He scratches the back of his head and smokes his cigarette down to the filter. He draws the tips of his fingers across the stone seat, catching on fallen leaves and crumbled earth. Dirt fills his fingerprints, caulking over ridges of identity.
I am unremarkable in my filth, he thinks. He scratches the back of his head again, transfers the dirt to his scalp. So close to the skull, so far from the brain.
I am bone. I am instinct. I am an incredible lapse in judgment. He wipes the dirt from his knees and steps back inside.
"Where were you?" Maya asks, looking up from the stove.
He shuffles, noticing the mud on the toe of his sneaker. "Outside."
She doesn't inquire further. Plunking onto the sofa, he watches through half-shut eyes as the television turns itself on and the channels surf over an ocean of static and daytime talk shows. She has made this place beautiful. Plush linen couches, dark woods, the scent of patchouli wafting across the floorboards. A television too big for real life.
His glass is emptied, his magazines are flipped through without reading. Now what?
She enters the room, a dove released by a magician. A plate decorated with a grilled cheese sandwich, a strawberry sliced into a flower, clinks onto the table like a virgin sacrifice.
He chews through the sandwich without tasting it.
"You're going to forgive me." Her eyes flicker with doubt, regardless.
"What makes you think that?" He can't make eye contact. Oprah is on. She has gained a significant amount of weight.
"Well for starters, I've already forgiven you."
Oprah screams and a thousand women scream. "How generous."
She watches the television for a moment. "I can't believe she gives cars away."
"Generous of you, I mean."
Yesterday morning Maya woke up to a scrap of paper slid under her door. Scrawled vague apologies intrigued her and she sought an explanation. "Oh," she had said to herself. "Oh."
Mutual guilt fills the room like chlorinated water. They both paddle as quickly as they can. No one deserves to float.
"You can't be mad anymore." Maya scoops up his now empty plate. "You had your revenge, didn't you?"
Oprah's studio audience is flooded with confetti. Grateful teachers with shiny car keys screech and weep. She leaves the room, bare feet smacking against the wood paneling.
He wonders what Rebekah is doing. Maybe she's painting her nails with a fresh coat of black polish. Maybe she's curled up on the couch with a worn copy of Crime and Punishment, smirking at her double conquest. "I just love Dostoevsky," she'd said, showing him around her studio apartment. He found it hard to trust anyone who identified with Raskolnikov. He had always considered her more the Sonia type. The pious whore, not the existential criminal. Murder for the sake of murder didn't seem to fit her.
Scratching the back of his head, he supposes he had been wrong. He pulls the soft knit blanket over him, retreating into the corner of his makeshift bed. Oprah announces next week's programming, another average looking transsexual woman and a wife that won't let go.
A preview clip splashes onto the screen. "I guess this makes me a lesbian!" A nervous chuckle. The transsexual takes her wife's hand. "Me too!" Dykes, he thinks. Go figure. He tries to imagine himself with breasts, home grown thanks to a nice shot of estrogen. Maybe this would have never happened.
He can hear Maya scuffling around in the next room. The sound of dishes being scrubbed ineffectively, dreamily. Was she fantasizing? Was she brushing her nipples against refrigerator door handle? Accidently? On purpose? Remembering the last hand that'd skimmed them?
An unfortunate memory heats his cheeks. Caught, curiously grazing his hands over Maya's black cocktail dress. Sandwiched his dick between his thighs and pressed his pecs together. Held it up to his nude body in the full length mirror and imagined. The doorknob squeaked, the carpet depressed under the weight of his wife's slippered feet. "Oh," she had said to herself. "Oh."
So who's the queer? he wonders. The man in the dress? He turns off the television. Or the woman who fucks women? He walks down the hall to Maya's and his shared bedroom. He sidles into a sweater and out the front door without a word to his wife.
Rebekah doesn't live far. His feet trace the curb of his block. I am unremarkable in my filth, he thinks. I am muscle. I am gut. I am jealousy personified. I am liquid vengeance.
The suburb falls away behind him. Half a mile down the road and he's standing outside her brown apartment building. A hallway lined with birds of paradise, two flights of stairs, and he's standing outside her white door.
Now what? he wonders, scratching the back of his head.
She opens the door and he starts shaking. Her hair is thick and wavy and she has to push it out of her eyes to see him. Something that bears a strong resemblance to fury or panic or regret or pain or utter bewilderment pulsates in his knees.
"Oh," she said. "Oh."