1. In the bladder, on the bladder, through the bladder, around the bladder, outside the bladder, penetrating the bladder, infiltrating the bladder, impinging on the bladder.
3. Gambling with no stakes, wherein nothing can be lost.
4. I soak the swabs in alcohol. My nails look like shit. I redo them.
5. And redo them.
6. And redo them.
7. Whenever E would visit WAX, we were focused on ONE thing, that ONE thing was fucking our brains out. E would take a rain day and she’d go and visit WAX, F alone in the apartment, staying in bed, doing the WAX thing, apotheosizing WAX.
8. “E most definitely does NOT appreciate it when F does not stay hooked on her vag even though she threatens to stab him in the throat with a size 12 press-on nail, then wipe him all over the hallowed walls of Freedom.”
9. Click, click, click, click. The bodies. E kisses my cheek. Kisses my neck. Kisses my mouth. Gathers my hair, the way she knows I like her to.
10. For a moment: silence.
11. For another moment: silence.
12. And another, and another: silence.
13. Then: E. Height, 5’9”/175 cm. Bust, 30”/76.5 cm. Waist, 22½”/57.5 cm. Hip, 34½”/88 cm. Shoe, 7½”/38.5 cm. Hair, red. Eyes, blue gray. Then, her laughter, from the other room.
14. It’s not like you’re totally unsafe.
15. It’s not like you’re not here anymore.
16. All I’d think about is how we might ultimately scrounge up the dough to pay off our debts.
17. Then she fake cries. She thinks that I am high, or drunk, or something. We make out, then E shares wisdom. I gather her to me as she reads the sacred text. Something will change. If the numbers just add high enough…into some gray land of dim, forever mornings.
18. So much time has been allotted to the fate of the universe, that the date of its end should already have come.
19. I think it’s a tribute to us both that after a long day of being kind to our customers, for we are largely dependent on their tips for our income, E and I are nonetheless kind to each other.
20. Painting my nails forces me to see the scars across my hands. “But you’re still a ghetto bitch,” E gently reminds F. E points out that if it acts like a ghetto bitch, it IS a ghetto bitch. And no one—NO ONE—is about to thwart her selfless afternoon. Her hair: long, red.
21. B. Height, 5’10½”/178.5 cm. Bust, 32”/81.5 cm. Waist, 24½”/62 cm. Hip, 35½”/90.5 cm. Shoe, 12½”/43.5 cm. Hair, blond. Eyes, blue. I’m excited, sick with bright chill.
22. It’s a vortex of incest or something and I am deeply concerned for the safety of their public restrooms.
23. Two hundred and forty pounds of bruising finesse.
24. Just smirking at F, searching no doubt for some sneaky put-down to disrupt his idyllic thoughts. Best sex he’s had in ages (what about that stripper, porn star, hooker, mail-order bride he impregnated yesterday?). F parts her legs, E’s long legs, teasing...strokes his fingers—wet, licked—pressing the vibrator against her clit until she starts to feel her muscles urge themselves, too tense, to just let go. Ahhhhhhh.
25. E thinks it’s best for her if she no longer sees or speaks to me. I stay with her that night because she asks me to. And there’s nothing romantic about it, either.
26. Seal it.
27. Bite down hard.
28. No; if she had something else in mind, I would rather not discuss it.
29. We have an arrangement. But, no trust.
30. Sets a new record for getting dressed: F. The desire to be an instrument of use. Parts his mouth as though to speak, but says nothing. “I consider this place to be hallowed in perpetuity.” Hauls himself off the floor, collapses into a cloud of pressed powder. Is momentarily redeemed during a tender moment with a slightly wavering E who gently informs F what a disappointment he is. But admitting you have a problem is half the problem. Sits quietly, staring blankly ahead.
31. The brush.
32. Butter. B doesn’t understand the function of this game.
33. You mean like incest? she asks. Her eyes widen like saucers. I mean, who would react positively to that? E cites a case in point, still riding the confidence of having traveled so far. E comes up behind her, gently gestures: but it’s ridiculous for her to believe she’s fixed all her problems with a few magical words from B as well as one day at the beach which included booze but didn’t end in destroying herself, apparently.
34. It all happened at once. Everything.
35. What am I—was I—here for—there for? I still don’t know. I never did. How could I know—then—if I do not know—now? I just sit, hand on head, my fingers kneading at the strands of hair, as though I might extract some essence from their roots.
36. In a resting moment of that lovely afternoon, at one of those junctures when everything is relevant and nothing is relevant.
