The first man is the only one that kills you.
—COLETTE, La Naissance du Jour
Who is Angel? Who am I.
Have you ever loved a mirror?
Laughed, on suicide watch, until Kool-Aid spilled out your nose? Fucked someone you were afraid to look at? Woken alone, licked clean by a stranger, on a street you’ve never seen before, in a neighborhood you’ve never been to? No? You don’t have to listen.
Angel isn’t his real name. But it’s what I call him.
The moon is an orange slice dropped by a child in the parking lot. I’m wiping glasses behind the bar, trying to hide from the magician-who-isn’t-a-magician’s eyes. He’s one of those guys who always wears bandages, and he’s on his fifth rum-and-coke when he reaches for my face. His hand brushes his glass over, spilling brown liquor on the bar. I run a rag over it as he tells me I’m beautiful. I’m about to tell him he’s cut off when a new voice interrupts. I didn’t even see him walk in.
—Pasolini said that women embody the dumb cruelty of the past and the terrible brutality of the future. He said Marilyn Monroe was a walking revolution.
He has the face of a man resurrected. Bruised around the eyes.
—La Rabbia, I answer.
—You look like a death star.
—Dark but shiny.
He asks for a beer. I tell him I always wanted to be Marilyn. I still bleach my hair white. Paint my face like a sad child.
Then he says he’s in debt because he tried to hang himself. His wife came home early and called an ambulance. You never call an ambulance, I say. Angel smiles.
—That’s a 1200-dollar ride.
—Then the mandatory lockup.
—I would’ve just shoved the chair back under.
The rest of his beers are free. He hangs around until my shift ends. Gets tipsy. Says he once sucked a guy off on a 20-dollar-dare. I spit.
Love pours out of me like lemonade as I wash Angel in the cheap motel shower. He asks if I went away while he was fucking me. I nod. He runs his fingers through me and says he’d felt it.
—Most people have sex to feel their bodies.
We do it to leave them.
I can only fuck people who are beautiful like broken glass. Or people who pay. Or people who are evil, I say. Angel’s not evil.
Then he asks if I ever imagine I’m being raped. I tell him no, but it used to make me come when I whispered ‘no’ over and over into a pillow. I bet it still does, he says. I like his voice when he says that.
We fall asleep touching hands. Wake hugging separate pillows.
We trade stories the night my loner aunt leaves town. I’m supposed to feed her fish, who live in a pond of clouded milk. I toss flakes to the gargantuan, glowy aliens, watching their white lips pucker the surface—and remembering how I once threw rice at a lissome bride and her blank-faced groom. Then I slip my dress over my head. Let’s play corpse, I say. I’m up to my neck before he comes in. We float. The fish nibble our sausage toes. Dragonflies mate midflight and land on our faces.
This feels good.
—Why are they stuck together?
Light breaks the sky before I can answer. No sound. Not even thunder. Yet every beat, another flash. The sky looks like it’s taking photographs of itself, Angel shouts. Then we hear a tree crack and have to run.
We share a dusty bottle of Tito’s from the old lady’s stash on her porch. Angel lights a cigarette and puts it in my mouth. My story makes Angel cry. (His older half-sister molested him when he was a kid. And his stepfather molested all of them.) He wipes salt from my eye. We’re both drunk and it’s easy to cry when you’re drunk.
I’m still sipping coffee and letting my hair drip dry the next morning when Angel starts in on me.
—You’re not in any of these.
He’s looking at the photos on the fridge.
—I never said she was my real aunt.
—Who is she?
—An old lady I know.
—An old lady you know.
—She likes me to call her aunt.
—Where do you live?
—I stay places.
—You stay places.
—I don’t like permanent marks.
—You can’t fuck your life because ‘Once upon a time, X abused me.’ That’s not a life.
(I know that better than anyone. It isn’t even a story. Not even an arc. Only a loop.)
Then he says I act like a rich person. I ask him if it’s because I leave my shit all over the floor for him to clean up.
—No. It’s because you can never enjoy sex for what it is. You always add a layer.
—Poor people have sex. Rich people pervert it.
That was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. (If I’m perverted, it’s only because I’ve wanted so bad for so long I forgot what wanting was.)
—People heal through fucking, I say.
—You’re obviously not over it.
—I’m over it.
—Do you want to get raped again?
—No. I want to be fucked by men I don’t see. I want to be strangled in the night.
I walk back to the bathroom to comb my hair. He follows.
—Rape is a meaning killer, I say through the closed door.
(It sits inside us, blank and wordless.)
—Then stop making meaning out of it.
The Grasshopper is an industry bar open late. Servers and bartenders drink here after closing. But at noon the bar is filled with construction workers. A barrel-faced dog licks my sandaled toe. Angel downs a Jack-and-ginger before I take my first sip of Tito’s soda and asks why old bars have mirrors everywhere.
—I guess it’s to catch people stealing.
I follow his eyes to the flatscreen reflected in the mirrors behind the bar. Padded boys tumble formulaically onto neon grass. I lift my drink, set it down. The glass too heavy, my barstool too hard.
A boy in the slanted glass raises a bent knee behind our gummy faces. A whistle blows. Another boy pulls the first boy’s helmet off. Mannequin tears. Angel orders another and tells me he had a nightmare.
