By: Couri Johnson
After your rejection, I’ll start drinking. Or rather, I’ll keep drinking, but I’ll be doing it with intent. That’s a completely different beast. I’ll become a completely different beast. By Thursday, you won’t recognize me.
I’ll be on my way back from the store with a clutch of forties in a plastic bag when Old Suede Hat will fall into step next to me. His five o’clock shadow is burnt rubber. His eyes are the last embers of a funeral pyre. Still, I’ll tell him I’m not interested, that’s how hung up on you I’ll still be.
“Hush,” Old Suede Hat’ll say, stepping in front of me, his hands cupped closed before my face. “I have something special for you. But you have to be brave. Can you be brave, child?” I’ll shrug and crack open a forty. Old Suede Hat’ll open his hands, and inside there’ll be a cockroach waving his antennae.
“This little fellow would like to invite you to a wedding tonight, and everyone knows you’re in no position to refuse.” By that point my heartache will be public domain, parodied in the yowls of street cats. Anyway, it’s impossible to refuse Old Suede Hat anything. Which is why I hate him, and sometimes want him, too. But if I have you, I could refuse him easy as breathing. Even without you, I’ll still try.
“It won’t work out,” I’ll say.
“It doesn’t have to, to be fun,” Old Suede Hat will say, winking.
“I’m too big.”
“Come on now, we both know that’s not true at all.”
By the time I lower the forty from my lips, it will be true. Or maybe it’s already true. It feels like it’s true. But regardless, when I lower the forty I’ll find myself not on the ground looking Old Suede Hat in the eye, but tucked in Old Suede Hat’s hands with the cockroach. Old Suede Hat will run his thumb over my naked body. I’ll feel every bit of grit. It’ll be like sandpaper.
“I’ve got a little doll’s dress for you to wear, sweetie. Old Suede Hat’s not going to send you out looking so sad and sloppy.”
It’ll be pink. Frilled. Childish. Not even Barbie would wear it. She’d have passed it on to Stacy years ago.
“It’s good to look smart in company,” Old Suede Hat’ll say, putting me and the roach down near a thimble.
“Get in, and I’ll pull you along.” The roach will say, but I’ll hesitate, knowing that for every kindness, I’ll be expected to show a specific kindness in return. That’s why I gave you that necklace, you know. But I’d forgotten it only works one way. Old Suede Hat had made me forget. Sometimes he follows that rule, like he’s a woman. If you followed it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and on Thursday I wouldn’t end up in a thimble wearing a pink plastic party dress, begging Old Suede Hat for my forties.
“There will be plenty to drink at the party,” Old Suede Hat’ll say. “Have fun, kids.” The cockroach will scurry along, dragging me behind, till we come to a crack in an old church wall where the wedding will be.
Inside he’ll say, because we haven’t spoken yet, and things will be getting awkward for it: “Look how festive it is. They’ve decorated nicely.” The hall will be smeared with bacon grease. They’ll have sunk lightening bugs in it head first so the glow of their asses will light the way. I’ll think of your morning breath, your mourning eyes. I’ll tell him it’s beautiful to be polite, and we won’t have anything more to talk about.
When we get to the wedding, it’ll already be full. Cockroaches will be dressed up in fine rags, antennas tucked under bottle-caps and twist-tie headbands. While we find our seats, my date will touch his many hands to mine and tell me I’m the most beautiful woman there. Even more beautiful than the bride.
She and the groom will be sucking face at the altar in a way I won’t be able to watch.
You kissed me like that once. Do you remember?
After the vows we’ll clear the chairs from the floor and the band will start sawing their limbs together. There’ll be a grasshopper fiddling. He’ll be the only one who isn’t a cockroach other than me, and he’ll avoid my eyes the whole time. A buffet of refuse will be wheeled in. My date will bring me something strong and bitter to drink, and it’ll turn my head. Or maybe it’ll be because of the way he whirls me around over and over on the dance floor. Until I’m falling against the cage of his arms. He’ll draw my face close and run his antenna down my cheek.
“You belong here, sweetie,” he’ll say. “With me.” The music will swell, and I won’t notice the smell so much anymore. I’ll start thinking it’s true. I’ll give up then, and let him place his mandibles on my mouth. You won’t disappear from my mind, but I’ll know for sure you’ll never be possible again. Not after I’ve kissed the roach. And in a way this will be worse than hoping, but maybe also better.
But what I really want to ask is this:
Do you understand?
What my love for you does to me? How very small you can make me? Would you send me to the roaches? Would you have me humble myself at any other altar than your own? Could you honestly stand the thought of it? Darling, you could stop it all. Would you?