37. The clear layer beneath the butter.
38. Then decide everyone needs to go out and get drunk in order to move past the drama: one of those chains that never unlock. No one makes a move, no one looks to F for confirmation. No one smiles back. Now they’re fighting over who started that fight, except they’re not. B claims no recollection of crying. F shakes his head, like, no no no. Um, no. You should be embarrassed even to attempt to present that excuse. It’s really actually pathetic. B resorts to sulking on an enormous pile of laundry, baiting everyone to come over and ask her what’s wrong. No one bemoans her aloneness. She’s too busy painting squiggly black lines over the sunrise of truth. Surely she’s desensitized by now to everyone not bemoaning?
39. And our self-aggrandizing delusions about our “friendships” are, well, sad. Really sad. Thank goodness we have the long cold metal rod between my legs. And E of the dewy mermaid skin and evil eye to put us in our place.
40. He’s come to see his sister as a kind of diabolical image consultant with eyes spinning like turbines who instructs him in the art of making bad decisions.
41. Sacrificial kindness.
42. The disheveled bristle, the unmanageable bristle, the bristle that won’t comply, the bristle at a 90-degree angle, the incorrigible bristle, the unbuttered bristle. The $200 bristle. The exhibitionist window bristle. The stained smock bristle. The serviceable bristle.
43. No leaving me alone.
46. B steps into the shower. Wraps her arms around her knees. Her eyes are crying tears of vodka. She stares. Drained. Meanwhile E moves around from under then on top. Gets into the shower with B. Wet, clean. Warm. Steam. Salt, folds of warmth. Fogging. And puckers, pimples. Webs and webs and webs. Of thick wet hair. Steam, thick. Warm.
47. And I was privileged to enjoy a private place of meditation. The day off on a busy Saturday, then proceeded to bail on that escape.
48. Let’s go grow some entire little families sitting on their porches.
49. And her serious talks about you-know-what. Could effect a rapprochement between E’s getting up and down (and up and down) and E’s sugar high portentous whiny monosyllable (shit-talking for the sake of feeling gooey). Overt speculation but could pry no specific information from either of them.
50. Good girl.
51. She murmurs, yes.
52. Let the joy be universal, thinks B, a brittle uncomfortable thought which swans away into hot pink flames of glittery champagne trapezoids, also she’s thinking in a special locket that’s just for the two of them, also she’s thinking how she’s moved on, life has moved on, important things are happening for her and she doesn’t need to crawl here on her hands and knees, also she’s thinking that E is a misunderstood angel. Jewel.
53. Hair tie.
54. But how about when she’s scared in stops and starts? Casual and friendly in a provocatively calm voice? De rigueur insincere while jumping immediately into some serious stuff all dishonest-honest relieved-crestfallen? Confiding and sending flowers the next day with a transparent unicorn watery eyes quip bubble about being severely allergic to decent human beings? Sniffly, doesn’t want to be alone, height of the summer, they can all put the past behind them (the past a delusional manipulative eavesdropping Freedom hair tie leering in the background)? Hey and when she needs something, he’s never moved on (doesn’t feel up to breathing), so what should she do other than not stay away?
55. Oinks, grunts and guffaws. Cackles and cackles about the magical rays of karma.
56. Drizzled spit. No, butter. No, spit. Hands cupped underneath to catch the drips.
57. drooling drooling look-at-what-you-did-bitch and spit-sick-drip drenching
58. Lightning, sparkles. B is more confused than ever about what if anything she did wrong. She’s so mixed up, she even turns to F for advice.
59. Not many of her friends either threw or received punches. F can sense a soft glow, from the lamp, off to the right, above the bedside table. And why do these people even care? Let’s be honest. They ganged up on her and none of them can cogitate for themselves. F oxygenates his whatever passes for blood with a breath of evening, imagining that the softness of his voice is somehow tied to the softness of the light, like something in it will protect him. Souls crammed with befuddled jealousy? Her friends show up at a random place, with no information, and just wait…? Tell her what to eat and what to wear, the way to bathe (or, not to bathe)? How many times she should (should not) masturbate? B is silent for a moment. A few moments.
60. What B is fumbling to say is that she felt different about E, and didn’t know what to say or even whom to ask about it. All so unhurried, so soft, so gentle—she realized that this was the real E, the soft one whose touch was so tender and so loving. So, um…ummmm…because it’s unhealthy? What is? The whole situation. You can stuff any crazy kind of toy into it, but when the holiday is over…
61. kissing kissing kiss then spit sticking sticking tasting sour drizzle flecking
62. F just lies there, reaching through the room through his imagination, which is understandably not a little blurred, but at the same time soft, protective, like the light.
