Everything and Nothing
Look at her. All wet and wicked green, trembling in her glass, waiting for my lips to open and my tongue to lick at her, softly at first and then more hungrily, until I toss her back and she slides down my throat, thick and sweet and bitter and I half-gasp-half-grunt in surprise. She gets me every time, my green fairy. It’s why I love her.
I am many things. An actor. A liar. A toy cop. A father. A philanderer. (Go ahead and tell my wife. She won’t believe you. I’m that good.) I am many things, yet no one sees what I really am. I’m not even sure I do, anymore. She might, but only because with her, I can drop the masks and just be nothing.
With her, I am nothing at all. And it feels goddamned gooooooood.
It’s why I prefer to drink alone. When I drink with people, I assume the role of charming alcoholic; the gregarious spic who routinely reaches into his wife’s deep pockets and pulls out free booze for everyone. Okay crew, drinks on me, and please, don’t be shy. No no, your money’s no good here. That’s what the plastic’s for, the Good Life, drinking with my friends, my buddies, my pals, my muchachos, all you fine young people who sniff around expectantly and kiss my ass because you know I’ll pay for your liquor—fucking tools. Like I don’t know.
Sometimes I think my mind is like a costume trailer. Except instead of garment racks, it’s filled with masks. Masks everywhere: on the walls, on the shelves, my own face in duplicate, triplicate—hell, dozens of ’em, all contorted in different expressions, carefully sculpted by a master of his trade. You’d think wearing a mask all the time would be suffocating, but it isn’t. It’s like coming home after rush-hour traffic. My mask is the first thing I reach for when I get up in the morning and the last thing I set aside before I drink myself to bed.
I don’t remember finding my bedroom last night, but I wake up to my wife’s voice, and it’s obvious she and the kid are getting into it again. How a grown woman can let a three-year-old get the best of her is beyond me. I want to put a pillow over my head, but I’d better get out there before they kill each other.
They’re in the living room, facing off over a pile of clothes. The kid is stark naked, and my wife is crouched on the floor with a pair of Disney princess panties stretched between her hands. She throws me a dirty look, as if she knows what I’m thinking. I can tell from that look I ain’t getting any this morning, and that’s fine by me. She’s not exactly the type that sets my blood boiling on the best of days, if you know what I mean. She looks like a librarian. And a bit like Rosie Perez on a bad hair day.
“What’s going on out here,” I ask mildly.
“Your daughter seems to think she doesn’t need to wear clothes like a normal person,” my wife seethes. I want to smack her for the way she says your daughter whenever the kid acts up, as if she hadn’t been the one who’d whined, argued, wheedled, cajoled and finally threatened divorce if I failed to let her incubate my genetic matter into the one thing her dead daddy’s money can’t buy. But I don’t. Smack her, I mean. I would never hit a woman.
“Well she doesn’t need to wear them, does she? You planning on going somewhere?”
“That’s not the point, Marcos. I told her to get dressed, and she’s not listening. Lottie, get over here right now and put on your underpants or Daddy will spank that bare bottom of yours.”
The kid looks at her. Squats. And takes a very deliberate crap right on the living room carpet.
Yup. That’s my girl.
“Marcos!” my wife screeches, throwing the panties down.
It’s a good thing I don’t have to work today. Even though I get a kick out of watching my blue shirt and badge make the minimum-wage mall girls slippery, I don’t have it in me this morning. Three days a week is all I need to keep a steady stream of women waiting for my call, and to be honest, it’s about all I can handle. I’m getting old—old enough for the gray to start showing up in my chest hair. Besides, I only work for cigarette money. My wife will stuff my closet with three thousand-dollar designer shirts, but she refuses to pay for my cigarettes.
I walk up behind her and massage her shoulders, speaking into her ear in what one of my girls—a nineteen-year-old with the cutest cum-face—used to call my tiger voice.
“I’ll take care of this. You go have a bubble bath. Take a glass of wine with you.”
“You sure?” I can tell from her voice that she’s closed her eyes behind those coke-bottles of hers. It’s her weakness. She might control the checkbook, but I can always melt her like butter.
