The smell of onions reminded him of her.
He made another teary-eyed slice to the thought of her hands, smelling of the morning’s cut, reaching down between his legs to make sure he was ready. To make sure he was alive. To make sure he was exactly as she wanted.
Onions weren’t the only curse. There was also the taste of sweat, the thought of brushing his teeth and wondering if he would really have to go through with it. These were the things she left him with.
A tear found the corner of his lips. The onions. Had to be.
When the two of them had first started, his friends said he should be grateful. He had been, for a time.
No one believed him at first. “Too much? You think that’s a problem?”
He did, but they, apparently, did not.
“Fuck her,” they said. “Fuck her like she’s the last woman on Earth.”
He shuddered at the word. Fuck. It was something one person did to another, a doer and a done. The two of them fucked one another. At least that’s how he had seen it.
It was great when they first started. Fantastic. Awe-inspiring. He had no one previous to compare her to, but he had never come so hard in his life. Every night it was the same. Once, twice, it made no matter. And onions. Always the smell of onions. The scent alone became enough to swell him.
They would show up to work the next day with purpled eyes and reeking of their most raw selves. Sleepless zombies, they would slice and cut their way through the morning’s work.
“Let me do those,” he once said.
She refused and thumbed away a tear.
Later on, his friends cornered him about it. “How did you do it?” They patted him on the back when she stepped away. “You lost your virginity to that ass? A hell of a man, you.” He supposed he was. Pride warmed him. He would walk with her down the street, his hand in the back pocket of her jeans.
Then it changed.
“You know Liza?” She wrapped a leg over his, the sweat from her breasts against the hair of his chest.
“The girl from the shoe store?”
“What do you think of her?”
He shrugged. “She seems nice.”
“What would you think of her joining us?” Wet lips found his neck.
“Are you not into that?” she said.
“I hadn’t thought about it.” He hadn’t.
“Think about it,” she said. Her onion hands found him. Round three.
“I don’t know if I’m ready.”
“Come on,” she said. “I want you to think about it. Think of her during. Think of her with me while you do it.”
He did. He came. It burned the way it did only after a third round—emptily.
“So,” she said, “should I talk to her?”
“She’s into girls. I can tell.”
“If you think so—”
“I know so.”
He told his friends. They brimmed. They whooped. They snorted. “Your second woman is gonna be part of a threesome? Where can I get me a girl like that?”
“I don’t know. It just kind of happened that way.” He bit his lip. “I don’t know if I’d even be into it.”
“Stop whining,” they said. “Man up. Two women is every man’s dream.”
He went to the bathroom and washed his hands. He hadn’t cut them himself, but the stink of onions lingered all the same.
Later she was on all fours. She pounded against him as the sweat dripped down his nose, onto his lips. He wanted to come. There was just none left. He was raw, spent, depleted.
Somehow, still, he came.
“I talked to Liza,” she said.
His thundering heart might have detonated in his chest. Stars flickered in the corners of his vision. “Yeah?”
“I guess she’s not into girls.”
“Oh.” He lay on his back and his chest rose and fell faster than he felt possible.
“What if we opened things up a bit?” Her hand found his chest. Onions. Musk.
He let his hand cover his nose.
“I still want to see you,” she said, “but I want women, too.” She moved his hand from his face. “I love you.”
This was news to him.
She went on. “I want to be with you, but I think we should let ourselves have other experiences, too. What do you think?”
Own her, his friends had said. Keep her on lock. Ass like that, they said, comes around once in a lifetime.
He loved her, he supposed, and wanted her to be happy. He wanted to be happy, too. “Can you let me think about it?”
She nuzzled up to him, pressing her lips to his cheek. “Let me persuade you.”
He felt himself shrivel inside. And outside. “I need a minute.”
So he stood there, brushing his teeth, his own bloodshot eyes finding their partners in the mirror. Would he have to fuck her again?
“I don’t know,” he said to his friends. “I think I love her, but this may be too much.”
“This is the best thing that ever happened to you,” they said. “Let her do it. She’ll bring one of them around eventually, one of the other women. You’ll get that threesome yet.”
He thought again of Liza, of any one of the women she had mentioned to him. He thought of them with him. Of them with her. Of all of them together.
Hang in there. Reevaluate later. Things will go back to how they were. Won’t they?
“I hung out with Marilia and Joe last night.” She tied her hair behind her head. Her knees depressed the carpet as she knelt.
She unzipped his jeans. “They’re doing an open thing, too, you know.” One of her onion hands withdrew him. She stroked him and looked up. “What do you think of her?”
“I’ve never been with someone from another country.”
“Of course you haven’t.” She took him in her mouth and drew herself forward and back. Warm. Wet. He felt himself hardening. She pulled back. “You’ve only been with me.” She ran her tongue over the tip. “Does it turn you on to know we were together last night?”
“We weren’t together last night.”
“Not us,” she said. “Me and Marilia.”
He tried to pull away. “We never talked about that again.”
“Come on.” She cupped him in place. “I worked something out with her.”
“Stop,” he said. “We should talk—”
She took him wholly in her mouth. He felt himself against the back of her throat. His mind was swarming with repulsion, but his body lusted. He stiffened again against her tongue, her mouth bidding him forward.
Stop. He wanted to stop. But the sweetness came, so sweet, the kind of sweet where there is no stopping. Another second, perhaps another two. He was ready to let go.
She held tight, her onion hands stroking the last of it from him.
“Tomorrow,” she said. “You’re going to take me. You’re going to take me and Marilia both.”
Dizziness and emptiness claimed him. He said nothing.
Her knife thunked against the cutting board the following morning. “You’re quiet today.”
“I thought you’d be more excited.” Another slice of onion slid across the wood. The light gleamed in the juice on her hands.
“It was a long night.”
The knife clanged against the table. “You don’t want me to be with her, do you?”
“I want you to be happy.”
“Don’t say it if you don’t mean it.”
Tears came. He could not smell the onion. “I want you to have what makes you happy. If being with Marilia will do that, then you should do it.”
She looked away. Her forefinger scratched the bridge of her nose. “I want a woman.” Her eyes met his. “But I want a man, too.” She wiped her hands on a nearby rag and left it in a heap on the table. That was the last he saw of her that day.
She switched to the dinner shift not long after that, and left the restaurant entirely some weeks later.
He would see her from time to time, Marilia’s hand in the back pocket of her jeans. He wondered about Joe, if he was still in the picture. He hoped Marilia was woman enough, hoped Joe was man enough for her.
Only he remained to cut the onions now. His hands reeked of her, of what it had been to be a man.
He headed for the sink and washed and washed and washed.
You can find R. R. online at rrcampbellwrites.com, or @iamrrcampbell and @writescast on Twitter. His work has also appeared with Five:2:One Magazine and is forthcoming from National Journal Writing Month.