63. F: a benevolent and kind person often the object of unfocused blame who doesn’t believe in focusing on blame.
64. He feels kindness for this woman. He wants to feel kindness for her. He wants to be kind. There are things he did that are unforgivable, but for the rest, he’s moved on and passed them by. He’ll forgive them both and in a remote infallible future they’ll become, last month, hipster sister wives, evil glints in their hot pink eyes leading them into a rainbow of doom. “Oh,” but in a different, happier tone of voice.
65. B pinches F’s tender points, shoves him up against a mirror in which he sees himself preaching that he’s changed—reformed, reconfigured. Congratulations, he murmurs without much conviction. Instantly he begins to slip. No he doesn’t really, he’s just jealous of B and her impenetrable delusion. He starts to talk about his sister.
66. B makes a fist and places it gently against F’s cheek. He kisses it, and as he reaches over to embrace her, she straight-arms him, playfully, affectionately. He indulges in these games with B because otherwise she has a tendency to go all sulky: yet another round in their series of nonconversations. It’s his turn to talk! It’s his turn to talk! B reaches for his cock and makes a fist around it, an unclosed fist. Punch. Him. Out. Slides his cock along her ultra-silky upper inner thigh, his cock still three-quarters soft, hardening incrementally with each stroke. Would punch him out if she weren’t a tiny powerful actress infatuated with his sister/not-sister. Harder harder harder harder HARDER. Noncondom.
67. You bet your ass she would.
68. Merely wished to know which of his few and circumspect actions had earned for him that cherished epithet.
69. Sound of fabric shifting, bedsprings, and a dry inhale, exhale.
70. If she (she) had something else in mind (mind), I would rather not discuss it.
71. drenched finger now two fingers kneading deeper in now deeper in so spit slick a new skin a numbing numbing thud still deeper kneading
72. Again F attempts to focus on the glow, the winsome glow, letting his thoughts go slack (sincerely interested in B being allowed a chance, generously, a fair opportunity), in time with repetitions of the special more mature/more grounded incantation, like it will be okay, when he doesn’t know if it will, or what it might even be, but it will be, okay, it will all, be, okay.
73. And then she—she didn’t understand.
74. Never planned on their flirtation evolving into anything more than just that, threeway flirtation. The three of them just standing waiting for something. What? For him? Did he deserve any sympathy whatsoever? The dozens of times E stalked his phone and found deleted receipts versus the dozens of times he stalked her phone and found craggy heights, eagerness, perfect calm, forgiven disagreements?
75. B trying not to cry. “I will never talk to either one of them. Ever.” Not audible, but the tears streaming down her face. Catching her breath; she’s been sobbing so hard, for so long, it’s close to impossible to hear beyond her turbulent bruit. F much too astonished to do anything but await the end of his alleged “message.”
76. Her eyes look darker now.
77. Unfinished business and lingering resentment, words projecting, softly, so far (not so far) from this room. Exactly how many people has she slept with this summer alone?
78. Patiently, still there, lightheartedly (yes), fantastically good credit risk, smarmy flight into sunshine, ignoring the obvious fact that B is far more manipulative than she is, E sits on her hands, bites her lip, shouldering the entire burden herself.
79. Once again sharing everything, wherever she was hiding, and she’s all looking her bullseye in the eye and it’s complicated, getting all the attention, puddle of drool, can’t find her own self on a map, has decided to do what normal people do and weakly make amends, will eventually evolve into a bouquet of supermarket flowers, is temporarily pacified.
80. This side of her, the side I slept with, is the good side, B will one day explain, who is vulnerable and emotional. Hordes of others are contending to notch E’s name into their phones (some pretty wild possibilities/dozens of fantastic offers) and some go around for a week singing a jingle all probably singing the same jingle in their heads adding to B’s feeling of euphoric triumph (looking into the face of her own future not-future) while others who won’t ever get it waste their days vacillating (a kind of prophetic magic) or even all of them vacillating in rhythm between chastely staying home this weekend (a yellow color-keyed off-kilter vacation that includes an unwieldy fourth wheel) and succumbing to the magnetic attraction of taking credit for being the force behind prying B away, then strutting off to work afterward even as they abuse F’s imbecile alibis.
81. Or E who seamlessly interrupts a tirade about open-mouth fish-face skanks to consult a parking enforcement officer about a boot—the officer just happens to be parked at the corner reading auto wants ads in a paper newspaper—resumes the tirade not holding back in a gruesome imitation of some open-mouth fish-face skank obediently trotting after her, E.
