Sunday afternoon Lee was still out of town. I had planned to smoke a cigarette but both sets of neighbors were out in their yards so I took a bath instead. I waited for the sun to set to go for a walk. Before bed I checked my email. Several new messages had come through since morning but I ignored them and sat staring instead at an email that had appeared two days earlier. I hope I am not annoying you. I just feel like talking. I went down into the basement to smoke a cigarette. It was dark out, finally, the neighbors finally indoors. The email had contained six sentences and nine numbers and I sat smoking on the floor, the afghan over my lap, reciting the sentences and numbers aloud. Lee would be home in the morning. I kept to my side of the bed so as not to disturb his.
I was out for another walk when Lee arrived home the follow-ing afternoon. I took a bath before seeing him. There was a show of my work at a gallery in town that evening and he suggested we go to dinner beforehand. "I thought we'd just have eggs and toast here," I texted from the bath. I was interested in limiting the number of minutes spent outside my bathroom. I texted Lee and asked if he could bring a bagel in to me instead. He sat on the edge of the tub, telling me about his trip as I lay in the lukewarm water with a cigarette and a glass of champagne. I no longer felt hungry and the bagel became an unwanted accessory on the plate beside me.
There were a handful of people in the gallery when we arrived. Most were persons from the university that employed Lee. There was growing controversy within academic circles—as well as without—regarding my work, a series of 'questionable photographs' I'd taken of E. unclothed at various ages, in particular; some others I'd taken of her teenaged friends. I had refused to remove the photographs in question from my shows and as a consequence, most galleries had refused to exhibit me. I held increasingly un-popular ideas about age and consent and age and nudity and as a consequence I was becoming increasingly unpopular. I had noticed a significant movement from 'our friends' to 'Lee's friends.'
Everyone still loved Lee. (Aside from marrying me, Lee had a habit of avoiding controversy.) It was Lee who had set up this show as some sort of gift to me (he was friends with the gallery owner), and I recognized it was my job to accept this gift, whether I wanted it or not, because it meant something to him (even if, as part of the agreement with his friend, the gallery owner, he had removed some of the questionable photographs).
Lee mingled in and out of the growing crowds while I found my way to the bathroom. I sat in a stall, unflinchingly self-centered and self-pitying. I angled a camera at myself.
I hope I am not annoying you…
I had brought with me a glass of champagne, and I waited, lean-ing against the sink, to finish it before returning to the gallery to find Lee. I studied the photographs I had taken of myself inside the stall. It was becoming a challenge to recognize myself outside the context of photography. I no longer, for instance, recognized myself in the bathroom mirror. I viewed the woman there as a rather uninteresting intruder. I did not like the way she styled her hair or held her shoulders, for instance.
Once outside the bathroom, I could not immediately locate Lee. It was a dizzying feeling. To lose one's husband in a crowd, particularly when the crowd seems to consist of friends of your husband. I stood in what I determined to be the middle of the gallery and turned around and around. I was surrounded by my own photographic images from the past fifteen years. There were photographs of myself and of E. and of Alondra and of Darius and of Israel and of people with whom I was no longer in contact. There were no photographs of Saul. All known photographs of Saul had been legally taken into possession by Saul's parents and Saul's parents' attorney, thanks to Mia.
No one approached me. There was the universal sense among those in the room to steer clear. This was all Lee's doing. We were all here as a favor to Lee.
I just feel like talking…
"Are you okay?" Lee said. My husband took hold of my elbow, pulled me from the center of the room to a less populated area. I believe people were respectful of our right to privacy in these moments. Or so it seemed, anyway.
"Yes," I said. There was the philosophical argument that stating something aloud made it true.
I turned my face from Lee's to avoid any detective work on his part, and there was E., standing undressed, at age twelve or thirteen; two or three years before I had stopped bathing E., stopped washing E.'s hair in the tub.
I couldn't remember the last time I had been in E.'s bathroom. I wondered if this lack of remembrance could be read on my face. I didn't like not knowing what could or couldn't be read.
"We don't have to stay long," Lee was saying. "But I think people would like you to make some sort of comment or statement."
I nodded. It was an instinctual nod. A nod of self-preservation.
