“You’re an ugly boy.” His voice is thick and soft with liquor and lust, and his finger reaches across the table to touch my face. “But I like your chin—the way it’s not really there. Kinda just rolls from lip to neck.”
Rashid—he told me: Never flinch. Even when it hurts.
Over at the bar Eduardo glances at me and this guy in our booth; Eduardo arches an eyebrow at me, shrugs and wipes the counter in circles, hand and cloth over dark, stained wood: round, round, round.
The finger presses the spot below my mouth. “Your chin . . . ” A hiccup and the oily-pine scent of gin. “Your non-chin”—snicker—”makes me think of . . . money.”
Funny—how I understand these men. I have been ugly for so long.
Sometimes it snows.
Gorgeous Rashid—he took off his shirt, and I twitched: chocolate ice cream skin; jutting, rippled shoulders and chest; eloquent scars.
Maybe it was ecstasy.
Have I always been ugly?
Eduardo always lets me come in. He knows how young I am, but the streets are cold, and Rashid is gone. Here is warm. I only order Cokes.
Mr. Finger-Guy, Mr. Money—he’s ugly, too: blotchy beard, sagging belly, clouded eyes.
Eduardo knows how old I am, but he lets me drink for free.
I want this guy because my body is my memory.
Eduardo showed me his pet gecko once: Ben. Brought him in just for me to see. Kept him in a glass box behind the bar.
Ugliness never stops me.
Coke is sweet.
The guy rubs my cheek, presses a thumb against my lower lip, and sips his gin.
When I reached into the box, Ben scurried away, escaping my hand like the hand of God.
There was a time before prison.
“It’s more than your chin. It’s your whole . . . ” He waves an open hand in the air before me, fingers spread, palm toward me. “In this light the color of your jacket and the color of the seat—they’re the same.”
I’m fading. I’m always fading. They seem surprised: I am good at this.
If you grab him by the tail, the tail falls off.
When Rashid stole the silver Audi, the first thing he did was pick me up. He was high. I was high. We put the top down and drove. The cool afternoon whipped around us. We drove, drove.
“Your presence,” Mr. Belly says, more drunk than I thought, “is like Church.” What he means, I understand, is: my presence is an absence.
But he grows another one.
He thinks what he wants is elusive. He’ll give me money, and, though I’ll take it, money is never the reason I fuck.
Ben—so nervous, so jittery, so running-away.
Most of these men, they fuck to forget. I know because I’m good.
Ben—so always in his box.
I fuck to remember.
Outside, snow comes down.
That Audi went fast. We left the city behind with the autumn sun low and potato chip gold filling the air. Rashid smiled: snow-white teeth, straight; kissable lips; rich skin. He whooped and howled, racing down that highway. I stood up and opened my arms, hugging the sky. Faster, faster, I cried.
This guy with me now, he presses a warm hand flat against my cheek. He wants me.
What happens to the tails?
Rashid and me, we used to make angels in the snow.
My body leans forward. I press my face into the warmth of the hand. I want him, too. I am good. He will take me somewhere: his apartment, a hotel room, someplace where the light is dim and patient.
They didn’t get Rashid for the car. It was something else—the ecstasy, I think.
In the hushed, humming air of that room, we’ll strip. I will kiss his taut, rounded belly. He will kiss my non-chin.
They twitch for a moment or two. Then they just dry out and crumble.
Rashid was not gentle. The first time—I bled. He didn’t wait for me to relax. He shoved himself deep into me with a grunt. Take it like a man.
He’ll want me to leave right away. The saline smell of sex on my skin and he’ll ask me to go.
The forgetting—it’s always so brief.
I refuse to visit him in prison. They put you in a room with glass. Eduardo told me.
We’ll be naked. I’ll be on top. Ease him into me. If he’s big, it might hurt a little, but I won’t flinch. Once inside me he’ll close his eyes. He’ll close his eyes and shudder. I’ll take him in, and he won’t look at me. He’ll reach up and pinch my nipple, squeeze my bicep, maybe. But he won’t look.
When Eduardo wasn’t looking and I tried to grab Ben, his tail snapped off just like Eduardo said it would. The thing wiggled in my hand, a scaly worm, alive but not. I dropped it and snatched up Ben. His little heart thumped in my hand; his nails scratched my skin. His tiny body smelled, like puke, like rot. I moved to the door. Eduardo was humming something behind me. Ben looked at me with bulging eyes. Outside the sun was setting red, and the wind blew dust. If I set him down on the gray pavement, he could scurry wherever he wanted.
You cannot touch each other through glass.
His body will tense. My hips will shift. I will move faster. I will raise my arms up, reach out, take in the barren room, all that is and is not being offered. But this guy will remain silent.
Afterwards, it was always the same with Rashid. We lay in the sheets, gasping. He held me from behind. Stroked my cheek with his large hand. His buttery scent was everywhere, and I could scarcely breathe. He bit my neck. Laughed. In the quiet he whispered to me—to me: You’re beautiful.
But Ben had no tail, and I remembered the snow.
I will understand all that this guy will not say. I understand all their silences. He will want to forget, to forget his desires. But in that moment, when his face scrunches up and he’s close, so close to escaping me, I’ll call out to him. I’ll say his name—James or Billy or Frank (I’ll find out before we leave the bar)—and I’ll do something—slap his face, twist a fold of love-handle skin—and he’ll open his eyes. He’ll see me. That will be my gift to him. I’ll give him everything he’s too stupid to know he wants.
Eduardo poured me a Coke. When he asked me what happened to Ben’s tail, I told him the truth: I wanted to set him free, but I just broke him, instead. Eduardo nodded and plopped a cherry into my fizzing drink.
Afterward, despite my gift, this guy’ll want to be rid of me, so I’ll take his money and I’ll head out into the snow. It’s been falling all afternoon.
Michael Seward lives and writes in Minneapolis. His work has appeared in The Dickinson Review, The Flint Hills Review, Folio, The Rio Grande Review and Other Voices, as well as other publications.