By Rae Bryant
I’m a crack shot, you know. That’s how he says it. We’re moving lettuces around on our plates at a sunny little outdoor café off Dupont Circle. It’s charming and sexy and creepy, the crack part. I don’t know exactly how to respond. Lovely? Next time I need a sniper, I’ll give you a call? We’ve waded through the I’m sorry, I love you. Just want to understand. Explain it to me. It would have been okay but for the rooms upstairs. We’re past fucking. Fucking can’t fix us now and so the rooms remind me we’re past the point of fixing with fucking so fucking now would somehow be cheap and that’s just not good. He explains how he learned to shoot in Boy Scouts and how he’s careful with his son’s air rifles and how he has a specific kind of system for the air rifles. The rifles are to be kept in their wall stands and his son is supposed to ask before taking a rifle from the stand then he is to put the rifle immediately back upon finishing. Stress on the ask part. And I get it. It’s the asking. I’m supposed to ask for things. Parental virility. He’s showing me how he can control his universe, his child and his home, and there is admittedly an attractiveness to it. I am in need of a universe. It speaks He-Man and safety and I like it and it makes me hate myself too. So I say, I’ve always been more partial to Battlecat than He-Man.
He isn’t laughing. He’s shaking a little. Then he tells me that when he was little his father tried to blow up his place of employment after being fired. I move the wilting lettuces around on the plate some more. The sun is wilting everything. The wine is all right. I say, You’re a good dad. Not everyone thinks to be so safe with their air rifles. I wish my dad was as good a dad as you are. He smiles. Stops shaking. We finish our lettuces.
I once saw two weevils clamped together, clinging to a moldy log. The male on the back of his female for what seemed an indescribable length of forever like finding one’s parents or a version of yourself having sex with that detestable little something you knew for certain you would never do. The male weevil began to move in a slow and deliberate rhythm. No pomp or foreplay. And I thought of a Jewish boy I once knew and how we were so different than the weevils and each other but how much we might all have appeared the same to God. An entire October in 1987, my Jewish boy and I held up Friday nights in his musty basement, on worn out, grease-stained sofa cushions. Watching Halloween. Dry-humping. Clinging for hours and for the role-played fear of a masked maniac crashing through the walls. It made the dry-humping more exciting. We took character parts from the movie. I was the slutty girl cut and lain out on the bed with the Jack-o-Lantern. He was the guy in the closet. We dry-humped like Michael Myers was standing at the door and soon he’d make it so we’d never dry-hump again. I said, Do you think that could ever happen? He said, Maybe. I guess. And I said, but Mrs. Weinerheimer says I’m supposed to be a forest ranger. If I lived in the forest it couldn’t happen.
There’re maniacs in the forest too.
We broke up at the end of the school year. He moved away. I sometimes wonder where he might be.
I leave the restaurant with a promise to return to my crack shot at a later date, a to-be-decided mutually convenient location. We kiss, mostly to mitigate crack-shotting. Then I head toward the tall fountain in the middle of Dupont Circle to clear my head. Somehow the fountain clears things, the rush of water. A card table sits off to the side of the fountain. On it are pamphlets and around it a small group of colorful men and women, rainbows everywhere. A woman with short hair and cut-off jeans, a wife-beater and tattoos, hands me a pamphlet. She looks a little like Kathy Acker but taller. Fake blonde. Mean-pretty face. On the front is a picture of two fat, bald, naked babies kissing back-dropped by a gray-scale rainbow. Bold title: Identity Starts at Innocence. I open the pamphlet and it’s full of pictures and bios and I notice that the woman’s picture is there, not first, but further along. Her name is Larry. She asks if I would like to make a donation to The Gay Movement. That’s how she says it. She says, We’re raising money for a march next month. You should come out.
Why do you need money to march?
Banners. Where do you stand? On the gay thing?
Not sure. A little of both.
You should definitely come out.
Yeah, I’m in need of a universe.
We’re good for that too.
Larry and I end up grabbing a beer at Big Hunt, along with a few of her co-marchers—Beavis and Jerry. I couldn’t get over the name Beavis and asked over and over if he’d ever seen Beavis and Butthead, though, he’d already said over and over, No. I think he wanted to smack me. A few hours later, still at Big Hunt, we ordered black bean burritos and somehow started on the topic of the housing bubble then weevils.
So they fuck for hours?
Yeah. Clamped like that. Barely moving. Just little pushes.
