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by kathleen maher
pictures by rhoda penmarq
23) Choosing My Demons
Before he went to bed tonight, in the robe, rotating the twin sets of iron balls, Carlos placed his lips and tongue against the nape of my neck. I jumped in alarm and my hand flew up, covering the computer screen. Laughing, he put set his twin sets of iron balls in their little nests inside their little embroidered boxes. Poking me under my chin, he said, “Hey, what do you think? I don’t respect your privacy?”
I did not look up. Being around him all the time has become really exhausting. Especially since, since he’s come back, I don’t know why, but I can not sleep.
“Start thinking of your Life and Times, in terms of a ‘Millennial Doctrine.’ ”
“And remember, Malcolm, choose your demons carefully.”
“Doctrine? Demons? Since when?”
“Your big sin, silly. The thing you and your followers can never get away from. Will it be sex? Food?” And he patted the cushion of fat that’s been forming over my belt. For ever since Carlos’s return I’ve been nervously, guiltily stuffing my face.
24) Carlos at Work
I really can not sleep at all. Sometimes after midnight, Carlos brings out this great platter of meat loaf and freshly mashed potatoes, a bowl of creamed spinach, and a basket of warm rolls, and butter. He hands me a frosted stein of Heinekens. And sets on the table a deep-dish apple pie with a huge, heavy wedge of extra sharp Cheddar.
Then he totters off to the couch where he instantly sinks into deep and enviable sleep.
All this week and last, the fillings were cherry or strawberry or raspberry. Almost everything’s heart-shaped, even the bread. And, I’ve done all the things I always do the first half of February—dug out the Valentine paraphernalia, tacked up sprays of ribbon and lace and cardboard cupids. But somehow I failed to connect the concept with the day. As if not me but some zombie were setting out the paper hearts. Weird what fear will do. I think it’s fear: In my heart of hearts I always thought if I got to this point, my personal answer for why I was born would appear in front of me, or rise up from my inner being.
If nothing else, I recognize it as handwriting on the wall. I remember making up fliers with Maggie, quibbling over the layout, the typeface, all conceivable nuances—but the date.
(“New Forms” was what we decided on. Open, vague. “Everybody Welcome!”) And even our quibbling appears in my mind as a brief, jumpy scene of my arms flailing, Maggie elaborately sighing. This morning, it finally hit me—February 14th! How stupid could I be? Carlos had the music on. He had the iron balls going. I was struggling to button my jeans.
Only a couple of weeks ago, remember, I’d happily made it into a pair that had been too tight for years. But since then, I haven’t stopped eating. And Carlos, who’s always thrown a fit if I ever even looked like I wanted to taste anything, has been foisting food on me: tarts, cakes, pastries stuffed with fabulously sick, rich fillings, and double fudge brownie topped with whipped cream by day; and his sumptuous, native cooking, guacamoles and fresh beef tacos, spicy burritos and enchiladas smothered in silken white cheese at night. So, I sucked in hard, once, twice, and then, my sorry effort with the metal button a constrained success, I broke into a revelatory sweat.
I huffed and puffed, my scalp tingled and I realized: The upcoming New C. of C. was scheduled for Valentines Day!
“Let me get this straight,” Carlos said. “You think people who come to the meetings are going to say, ‘Holy crap! I can’t go out tonight; it’s Valentine’s Day!’?”
“And you think it won’t affect business if we’ve got a bunch of misfits sitting around talking about whether a personal relationship with God is possible?”
Carlos tossed his waist-length hair behind him. He circled the room on the balls of his feet. And as usual, the sight of his powerful calves and ankles in motion made me pant. The evil, alluring Carlos, a beatific grin on his face, set his twin sets of iron balls in their nests.
Still grinning, he swayed on those wondrous feet as the raggedy terry cloth robe my mother gave me ten Christmases ago began to slip off his skinny Mexican shoulders, the frayed tie having come loose from his twenty-six inch waist. Circling silently behind me, he rose on his toes and pressed his hands on my shoulders. Then I felt his brindled hair on my cheek, grazing my ear and then (God Help Me) the pouch of new flesh at my neck.
Jostling me, he said, “Come on, Malcolm. Forget the stupid store.” His hands moved along my back and I bit the inside of my cheek.
“Forget the fucking store!” Carlos dug at the area where my legs join my trunk. “We are about to embark,” he said, “on a totally new, life-everlasting kind of venture. All that matters from now on, Malcolm, are endeavors of the soul.”
“Yes.” I held my breath. The robe shifted and swayed behind me as Carlo’s sinewy body shifted and swayed behind me. He ran his hands up and down the length of my arms, the flaps of that robe opening away from him.
