He was thrilled when she moved to his neighborhood. No longer would he have to wait for the off chance to see her at a show or a bar. The mere thought of her landing just around the corner from him, when she could have moved anywhere, made him feel less lonely, more favored by fate; even though he never really thought of her when she wasn’t around.
His first thought, one he tried to suppress as his first thought, was that he was going to sleep with her. He didn’t know how. He didn’t know when. He didn’t even know why. Sometimes you just know, he thought. While he did bed women with sufficient frequency, this wasn’t some blind arrogance; nor was it presumptuous—he couldn’t assume she even wanted him. It had more to do with his accumulated knowledge of the past and expanding laws of future averages colliding into the fact she was now his neighbor.
Because she was a tomboy. He loved tomboys. Tomboys often liked him, too. Whether he was protector/enabler/endangerer to them, a tomboy would often feel more comfortable with him than a pretty girl would. That comfort to be rough excited him, to scrape their knees on the ground of any pit the night might open. Ever since he was little, obsessed with Pippi Longstockings, the Linda Manz’s, the Jodie Foster’s. Though he was too self-conscious to tell any of his friends, tomboys came naturally to him. Their attention was accessible. They were comfortable to be around. He didn’t have to try too hard. He found their physical ambiguity thrilling. They either didn’t know or didn’t care how pretty they were, or if they were even pretty. They were tougher than the pretty girls, so he could care less about their safety; and the older he got, the more he loved tomboys because he, himself, was becoming more dangerous.
But today, he only focused on her, this tomboy; because she was new, and he liked new things. And the new tomboy’s close proximity meant they were definitely going to have sex. He didn’t know why, or if he even wanted to. He just knew it was going to happen.
The tomboy invited him over. She was standing on her porch in her Israeli combat boots, waving to him as he walked up, big eyes peeking under her curly mop hair. She wore green olive pants, the rest of her adorned in browns and blacks; strictly earth-tones to compliment her Persian desert-punk vibe. He brought beer and whiskey, lots of it, more than two people should drink in a night even though they both knew they would.
Sometimes, you just know.
As the night darkened, the night grew blurry, obstructing; hazy enough for the two of them to surrender to kiss. They made out for hours, perhaps even too long—because as his tongue darted round the tomboy’s tongue, hers felt somehow detached from his, despite their entanglement. He even wondered if she had ever kissed before. Or, if she had kissed before, if she knew what was supposed to come next.
But the frequency of their make-outs told him she at least wanted the practice, so he was her teacher. But he wondered when she would graduate, if she would graduate.
One night he did more with his hands other than running his fingers through her hair and feeling her subtle breasts. He unbuckled her belt, unbuttoned her green pants: his last memory for a while. Until he regained consciousness a minute later to the tomboy asking politely for him to get out of her. Knowing that sex is only sex when both people want it, he quickly removed himself, otherwise it’s called something else.
He woke up the next morning alone at his apartment, wondering why she would kiss him every weekend for a month straight, then not want to go further, deny the primitive, climactic beyond-language of sex. Until he remembered: all the things he did that he didn’t necessarily like to do, just so he could feel something, anything, just not everything. Maybe that’s what kissing is like for this tomboy, he thought. A way to pass the time so she doesn’t have to think. A way to convince herself she still possesses sensitivity, in certain places but not in all the places. But what about all those other places, he thought. So many other, much lonelier places, further places where there were deeper ways to be sensitive. He decided he would stop calling her, cease returning her calls, he was embarrassed.
But the phone rang. He was relieved it was not the tomboy, but one of the pretty girls. Until the pretty girl spoke:
“Did you have sex with the tomboy last night?”
He had to think about it. Instead, he stuttered something, neither a yes or no. He wasn’t sure what to call it since he only knew sex to be long, passionate, and mutually ecstatic. And he should know – he had a lot of it, with pretty girls who knew it and with tomboys who had no idea how pretty they were.
He decided the answer was no.
“No. We just made out.”
“Really? Because she is telling everyone you had sex.”
