TWO STORIES by WENDY C. ORTIZ

LEATHER, LEAD

I believe that he picks up my notebooks and leafs through them, then deposits them elsewhere. My notebooks seem to make little journeys when I’m away from his apartment—from the glass table in the front room to the balcony overlooking the boulevard, from his bedside table to the kitchen counter, a fine dust of turmeric on the cover. My pens, too, disappear, until I decide to keep a thick supply of them, rubber-banded, in my bus. Jake is not fond of stepping foot in my bus, unless it’s for an extended, pre-designated trip in which he drives. My knot of pens sits, unharmed, on the floor of the VW between the two front seats, a talisman.

I’m not innocent, either. I don’t understand his need to write with pencils, freshly sharpened—unless I liken them to weapons, which I said out loud once, and for which he placed one sharp tip to my wrist in mock aggression, gray eyes flashing. So when I pick up one of these pristine pencils, so well-cared for, so all-important, and I use it to, let’s say, make a grocery list, or write down the name of a song I hear on the radio, Jake becomes a little enraged. I like to say this to him, under my breath, only I say, deranged, just softly enough for him to hear. I’ve taken to carrying one pencil, one I can call my own, in my pocket for such occasions.

“You’re blocking the great view,” I say to the hills, Sunset Boulevard, the people out on the streets driving, and his figure as his fingers tap the keyboard.

“Sorry,” he calls out, not even looking in my direction. It’s times like this that his clipped speech, so full of east coast pomp, rubs me all wrong.

I grab my keys, one notebook, and am out the door, out to the street in search of where I parked my bus last, fumbling in my jeans pocket for my gas card so I can be assured a trip to the beach for my inconvenience.

I had sent him a poem. I sent it in October, as the leaves turned golden outside the window of my apartment up north, a thousand miles from Jake’s apartment, before I had an inkling as to what might happen in the coming months.

I let myself in, ignoring Jake’s neighbors who are out on the public terrace one floor down. His apartment is empty. He’s left the radio on, and David Bowie emits from the speakers. I step lightly to the front room table, let the pads of my fingers roll his pencils over the table surface. I walk over to the leather couch and sit down. Minutes later, his key is in the door and he steps inside the dark apartment.

“Hey,” he says in a friendly tone.

I lift a hand hello.

He throws his keys on the table and sits across the couch from me. A pencil rolls off the table and he doesn’t hear it. I don’t say anything.

“How was your night?” he asks. I don’t know if he’s smiling, but it sounds like he might be. The glow of the stereo doesn’t reach us.

“Good,” I say. I rest my head on the cold leather.

“You smell smoky,” he says.

“Mmm,” I say. “That would be Sarah. She likes cigarillos.”

“Ah,” he answers. I can see his head nodding slowly. It feels as though we are on a weird, awkward first date. But of course, on our weird, awkward first date, three short months before, I told him that I had a crush on him, and his eyes darted around, flashing gray and blue, and soon after I had stepped out of his car, not wishing to make him uncomfortable any longer. He sped away.

The speakers pulse out a song of scary monsters, super creeps.

“This song’s about you,” I say.

He listens. I know he knows the song. After awhile he nods slowly, scratches his head of smooth, short brown hair that reminds me of sealskin.

“Probably,” he answers finally.

I launch from my side of the couch and cover his body with mine. His body stiffens, relaxes. I unhook my belt and grab his wrists, pulling them above his head.

“Oh oh oh oh oh oh,” the song says.

He grinds his wrists together but my belt holds tight. I unbutton his pants, tiptoe my fingers around the top of his underwear, pull them gently down, lower myself down and take him into my mouth. I smell nothing but him and my own sweat. He rests his bound wrists on the back of my neck. I watch his face as my tongue works, his perfectly trimmed beard, his thin sideburns, his long eyelashes, his closed eyes. I suddenly want his hands on my cheeks, touching my shoulders. I stop what I’m doing and move to unlock his wrists. I toss the belt aside; it lands on the carpet with a dull thud.

Suddenly his hands are creatures of their own. They cup my skull, thread through my hair, get lost in a knot of my curls. I gag momentarily. When he pulls my hair, I feel my teeth graze him and my eyes water.

I linger, let my hair fall around my face.

I move to pick up my belt.

“What I really want is this. I really want this wrapped around both of our wrists, together,” I say.

He doesn’t say a word. He pulls me by one wrist and we kiss, more than I could have asked for, I decide.

“I’ll sleep here,” I announce to the leather couch.

“Okay,” Jake answers, and he moves to the nether regions of the apartment, the dark swallowing him up.

SIX BITES

1. Love at the Sink

She had flour spots on her clunky brown shoes and a photocopied photo of Robert de Niro on her cupboard door.