He’s lost and barefoot on an empty highway when he sees headlights. A man in the passenger seat tells him to get in. There’s a girl on his lap. She grinds her hips into the stranger as they float forward in a sea of night.
—Listen, the girl, she’s you. You lean between the seats. Your hair falls in my face. Your tongue slides down my throat. You pull your boxcutter out of my gut. Blood rivers out of me. I want to kill you.
The commentator’s voice slurs.
—When everyone turns their heads to watch me bleed, I realize we are all each other. The guy in the passenger seat is me. The driver is me. You are me. And we’re going nowhere. Like a piece of paper folding in on itself.
(Have you ever loved a black hole?)
The tears, the knee, the quarterback—play from shattered angles—ad infinitum—above us. Sometimes I think I’m going mad, Angel says. I pull his fists from his chin.
—Mad also means angry.
I empty my glass, signal the bartender for another.
Angel instigates a fight with his wife until she texts that she’s leaving for her sister’s for the weekend. (Don’t call her there.)
Boys in adult masks crack their engines like bullets all around us. I wear a see-through dress. Ruin my lipstick in the rearview.
—I had a dream, I say. Listen, after you die, would you rather wake up to a giant woman or a giant man? You’re tiny, powerless. The god or goddess can lift you up by the ankle and flick you into the ether.
—The father. Obviously, Angel answers.
Spotted red moths blanket the windshields, the sky, the highway.
—I’d rather be ignored.
In their living room a mob of stuffed animals stares at the flatscreen.
—Is she like us?
(I don’t sit down on the couch.)
Do you know what Marguerite Duras called us? Children of the Night Hunter.
—I could never watch that movie.
—Do you think she escaped? I mean, through her writing.
—I think she drank. Wait. I think she tried.
—Her mother wasn’t a mother.
A loose summer nightgown hangs over the bathroom hamper. Behind his wife’s mirror: a pot of face cream plowed by her fingers. Ibuprofen. Cough syrup. He told me he would always take care of her. Part of me likes that we will never become anything. Another part of me swigs enough cough syrup to blow her face off, uses Angel’s razor, leaves a mound of pubic hair on the tile.
I sink into their bathtub, pick a strand of dark hair from the drain. Then pour bubble bath on my knees and let the water run until it reaches my neck.
I come to smaller, fists clamped over a starched sheet. Little fingers pull back gray curtains. Angel in the bed next to mine, a boy with a toy gun and red lips. It’s cherry popsicle, he says, staring at me with ha-ha eyes.
—Can I have one of those?
He hands one over. Orange. I toy with the plastic sleeve before pulling it down. Bite the popsicle’s head off. Ask Angel why we’re in the hospital.
—Some people get thoughts stuck in their mouths, he says.
—The doctor comes to take them out.
—So, they don’t go crazy.
I cough up a penny, the one I’d swallowed years ago and had been choking on ever since. The water is still hot. I wipe drool from my cheek. My mouth opens. My long pink tongue licks a stripe of my face through the steamed mirror. Of course, I recognize the dream room. I’d woken up there long ago, cotton-mouthed with sedatives, a soft-voiced woman-doctor by my bed asking questions. I see my mother’s face poke through mine. Have you ever loved the hole torn through you? Ever ripped crepe-paper tablecloth with a fingernail? The one your mother laid down, for your birthday? Have you ever choked on dusty lemon cake? Have you ever loved a broken window? The bottle you threw, as it soared, missing a head? Ever seen gravity bend light? Your mother kneeling to pick shards from the floor?
Tongues of cobalt lick the window. I dry my hair and walk downstairs. A turned-over glass spills brown liquor on the living-room floor. Angel’s motionless body slumps over the couch. I hear the sound of time swallowing space. My body crosses over to his.
I shake him. He screams and kicks the air with all his limbs—a beetle flipped on its back. His fist rolls off my mouth. I stumble backward, find the switch on the wall. His eyes roll down my face, strangers. His pupils, two black holes. A beat that lasts an hour. His old eyes, the ones I knew, crawl back.
Did I hurt you?
—I was blocking you with my hands. Mostly.
Then he’s holding me. Wetness.
—Angel, are you crying?
—I don’t know.
For a long time, I feel his fingers. And the quiet.
—I was making sure you hadn’t, you know, I say.
—Oh. You don’t have to worry about that.
—You changed your mind?
—Not exactly. No. But I’m starting to think I might be ninety-nine percent immortal.
—You should write a book, call it, How Not to Die.
I touch his face. Light bleeds from the ceiling.
—I’m glad you’re not dead.
—You know, I used to die every night.
—No, literally. I was having a memory. When you woke me your hands were not your hands. For a moment, they belonged to the first man who killed me.
It’s after midnight. He’s a kid alone. Everyone sleeps. He follows blue light toward the kitchen, feeling the walls. He arrives at the refrigerator and opens the door. A stone sits inside him. He wants to be the dead body in movies. The body people cry over.
—In a daze I squeeze Ketchup on my head, my face, my heart. I take off my underwear. Squeeze it there too. I lie on the cold tile, naked in the dark and bleed. A dead snake curled the garden. Until light peeks through the windows.
—Didn’t anyone ever find you there?
—Pier Paolo Pasolini 1963