82. B traces her tongue along the shaft of F’s clay-brown cock; a thin spit stream begins to flow; all the liquid that belongs in there; she is teasing him, ignoring him again, detaching herself again, breathing in cold deep breaths while walking down a hall, thinking, this is mine, this energy belongs to me.
83. still deeper kneading in this inlet spittle seeping deeper deeper spit slick with spit
84. E existing somewhere, temporarily angelic, or just the opposite, somber and resolving to tell no one (yes), disinviting, other unsavory developments: if only in an epiphany she would release an unconfession. Unconfess. Reverse fess.
85. The phone…was on the table, by the lamp.
86. No, the other table…no…it doesn’t matter...
87. F feels strangely guilty at not having been the one to break it to her, B. His sister/not-sister. At a heated juncture, she will crash down from above them, imperiously, E. B in a zone of sputter-mumble. B waiting and hoping for 50 impure glowing dewy people. F in a turtleneck that makes the black wrap dress look cheap. B finding her voice and confidence after communing deeply with her bikini-line/not-bikini-line: a don’t-look-down moment.
88. B mumbles something like, mhm.
90. Clay brown.
91. Salt, warmth. E can sense the salt warmth from the doorway where she stands like that time in elementary school when they made her wait outside in a puddle of free perfume samples. All of which F still remembers in minute detail.
92. Whatever happens to his droopy dong is his business.
93. BRUSH, thinks B, her hair scraped back in a bun, while F is thinking that he’s spent a considerable amount of time since puberty self-grooming, legit concerns, LEGIT, while E is thinking of the condom wrapper from that time in elementary school, a Sunday afternoon. Which adamant about not forgiving (he doesn’t deserve it; she can no longer spend every waking hour TRYING to engage him in a conversation about delusional hypocrisy) she stowed ever so discreetly/not-discreetly under the bed/her bed/his bed.
94. It’s all under control. Stay loose.
95. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what you need.
96. B with a super-thick Russian accent grabs the back of F’s head and yanks out a fistful of cash.
97. Don’t be daft. She’s still holding onto his shoulders. Doesn’t want to start completely over. And what the hell does that have to do with separate ways? She didn’t think it would be like this, hibiscus flowers, the possibility of there being a grain of truth in the most awful suggestion.
98. The emotional vampire control freak that is E causing all kinds of petty drama, helping B to learn a monumental lesson of forgiveness (can’t even begin to describe the slurping noises that come out of her mouth when she helpfully tries to nod “okay”), levitating perpetually in the sunshine of her massive fluttering ego, E’s.
99. E (justifiably) only out for herself and F (homage to that kind of expressionless expression you have to be really really wet to master) and only into the drama of no drama.
100. E presiding (no doubt for sentimental reasons), stripping down completely, for some reason understood only by the volatile safe space that is E not throwing F under the bus although it’s her wont to recap highlights of the ancient chicanery (from the era when to all appearances they were beacons of support for each other) when undressing. Unearthing.
101. It’s sweet to see them muddling through trying to maintain a semblance of borrowed-time friendship despite all the phobia-of-adulting history, thinks B, lacking the vocabulary to describe the experience of spending every moment aghast.
102. E’s reconnaissance mission across hot skin, F effortlessly vouching for her.
103. Underpriced even in a state of disrepair (not that there’s any money involved, not that there’s even the hint of a transaction). And even hard-earned special Whole Heart Tableau visualization skills couldn’t possibly diminish the next-level grandeur of the world-class body glitter celebration of erotic accountability that is B alone and cold out there in the dark and late still holding onto her sleeves.
104. Held on to his sleeve. Not his arm, his sleeve.
105. Not even Saturday afternoon Lance Labor Foundation special visualization skills.
106. Effusively grateful and it doesn’t matter which one of them is exploring her V Club section. They want her around, here on her hands and knees, they’re adorable friends in mattress land, and yet: bloodless. And she can’t step out of the virtual shadow of the freaky history. Maybe someday? But keeping her at a distance, always civil and respectful, swatting at her lightly when she’s gone, somehow it isn’t getting any easier.
107. All of which might have been averted had she been careful not to be somehow happy to experience, all the time, really all the time, this terrible bitter taste in her mouth all the time dampening any possible animal enthusiasm for quietly not reacting to F or E’s hardwired sarcasm.
108. Incredibly superstitious about enjoying the shooting herself down while receiving their little silences, averted glances? Watching herself keeping at it, together now, equal-time gestures, something worthwhile planned for her and just for her bright and early. Delivering the message to herself with full force without much conviction and yet, endearingly, with habitual wonky nitpicking, hometown, while they’re compensating for her loudness with their glass door busting open on their foreheads little silences, and know what? Who gives a shit if somebody overheard?