Her. Preschool drawing on the fridge, a dinosaur, dot-to-dot. A dog wanders in and out of her kitchen, wraps around her leg, tail slapping the back of her blue-jeaned knees. I perch in an office chair at the kitchen table. I am in her way. She reaches for molasses, onion, flour, caraway seeds and tells me, Get up from the chair a sec, and I obey. Her housemates wander in, make tea, watch her create a week’s worth of lunches, admire that she’s cleaned the fridge without them and she gives me a look when they leave, a look I savor–a secret, like the bread dough rising under the towel. Her hair flips and flies with her every sharp turn. She makes us strong coffee, one cup at a time, because that’s how she is, even grinding the beans one cup at a time. I’ve written a poem about your spice cake, I say. I want to read it, she says, but there is no commitment in her words. And it’s about so much more than spice cake that she’ll never get it anyway.

2. My Own Private Mathematics

There was a time when I could easily be had in front of a fireplace, my lover feeding me chunks of a Toblerone bar as he peeled my clothes off, neither of us paying much attention to the smoke filling the room until we were coughing and the coughing was interrupting sex. I suppose it’s folly to say there was a time because anyone who knows me would know that means now, before, and later.

We each have our own equations. My equation went like this:

eating chocolate+(while having)sex=forgetting the fireplace, thickness of chocolate in my mouth and his, rush of indescribable sensations all over the body, sweetness, life, death, [what will my boyfriend think?], who cares–I’m hundreds of miles away anyway, there, there, more, like that…

3. Baby Galas

Organic baby galas: pudgy red-cheeked babies dressed in tulles and chiffons and satin sashes, with red ORGANIC stickers tucked in the folds of their dresses.

Or: the crisp red and gold fruit I bring to my lips night after night, the last bites of the day, that oozes juices I let dribble down my chin, that calls for licking fingers and picking teeth to capture the littlest bits of its sweet meat. In my crunching frenzy, I almost took the core into my mouth, and so out I pulled it, with two tiny helpless seeds hanging from it. It made me think of the days when I captured ants and roly-poly bugs to harbor in my pink suitcase, and how the most exciting thing to me, a lonely child, was to plant appleseeds indiscriminately, without telling anyone: hoping for a majestic tree to blossom overnight, one that would overwhelm everyone.

4. Boys

I. Several beers later, and after a spontaneous bout of lovemaking (all on the sly…), he cracked six eggs, mixed in onions, peppers, salt, and fed me from dishes not even completely unpacked from cardboard boxes. He preferred taking me to clandestine lunches and brunches instead.

II. He made plenty of dishes from ingredients he found at Trader Joe’s, which was within walking distance of his house. He had a penchant for Italian dishes due to his heritage and experimented fitfully with all manner of vegetarian dishes to please our palates. He was the first to bake me a pecan pie, with a crusty little dough heart in the middle.

II. and a half. We were like brother and sister (indeed, he often told me we had met in previous lives, perhaps doing hard labor together–) and he fed me Ayurvedically. Cooked spinach, potatoes, cumin, black mustard seeds: pathways to my heart.

III. Spaghetti, with the cheapest sauce around, with slices of avocado on top.

IV. I swear I got high from the Indian food. I almost lost my credit card at the restaurant. We sashayed home. When I buttoned my shirt, it was in all the wrong buttonholes. He said he wanted to cook dinner for me. He never did.

V.  He cooked mustard greens and black eyed peas. In his mailbox, he received packets regarding cooking school, and his chopping skills are impeccable from time in restaurant kitchens. He is the king of fried chicken. Gravy is a specialty. He endears with homemade cookies. He is the second to make me pecan pie.

5. Pleasure #247

Have you done this? Have you poured a tiny lake of olive oil into a smooth-lipped bowl then knife-slid carefully diced garlic into it? Have you rubbed, then drowned, chunks of oven-warmed baguette into the golden mixture? Did you spoon the bits of garlic into the nooks of the bread? Did you wet your fingers when you sopped the olive oil up onto the bread? And most importantly, did you lick your fingers in ecstasy, ecstasy being an understatement?

6. One of Many Perfect Sundays

Farmer’s Market, Sunday morning at Hollywood & Ivar: hot coffee smoothed over with cream, tamales for breakfast, chicken with green chile, beef with garlic. A bag of yellow, orange and red bell peppers for a dollar. One large light baguette for a dollar. Enough money to splurge on a container of tabouli and a small bouquet of orange and yellow roses. Splitting the cost of an expensive little tub of peppercorn goat cheese to go with the baguette, my humble offering for the dinner this evening. Chai with a friend, accompanied by a bagel, buttered, before a poetry reading. Listening to a phone message, an invitation to a birthday dinner next Sunday, the theme being experimental creations of food. A carton of chocolate ice cream purchased on the way home, luxuriating in the pull of the moon.

::

About the Author: Wendy C. Ortiz lives in Los Angeles, California. She is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books, July 2014) and Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press, Fall 2014). Wendy is a columnist for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and curates and hosts the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series (www.rhapsodomancy.org). Please visit wendyortiz.com

Story Songs: Scary Monster (Super Creeps)” by David Bowie & “Music Like Dirt” by Desmond Dekker