Verticordia Changer of Hearts Part II by: Giovanni DiPietrantonio
The redhead stretched and squeaked as I searched my mirrors for the corpse of the black cat. Yawning, she arched her back and rolled her neck, fingers laced behind her head. Flab bunched about her weak chin like a fistful of money. She checked her phone and dug an orange vial out of her purse.
“Did I tell you I have seizures?”
“Whaa! No, I don’t think I knew that—”
“Yeah, I started having seizures when I turned eighteen.
The doctors don’t know what’s wrong . . . They think it might be lupus—”
“Damn, I’m sorry . . .”
“—I had a seizure during sex once. I started shaking and threw my arms in the air, so Hayden thought he was doing something right! After the seizure, I didn’t recognize him . . . I covered up my body and tried to hide. I didn’t even know my own name . . .”
“Shit. What should I do if you have a seizure?”
“Don’t put your fingers in my mouth.” She popped the childproof cap and shook a couple huge white pills into her palm. “I have to take these awake pills—"
“—twice a day. Want an awake pill?”
“Sure, why not?”
I washed down an awake pill with a gulp of ultra zero and immediately broke a sweat. Driving with my knees, I wiped my palms on my pants and balled a loose fist over my palpitant heart.
“Are you feeling anything?”
“Oh yeah, I think’m feeling something—”
“Good! Is it okay if I smoke in here? Did I already ask you that?”
“No, go head. But I don’t think there’s an ashtray anywhere around here . . .”
“That’s okay, thanks—do I smell like cigarettes? My coworkers always say I smell like cigarettes after I smoke . . .”
“I don’t think so . . .”
She rolled down her window. Freezing wind flapped inside my ear, tickling the roots of my teeth. I clenched my jaw and fumblingly cracked a back window. The redhead took a deep breath through a Camel.
“I’ve always wanted to model,” she sighed. “Like for Suicide Girls.”
“—mm. Wull . . . why don’tchu?”
“I applied, but they rejected me . . . I sold some naughty pictures on the internet. Hayden didn’t care, he’s cool like that. He just shrugged. He was like, you do you! I sold a picture of my asshole to a guy.”
“Really! Ah, wull . . . hawj’takeah pitcher ov’yer azz-holl . . . ?”
“I spread my cheeks. One guy wanted me to send him my shit in a jar—”
“. . . canoemayiillshii? Ah . . .”
“I dunno. I don’t think so. Can you stop somewhere when you get a chance? I have to pee again. Sorry . . .”
“No prowl ‘em! Weeny gas innie way.”
I marched headfirst into the urinal and pushed hard, pins and needles clogging my shriveled cock. Shutting my eyes, I saw the redhead knelt on a carpet thick with cat hair, asshole twinkling like a dewy violet in the flash of a smartphone. Someone unzipped beside me. My homunculus frowned in the chrome flush valve, but my stubborn bladder finally voided, setting a tear on my cheek.
Good thing the redhead took a call with her aunt as we whizzed through the humpback of Utah. Sleepless and tweaked, I couldn’t hope to think of anything good to say. I couldn’t more than nod and snicker with half a smile so smutty she might as well have dunked her face in my lap. I eavesdropped with magic in my eyes, oblivious to the road.
Hanging up after an hour or so, she leafed through my wallet of burned CDs. We silently listened to an album I don’t even like. That I desperately wanted her to like. If she likes my music, she’s bound to like me. That’s how mommies and daddies make babies! Too right, too right, shame she’s a cat person, I’m more of a dog person, but they’re alright, cats.
I bet her favorite color is black, blood black. Or maybe its hot pink. Royal purple, burnt orange, snow white. I don’t know. Never mind, I don’t even know my favorite color anymore. Let’s see, what else do I know about the love of my life, think, think, hmm, twelve six two ten, ABC, doodah, doodah, she likes, she likes Disney movies, right? Hey, me too! Some of them. Wow, we have so much in common!
