She was a woman who could only be naked, never nude. Like a blade. I watched the man approach. She became a living sneer. The interaction didn’t last long.
Alone again, she took a sweeping glance of the room and looked bored. Not a hair out of place, her collar bones jagged, but her face, underneath the mean look, it was actually quite plain. I knew I’d have a better shot than that man. I also knew she was the kind of person whose mood could shift like foul weather turns the sky — fooling around quickly to nastiness and nastiness to profound gloom, maybe a borderline not taking wellbutrin, the daily 200mg dose abandoned because it’d left a strange taste in her mouth and made her lose too much weight. She liked the surplus 20 pounds and taking up more space. If she was basic, it was, at least, like, having an expensive French bulldog and liking Lana Del Ray. I’m pretty sure she was gay.
Having read Simone de Beauvoir’s wikipedia on the subway commute there, I was, for the most part, full of shit. Still she seemed vaguely impressed when I talked about the mother’s hatred for her role as a messenger of mortality and Valentin de Saint Point’s “Manifesto of Lust,” from 1913, in which she calls rape after war normal and lust the painful joy of wounded flesh.
This woman — with the lacquered hair at the bar, allegedly from Vegas, or maybe she’d lied — was insistent in her drunkenness, and as we sat there, side by side, I felt her steadily melting a stubborn resistance to physical contact, but also killing the impact and immediacy of it, as well as time.
She ranted about lining up for fast casual bowls being the most barnyard-coded dining experience: slop, trough.
I name-dropped some people I knew, Val Kilmer’s daughter, Laila Gohar, Dev Hynes.
When she leaned closer on the bar stool the smell hit me with a brute opacity, a wall of too many notes, all at the same time: ashtray, patchouli, dirty engine oil, curdled cream, fireworks, bitter violets, barbershop, sour cheese, umami broth, catnip, the movie Water World, Playstation 2 console exhaust, earl gray tea, cheap merlot, Slim Jims, a garburator, animal husbandry, old lady purse, pine cones, salad dressing, rain, a roll of nickels, fireplace, catholic mass, and salted meat.
The sex was kind of whatever. She seemed far away, the whole time. We both hated our bodies in different ways. One at war, artillery: bleach, electrolysis, derma peel. The other, the nothingness of straight neglect. Still I tried to text her the next day. The bubble went green. Right away, I knew I’d never hear from her again. At the bar, she’d had an iphone.
Between the mattress and the wall, I found her underwear, their black cotton at the crotch faded orange, discharge dried and crunchy. For a few days, the scent lasted: home depot, cough syrup, marlboros, herbal essence shampoo, seaweed, green apple, suede boots, an ocean breeze, hotel lobby, bone marrow, brown bottle poppers, fall leaves, baseball glove, vintage car, orange juice, cold cream, rubber, tree bark, pepper,
coca cola, full-length mink, bodega flowers, melted tar, Marlene Deitrich in a top hat, blitzkrieg.
Whitney Mallett is the founding editor of The Whitney Review of New Writing and the co-editor of Barbie Dreamhouse: An Architectural Survey. She lives in New York.