There was a photograph over Lee's head I had taken six years earlier. I was surprised Lee had allowed it to be included in the exhibit. The photograph was of the person I was no longer in contact with, the person I had once sent nude selfies of myself.
It was, perhaps, the only photograph of mine of which Lee disapproved.
I did not particularly like to look at the photograph either.
But its absence would have been a burden (in a different sort of way) also.
(A noticeable burden.)
I could no longer remember taking it and that bothered me also.
(The lack of memory was a different type of burden.)
Am I blocked? Are you getting these? A second email had come through that morning.
I gripped my phone in one hand and with the other handed Lee my empty glass. I surveyed the room and there in another corner, talking to one of Lee's university peers, an older professor who had made a habit of discrediting me even before I was considered to be controversial, were the Gundersons, a couple Lee and I had known ten years. The last social interaction with the Gundersons had not gone well. Lee had been out of town (again). I had been out by myself (a stab at grown up socialization that I had immediately regretted); someone's birthday. Drinks after at a bar. I had asked the Gundersons, Tom and Laura, very casually, I thought, if they had a zoo membership now that they had children. Tom and Laura had sucked in their breath, turned toward one another in a dramatic stance. "No," Tom had said, stern-voiced, employing a voice a father reserves for addressing disobedient or defiant children to address me. "We don't go to zoos. Zoos are cruel. Zoos are prisons for animals." I had wanted, immediately, to leave the table. I had been in the process of fill-ing out an application to volunteer at a zoo close to me. E. was a zoology major at a university an hour and a half north; E. was no longer interested in cinema as a career. But I had ordered a club soda so I stayed another thirty minutes, barely feigning an interest in Tom and Laura's stories about their son and daughter, concentrating on their faces so as to train myself to avoid coming into contact with them in the future.
"I'm sorry," I repeated to Lee. We most often communicated with apologies now. One of us always seemed to be sorry for something. We were always almost ready to begin going to counseling. We were always almost ready to fix something.
I walked toward the center of the room—the gallery owner, Lee's friend, had a step ladder and a sheet and was covering the photo I had taken of an undressed E. at age twelve or thirteen, I supposed, due to someone's complaint or due to the gallery owner's own discomfort or change of mind—and kept walking until I was at the front door and then I began the three and a half mile walk home. On the sidewalk outside the gallery a young woman and a middle-aged man were having a conversation about where to purchase a bottle of water. There was, the middle-aged man had noted, a gas station across the street.
"It's just…I prefer not to buy water from a petroleum company," the young woman was saying. "There's a CVS next to Krispie Kreme on the other side of town. We could go there."
"Now that I'm vegan and gluten free I can't eat Krispie Kreme anymore," the middle-aged man said.
"I heard they give a lot of money to the pro-life movement any-way," the young woman said. The young woman was unlocking her car. I couldn't hear what they said after they got in. I bought a bottle of water from the gas station for my walk home. I bought a Twinkie and a pack of cigarettes, also. I couldn't remember the last time I'd had anything to eat. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen Saul or Eli either.
At home I ran a bath and avoided my computer. I poured a glass of wine and carried it and my phone into my bathroom. There had been a text from Lee. "Should I come get you? Or do you want to be alone?"
The house felt like a film set after the film crew has left for the day. I had made a point of passing E.'s room on the way to my bathroom. It was not a direct route. Stairs had to be climbed and descended. The bed was unmade, a pair of sweatpants in the form of E.'s body splayed atop. I had removed my camera from its bag; taken several photographs. I had taken an almost identical set the day before. If I stayed in the house, this would become a main form of repetition in my life and in my work.
I recited the numbers from the email aloud. (Not staying had to be a consideration.)
I extended myself out of the bath; reached the length of the counter for my camera. It was less an act of vanity than a habit of documentation but vanity too. I held no views on modesty. I felt morally neutral on all things.
I entered the memorized numbers into my phone. I was un-sure what name to attach to them and so I selected at random the name Primo Carnera, then stared a long time at the name in my phone.
It was a sixty-five minute drive to E.'s university. Lee did not seem keen on my departure but did not argue against it either. He stood at a slumped angle against the bedroom wall, arms folded, watching me pack. I had imagined myself leaving in the middle of the night or when Lee was at his office on campus.