But we’re only halfway there and the sun’s going down. It’s almost time to go back home. Back to my mom’s, boohoo hoo, my cubicle job, boohoo badoo, dead to the world, boohoo hoo, without a grrrl fray yay e end waah, waah boohoo badoo doodah doo doo boohoo hoo. Posh! Clip clop clip clop clip clop I-will-jam-this-fuck-ing-turn-sig-nal-stray-t-in-to-the-dep-ths-of-my-mo-ther-fuck-ing-eye-ball. Bloaw!
A sudden burst of wind almost upended the car. Awestruck, I gripped the wheel and gaped at the redhead. But she ignored me, absently surfing satellite stations, each of them static. Jagged shadows warped her soft face in the glow of the dash. Glancing at the road again, I gasped as a tumbleweed bigger than a beachball bounced through my headlights.
“Whoa! Did you see that? That uh, that, whaddaya call it . . . it was huge!”
“—huh?” The redhead slowly looked up from her phone. “I wonder if Portland sells alcohol after bar close . . . Do you know how late they sell beer there? My internet won’t work.”
“Hm . . . I’m not sure—”
“Aren’t liquor stores open twenty-four hours in Portland? I thought they were . . .”
“ . . . yeah, I s’pose I don’t, I wouldn’t know . . .”
“Okay . . . maybe we should call Joey and ask . . .”
“Yeah, if you want . . .”
“—I think I’m an alcoholic. When I don’t drink, I get all shaky and sweat a lot.”
“Maybe . . you shouldn’t drink for a while—”
“Yeah, I know . . . but I don’t want to quit cold turkey . . . I think I’m going to take a break when I get back.”
“That’s probably a good idea.”
Hands in her lap, she stared out the window. A smile tore across her face.
“I love Joey. I used to sleep over at his house whenever I wanted to get away from the world. We would stay up all night laughing. He’s like my break from reality! I’m excited to see him.”
We crossed the border into Oregon with a cheer. The redhead took heart and proceeded to talk shit about everyone she knew for the next hundred some miles. I eagerly opened my ear as though she had never before dared to confide in another living soul, basking in her bitterness as we threaded through cascades of snow brighter than the sky.
But the moon sprang a leak and let fall her venomfoam, smothering the stars and the streetlamps, everything but the shimmer of distant trucks and brambles of beacons flashing like spider eyes. The redhead slowly lost her voice telling on a former coworker who couldn’t choose between her boring millionaire boyfriend and a fuck buddy with a big dick. She sighed.
“Hayden and I broke up for three days last month.”
“—ow . . . whaddappened?”
“Well—we were drinking with friends one night . . . Hayden got up to grab another beer, and I said, maybe you should drink some water, too, babe. He got really quiet after that . . . When we got home, he started yelling at me, saying I’m always trying to control him, stuff like that. I tried to calm him down, but he got so mad he punched a hole in the wall right next to my head—”
“Damn, that’s fucked up . . .”
“—I stayed with a friend for three days after that. But we made up and things are good now. Hey, can you pull over soon? I have to pee.”
I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. I really don’t know what to say anymore. I’ve bitten clean through my tongue. No, dumbo. How about that? Piss your panties, whore. Now hush your beak or else I’ll peck out your fucking liver! That’s right. How’d you like a titty twister, too? Get mad, I don’t give a shit! You’ll love me all the more after three days like the Lord is risen.
Christ, I almost hope she has a seizure on the toilet. I’ll be there to help her up. Sit her on my lap like a dummy and reintroduce myself, spell her pretty name as she splays a hand over her crotch and across her chest, big blue eyes thick with fear and awe at this gentle stranger. Unlikely hero. If she could meet me for the first time all over again, maybe she would fall in love with me.
Nonsense, that’s the plot of a popular blockbuster! I’d have no such luck in that woebegone real world from which everyone curiously wants their pound. How I’d love to swim with the walruses and impregnate an epileptic amnesiac aboard a boat in the Bering Sea, but the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald comes to mind. Borne back ceaselessly into the past and so forth. There’s nothing new under the sun!
