By Paul A. Toth
On the couch, Manuel and I watched news about a bombing in Manila, the smoked palm trees and bodies in the streets. Manuel, I believe, was actually thinking about the bombing. I was thinking about the possibilities of reproducing with Manuel. He put his arm around my shoulder to comfort me in a time of crisis, but his fingers failed to tap like ten impatient little piglets. He thought of me as a friend! I got up and turned off the television volume, thinking I might slap him.
I'm no looker. Neither was Manuel. But he was proud. I was almost thirty and had left pride behind. There wasn't time to spare. We would have sex. I would become pregnant. The human race would begin anew.
I unbuttoned my shirt. It wasn't hot, not with all the fans and a breeze lifting the curtains.
"Hot," I said. I stopped one button shy of my bra.
"Not too hot."
I moved close to him.
"You're right. It's really almost cold tonight."
He leaned out of my snuggle and grabbed a can of Coke. He said, "It's just about perfect outside."
I needed an apple: "Here, Manuel, have a bite," I’d say. Then, we'd create the first name in an almost endless series of names, not one holy baby amongst them, not one saint, not a single prophet, not one Christian, not one Muslim, not one anything with an "im" or an "ian" or an "ist" at the end of its description, not even an atheist, no. Don't say the word, don't nail it down, don't nail anything or anybody. No nail bombs either, no divides, everybody just happy to have apples, bushels of apples, eating all we can, passing the apples when we're full, the ignorant fools who would have left smoked palm trees and bodies in the streets never to exist.
Birds often landed on my window. They didn't speak to me. They had no messages, no prophesies. I put words in their mouths. I opened their beaks and they said what I liked. They said, "Mother Mary, start the human race over again. The world needs you. Get laid. Manuel will do it. Have you looked at that face? He must be desperate."
That night, I had dressed as seductively as an unattractive woman can. I wore a skirt with a slit that directed the gaze straight to everyman's land and a shirt that pointed to cleavage that can overcome a face like mine. I had big ones, oh, yeah, enough for a hundred babies. If I could get my hands on a doctor and take enough hormones, I'd shoot for the Guinness Book of World Records.
Maybe I could get him drunk. That always worked, but then the men I'd been with before always protected themselves. Even drunk, they never lost their heads.
"Would you like a beer instead? We worked so hard today."
"No, I'm fine."
"Then what should we do?"
"I was enjoying television."
I stroked his thigh. My hand catapillared up his leg, toward the instigator. Nothing.
"What are you doing?"
My hand went back to the cocoon of my pocket. Maybe shyness would work. Maybe that's what he wanted in a woman. If he was overconfident enough to think himself attractive, then that must be exactly what he wanted.
"I don't know what I want," I said. I faked an orgasm of tears. “I don't understand you. What do you want?"
"I thought we were going to discuss things at church."
"The Church? I've left it, but my body hasn't."
"You left it? And the orphans?"
"Not with our help."
"Children need parents. I'm tired of helping the helpless. I want babies of my own."
"Mary, I'm a priest."
"But aren't you losing faith?"
How he looked at me, with such dismissal and disbelief. He believed in anything he couldn't see and nothing that he could. He all but said, "You're going to hell for saying that."
"You could go to hell for saying that."
"I should go, Mary. I'll see you in the morning. You need sleep."
Sleep? Ah, but my wise man couldn't know my pornographic dreams. If he saw those, he'd have a spell and faint. He'd need a whiff of whiskey to bring him back, and then he'd guzzle the drink, and then he'd have another spell and faint again.
"I cannot sleep. I think of you."
"You must stop."
"You are a good man going to waste in a church. We help no one. It's a lie."
"What about Diego? He can add and subtract."
"Let him count to a million. What good will it do?"
"And Irma? Do you want her to end up a prostitute?"
"Fuck them," I shouted. "Fuck them all."
"Maria," he said, standing, "you're having a nervous breakdown."
He headed for the door. I lunged and hugged his calves.
"Don't go, don't go."
"You're making a fool of yourself."
"Fuck me, Father."
"God have mercy on you."
And then he was gone, but he had left his pocketwatch behind, the one that ticked, like a bomb, the bomb that took my husband. I kissed that pocketwatch, tasted its fake gold as my tongue wrapped around it, the world slithering between my legs but leaving nothing, nothing at all, inside me.
Paul A. Toth lives in Michigan. His novel Fizz is available from Bleak House Books. Fishnet, his second novel, was published in July 2005. See his website for more information.
Paul's last work for VerbSap was Ant Farm.
Photo courtesy of Freeimages.co.uk.
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