Subsisting

I haven’t wanted to fuck since J left. Instead I masturbate once, sometimes twice a night to the sounds of my neighbors’ sexy role-play. I prefer just the sounds. I have never been one for touching much, anyway. There’s no fanfare in it. It comes at you all at once, all hot and sticky, then minutes later it’s spoiled, and it’s nausea, shame and reproach. I’ve always thought it was the most overrated aspect of these affairs.

When I first came to view my apartment, two years ago, I didn’t waste time—I didn’t care about large closets or new renovations, or what the realtor meant by “walkability” and the other calculated, impulse-inspiring, however phrases she spewed at me. It was obvious the place hadn’t been rented out in a while. There were bug carcasses and beer bottles, crumpled up papers and plastics, dirt swept into all the corners. There was a quarter of a pig frozen in the freezer that had somehow still managed to rot. I didn’t care. All I cared about was listening—I knocked on the walls of every room, asked when I could move in.

So I’ve been blessed with thin walls, and I touch myself carelessly each night, a comfortable distance from the action. Often I wish to tell them what I am doing. I lie in my bed, the lights down, my eyes closed, one ankle threaded through my underwear, and the thought permeates me with some perverse hunger. But the next day, when I hear them coming down the stairs, I am either struggling with some groceries, or I am rushing to piss, or I am reading something embarrassing, like Cummings. I am grappling with the lock as my face begins to warm, and then I lose my nerve. I cannot lift my eyes as they pass by. After, I go inside and stare patiently, expectantly at my ceiling. I say to myself, They’re aware—maybe not that I’ve been using their sexual exploits like a sixteen-year-old would a magazine, kept in some clandestine corner of their room, but surely about the condition of these walls. I say to my ceiling, distant, Ultimately your disregard is as much an invitation to me as a formal letter! Then I rise, take two steps to the other piece of furniture I own, and begin to write a formal letter:

“Dear 2nd Floor,

Let us take the time to apologize for our recent bouts of carnal pleasure. You see, my partner and I have been together for a long time—and in that time—we’ve discovered nothing more perpetually arousing to us than our own brand of outlandish role-play. I’m sure you’re often cursing us in the late hours of the night. Admittedly we can get a bit loud at times; we know the way noises tend to travel between these unkept walls… That super is a cheap bastard, don’t you think? He hasn’t fixed this place up since he inherited it from his step-father. He’d hated that man, but he was rich. He went to Sarah-Lawrence to become a writer. He reveled mostly in the sans pareil of beatniks. He sometimes asks if I would like to read one of his stories. At first I tried to be polite about it. More recently I’ve been leaving my rent checks set atop the doorframe. He can’t reach them there! The short bastard! Hahaha! If he gives you any trouble, you ought to let us know…

Anyway, we can’t express our sincerity enough through writing. Come by our apartment sometime for a dinner. We’d be remiss to turn you away.

Love,

3rd Floor

P.S. Should the sounds of our sleeplessness ever rouse you in the middle of the night, I encourage you to follow the lewd urges of your heart. Do so, and soon sleep will embrace you.”

I stare at the letter. I fold it into thirds. I put it in an envelope and place it under my pillow. I think, Maybe their neighbors are doing the same thing, maybe even their neighbors above them. Maybe It’s all a harmony, mutualism, all of them subsisting by each other’s sexuality. But then I think, Am I disturbing the natural habitat? Is my loneliness the problem of my neighbors? Maybe the tenant below me hasn’t come in ages, and it’s all my fault! The thought alone is too much to bear.

I consider asking the top-floor tenants if they wouldn’t mind switching. It’s late as I climb the three flights of stairs to their door. I knock, and a woman holding a cleaver, dressed in nothing but a semi-transparent apron, answers. There’s two men on the floor. They are wearing shiny leather jockstraps and pig noses and crawling around on all fours. I say plainly, Would you mind switching apartments?, and the women says, Mm, well, uhh, I do love the view, and I say, Yes, yes of course. I go back down the stairs. I masturbate, and soon sleep embraces me.

***

When I awake from a dream in the middle of the night, I can only remember these things:

Blonde hair

Cheek moles

Tortilla skin

Stolen wine

Wool sheets

Cereal in bed

I lie awake wondering the things I don’t. Wondering, What else? Thinking, If I could only remember, if I could only remember, if I could only…

Bode-Lee Woons

Isolated household, American mid-west. Rural, surrounded by woods, a stream running through not far off. Willie sits by a window in the main room, picking a wound on his knuckle.

WILLIE:

        “Bode.”

        (Pause, no response.)

        “Bode!”

        (No response.) (Impatiently):

        “Bode!”