It’s already bright out. We probably missed breakfast. Though I stretch the blankets over my face, I can’t go back to sleep. Propped on an elbow, I peer at the redhead, but she’s buried. Joey wakes as I buckle my pants and tie my shoes and write her a note with a hotel pen on hotel stationary, placed squarely on the toilet seat. Halfway down the stairs, I change my mind and send her a text verbatim.
Joey and I sail like stones through a puddle of parking lots passing leftover Obama Kush and shooting the shit. Joey says he wants to trap every politician right of center in a catacomb and force them to play slot machines until they’ve drowned in nickels. It’s an election year, after all. I smile.
“You know, Oregon was originally founded as a white utopia. Black people weren’t allowed to live here for a long time.”
“Really? That makes sense. There aren’t a lot of black people here.”
“It’s racist to live in Portland.”
“Nuh-uh!” Joey sticks out his tongue. “No, it’s not!”
“Only racists are allowed to live here. It’s the law. You’re racist!”
“Shut up! No, I’m not! I’m not racist! I love our black brothers and sisters!”
“I’m calling the police.”
“Fuck the police!”
“You used to love everybody. Remember? You used to say love everybody!”
“I know. I still say that! Love everybody! Love everybody, I love everybody, except racists and conservative pieces of fucking shit and every shitty fucking boss who ever fired me! They should make me president; I’d sentence them all to death!”
“Yeah, yeah, you don’t love anybody, you only love yourself. You’re a tyrant, a racist tyrant!”
“You’re the one with the shaved head.”
“That’s because I hate black people.”
“You don’t really hate black people, do you?”
“Okay, good. Sometimes I can’t tell if you’re joking . . . you should probably put that away.”
“It’s not legal to smoke in public?”
“No, I think it’s like drinking in public.”
“Shit!” I break the cherry on my shoe and stow the short in my breast pocket. “Hurry, Joey! C’mon, man, faster, faster, the racists are coming! Look! Dude, look! Is that the Luftwaffe?”
“Haw, haw, very funny. Slow down!”
“Ack! I’ve been hit! By racist tranquilizers . . . I’m turning into a Nazi! Help, Juden, please help me . . . Irish need not apply . . .”
The redhead sits up and smiles as we creep into the room.
“Good morning! How did you know I’d look at my phone first thing in the morning? When I woke up, I reached for my phone to check the time and saw your text!” She giggles. “Do either of you need to use the bathroom before I take a shower?”
Joey resumes his tirade, but I’m too high to encourage him, so he begs me to play some grunge on my phone. Blasting Archers of Loaf, Joey bounces around the room, banging his head and lashing the air with his string of beads. I sink into a pile of pillows and bob my brainstem, hands clasped across my belly.
The redhead storms out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel.
“Can you turn that down?” She reaches for my phone and hushes the volume. “Sorry—”
“No, no, sorry about that . . .”
“I just don’t want to get in trouble—”
“I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble—”
She hurries back on her tiptoes and gently shuts the door. But she’s not long. She reappears with her wet hair in a knot, a formless black top and black denim shorts over a pair of black leggings. Joey and I loom over the redhead as she rifles through her bras and panties on all fours. She eyes my suitcase with a smile.
“You’re very tidy.”
Indeed. I’m the picture of health and hygiene. No one else ever seems to notice. What’s more, I don’t smell like ball sack. My balls are as spring fresh and fragrant as honey bells. I’d say as much, but she’s lacing up knee-high black boots of a violent tread, so I wait by the door with a hand on the handle. Peering inside the bathroom, I notice my handwritten note face down on the floor.
We have lunch at a bar in the city. Chicken tenders and beer. I’m an asshole to Joey, but the redhead seems to think it’s funny. We wear clownish grins and taunt him for enjoying the new Star Wars. I haven’t seen the movie, but I don’t care. She’s practically sitting in my lap. I’m tempted to plump a hand on her thigh.
Afterwards, Joey suggests taking a walk in Forest Park. We ditch the car and descend into a misty gorge of gangly trees slouching toward the ragged orange banks of a quiet creek.
The redhead takes a deep breath through her nose.
“Can you smell the rain? I love that.”