"The show, I think, was a success," Lee said, leaning into the car. "Everyone was saying good things about it—and you—after you left last night."
I envisioned Lee making amends for me, a fourth glass in his hand. There were rumors, I knew, about the state of our marriage, circulating around the university.
I didn't mind rumors. I barely knew my way around campus.
"I forgot my cigarettes," I said. Lee took a step back as I opened the car door. There were three unopened packs in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. On the average day I consumed two cigarettes. There were twenty in a pack. I grabbed all three boxes and stuffed them in my purse. I was unsure if Lee had noticed. He was standing off to the side with the dog. He did not follow me this time to the car.
When I was nine or ten, my grandfather gave me a set of walkie talkies for Christmas. I was an only child and I sat alone in my farmhouse bedroom many nights, first listening to, and, later, conversing with, the truck drivers who passed close to our town. I had made a plan to catch a ride with one of them when I turned thirteen but then my thirteenth birthday had come and gone and my fourteenth also and still I was in a farmhouse bedroom and still I hadn't crossed any state lines. I wrote the word 'pussy' in my diary a lot that year; big loopy letters that took up whole pages:
This morning when I woke there was a text from Primo Carnera. "I had to throw a prostitute out of the bar tonight," it said. "She was nice about it, though."
I couldn't remember having sent Primo Carnera a text message. I could only remember entering the basement with my camera after my bath, setting the timer and taking a series of self-portraits on the concrete floor. I had flung myself down several times in quick succession and there were a series of bruises on my hips and elbows now because of it.
Eli did not at first respond to my calls. I left three voicemails before E. finally answered. "Sorry, I was in class. Be down in a min-ute." I hadn't called ahead. I hadn't been sure until I reached E.'s university town. I hadn't replied to Primo Carnera's text either. I had smoked three cigarettes and stopped at a rest stop to photo-graph my bruises. I had stared at Primo Carnera's text and smoked a fourth cigarette. (The bruises were darkening, spreading.)
Eli was taller and leaner than I remembered. We hugged briefly outside the dorm and E. held the door for me to enter. There were posters along the hall describing what types of hugs were appropriate for a variety of situations.
"I keep wondering what sort of serial killer came up with these," E. said. "I'm literally terrified to live here."
I smiled and followed E. up the stairs, down a hall, into E.'s room. I sat on E.'s bed; waited for E. to suggest our next activity. I was submissive toward E. because I had no one else to submit to. There was a text from Lee asking if I'd arrived safely. There were no more texts from Primo Carnera and already I recognized a slight familiar ache inward due to this absence.
"What are you doing here?" E. asked, turning on the room-mate's TV.
"Can you get us alcohol?" E. said. A competitive weight loss show was on. A fat man was crying.
"I don't know. I hardly see Saul anymore. Why? Is that why you came?"
I thought a moment. I wasn't sure how to answer.
"I don't know," I said.
"You don't know if you can get us alcohol or you don't know if that's why you came?"
"The latter. But I'm pretty sure it's not."
"Okay,…so you can get us alcohol?"
There was a drugstore that sold liquor four blocks from E.'s dorm. I walked beside Eli unless someone walked toward us and then I dropped behind. I had sent Saul a text message from E.'s bathroom before we left. I lit a cigarette and looked for people who looked like Saul.
"You can only stay three nights, officially, in a row, unless the roommate doesn't care and Sam won't care," Eli said. E. picked out a bottle of gin and a bottle of vodka and I got a bottle of champagne for myself. There was a mark that resembled a hickey on E.'s neck and I wanted to photograph it but I knew E. would be mad so I resisted. The only time I resisted creatively was with regard to Eli. "I won't self-censor myself in my art for anyone," I would say to Lee. But always I would add, "except for Eli." Exceptions were always made for Eli.
I think I probably meant I wouldn't censor myself for Lee.
"Don't you think Lee will be worried about you?" Eli asked on the walk back to the dorm.
"I told him I'm here with you."
"Right, but…maybe worried was the wrong word."
"He'll be fine."
