I’d been sitting in her closet for an hour and still didn’t know if she was gay. My legs were in a nest of combat boots and baggy sweatshirts with V cuts in the middle. Maybe she was bi. It was college. We were learning.
“No quiero estudying,” she said, tossing the study guide aside and climbing up the bed behind us. She was wearing one of the chesty sweatshirts.
I hid in the drawing in the book, of an exasperated man in a sombrero searching for his mustache. I had to do something but she intimidated me; she didn’t like awkward and she didn’t like games. Like in class when Senor Fernandez told her to sigue la pregunta and she said in English no idea and Senor would stamp his foot and say no comprendo nada! Diga! And she and her post-goth pre-lez friend would bust out laughing. How would she laugh at me if I tried something? No matter what language you use in your head—make a move, bed her, work it—you sound like a goddamned tool. It’s paralyzing, thinking what she might be thinking. Go for it, tool, go for it.
She relights the joint from earlier. This time, she doesn’t pass it. She’s laying on her back. I’m still leaning against the bed, legs in her closet. Her feet descend onto my shoulders. She’s touched me, her feet are in my face, but she doesn’t want me to leave. The condom in my sock feels a whole lot less foolish. I reach up and caress her heels and insteps. Feet? You go with what they give you.
I rest my head back on the bed between her feet and notice the stars on the ceiling—I never figured her to be such a stoner. There’s these silver streaks that might be constellations but then letters form clear as shooting stars: P-O-R-K-Y it says over her big left toe. D-I-E F-A-T B-I-T-C-H D-I-E it says over the bed.
My hands freeze. Her feet wait. I stand, look down at the Spanish handout, El Bigote, a story about a man who keeps losing a mustache. I think. I feel her looking at me. She was so cool in class, but maybe that was because she had no idea what was going on. She knew now. She asked me over to see if I could handle her.
“Wanna fuck or what?” She uncurls from the stuffed polar bear she’d been hugging, puts out the roach and leans on one elbow, all but her right nipple falling out of her sweatshirt. It’s not an inviting pose; it’s a challenge.
“What about the midterm?” I ask and can’t help smiling, knowing she’s going to fail just as I’ve already failed her. Her self-hatred is so violent I’m afraid of what she’d do to me. But the word ‘fuck’ on her full lips springs back the erection that I’d lost a moment ago to the ceiling. She grabs my belt and pushes me onto the bed. I don’t want to but I didn’t come over to find a mustache.
She gets on top with her sweatshirt still on and pins my wrists with her knees so all I can touch is the sheets. I would tell her she’s not fat if I had my hands to protect me. I lay still. Over her head, beyond her short hair, is a pulsing neon light flashing FAT—BITCH—DIE. She’s not fat, but the more I see DIE DIE DIE I know it’s not about fat and I need to try, try try. I lose my nerve and try switching positions away from the ceiling but it’s nothing but flesh smacking flesh.
“What are you, a fag?” She pushes me off.
I’m stunned; You’re not fat, I want to say. It’s not your body, no gorda. I say nothing because I don’t know what’s worse: irony, impotence or standing in a stranger’s bedroom flaccid and naked except for one sock. I look down, past my shriveled masculinity, to the open book and the illustration of the man searching for his mustache. He’s scratching his head, his sombrero tipped back. The mustache is inside his sombrero.
Robert Duffer's work has appeared in MAKE Magazine, Annalemma, Word Riot, Pindledyboz, Flashquake, the 2nd Hand and other popular favorites such as Canadian Builders Quarterly. He's a regular contributor to the Chicago Tribune, TimeOut Chicago, Chicago Public Radio's 848 and he's an adjunct at Columbia College Chicago. You can find him at www.robertduffer.com.