109. will take his word for it pulls her hair back pushes her ass up and uh as if he had been aroused from the uh depths of slumber and yes and yes he
110. I wanted to be alone with you. Look what I have.
111. I was now almost ashamed to tell her.
112. That way. Just go that way. For awhile.
113. Only has the balls however for 17 months of purgatory. Wouldn’t a real friend explain that it will probably be awkward forever and that’s that? Forever accidentally imprisoned as if managed by some Machiavellian trust fund savant whose undiscoverable ulterior motive is to obliterate the nauseating self-inflicted muslin cloth reassurances between obscenities YES the perfect couple?
114. She says to get your ass in there.
115. Get in before he can.
116. Let’s run. Let’s stay and fight.
117. And those trampolines: how to channel your inner wild child with a potent cocktail of tequila, tears, and cashmere.
118. E throws the most epic of pseudo-tantrums in a fleeting instant while in a graceful dance around B’s side-eye.
119. F would be happy to do her any favor whatsoever, he’s reading her mind so perfectly, B in the pristine adult sandbox of her writhing and moaning up for anything. YES. As long as no reminders of the not-so-distant days of building the foundation. NO marks on her face of any kind.
120. The clear layer beneath the clear layer beneath the clear layer beneath the clear layer beneath the clear
121. She’s all in, B is, cooling her heels in their outer office, as it were, her hair tousled wet around her on the bed. And of course everything else is nothing. All the bullshit drama not-drama worth it for 20 minutes exquisitely operating heavy equipment in their bed. B suddenly understands doesn’t-understand (for the umpteenth time) that they’re too mature and domesticated to seriously stray, stray for real, cheating or no cheating. Three can play that game.
122. And why she would be an asset to their brand.
123. A road whose turns E has been taking at high speeds since she was twelve.
124. And her brother/not-brother.
125. She can’t believe how free she feels, B, like, where are we? Past it. It was a very beautiful thing and really sold her on the idea, that’s where she is. They’ve materialized into a combustible cloud of attractiveness, talent, ironic Payless heels, the right kind of pleather, innumerable double-dash jokes (“hair of the --g").
126. Effortlessly not unlike the scene in Fantasia where Hop Low ascends to the accompaniment of fluffy pillow sermonettes into an electric blue sky and keeps ascending and ascending and ascending and ascending and
127. Reveling in saying what she’d always felt but never spoken, amid the inalienable knitwear, drawing whatever inferences she chooses and watching herself apprehending and inferring, never a divisive inference, no verbal reassurance drama or implicitly derogatory distinctions or encumbered answers: miracle of mercy.
128. And her luster, her ticklish existence, presented to her almost as a fait accompli, timed to the time of day, let the joy be universal, her bedazzling validation.
129. A part of her smirking in skinny jeans and tank (body conscious clothing) crashing the party and hauling her outside for an awesome heart-to-heart. After all sorts of filling her in and putting two and two together the smirking 25-year-old fractionation of herself giving her its blessing and hopping onto a bus and she’s waiting and waiting while doing horizontal Jello shots until it drives out of sight into the damp furze of the veldt where once she floated in a soft and endless corridor of impossible belief in the impossible.
130. Even the simplest decision scrutinized by the ever-vigilant tiara-shaped needs and wants committee of her conscience merely as a kind of pleasantry.
131. In the direction of permanence.
132. In the direction of eternity bands beyond the realm of four-year-olds settling into domestic bliss and wild oats not yet sowed dribbling down a perfect chin and, um, she’ll just let that statement sit there.
133. Wondrous lyrical duets in a drained cement pool, 13-step tutorials on the ultimate guide to tennis-anyone types (her special albatross), fibrous cocoons of hair pomade.
134. A spiritual home where she could catalog her strategies for avoiding actually saying anything to their faces, up to her neck in another wave of subhuman noises.
135. Plucking flowers out of unlikable disinfected towels labeled with the names of family members specially engineered to, even while off balance, keep their distance.
136. Is invited, didn’t invite, crushes some adorable candor-and-squalor version of F’s lukewarm vow in her hands. Grew up in a normal home where the silverware and so forth arrived on roller skates. Her own brother a wise and smart young Jedi.
137. It lasted a long time.
Fortunato Salazar’s fiction is in recent issues of CutBank, PEN America, The Southampton Review, Washington Square Review and elsewhere.