“Uh-huh,” Joey mutters. “Me, too.”
“Yeah! I think that’s called petrichor. Yeah, peˌtrīkôr.”
The redhead coos. Joey nods.
We happen upon a ruined house of stone. Topless gables ooze electric moss and licorice ferns like green fishbones tuft the mortar. Faded graffiti gives way to grey as though the crumbling walls were made of Sunday funnies soaked in rain. We climb the stairs and take turns snapping pictures of each other. I gape at the redhead through the eye of her phone, pretending to angle the perfect portrait.
Having forgotten to bring some Obama Kush, my patience for nature tapers on the way back. I’m made aware of my blistering soles, my crackling knees, my entire skeleton crashing into the ground with every footfall. I fix a slit eye on the redhead and imagine sprouting scales, wrapping a winged tentacle around her waist, and leaping into the sky, screaming salad through fangs spattered with the twitching extremities of dead bugs.
She wants to see a movie, so we go to the movies. I desperately want to hold her hand, blushingly bump elbows at the very least, but she lets me have the armrest. Do you suppose she remembers that time we made out in the back row of the budget cinema on highway hundred during that Liam Neeson movie where he fistfights a pack of wolves? What I wouldn’t give! I haven’t been a teenager since.
This movie is bullshit. Why’s he a fucking puppet? Poor puppet, so sad, yet so horny. He’s a motivational speaker, but he’s losing control, man! Holy shit. Gets drunk, cheats on his wife, blows the big speech, goes home to his wife. What’s the matter? I cut a sorrier figure than some adulterous puppet, where’s my feature length biopic? Consider my pearls clutched. Boo!
Outside the theatre, the redhead grasps at the meaning of the movie. I imagine it’s no more meaningful than a dream, but I wouldn’t dare say so. Here’s hoping she mistakes my silence for reverence.
Joey grabs my arm and growls.
“Can we go swimming when we get back? Please? Oh, please . . .”
“Sure, I mean, yeah, I don’t know . . . I don’t think I brought a swimsuit . . . yeah, not sure about that—”
The redhead giggles.
“Are you guys hungry?”
“Me, too! Let’s have a family feast!”
I pledge to pay for everything, which amounts to rotisserie chicken, cheesy potatoes, paper plates and a pile of six-packs. Joey ramblingly recalls the time a pair of managers held him in a backroom and threatened his freedom over a missing lobster. The redhead and I exchange eyes. Joey laughs so hard, heads turn.
I dismember the chicken with my bare hands, she microwaves the cheesy potatoes in their plastic pan. We toast to ourselves and clink beers, eating with our fingers for lack of silverware. The redhead watches with a smile as Joey tries to help me change careers.
“You should move to San Diego and play baseball,” he says. “Can’t you see yourself in a baseball uniform? I think you’d look good!”
I wrack my brain for something funny to say.
“Or what about Maine? Portland, Maine! You could be a lighthouse keeper!”
“Yeah,” the redhead giggles.
“Or a lobster fisherman! No, you should start a band with my dad, you and Ben, you guys should start a band called The Duckies, you’d dress like rubber ducks and—"
Joey and the redhead crack up. I force half a smile and choke on a sip of beer.
“Can we go swimming,” Joey whines. “Please? Pretty please? C’mon, let’s go swimming!”
The pool’s deserted. Joey bellyflops and treads water, arms crossed, teeth chattering, snot twinkling in the bow of his lip. He looks miserable. An ugly cackle escapes the phlegm in my throat. I point at him with an upturned palm and face the redhead.
“You’re not even having fun!”
She shorts a laugh in her hand and gazes at me through the top of her head. Looking down, I’m drawn to her long legs, shimmering like mirages in the jacuzzi. A bleeding jolly roger cheeses above her knee, a pair of blue stars glow on the wings of her waist, a zombie princess rides her right flank, a tattered teddy bear opposite. My eyes catch on the hollow of her neck and again meet hers. They seem to swirl.
A little smile plays on her lips.
“Do you want to take that mystery drug tonight?”
Joey and I shrug.