I fell back again, lit another cigarette. Eli didn't like my smoking either but it was my one act of independence now that E. was eighteen. Or maybe it was my second. I was appreciative of Eli's bond with Lee, who wasn't E.'s biological father, but it could feel confining at times also. For instance, if things didn't work out with Lee…I would be afraid to tell E. if anything changed drastically.
I slept on the futon under E.'s bunk. I had texted Lee before fall-ing asleep. I didn't know when I'd be home, I had said. Nor did I know my motivation for staying in E.'s dorm. I didn't think I was running away from him, I had said. I was sorry there was so much I didn't know, I'd said.
When I woke in the morning the room was empty. It was almost eleven. I took a shower, studying the periodic table on the shower curtain and thinking vaguely of Primo Carnera who had not texted overnight. I dried off and dressed and sat back down on the futon. I didn't know how to work the TV remotes or where to purchase coffee. I stood and looked through a chemistry book I found on Eli's desk. I looked at my phone, considering who I might send a text but I couldn't think of anyone.
It was two more hours before Eli unlocked the door to the room. I had been taking photographs from the window. I turned to smile at E. I resisted taking E.'s picture.
"I saw Saul," Eli said.
"He was in my scuba class, doing a makeup or something. He was put in my group and we were on the bottom of the pool together most of class and at one point I looked over and he was waving at me. I waved back and then he gave me the thumbs up signal and I tried to smile but my fibulater was in my mouth."
"Did you talk to him after?"
"No, I had to stay late to help the woman who teaches the class with something. Anyway, I'm going to shower and then we can get lunch if you're hungry."
We spent the rest of the day walking around campus. I had texted Saul while Eli was in the shower and Saul had replied but neither of us knew how to integrate Saul back into our lives. We were both fearful of Eli. Maybe fearful is the wrong word.
"How much longer are you going to stay?" Eli said. We were having lunch at a sports bar on campus.
"I don't know…with you, a couple days? If that's okay?"
"What do you mean, 'with you'? Do you mean you might stay around here on your own? Why? What for? That doesn't make any sense."
"I don't know."
"You must know something."
"I don't. I don't know if I want to get a hotel for a while or…drive home or…drive somewhere else…"
"What about Lee?"
"What about him? He's fine. He's busy teaching. He understands this is just something I'm going through."
"Does he? Cuz I don't, to be honest. I don't understand why you are here and not home with him."
I looked down at my food. I had been stirring it around my plate. I wasn't very hungry lately. Sometimes I was nauseous. I stood and said I'd be back and walked toward where I thought the bathroom was but that turned out to be the kitchen. I had to ask another waiter where the bathroom was. I had to cross the restaurant again. I didn't look at E. as I passed our table. I wondered how long I could sit in the bathroom before it was noticeable I wasn't coming back. I took out my phone and typed the words "I feel lost" and sent them to Primo Carnera. I returned to the table and ordered a drink. "For us to share," I said to Eli. I did not drink during the day except with Eli. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in August we had shared a bright green cocktail, some sort of 'fizz' from the '20s or '30s. While still seated at the table Eli had said, "I don't even feel anything," but then E. had wobbled a bit as we stood to walk back through the Greek and Roman sculpture wing and we had locked arms to steady ourselves. I hadn't wanted to leave New York City or the hotel room I shared with Eli. I had cried in the bathroom of the plane on the flight back. I had been having a tough time con-trolling my emotions since E.'s graduation. I slept some nights in a sleeping bag on the floor beside our bed. I couldn't eat as much and the sleeping bag felt larger around me.
I looked at my phone but Primo Carnera hadn't texted me back.
The next three days went similarly. I waited in the room for Eli to be done with class, then we had lunch somewhere on campus, and shared a drink. Eli would go back to classes after that and I would wander around campus taking photographs and watching for Saul. I wanted our meeting to be accidental or incidental. I didn't want to have to lie to Eli about our meeting. In the evening, I drank with Eli and Sam and watched TV or movies. I texted Lee before bed and in the morning there would be a new text from Primo Carnera.
"We are all lost, shithead."
"Stop being a pussy and live your life."
"You should feel guilty you're a grown woman who types 'obvy' when she means obviously, not anything else."
