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Two Blanks

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I notice her pearl nose ring and neatly cropped, short dark hair and small liver

 

spots on the backs of her hands. I remark, “I was a counselor at a city jail and

 

photocopied hundreds of forms for inmates who sought early release on their own

 

recognizance. The warden disapproved…”  She interrupts and says:

 

“You have to toe the line with prison wardens.” Yes, Clara, you allude to sex, that

 

base alchemy, turning words into sex.

 

“On the back it read, ‘GOD IS FREEDOM’.  I caused a near riot after I told the

 

inmates each meal cost eighteen cents.”

 

Clara tells me a male prisoner nearly raped her. “I screamed at him, ‘I KNOW

 

KARATE AND I’LL RIP YOUR DICK OFF!’ and he backed down so I knocked some

 

teeth out with my club.”

 

The lack of tension, how relaxed I feel as silence flows through me. I’m certain it

 

streams through her.

 

“I’ve got cervical spinal stenosis. My legs are heavier and clumsier every day. I didn’t

 

trust the neurosurgeon. Someday I’ll be in a wheelchair,” I say.

 

And Clara, who walks with a limp, says, “A surgeon operated on my bum knee and

 

performed a procedure not stipulated in the consent form and now I’m gimpy in pain.”

 

“With my mouth lesions, talking too much hurts. On a porn site, the tag would be

 

‘Pain’,” I say.

 

Clara continues: “Now I can’t climb the Himalayas.”

 

Then I say, “ ‘Abode of snow’. That’s English for Himalayas.” She assumes falsely I

 

know many etymologies.

 

I hear Jackie Wilson’s oldie, “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,”

 

spin through my brain.

 

“I have herpes simplex,” I say. A chaste date, perhaps.

 

I’ll pull the largest condom ever over my head, just in case.

 

“How bad is it?” she asks.

 

I’m not yet ready for the pooper scooper to scrape me off the street.

 

“With treatment, more than half don’t get brain infections,” I say. “Statistics buoy me,”

 

She starts for the door.

 

“Wait. How about meeting in the park?”

 

She turns around, looks at the floor, raises her head slowly, and answers: “I’ll meet you

 

at two tomorrow in the park under the big maple tree.”

 

I agree. “We have lots in common.”

 

Clara has no limp. She lied. We sit across from each other at the picnic table.

 

The expanse of the park surrounds us. The sward scents the atmosphere with our

 

words.

 

“Gene, I don’t know how to say this, the limp is fake,” she says. It’s like wearing a

 

monocle, a fashion statement. “Do you want to limp?” I fiddled with my cane.

 

“I have back spasms from dumbbell exercises.” And often want to stab a person’s eyes

 

out with two prongs of the cane’s four legs. Spite is a prime motivator in lieu of passion.

 

Time’s passage never intruded into my consciousness. Here, time rubs me the

 

wrong way. Becoming dead is the antidote to life’s inconclusiveness.

 

“You seem not the kind who lies,” she says. “I find that charming.” The heat scorches

 

us, opening fissures.

 

“That bit about working in a prison---all made up,” I say.

 

“I saw a movie about a female correctional officer. She had a sexual encounter with

 

an inmate.” Clara turns to one side as she speaks, an actor moving her head just the way

 

the director wants. I’m an empty vessel, scriptwriters, fill me up.

 

“What about K-2?” It reminds me of social climbing, employing whatever it takes to

 

reach higher and higher into monstrosities.

 

“Nope. My dead friend’s fiancée was an avid mountaineer,” she says. Thou shall have

 

friends be dead unto you.

 

Nowadays people visit libraries to hook-up sexually with others.

 

“I’m a physician’s assistant because I used my dead friend’s curriculum vitae.” She

 

blushes. “I have herpes, too.”  Clara, we’re nothings, so what.

 

“Welcome to the club,” I say.

 

For the first time I see a blank, her face disappears. Nothing exists, and that’s a

 

positive development.

 

“What happened to your head and torso?” Clara asks.

 

“I don’t know, probably where yours went. We’re not invisible, we’re non-existent.”

 

“Are you religious? I’m not,” she says. Changing subjects are clear indications of a

 

vanishing act. With no face, no mouth, no torso, I look down at her legs. I’m a leg man

 

and hers were great. It’s too late for voyeurism. We could melt out here and no one

 

would find the remains of our lives.

 

“I’m a voyeur when it comes to religion and God. It’s better to pretend than actually

 

believe,” I say. The flaw lies not with the stars but with our emptiness.

 

“I don’t believe in anything,” she says. “But where are you, lost in the sunlight?

 

Where’s the rest of you?”

 

I don’t see her pupils. I shade my head with my hand and her body diminishes to a

 

puddle.

 

I can’t tell whether I speak to myself, the abyss, or to her.

 

“I loathed your bodily form,” I lie.

 

“I bet you wonder why I agreed to this non-date,” she says. It ain’t because she’s a

 

easy lay, sexism has been purged completely. “Sex is useless.”

 

Our insubstantial selves wouldn’t hold the glands, organs and fluids needed.

 

“How did you contract herpes ?” I say. Gagging, I refrain from barfing. “My girlfriend

 

tricked on the side.”

 

“And your herpes from her,” she says. She begins to annoy me. “Once I visited a

 

bisexual and she gave it to me.”

 

“Yes. My girlfriend was bisexual.”

 

“Did she have a ‘Touch Me’ green tattoo on her belly?” she asks. We’ve touched

 

bases, so to speak. I assent.

 

We’re past being ethereal; terra incognita more apt.

 

We’re empty spaces between tiny fonts in a dictionary or bullets and shooting

 

blanks.

 

I like slow baseball games, red beans and quinoa, nightmares, fast flowing rivers,

Ravi Shankar, death metal, Tom Waits, wet mornings, nostalgia, rooming houses,

cold nights, docks, The Moby Dick Cosmic Ocean, mania, unwarranted lofty thoughts,

death metal, Dennis Cooper, depressing novels, art brut, and the odor of eucalyptus trees.

 

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