”
Min just laughed and made a deep, long happy sound.
“You're pretty tense,” Glory said as her elbow pushed on a point on Min's butt that she never would have guessed had an identity of its own. She felt drunk.
“A lot of women I know have a ‘giggle spot' there,” Glory said. Min didn't ask to clarify. It was just too funny.
Min tried to remember the last time she felt at ease. It was the end of finals in the winter term of her last year at Columbia. She hardly slept for a month. But she got up the morning after her last final feeling like she was an empress.
Glory worked her thumb into the ball of Min's left foot and Min moaned blasphemies.
“You massage virgins are so great…” Glory laughed.
That was the last of the conversation for a while. Min slipped into memories of who she was before Philadelphia, and for the first time in ages she didn't pity all those past versions of herself. That younger Min seemed to know something so clearly that a modern Min could stand to learn. She wished she could talk to her former self.
It seemed like hours passed. Min was on her back and Glory had been working her way up from her feet until Glory's hands pressed lightly on tiny points on her face and skull. Then Glory pressed her hands lightly over Min's eyes. Min sensed for a moment in this complete darkness and warmth that there may be a sleep beyond sleep, a golden realm of perfect slumberousness that she was only now aware of and from which she would never wish to awake.
Then Glory pulled her hands away and whispered in her scratchy voice, “Okay. You're all set, baby. Don't hurry up.”
Min laid there half wanting to go directly to sleep, half wanting to scream for more.
“I probably worked a ton of toxins into your bloodstream. Make sure you drink, like, a gallon of water. I'm serious,” Glory advised.
Is that why she felt so unbelievably stoned, and weird and floaty? Her muscles felt like they could fly away from her, but her nose was runny and the back of her throat sore.
Min felt something cold touch her arm. It was a glass of water that Glory was pressing against her. Min flipped over, let the sheet slip off her all the way down to the midpoint of her leg, and took the water. Shyness seemed so stupid at this point. Naked and glistening from scented oil, she grabbed for the glass and drank deep. As she gave the glass back, Glory came close enough to Min's poor eyes that Min could look at her closely and carefully.
Glory really was gorgeous.
Min had an impulse. She wanted to wet her lips, take Glory's face, pull herself up towards her and kiss her. She wanted to get up and press her body against hers, smattering Glory's overalls with oil, and suck on her lower lip.
But Min didn't move an inch closer to her.
“Happy birthday,” Glory said as she stood up fully and started gathering her things.
Min eventually stumbled off the table and stood for the first time. Her muscles were dazed and unwilling to ever return to work. Min sipped more water, as Glory wordlessly folded up her table, shoved the bottle of oil into her bag and stepped towards the door.
“Bye, baby,” Glory said.
Once she left, Min searched her belly for regret. She found none. Something opened. She wanted to kiss Glory a minute ago, maybe wanted to fuck her, and it didn't make her bad, it didn't make her mentally ill, it didn't even make her gay.
Min walked slowly back to her bed, lifted up the comforter and squeezed herself in. She didn't give a goddamn about all the oil on her sheets. No one was watching, on this plane or any other. She moved her hand slowly down from her neck, between her breasts, down past the very bottom of her stomach, and found herself.
As she gave herself exactly the right pace and pressure, she thought of Glory at one moment and Alex the next and Brian and she didn't care. When she finally came it was like her body had melted into light. She was all shivers, sweat and long hot breaths.
When she woke up still smiling some indeterminate time later, she got up and walked into her living room. She sat down on her couch, picked up the first “final notice” on the pile and tore it open.
All rights reserved.
Min reaches a turning point on the pulsing verge of sex.
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