The fourth night I fell asleep next to Eli in Eli's bunk. There were other people in the room, friends of Sam's. The friends sat on the couch where normally I slept, drinking and watching TV until early morning. It'd been years since I'd slept next to Eli. In hotels we slept in separate beds or I slept on the couch. I was conscious all night of Eli's body next to mine. I studied it as though taking measurements for a sculpture.
The fifth night Sam had an out-of-town visitor.
"It's okay. You can stay here," Eli said, but I had the sense that it wasn't okay. I called a hotel in town. There were rooms avail-able. I texted Saul also.
"Come hang with me and my roommate," Saul said.
I didn't tell E. I was visiting Saul. I sensed E. would view my visit as some sort of betrayal, though I wasn't sure the exact nature of the betrayal, just the general sense.
I remembered that Eli had been jealous in some way of Saul and me. I had been unable to determine if E. had been jealous of my relationship with Saul or of Saul's relationship with me. (I had been similarly unable to determine the root of my own jealousies regarding E. and Saul.)
I stopped at the corner store for a bottle of bourbon. It was my first chance to photograph Saul since he'd turned eighteen. In a month he would be nineteen. He was older now than E.'s father had been when we married.
There was a new text from Primo Carnera. "Are you okay, loser," it said.
Saul's dorm was on the opposite side of campus from E.'s. He was majoring in business or political science or something like that. Something like his father. "I think you should runaway to Chicago," I'd told Saul his junior year of high school. "You're too funny to go into business. You should be at Second City. You should be doing standup or improv." But Saul had gone to the state college like E. instead. "He's stalking me," E. had said when we found out. "He thinks we're going to be friends again but we're not."
"You should get scuba certified and then you and me and Eli can travel the world seeing the wonders of the ocean and drinking Mai Tais," Saul was saying.
"I can't, Saul," I said. "I'm claustrophobic, remember?"
I remembered Saul's and Eli's five year plan to move to California after high school. They were going to get a house on the beach, get a German Shepard, go to UCLA. Eli had been accepted by UCLA and turned them down. The plan by then was three years old. Something had happened—or not happened—between Eli and Saul. That was the funny thing, everyone (I.e. Saul's ex, Saul's parents, some of the kids E. and Saul went to school with, a couple of the teachers) seemed focused on Saul and me. But Saul and I hadn't had the falling out…nothing funny had happened between Saul and me.
Saul's roommate was out at a party.
I took my camera out of its bag.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Saul said. "Not again," he said. "Haven't you been legally prohibited from this sort of activity?"
Saul laughed. Mock covered his eyes.
A text was coming through from Primo Carnera. I watched his name float across the screen. I waited three hours, until Saul was asleep beside me, to read it. It said, "Stop being such a scared faggot."
I was drinking from the bourbon bottle. I was concocting a reply.
Saul's roommate was snoring on the other side of the room.
I was forty-five years old atop a dorm room bunk bed.
My husband, Lee, was thirty-nine.
Primo Carnera was thirty-one.
Saul was nineteen, almost twenty.
"I'm leaving here tomorrow, asshole. I'm coming to find you."
I typed the words to Primo Carnera but did not hit send.
Saul turned in his sleep and I picked up my camera to photograph him.
I deleted the words.
"He's like a brother to me," Eli had repeatedly said of Saul in the past. Then something had happened one night when I was out with friends. And on another evening also. Something seemed to have happened then, too. I had asked Saul to keep an eye on E. He was nine months older. He was like a brother to E. Whatever it was that happened, they kept it from me. I came home and the three of us went to McDonald's, same as always. Saul called shot-gun, same as always; placed his arm next to mine on the armrest, same as always…
In the morning Saul wanted to go to breakfast.
"I don't want to run into Eli," I said.
"We won't," Saul said. "All Eli's classes are on the other side of campus."
Not quite a year later Eli made some sort of a confession. But there was a vagueness to her confession, so that I was unsure what was being confessed. The confession seemed only to serve as Eli's explanation for no longer wanting to see Saul. He was no longer invited to birthday dinners or out of town concerts. We no longer baked muffins for him on Valentine's Day or took him an Easter basket. I put the Christmas stocking I'd had monogrammed with his name on it in a drawer in the back of my closet…
I was wearing sweats and a jean jacket. Keith Richards hadn't updated his look in fifty years and I didn't see any point in up-dating mine either.