“Yeah, I got this. Go.” I scoop up the kid, who shrieks with laughter and tries to struggle.
“Come on, monster. Let’s get dressed and then you can help me put that shit in the toilet where it belongs.”
“Marcos, don’t say shit in front of the baby,” my wife protests. I ignore her.
I manage to wrangle the kid into a jumper and cowboy boots and drag her to the park for some Daddy time, which has its perks. A wink and a few stock compliments, and those newly minted MILFs open up like Easter tulips. There aren’t any in the park today, though, because it’s been raining all morning, so me and the kid have the place to ourselves. Lottie beelines for the swings, where I push her from the front so she can attempt to kick me in the head. I grunt and pretend to get hit every time, which makes her laugh hysterically.
“I’m gonna kick your face in, Daddy!”
“That’s right,” I say. “And remember what I told you to do to boys who don’t play nice?”
“Kick ’em in the nads!” she screams gleefully.
A mom approaching with a double stroller looks at me funny, and I give her a shrug. Kids say the damndest things, don’t they? She shakes her head and veers off to the other end of the park. The truth is, Lottie is showing signs of turning just like me. And it scares the living piss out of me.
I try my hardest to wear her out, and she crashes on the way home. I manage to get her upstairs without waking her, a fact I always take pride in as proof I’ve got this Daddy stuff in the bag, and after putting her down with a careful kiss on the forehead, I find the wife on my bed, wearing a red negligee. In candlelight, I’ve learned, even librarians look sexy. I join her, and we do what we do best together. Short and sweet. After, we chat about nothing and laugh almost like friends.
Then she says, “We need to talk, Marcos.”
“You know what. We’re running out of time.” I get up and start pulling my boxers on. I always feel like I can argue from a stronger position when my boys aren’t hanging out.
“Jesus, Soph, are we on this again? What do you need another kid for? You can’t even handle the one you’ve got.”
“You promised before we got married. Two kids.”
“I don’t think I can do it,” I say.
“What’s the big deal? All you have to do is jerk off in a cup. I’ll do the rest.”
“I can’t have this conversation right now,” I say, heading for the shower. “I’ve got dinner plans.”
She knows better than to ask.
I get to the restaurant and Carrie already has a table for us. She’ll be the first to tell you she’s just the latest in a long string of women, but I don’t think of her that way. Sometimes I make a point of telling her I think of her that way, but I think she knows I’m lying. She’s older than the girls I usually go for, and she’s lasted longer than most. I actually feel kinda bad for dating her. And I never feel bad, even when they call me every four-letter name in the book. With Carrie, I feel as close to human as I get. Sometimes I think who I am with her is someone I wouldn’t mind being for the rest of my life. Or that could just be the mask talking. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
She’s twisting her napkin. She does that when she’s nervous.
“There’s no easy way to say this,” she says. Fuck.
“The doctor says I’m six weeks along.” Fuck.
She watches me, waiting for an answer to the question she’s afraid to ask. I can see she’s hoping I’ll surprise her. Usually I’m good at surprising her.
“I can’t have any more kids.”
“I’ll pay for it. I’ll come with you if you want.”
“No,” she says. “I’ll take care of it. I got this.”
She’s holding back her tears until she leaves, and I want to squeeze her for being so brave. I want to take her hand and bury my face in it. But I don’t trust the sincerity of the gesture. Anything I say or do right now will only be self-serving. So I just look.
She doesn’t stay long enough to order.
I come home to a note on the refrigerator. The wife’s taken the kid to her mom’s to spend the night. Fine by me. Means I don’t have to wait until they go to bed.
I head straight for the bottle this time, not bothering with a glass. It’s more intimate that way, closing my mouth around the small opening and letting her pour into me. I feel her heat in every part of my body. I feel the masks slip off, layer by layer, peeling away like old paint. I tighten my hand on the neck and tilt my head back, swallowing hard and long. I drink until there’s nothing left of her. It’s what I do.
With a sigh of relief, I let her fade me to nothing.
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Portland Fiction Project
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