I never had a lover clamp to me for hours. My lovers have all been jackhammers. I’ve always had jackhammers. He-Men.
Larry smiled and asked if I wanted to go back to her apartment a few blocks away. I said what the hell.
Larry’s apartment has a mattress on the wood floor, covered in a cheap blue comforter. A single worn out La-Z-Boy in the corner. Neat stacks of clothes against a white wall, a few dishes in the sink in a tiny kitchen, more a closet than a kitchen, but it’s clean. Her one novelty is a narrow, white shelf against the family room/bedroom wall. On the shelves are plastic figures of Eighties cartoon characters. Smurfs. Strawberry Shortcake. She reaches into one of the shelf spaces and pulls out a He-Man, hands him to me. His blond hair and backside are a little scratched but otherwise good. She says, Thought you’d like him. Got to get ready for work but there’re some beers in the fridge. Help yourself. Grab me one too, okay?
I thought you brought me back here—
To fuck? Bar shift starts in twenty. Just thought you needed something. You looked sad. You can have him. She nods to He-Man. I’ve got two.
Are you sure?
It’s just a doll.
Larry starts toward the bathroom and for no reason at all I say, Have you ever fired a gun?
Have you shot someone?
Ex-boyfriend. He’s dead now. Not by me. It happened in prison.
Not your problem. Not mine either.
Is that when you decided to be gay?
Maybe. Kind of snuck up on me. You? The bi thing I mean.
Sort of the same.
Listen, it’s none of my business, but whatever you got right now, whatever’s up inside you, you can talk about it while I’m in the shower if you want. She pulls off her wife-beater and bra and she’s really beautiful. She says, I’m a good listener. I don’t tell people shit.
Larry strips down and steps into the shower, shuts the curtain between us and the room fills with steam. I put the toilet seat down and sit. It’s a little bit confessional and I start into how I thought I loved him then realized I didn’t and now I wasn’t sure what to do about it and how he’s a marksman. I say, That’s what he tells me. He says it a lot. Marksman. I’m staring at Larry’s fuzzy silhouette through the translucent white shower curtain. She turns off the water and opens the curtain, all breasts and vagina and I’m a little ashamed.
Not sure yet. Maybe.
Best way to handle marksmen is to walk away. Nothing good ever comes of marksmen and maybes. Maybes can get a girl hurt. If he was a marksman and you were sure then that would be okay. Larry grabs the towel off the rack and starts to rub at her breasts, not in a sexual way, as if she’s rubbing a sore neck. She says, Listen, I know a guy if you need help. Not that kind of guy but a guy who can put a little scare in him. He’s come in handy a time or two. He’s real discreet.
Thanks but I don’t think it’s that serious.
Let me know if you change your mind.
Larry steps out of the shower, wraps the towel around her waist and takes hold of my face and bends down and kisses me, slow and soft, tongue, bare breasts and all. Then she pulls back, says, You’re like kissing my sister.
You kissed your sister?
Once. She was doing me a favor. Larry walks out of the bathroom and to a stack of folded clothes. You should probably go. Give me a call if you want to hang.
I leave Larry’s apartment and step out onto the street, bi-curiously rejected. On the opposite side of the street, a Mercedes almost hits a bicyclist and the bicyclist topples over then jumps up and flicks off the Mercedes already down the road. It’s perfect timing because I need to flick something off too. We stand flicking the Mercedes a moment then I help him with his bicycle and drop my He-Man on the sidewalk. He grabs my He-Man, hands it back to me, laughs. His name is George, after Washington not Bush, he says. Then he says, You always keep a He-Man on you?
Could I buy you a drink? To thank you? There’s a bar just ahead.
Sure, why not.
We walk side by side, George wheeling his bicycle and me carrying my He-Man. He wheels up to the valet attendant and insists on a ticket. After a few minutes of haggling with the valet and offering an extra twenty, the valet gives him a ticket and parks the bike at the side of the building, behind a planter of bushes. We go inside and drink and in a few hours end up at George’s studio apartment he shares with an old college roommate away on holiday. The studio is big and open and George’s fucking is slow and deliberate. He makes a point of looking me in the eyes. When I look away, he says my name and pulls my chin back to him. After he comes, he explains he works as a civilian for a governmental contractor, some sort of nonprofit educational initiative with lobbying interests, but before that he interned at the White House when George W. was there.
Did you like him?