"Put your hood up," Saul said.
I had forgotten Saul's dominance. (I brushed my hair from my face, tucked it into the sides of the hood.) It went: Saul, Eli, me, Lee.
(Primo Carnera might have come before Saul if at any point Primo Carnera had been a real person rather than a series of words typed into a telephone; if at any point I had been made privy to where Primo Carnera lived or worked, the name of his girlfriend, the size shoe he wore.)
Lee texted, "Everything okay? Is there anything I can do?"
I shoved my phone down into my purse beneath my cigarettes.
"Is it okay if I smoke?"
"Sure," Saul said. "Give me one too."
We stood outside Saul's dorm. Several Asian males stood near-by also smoking.
There were activities I wished my life to consist of, mannerisms with which I wished to conduct these activities. These were the only truths I knew about life. I guess they amounted more to style than truths.
"Coffee," Saul said.
I nodded. I followed behind Saul.
Saul ordered coffee for both of us. He was filling his side of the booth, an arm draped along the top, legs widely splayed. "Is it alright if I take a picture," I said.
"Sure, if you want," Saul said.
I reached for my bag, took out my camera.
"Want me to light a cigarette?" Saul said.
I lowered the camera, glanced around.
"Yes," I said."Okay," Saul said. "Hand me one."
I fished one from my bag; fished out a lighter. I'd bought it at a gas station on my drive to the university. It said "Aries" and there was an image of a ram. I don't know why I'd bought it since I was a Taurus. Maybe I had an undisclosed affinity for rams.
"Get ready," Saul said.
I picked up my camera. My heart was beating faster than normal; faster than it did after two large coffees and two cigarettes.
"I'm ready," I said.
Saul cupped his hand around the lighter for affect. There was no detectable wind inside the diner. He had probably seen it done this way in old westerns, or in a movie with Christian Slater.
"Sir. Sir. What are you doing? There's no smoking in here," the waitress was saying. She'd come running over seconds after Saul lit the now burning cigarette.
"Oh, there isn't?" Saul said. "My bad. I'm sorry. I didn't realize. What should I do with it? Where would you like for me to extinguish it?"
He took another drag and peered up at me or up at the camera. I was filming now. I had the whole scene on video.
"Outside, sir," the waitress said. Other customers were now watching. A couple had their phones out, aimed at Saul.
"Okay," Saul said. He stood and slowly walked toward the door, taking another long drag and exhaling before tossing the still smoldering cigarette into the parking lot.
"There you go," Saul said. He was grinning at the waitress.
"Thank you, sir," the waitress said. "I'll be right back with your orders."
Saul winked at me. I snapped a picture. I waited until we had finished our breakfasts to pass Saul the camera, to light a cigarette and wait for the entire scene to play out again.
There was no deviation from the script. I recited Saul's lines verbatim.
"Oh, there isn't?" I said when the waitress approached. "My bad. I'm sorry. I didn't realize."
I could see Saul grinning from the corner of my eye.
After, we sat on parking bumpers in the parking lot smoking the remainders of our tossed out cigarettes and watching the waitress pour coffee, carry plates of eggs and hashbrowns and bacon.
"Wait for me here," Saul said.
We were standing in the campus library.
"How long will you be?" I said.
"Ninety minutes," Saul said.
I sat at an empty table. I watched Saul walk outside. I got up and walked toward the elevators. I stood inside an elevator star-ing at my phone. Primo Carnera had texted me. "What the fuck is your problem," the text said.
Ninety minutes later I was seated at the table where Saul had left me. Several times I had thought I saw Eli but each time it had turned out I was mistaken. Ninety-two minutes passed. I became bored. I fished a cigarette from my purse. I photographed the women as they came toward me. I saw Saul over one of the lady's shoulders. He was tall and grinning. He walked faster toward me. The smoke was engulfing my eyes. I squinted. Got the picture. "Ma'am!" the woman was saying. "Ma'am!" I reached back, pulled the hood up over my head.
"What are you going to do after this?" Saul was saying. "After you leave here?"
"I don't know," I said.
