Laura liked to think she was honest with herself; it was everyone else she lied to.
No, says the voice behind me. No. You cannot begin like that.
Like what? I ask.
Like that, it says. The voice authoritarian, though the owner of it would forbid such a description. Too lazy. What does authoritarian sound like? he would ask. Like a dictator screaming from a podium, or your mother insisting you do the dishes? His swollen finger edging into my peripheral now. While the rest of the class stops writing, while they turn slightly in their chairs to listen. To watch from the corners of their eyes as he points his finger at my paper. A finger that could not be sausage-like because that, too, would be too lazy. That would be too cliché. I try to think of befitting metaphors.
That, it says again, the voice different from the one I’d imagined before the acceptance letter, before signing up for his writing class at the university. Not at all the voice I’d heard when I gobbled down his sex-drenched novels in high school, jerking off in my parents basement. His finger descending now, slightly curled, a chubby dick toward my paper, a dick half hard and drooping toward me. Like it drooped toward her that day, brushing the insides of her thighs as he hoisted her onto his desk—was that right? Or did she pull him onto her?
A semi-colon, he says, a semi-colon, and a sentence ending in a prepositional phrase. The opening sentence. The first line. Who wants to read that? Huh?
The question is not rhetorical. The correct answer is: no one.
And accordingly, the class remains silent. Everything silent but for his dick finger tapping my paper now. The desk sounding hollow beneath it. Thump, thump, thump. The sound of a bed in a thin-walled apartment. Thump, thump, thump. Laura takes forever to turn in her seat, the whole class waiting for it, turning to her before she turns.
I might read it, she says, cocking her head to the side, a pose picked up from a thousand college collages. The classroom hangs on the edge of its seat, waiting through her dramatic pause. She always had a flare for the dramatic. But there again is a clichéd phrase. How clichéd if it’s true? Finally, shrugging her shoulders, batting her lashes, she completes her pirouette. Maybe, she says with a wink.
Chuckle chuckle chuckle, from the backs of their heads.
From the fat lips of the man above me. Protruding lips that I imagine wrapped around her tits. Gobbling them down. She told me it happened. Veiled in a fiction. She wrote it into being, she said. Created it with her imagination. Bravo. The flabby lips protruding—hungry—from the beard, the stubble of a beard, after class, the salt and pepper beard, same as the stubble in the horseshoe around his bald head. There’s too much flesh there. It’s all flesh, him, everything naked. He asked her to stay after class that day. I remember it. He asked her. She wrote it.
Coupled on top of his desk. Her hands clutching his head to her breast, pressing all that flesh into her own, her tits bouncing loose of his mouth, slapping the sides of his face. Sopping wet. Was she moaning? Maybe she moaned—I can’t remember—for this big baby with bloated lips, hungry. In the story her tits were bigger—she made them bigger. Wrote them into being. Big balloons bouncing on his bald head. As if they could get any bigger. As if you could call it a story. Wet titties slapping his face, his fat lips puckered and reaching toward her puffy nipples. Hungry. I remember how she wrote it. She put her hands on top of his head and pushed him down. She had the agency, she was the agent. She pushed him down, or rather, pushed herself up, his head like a rock in a river—there was a simile there—a pale smooth rock in a river, that she put her palms on top of and pushed herself up—out of the water, only to drown him in the liquid below. It was all so wet, the pages dripping. She pushed him down toward her sex. That’s what she called it, her sex. His fat lips sliding down her flesh as she pushed him, leaving a slug’s trail behind on her abdomen, toward the pale tan lines—can you see it? she asked—in the dark, the infinitesimal blonde hairs matted around her belly button, her hips gyrating, her whole body undulating as if the desk—his desk, in the front of the classroom now—was a john boat gently rocking on the tide. She anticipated his wet face as it stubble stumbled over the pale flesh, his features smeared toward the black jungle mound of her sex.
You’re going to turn this in, I asked her.
She shrugged. Sure.
To him? I asked.
I shrugged my shoulders, trying to act nonchalant. Nonchalant, another word he’d disapprove of. Of which he’d disapprove. What does nonchalant look like? he’d ask.
He flaps my paper in front of his face, preparing to read it aloud. The whole class turned in their seats, now, away from Laura, back toward me and the man standing behind me because it is now a performance.
Was it Tolstoy or Checkov who wrote that quip about mourners at a funeral congratulating themselves on not being the ones being buried?