I mostly mailed stuff and got people coffee. It was cool going to the White House every day. Most days. Some days I wanted to kill myself. You didn’t tell me why you carry around a He-Man.
A lesbian named Larry gave it to me today.
Are you gay?
What do you think?
I dated a girl at Georgetown for three months and found out she was fucking her roommate all along. She broke up with me when she came out of the closet.
Larry says I’m not even bisexual. No, that’s not right. She didn’t say I wasn’t bisexual. She kissed me and said it was like kissing her sister.
I got a He-Man out of it.
I don’t have a sister but if I did, I don’t think you would kiss like her.
I should probably tell you now that I’m kind of dating someone. It’s over, almost over. I’m trying to figure out the best way to end it. He talks about how much of a crack shot he is and starts to shake when I begin to have the talk. You should know that up front. I don’t know if he’s actually dangerous or just sort of dangerous.
Maybe I’m making too much of it.
There’s a book on that. Gift of Fear or Gift of Something. You shouldn’t ignore your fear, though. That’s what the book says. Tap into your fear instinct.
I don’t know if I’m really afraid. Maybe I just want a reason to run away and a gun makes it easier.
You should probably still go either way. Sounds like you’re done with it. You could do a Hussein. You know, a George W.? Shift the focus? Or cancer. Venereal disease is quick. Syphilis is really fast.
That’s crazy. Have you done that? Said that to someone?
I have a way with people. People like me. You might like me too.
I mumble something about George of the Universe and he starts in on how everyone is really only part of their own universe and that we’re all walking around in separate universes that never really meet and what we think we’re seeing are congruent lives but they’re really just multiple planes of overlapping lives seen from a distance. It looks like people are touching but no one ever really touches.
A little cynical. Don’t you think?
If we think we’re touching it makes it harder to leave when the time comes.
And we all leave.
Yeah. I think we all leave. I mean we do eventually. One way or another. Maybe if you explain to your guy that you were never really part of the same universe he’ll understand.
That would be mean. You’re not real good with people are you?
It’s math. Geometrics.
I leave George’s apartment and find myself walking back to the fountain. There are a few people sitting around on benches. One couple sits cuddled together and I wonder if I sit long enough whether Larry or George or crack shot or any number of exes would find their way to the fountain too and that would mean something.
I lay back on the fountain’s edge and watch the water arch high up into the air and down into the pool never on top of me but occasionally splashing droplets onto my legs and arms and I wonder if I lay there long enough if I would be drenched. In the morning, I wake on one of the benches I don’t remember having moved to. It’s cold. The officer standing over me says, Late one last night?
Sorry. I was waiting for someone and I guess I fell asleep. You don’t have to give me a ticket do you? I’ve never done this before. Promise.
The officer seems to know I’m lying but he’s a gentleman about it and says he’ll let it go this time, but doesn’t want to see me there overnight again. He says, What’s that?
It’s a He-Man action figure.
The officer gives me a look but I’ve gotten worse looks for worse things.
He says, Best be on your way.
I’m almost to the crosswalk and from behind, I hear, Maybe this friend of yours isn’t worth waiting for.
I turn and wave the He-Man at the officer and he waves back and somehow it is kind, the waving. I cross at the light and head into a pavement and glass corridor. The sun is low behind the buildings and the air is cool still but it is warmer with the walking. Suits are everywhere. Black, charcoal, pinstripe, red, a bright pink suit down the street turning the corner at a café. The woman in the black suit and New Balance sneakers cringes, moves a little further out of my path, not much, but enough, and it hurts. It really truly hurts. Her assumption is staggering. And my don’t-give-a-shit comes with a sudden glint of sun high up and off the glass surface of a PNC Bank building. It is better than sex. It is the difference between thinking you know God and knowing you can’t possibly know God and the knowing, that moment of pure acceptance, is enough. We would never have touched anyway. No one ever touches. And then the woman in the bright red suit and classic Nikes with red swooshes grins. And my walk of shame now includes this woman in red suit and classic Nikes and I am thankful for her. I want a pair of classic Nikes of my own. My little He-Man wants a pair too. And maybe Larry would like a pair, and George and my crack shot. And maybe this walk of shame is not legitimately shameful if the shameful part happened hours before sleeping. This is not what it appears to be. This is all something else and it wants classic Nike sneakers.
He-Man is on my shoulder. I hold him there and we wave to the passersby. Whether or not they wave to us. And we are less alone on this plane, this geometric. Whatever and wherever this universe is, we are more than we were yesterday.