Alone, On Fire
When your pubes spontaneously combust for the 1,567th time, your newest lover pulls out and asks, “did you come?”
“Yes, couldn’t you tell?” you murmur into his armpit, reaching into your special drawer, which holds a lot of interesting if predictable objects: a vibrating cock ring, an eight-year-old sample packet of lube, some index cards, Advil Liqui-Gels, a hammer, and a tiny fire extinguisher. After you extinguish your crotch, he asks, “are you sure?” You nod politely and put the little fire extinguisher back where it belongs. You pat him on the back to reassure him. “I actually didn’t, but I still enjoyed this very much.” That’s a true statement. Just because something isn’t spectacular doesn’t mean it’s not great while it lasts.
He nods. You can’t tell if he’s more disappointed in himself or in you.
Just when you’re about to come up with an excuse for why he should leave, he says, “well, I guess I’d better get started on my day.” Acid rises in your chest as you walk him to the door.
There’s a mason jar full of Tums on the shelf in the entryway. You eat one and let him kiss you goodbye. Unlike others before him, he doesn’t complain about the chalky aftertaste in your mouth.
“I’ll see you soon,” he says. He leaves, and you’ll never see or hear from him again.
You intend to be productive today but forego grocery shopping. The fridge is bursting with enough kale to fill two pillowcases and enough yogurt to coat your esophagus for at least the next week—the antacids are fully stocked. Instead, you walk to the nearby park. You haven’t been lately because it’s winter, but today is not terribly cold. There are people running up and down the steps in pairs and people doing calisthenics in the grass. You hope to reverse the osteopenia in your ankles by the time spring arrives so you can go for a run, but spring is a hard season to pin down in this age of global warming. You imagine all the palm trees currently on fire in California and feel guilty for wanting the warmth.
As you walk, you see a couple you recognize from Instagram. They’ve just had a baby and are pushing him in the stroller, accompanied by their shivering miniature greyhound, which they steer into the dog park. You can’t believe how attractive the woman is in person, with her severe bone structure and tasteful tattoos. Not much can be said for the man, but he has kind eyes, wears a Carhartt beanie, and is overall a nice accessory to the woman, baby, and greyhound.
The woman turns to look in your direction and you think she is pointing at you, but she’s really pointing at the area behind you, saying, “the light over there is really beautiful.” You feel your cheeks burn and avert your gaze.
On your third lap around the park, you notice a black cocker spaniel mix barking at an evergreen bush. It belongs to two women in their early thirties, one of whom carries a wicker basket of vegetables on her back. It strikes you as incredibly adorable and efficient, this wicker backpack. They’re clearly on their way back from the farmer’s market. The dog seems transfixed by something in the bush and continues barking at it aggressively.
The woman carrying the basket pulls the dog’s leash gently. “Pepper,” she says. “Come on.” The other woman says, “don’t you think it’s weird that she’s scared of a bush?” The basket woman replies, “maybe she thinks it’s burning.” The other woman shrugs. “Well, she is blind.”
The basket woman replies, “I was just making a Bible joke, babe. If it was burning, she’d obviously be able to smell it, and she’d probably be way more upset.” The other woman nods. “I think we’d all be really upset if this bush was burning right now.” They laugh together, imagining such a situation. The non-basket woman takes the basket woman’s hand. “I’m so glad we didn’t move to L.A.”
The dog eventually relinquishes its assault on the bush and follows them towards the exit of the park. The basket woman sees you and makes eye contact. For a moment, from the way she peers at you, it feels like you know her from somewhere. The prolonged eye contact is awkward, so you look away. She keeps walking with her lover and her dog. You linger because you don’t want it to seem like you’re following them, even though you would like to. You give them a sixty-second start, and then head toward the exit. On your way out, you steer clear of the bush because if you came too close to it, it would surely burst into flames.