“Like I said, I don’t know what it is. It’s in a little baggy . . . uh. Here. Did I tell you how I found it? There’s this guy, he’s a regular, everyone knows him. He hires Backpages prostitutes—you know that site, Backpages—he hires prostitutes and fucks them at my hotel. I know they’re from Backpages because I’ve seen them on there. I looked.”
She makes a face.
“Anyway—this one time he came downstairs and used the ATM in a hurry. I went to tell him, like, you know, heyy, you can’t fuck prostitutes here, but he was already gone. And that’s when I found this little baggy on the floor, right next to the ATM. He must’ve dropped it, right? Hayden already did a lil bit. He thinks it’s molly—”
Keeping his distance, Joey hovers over the baggy and squints.
“It looks like cocaine.”
He glances at me.
“I don’t know, could be either or. How do you want to do this? We can either parachute or snort it.”
“Yeah, you know, that’s where you, you wrap it in a piece of toilet paper and swallow it.”
“What are you going to do, man?”
“I’m snorting mine.”
Joey shudders and hisses as though I pinched him.
“You go first.”
Chopping up the bag with my driver’s license, I stick a twisted dollar up my nose and lean into the rail. The mystery drug rips through my face like an icicle and scorches my eyeballs. Sunshine immediately dawns in the back of my brain.
“Yep, thaat stings—ow, ow—I think it’s, yeah, it’s definitely molly, maybe, ah . . .”
Unstoppable sneezes soak both my sleeves as the redhead grabs a couple plies of toilet paper. We sit in a circle on the bed, patiently waiting for euphoria. I’m already rolling, but I’m not happy so much as horny. That’s not unusual. But the redhead looks even lovelier under the influence.
“Are you feeling anything?”
“Me, too, I think—”
“Yeah, me, too.”
Neither of them can believe I’ve never seen Frasier, so we try to steal an episode on the internet, but the video won’t buffer. My overheated laptop stirs the silence as I mash the play button, provoking a swarm of pixelated popups without exes. It’s blowing my high. I don’t even like Cheers.
“Sorry,” I grumble, opening task manager. “It’s not working—”
“That’s okay,” the redhead squeaks. “Do you guys want to play a game? Let’s play 21 Questions. Is that okay?
Okay. Hang on. Do you guys mind if I take off my pants?”
She kicks down her pajama bottoms and flings them on the floor. She’s wearing a plain pair of neon green panties. Scooching between me and Joey, she pretzels her long legs. The unmistakable musk of damp pussy hangs in the air a moment.
“I’m really glad I’m here with you guys.”
She downloads an app of icebreakers. I answer each of them as though proving my love, determined to outshine Joey. Shadowy figures flicker like windblown curtains, giving him the hook as the redhead, rapt with wonder, staggeringly slouches toward me. I can almost see myself in the black mirror of her dilated eyes. She flutters her lashes, tilts her head, downy lips ripe with pink lamplight.
Yawns a second chin and abruptly passes out. Joey grumbles goodnight and lies face down in their bed, leather jacket and all. I quit the lamp and watch the redhead, willing her to wake up. Her eyelids crawl with dreams. She snorts like an electric pig and turns her back. Hugging a pillow, I face the wall without a prayer at sleep.
But the redhead rolls over, limply wrapping a skinny arm around me. Transported at the touch of her skin, I kiss her fingers until short of breath, spin on my elbow and wriggle a hand up her shirt. Her plump face, deep blue in the dark, eclipses everything as our tongues twine. We were meant to be! I lay my head between her teeth with laughter in my heart.
She draws back, wiping slobber from her cheeks with the knuckle of a curled thumb, eyes empty and glazed over. An Eskimo kiss doesn’t soften her forehead. She seems angry.
Maybe I’ve committed rape. I’m a rapist. Her rapist. No, that’s not, no, I didn’t do anything, she would’ve screamed—
She says she has to pee.Gently lifts me with the white of a nail and makes for the bathroom.Slithering across the bed, I catch her by the pinky and pop a wet smile on her spiked fist.She stands perfectly still and stares as though she doesn’t recognize me.