I won’t turn, I won’t do it, I won’t look at his face. The face wet with her pussy, huddled between her legs in the story—as if you could call it a story, everything so wet—the face slick with sweat and saliva, reaching deeper, trying to gobble her down. Her back arched so that only her ass and her head touched the desk—like the cover of a romance novel, she said—her legs wrapped around his head—what kind of a romance novel?—pulling him into her, inside of her, all that flesh, saliva dripping from her tits, both of them soaking wet, glistening in what lurid light? From the window? she asked. Should the window be open? Should I hear a bird singing outside? That’s poetic. Her eyes rolled back, pale, sightless above her slimy tits—saliva everywhere slipping and sliding—tits that she squeezed, wrung out like a towel above his head, the nipples puffy, oozing. I don’t know if that metaphor works, I said. It’s a simile, she answered, not a metaphor.
Jesus. I can hear it now as he exhales above me. Can hear him breathing in her sex, this amphibian creature, his protruding lips latched on and digging. The stubble rough between her thighs, as he sought for the center, burrowing in, wet sandpaper grinding. Her hands on the back of his head, pushing him in. She was the agent, she had the agency—pushing him into her sex, her legs gripped around his ears as his tongue lolled out, fell into her, sweet, slobbering, pushed into the soft spot, deeper. Deeper, reaching farther inside, his lips, then his nose, his whole face disappearing—desperate to get in. Suffocating himself. I can hear it. Like a dog shaking off in the rain.
Can hear it as he clears his throat above me. Thick and wet, croaking, as I sit stock still below him, refusing to look up at him, this accoladed man, this man that brings talent to the classroom. The shining star of the school’s writing workshop, an idol of mine in a former life, an idol of every teenage boy who can read.
Or is it Laura that I hear in that voice? Laura last night while I tried to sit and read. Laura clearing her throat for my attention. Behind the book that I held to my face—his book, this man standing over me now, his book—probably with her hands on her hips, I thought. Another pose picked up along the way. Always with a flare for the dramatic. Wanting me to put the book down and stare at her—to feign surprise at whatever new costume she’d found. Whatever new getup she’d slipped into—into which she’d slipped—wanting me to jump up, a fire lit beneath me, throw her over my shoulder and rush to the bedroom to ravish her over and over again. The cover of a romance novel—of all the romance novels—spun on a spinning plastic display case in the corner of the Walgreens store.
I’m no Fabio, I said to her, shaking my head at the books on the flimsy rack.
You’re my Fabio, she answered, placing the palm of her hand on my chest.
No, I said, shaking my head. No. All of this? It’s all fucking fake. Realizing after I’d said it that I wasn’t just talking about the books.
It’s all an act. Not just the dress-up in the evenings, the roll playing that felt forced from the beginning, pulled straight from a Cosmo How To Please Your Man column. But the act within the act, the faces she makes, the noises, whether she be gypsy or pirate or gutter-rat, whether she be debutant or prom queen. It’s all fake, inside and out, the way she walks into class, the way she talks to people, the outfits she wears, the music she listens to—to which she listens—all of it. All built up to create this shell that she lives inside of, alone. If life is the costume, Laura, then what is the real? What is the center he sought for? For which he sought, when he fucked you on top of his desk. Who are you behind the swinging tits? Behind the sexually liberated woman? The one who goes hunting for dick when she wants it, who preaches of open relationships? Who writes erotica to shock her boyfriend, then turns it in for a grade?
When I dropped the book last night she was dressed in the same outfit as the day she stayed after. The day he asked her to stay after class. The same outfit she wore in the story. High-waisted acid wash jeans and a torn up T-shirt bearing Robert Plant’s ambiguously beautiful face. She told me to be him.
Robert Plant? I asked
No, she said. No. You know who.
Laura liked to think she was honest with herself, says the voice above me now. Pausing, his eyes scanning the classroom, I imagine, warning everyone else that he’s prosecutor, judge, and jury. Another lazy description, I know, too cliché. Semi-colon, he says. Semi-colon. It was everyone else she lied to.
Silence, the monotonous buzz from the fluorescent tube lights. Everyone staring at me as I stare at her. The paper fluttering through my peripheral until he pins it to my desk with his finger. I cannot take my eyes from her face across the classroom, because it seems now, as I stare at her, that he succeeded that day. That he crawled into her, face first, his bald head slipping in as her legs spread wider and wider and wider, a great gaping maw between her stretched-wide thighs that he slithered into—into which he slithered—that accepted him, first one shoulder, then the other, moving like a fish, his arms at his sides, flopping into her. Or rather, she gobbling him—the agency all hers—her hands shoving him inside, as she moaned on the desk, slick with sweat and saliva, her hands gripped around him, all flesh, all phallus, thrust in while a bird sang a song outside.
The window open now. Did she write it into her story? There’s no denying it. It’s his face smiling at me from hers. Not a smile but a smirk. A smirk that tells me it knows something I don’t, that it’s always known something I don’t. A smirk that is not an act, that is not fake, that is not the cover of a book at all, but the insides, the pages in between. A glimpse at the center I sought for but seek no more. I see him in her face as he walks away faceless, saying: No. Not good enough. Try again.