“The time,” he whispered, “is perfect,” and pressed his hand on my painfully constrained penis, which angled huge and hard along my thigh. “The time, the time, the time,” Carlos said, “is now!”
His fingertips tapped on the tip and in my extremity, I put myself out of the world. Whatever happened next, I told myself, happened. There was nothing I could do. No move I could make, no sound, no silent wish would change what Carlos had in mind. Quivering and panting, I tried pretending that what we were enacting was nothing more than an intricate kind of handshake.
While Carlos kept stroking, kept pressing, kept rubbing, I gathered all my consciousness to keep from moaning. At this point, at this crucial—I beg you, Carlos, please just one more second—he managed to make it both better and worse by moving his hands up and away, his fingers near my chest before mercifully he drew me closer to him. He hugged me from behind. With the robe open, I recognized his tight muscled torso rubbing against me, his hip points jabbing my butt cheeks, squashed down and together by my way too-small jeans. But I was not, was not, was not going to groan and gasp, shiver and come. I refused to think of his nakedness. I suppressed a fantasy involving the terry cloth belt knotted around his wrists, tied up over his head, so he dangled from the ceiling. And I stalwartly resisted the image of myself yanking out his long brown hair, strand by strand, so as to hear him groan.
Instead, I imagined freezing to death on a tundra in Alaska.
Lost among a sea of glaciers, I considered an arctic wall of cryogenically frozen heads. Hundreds and hundreds of them stored among the ice floes. Superfrozen heads submerged in one endless million-year-old glacier. No good, of course. Carlos’s fingers were gliding along my bigger-fatter-softer-every-day belly.
He caressed my padded chest and pressed hard against my back side. He was saying, “You’re ready for this, Malcolm.” And then the act of a virtuoso—his hands swept down and away. “Come on, come on,” he hissed, and my lungs flew open, my eyes rolled in their sockets.
“Oh God, Carlos.” I screamed and hopped and then I really gave it up: choking, crying, thrashing.
Carlos laughed and reached for me, saying, “Hey easy, baby, easy. Are you all right?”
Soon I was in the bathroom, struggling again with the impossibly taut fabric and the metal button, trying now to rip my dampened clothes off. But everything was slippery and it took a while. Eventually I worked it out, forcing the openings apart. I wormed up and out and peeled down the pants, yanking the shrunken T-shirt over my head. From the hamper I pulled out a sweat shirt and pants, which (thank you God), stretched out effortlessly, as much as necessary.
When I emerged, Carlos had his hair braided. Dressed in crisp, checked slacks and a pristine white shirt open at his ropey throat, he was already at the stove, making breakfast.
“I’m not hungry,” I said.
He kept cooking and whistling and after a while, piled a plate with tortillas, chorizo, fried eggs, hash browns and beans. He put the plate in front of me, between already laid out flatware and a cloth napkin. He turned and brought a bottle of my favorite green hot sauce on the table.
“I’m not hungry,” I said.
He poured two big glasses of orange juice and sat down. He drank his juice but I did not touch mine. He tasted a bit of the chorizo. I tapped my fork. He took another taste and I looked away. The struggle with him, with myself in the bathroom—had left me weak. He gulped juice, chewed sausage, and stared at me. I crossed my arms, lifted my chin and stared back. He dabbed his mouth and rolled a tortilla.
As he chewed, I gave in and sipped the fresh orange juice. I drummed my fingers. As Carlos rolled a fragrant floury tortilla around a fried egg and refried beans, doused in green chili sauce, I nibbled at one small fiery bit of the sausage. Without looking at him, I put my fork down. I stood up and walked to the threshold, stopped and sighed. Okay. Carlos wins.
I sat back down and ate a spoonful of hot, spicy beans. He was bringing me coffee with cinnamon, heavy with condensed milk, plus extra sugar. I’ve started every day with coffee since I was twelve. So, thanking him, I slurped it down, waited, and slurped down the rest. As he refilled my cup, I closed my eyes, waiting perhaps as long as a minute. But then I sighed and shrugged, venturing another tiny tasted of sausage. At some point, I covered my face with my hands. And then somewhere in here I rocked in my chair. But before I knew it, I’d scarfed down that whole vast Mexican breakfast.
Carlos patted my cheeks, which I could tell were red.
He said, “You, Malcolm Tully, are going to be truly great at this.”
As we turned off the lights and I lumbered ahead of him, grunting down the squeaky stairs, he bent to ruffle the hair on top of my head. “People want this, lover. They want it, need it, and you’re the only one who can give it to them.”