“So, you did. You sound concerned.”
“No, I didn’t. But yes, I am concerned.”
“Why would you be concerned if you didn’t have sex with her?”
“Because, it’s weird that she would be telling everyone that.”
“Are you calling her a liar?”
“Yeah. I mean no. I mean, we tried, but we stopped.”
“We tried. Or you tried?”
“We. It was two of us making out for hours, so of course it was two of us. We tried, but we stopped.”
He couldn’t understand if it was a sincere I see or a check-mark interrogation I see. But he was beginning to feel bad for the tomboy if that was her definition of sex. Maybe she had never had it before. He asked the pretty girl in a covert way.
“Did she seem… uh, I dunno, happy? Like she was telling everyone she had sex ‘cause she was glad it happened or that she felt violated?”
The pretty girl had to think about it. Instead, she stuttered something that wasn’t a yes or a no.
“I don’t know. Maybe both?”
“I don’t know. It was kind of scary, the way she was acting, that’s why I called. But I think I have all the info I need. Sorry to bother you.”
The way the pretty girl hung up left him with bad swirling thoughts. He broke his decision not to contact the tomboy, now more concerned than embarrassed. He dialed her number a hundred times. She answered zero of them.
It was like the tomboy just disappeared.
He gave up trying to contact her. He went on with his business. Suddenly, the pretty girls—the ones who knew they were pretty—were easier to be around. He had long, passionate, mutually ecstatic sex with the pretty girls. But while the pretty girls were uninhibited with their volume, his exclamations grew silent—the unfinished memory of the tomboy unsettled him, like he no longer knew how to completely surrender to a moment since the one who couldn’t surrender to his, vanished.
If he were to show more abandon, he feared he might be abandoned.
He saw the tomboy once more, passing by on a busy sidewalk; either she didn’t see him or pretended he wasn’t there. But he saw her, one last time; a time that resembled a blurry photograph, when someone turns their head when they shouldn’t have. The ones that turn people into ghosts.
Only rumors made their way back to him: How the tomboy was now stalking his friend the next town over, a good friend of his she had never actually met; even though she insisted they were meant to be together, that she loved him and that somehow, he loved her, so she wanted the whole world to know. His friend laughed it off until she began showing up to his work before his shift, remaining outside writing poems about him until he got off work. She tried following him home to see where he lived, but he ran faster than her. It’s okay, she said. I know where you work, I’ll just see you there tomorrow.
The next day, she went further, to deeper places. When she saw him through the window at his work, she jumped over the counter and wrapped her arms around him, pressing her face into his. I don’t know you, he said. Stop. Call the cops, he told his boss. But his boss didn’t believe he didn’t know her. Instead, he stopped going to work.
But then, the tomboy really, really disappeared.
(Not before her last three friends who thought they weren’t scared of her began to be scared of her, so they disappeared first.)
When he heard the tomboy died, he was all the way across the country, so it couldn’t be real to him. Only strange words he didn’t have room for; therefore, he could not focus or surrender to the moments he was being given, as he traveled the wide swathes where the laws of averages go up, so in order to continue, he convinced himself that’s why she died: her time advanced without him. As he traversed the country, he removed himself from the path of details, he’d rather not know.
But in the back of the van, he could overhear them say: she was gone for three days before they found her body, full of all her sensitivity, in some of the places but not all of the places. But what about all those other places, he thought. Then he realized: she had gone to the furthest, deepest place, where even he was afraid to go.
Gabriel Hart lives in California's high desert. His new poetry book Hymns From the Whipping Post is out now (First Cut/Close to the Bone). He's the author of neo-pulp collection Fallout From Our Asphalt Hell, and the dipso-pocalyptic twin-novel Virgins in Reverse/The Intrusion. Other works can be found at Expat Press, Misery Tourism, Shotgun Honey, Bristol Noir, and Rock and A Hard Place Magazine. He's a contributor at Lit Reactor, Los Angeles Review of Books, and a co-conspirator at The Last Estate.
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