The blind girl was blind, so she couldn’t see, but she also had the most terrific sense of taste which was some kind of consolation, I guess. This was what she told me: she said she could take a sip of wine and count how many virgins had stomped on the grapes. I didn’t really believe her. I said, “Even if you could, you can’t tell a virgin by how they taste.”
She shook her head. “Believe what you want,” she said, “but it’s true.” She took another sip of wine. “Four,” she said.
The blind girl was also incredibly beautiful, and because she was blind men walking past her on the street had no problem staring at her face, her chest, turning their heads to study her rear end, but her boyfriend who wasn’t blind did have a problem. People also stared because her boyfriend wasn’t the most attractive man in the world and they wondered if he wasn’t some kind of volunteer for the blind or her cousin twice removed until she kissed him, and not just the kind of peck you’d give to a cousin or a volunteer but the kind of kiss that navigated the mouth like there was a little white ball attached to the tip of her tongue.
Because she was blind it didn’t really matter to her what he looked like so much as how he tasted, and her boyfriend Carl supposedly tasted pretty sweet. Like caramel, she said, on account of he’d been conceived in the back of a sweet shop.
I didn’t think very much of her boyfriend. For one thing, his face was covered in acne scars on account of all the sugar. And also there was her health to consider. I told her, “You’re going to become diabetic if you keep seeing him.” I said, “I had a grandmother who was diabetic. Insulin shots are no fun.” She said I sounded just like her mother.
Nevertheless, it just killed me to see them walking around together: a beauty and a putz named Carl you wouldn’t give a second thought to pushing out into the middle of the street just so you could hold her hand, the hand he was holding. I saw the mathematics of their relationship as simple, elementary arithmetic; she was with Carl because Carl tasted like caramel and he was with her because he wasn’t blind and she was.
She liked me too, though, enough to kiss me one night after too much to drink, but she said I tasted like sauerkraut. We’d stopped at a convenience store and I’d just finished eating a hot dog and I told her that must have been it but she shook her head no, she had a more distinguishing palate than that. I said, “Well, my German ancestry goes back pretty far, I guess,” joking, but she didn’t laugh. “That must be it,” she said.
So she kept on with Carl and I kept on wanting her and Carl kept on being an acne-scarred douche bag. The thing about a guy like Carl was he had no conception of his own limitations. He couldn’t recognize that a girl like that was a fluke, that never again would he be able to bag a girl like that. I started to see him around town, at bars, chatting up women he’d never have a chance in hell with, and even though it wasn’t enough to get beyond the acne scars and the douchebaggery, they could sense that maybe here was a man a beautiful woman could fall for in a crazy world like this.
As for me, I started taking baths of milk and honey, and then eventually Carl got lucky, or unlucky as the case may be, and came home smelling of something other than caramel. After that no one really saw Alison for a while. I heard from my friend Joe who worked at the grocery store that she’d been ordering a lot of chili peppers, a lot of Habaneros, and this special pepper called the Ghost Chili that you could only find in Sri Lanka and parts of Bangladesh. I knew what she was trying to do; she was trying to kill her taste buds. Her capacity to taste was at stake, and while it had never really translated into anything more than Carl and a virgin count, it suddenly seemed infinitely more vital to her beauty, particularly if my place in her favor was ever to mean anything at all.
So I waited a week, took a goat’s milk and lavender honey bath, put on my best suit and drove to the grocery store. She wasn’t home when I knocked on her door, or she was but she wasn’t opening, so I waited on the stoop of her apartment until the sun went down. She was pissed when she finally came home around nine o’clock, and by pissed I mean drunk and not upset, although she might have been upset too. “You smell like you’ve been lactating,” she said.
“It’s this new soap I’ve been using,” I lied. “You smell like you’ve been drinking.”
“Well,” she shrugged. “That’s probably a good explanation for why I’m drunk.”
She was listing a little from side to side but she was still beautiful, and besides blind people list a little more than seeing people do, as if they’re trying to determine their spatial limitations, where things stand. She took my hand and said well if I was there already, I might as well come inside, so I did. I set the bag of groceries down on the kitchen counter and asked her how she’d been doing.
“I haven’t missed a Happy Hour yet,” she said. “What’s in the bag?”
I pulled out the contents—a mango, a dark chocolate Hershey’s bar, a bottle of red wine. She sniffed and nodded; she licked her lips. When she heard the plunk of the bottle on the counter she made a grab for it but I slid it out of her reach. “First the mango,” I said, which I then sliced in half, cubed the meat and inverted the skin. She bent over the kitchen sink to eat it. “It’s not organic,” she pronounced, wiping the juice from her chin.
Next I handed her the chocolate bar, but again, no dice: “This chocolate was made in a factory,” she said. “Can I have the wine now?”
“Can I kiss you?” I asked. It was the only thing left to ask. She had dismissed my solicitations one by one, as if by rote, and I wondered if perhaps she hadn’t already eaten the special pepper, the Ghost Chili, the one that you could only find in Sri Lanka and parts of Bangladesh. If she had, maybe she’d still need milk to cool her mouth.
“Okay.” I poured two cups of wine, gave one to her and asked her what she thought of it. It was the most expensive bottle of wine I could find at the grocery store. She took a while to answer, swishing the wine around in her mouth like a sommelier. Finally she swallowed, and then she cocked her head a little like she was searching for that elusive last note, and then she turned to me and declared matter-of-factly, “Two.”
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