Bode, in the kitchen, reaches his hands out perpendicular to the framed entry, grips the frame along the edge, pulls half his face past the frame as though he were pulling himself up a cliff. Faces the call.

BODE-LEE:

“I told you, I don’t like that name no more. I asked you to call me different, I go by Lee now. Dinit I tell you already?”

WILLIE:

“That cat’s out by the window. I’d told ya to go off and kill ‘im.”

BODE-LEE:

“I took ‘im out to the well yesterday. Dropped ‘im in and watched ‘im sink.”

WILLIE:

        “Well the damn thing is out by the window again. Go off and kill it.”

BODE-LEE:

        “Again?”

WILLIE (vexed):

“Yes again! You ain’t done it right the first time! Go off and find a decent toe-sack, toss ‘im in there with a rock. Make sure you don’t see ‘im get loose.”

Bode exits through the front door, comes back a minute later holding a toe-sack in bad shape

WILLIE:

        “Lemme see it.”

Bode hands him the sack.

        “It’s gotta hole init! Don’t you listen none? Go get one withoutta hole init!”

Bode exits once again. Comes back after several minutes with one in better shape.

WILLIE:

        “Lemme see it.”

Willie inspects the sack, finds it acceptable.

        “Aight then, don’t be comin’ back till you done with this business.”

        (Pause.)

Bode-Lee starts for the door, stops. Turns round.

BODE-LEE:

        “How’s your finger?”

WILLIE:

        “Bad.”

Willie looks down at his knuckle, then back at Bode, then back at his knuckle.

        (Pause.)

Bode continues out the door.

WILLIE (anxiously):

        “Bode!”

BODE-LEE:

        “Yes?”

WILLIE:

        “Be back before dark.”

Bode-Lee steps out the door.

WILLIE:

        “Bode!”

He doesn’t hear, but quickly realizes he’d left the toe-sack. Returns inside, grabs it from Willie’s lap, exits. Willie goes back to examining his knuckle. The wound black as a void, encompassed by red swollen skin, and flanked by prevalent strips of white running outwardly from it, just under the skin.

WILLIE (acrimoniously):

        “Damn squirrel.”

Bode-Lee returns after only ten minutes, turns to Willie after shutting the door.

BODE-LEE:

        “I couldn’t find ‘im.”

WILLIE (tranquilly):

        “So it is.”

        (Pause.)

        “Bring me my cover.”

Bode-Lee goes to retrieve his cover, unfolds it and lays it over Willie’s legs.

        (Pause.)

BODE-LEE:

        “I’ll leave you.”

WILLIE:

        “Bode?”

BODE-LEE:

“Lee! I told ya a-thousand times my name is Lee!” Call me Lee, Mr. Woons. Lee Woons. Ain’t make no difference to me, just don’t go on calling me Bode! I don’ like that name no more. I swear on our mother’s grave that when night comes for you, I ain’t gonna be the one puttin’ ya in the ground next to her. I’ll leave you where you sit and let you rot, so help me God.”

(Pause, silence.)

WILLIE:

“There’s nothing to be said.”

BODE-LEE:

“No.”

WILLIE:

“Will you stay?”

BODE-LEE:

“I cannot go.”

WILLIE (tranquilly):

“So it is.”

(Pause, silence.)

Empty Spaces Don’t Exist

Bob and I play a game of faces. It’s all we know how to do. I think he was the one who started it, awhile ago, but truthfully, I’m unsure. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter. It’s like I said, it’s all we know how to do. The object of the game is simply to collect faces. Faces that exist secretly, hidden in the world around us, such as the fissures of an electric outlet. That’s an easy one, though, and thus, not the perfect example. I can’t be too explicit. The good ones stay between me and Bob.

Bob and I are also both egotists. We know this about each other, because only people like us play games like this, and we share faces not necessarily because we care for each other, but because it brings us comfort to know that the other is also constantly searching. We like to think that the other doesn’t see what we see. We turn it into a game, and feign modesty when fit, but we still know everything there is to know about each other. Even the things we say we don’t. We’re like duplicates, Bob and I, and although there exists parts of me that truly despise him, I still have to admire him, because he always had an eye for things like this.

But Bob lives far away, and we don’t talk much, anymore. We’ve forgotten how, I think, or maybe, we just never knew. I’m not sure, but these days, all we do is collect faces. We’ve become good at it, adept, and maybe, a bit hyper-aware, but it makes us feel content to live that way. I told him once that someday I would meet him on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, but that was a long time ago now, and it’ll probably never happen. Sometimes, I ask him what happened, but he never has an answer for me. Bobby just says it’s nothing. Just says I shouldn’t worry. Just says he’ll come home someday, when the seasons have changed.