We were drinking beer in Saul's dorm room. Earlier we'd smoked weed in my car. I still felt high. I was glad Saul's room-mate wasn't here. Saul's roommate seemed always to be not here.
"I don't know if I'm going to leave," I said.
Saul laughed. "What do you mean? What the fuck are you talking about? You can't live in a dorm all year. And you can't live in your car."
"I know," I said. "I might stay at a motel. One with a weekly rate. Or an apartment. I don't know."
"So you're not going back?"
"I don't know. I can't seem to form a plan."
"Well, you can for sure stay here another couple nights," Saul said.
"Okay, thanks," I said.
"No problem," Saul said. "Come on. Let's go have another smoke."
I couldn't remember texting Primo Carnera but there was another text. "You fucking nutjob," it said. I smiled. I was sitting on the toilet in Saul's bathroom. I was wearing Saul's t-shirt, my own underwear. I took a photograph of my feet with my phone, sent the picture in a text to Primo Carnera with the words "feet of a fucking nutjob." I waited a while. I sat on the toilet long enough for my backside to begin to hurt. I walked back out into the room and lay down on the top bunk next to Saul.
In the morning there was a text from Eli. "I saw you with Saul yesterday," it said.
"Yeah," I typed in reply.
There were three texts from Lee to which I had not yet responded.
There were texts from people to whom I could no longer seem to form replies.
There were no new texts from Primo Carnera.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Eli texted.
"I don't know," I said. Saul was at class. There was no more beer. An empty bottle of whiskey. I went into the bathroom, folded Saul's shirt on the back of the toilet, stepped out of my underwear.
It was my last day staying in Saul's dorm.
I opened Saul's medicine cabinet. There weren't any razor blades, only cheap disposable razors. I exited the bathroom slowly, in case the roommate had come back. I moved languidly around the room as though walking on the bottom of a pool. I opened drawers, lifted books, rifled through papers. In the last drawer was a pair of scissors. Blunt. Older. I carried them point-ed down, as I'd been taught in elementary school, back into the bathroom; shut the door. I studied my arm, the inside elbow area. I held open the scissors.
I realized I didn't have my camera; I'd left it on the bed with my purse.
The blade of the scissors did not want to cut. I made several white marks like cat scratches but I could not wound the skin. I could not indicate blood. I set the scissors on the sink, fingered the skin on the inside of my arm. It was reddened and sensitive to the touch but it was still unpunctured. It was turning red and blotchy, the red blotchiness rising. I could detect no difference in my temperament, no letting up of any feelings.
I sat naked on the closed toilet. My phone buzzed on the sink. I leaned over, saw Primo Carnera's name on the screen. I opened the text. It was a photograph of a foot. Large, colorless, hairy. The nails on the toes were in need of clipping; were yellowed, unruly. It was possibly the ugliest foot I had ever seen.
I meant to laugh but instead snot and other liquids expelled from my nose and mouth. I wiped them with the back of my hand, wiped my hand on my leg.
I took a photograph of the inside of my left arm, sent the photograph to Primo Carnera.
I sent another text.
"Can't even cut myself right," I said.
I sat on the toilet a while, waiting.
I fingered the red marks on my arm.
"What's that? hives?" Primo Carnera texted back. "You dumbshit," he texted again.
I smiled, set my phone on the sink, got in the shower. I turned the water as hot as it would go, watched my skin redden. I turned my face into the stream of hot water. I couldn't remember the last time I had cried.
I walked out of the bathroom, water trailing behind me. I got a pack of cigarettes from my purse, my Aries lighter. Hello, ram!
There weren't any clean towels.
There was a pile of dirty ones on the floor in the bathroom.
I sat naked, cross-legged, on the toilet. I lit a cigarette. I smoked it to the filter, lit another. I lit another.
I didn't know how long it would take.
I flicked the lighter, held it up to my arm, watched the hair singe.
I took a picture of the singed hair ("hair of a dumbshit"), sent it to Primo Carnera.
There was knocking on the door.
"There's no smoking in the building," someone was saying.
I smiled. Lit another cigarette. More knocking.
I stared at my phone, waiting to see Primo Carnera's name appear on the screen.
I kept waiting. It felt like I was always waiting.