By the time she arrived at the restaurant, everything was glowing. An alarming number of candles and dark red lights gave her the feeling that she might be shanghaied by the end of the night. Although in this bone-deep coldness, would being shanghaied be so bad? Maybe not. Her friends, along with some people she had never seen before, occupied the far corner of the restaurant, the sticky table in front of them covered in shot glasses and empty plates. Squeezing in beside two of them on the tiny bench, she pushed her bangs to the side and took a sip of the nearest drink. As she lowered the glass, she noticed someone staring at her—a tall, lanky man with hair cropped slightly too close to his head and sleeves pushed up above his elbows. The certainty with which he looked at her gave her pause. True, there was nothing odd about his gaze, but it was fixed on her, unflinching, unapologetic.
Héctor shunted a large cast-iron stag through the doorway. He had walked it in a series of hernia-bulging stages from his villa on the other side of the botanical garden; cutting through the garden had been a mistake – too many winding paths, too few benches – but he hadn’t wanted to be seen by his wife (she’d know about the lover) or the lover (she’d know about the surprise). The lover was Carmen, an idle, yet graceful, woman who passed her days flouncing between the two rooms – bedroom and living room – on the top floor of her house, drifting from one world of cloying pale pink anaglypta to the other.
It’s cold on the street in March at two a.m. in New England. We closed the bar down — a hoot since neither of us is the kind of woman who closes down a bar. Drunk or not, passersby stare. Even in 2013 in a college town, a black woman and a white woman laughing this intimately are unusual.
Her Mouth// It is sister to disgust,// the turn of a spatula in the gut,// a pulsed blow to the brain,// all this kissing.// It is like exchanging dirty underthings.
Had we a stable space-time, Mz,// This long postponement were no fuss:// As flat geometry will tell// Our world-lines would run parallel;// Then I’d take with timeless care// The spectra of your every hair// And like the stable stars above// Have no half-life to my love.
This darkness inside comes and goes. I never see. I sometimes hear but I cannot speak. I sometimes feel but I cannot move. And the burden of consciousness when it comes offers no relief. I have my memories, up to but not including the accident, and sometimes they help me pass the time. But a cold terror always dismantles my musings and replaces them with an empty cocaine clarity.
Veronica was staying there for the latter end of the season, invited by friends of friends to house sit. She spent her days swimming and reading, flopping from her bed to the pool and back again, her skin turning slowly from city grey to rejuvenated white, as she relaxed, then from white to pink, as the sun’s rays spread into her, warming her to her core. She was feeling better than when she arrived, but still desolate as yet another relationship had fallen apart. The villa allowed her to live naked, a timid Eve in an empty garden devoid of fig and apple trees, or even snakes, for that matter.
The first time I had sex was on a bus. It was when streets were narrower in Tehran but summers just as hot. City buses were imported second-hand from Germany and Hungary. Their interiors were refurbished to last a little longer, but new seats, made of metal frames and foam cushions covered with cheap, artificial leather, were not strong enough to tolerate vandalism. The seats could be red or blue or green, but the colour didn’t make a huge difference in giving passengers a pleasant experience. They were so worn you could feel the frames underneath. The covers were either jammed with so much foam, so hard that it felt you sat on a millstone, or the cushions seemed so thin that their existence didn’t make much difference; they were ripped and you could see the insides.
Captain Idries Bates sprayed a little top-up of libido suppressant under his tongue before going in to meet the Quing. All of the Earthmen he had brought here were obliged to dose themselves morning and night but he thought he wouldn’t be facing this meeting if they had obeyed. “The majesty will see you now,” said an attendant offering to escort him to the door. The creature was unremarkable, about seven foot tall with four breasts and a tail. A parthenogenetic species had no need for distinctive appearance. But the Quing was different from the uniform masses. It was about four times the size of other Zy Ren. Apart from that, the breasts were shaped much like humanoid breasts all over the universe. Captain Bates had entered a career in space travel expecting to find diversity and now realised that conscious life everywhere expressed itself in predictable manifestations. The vertical biped was one of the most common. The Quing hummed alluringly. All Zy Ren hummed alluringly; that was a big part of the problem. “You have a problem?” The Quing stroked its inner thigh as if heightened sensual self pleasuring was as instinctive as was basic grooming to an Earthling. “We both have a problem,” said Bates, “as I see it.” “Explain,” it said, edging closer to him.