Quiet the Remedies


fiction by Robb Todd


He will move. When he is a man, he will move so far away that if he went any farther he would be moving closer, and he never tells her where he is because he feels safer this way, farther and further from her, but never freer of her, and he will come in the face of every woman who will let him and in the face of many who say do not and he will never stop moving, even when he finally stays in one place, and that is where I am.

Here with a different her, a spectrum of hers, and she examines my hand and says, “Your knuckles look like elephant knees,” and I smile and say something while thinking of the broken bits of rainbow that spun on the walls in every room, and the wooden elephant that rolled instead of rocked because this boy, she swore, needed to move, and he scooted across floors and through bending shards of color on the animal she carved, her hair for its lashes, the tail braided from the same hide as the brass-tack trunk, smooth hips and sanded curves, but bad on corners, no give in the legs, a stampede solo through the sleeping naked room, refracted and washed in evening yolk.

Everything is a prism.

She asks me a question I only ever answer if I gain some advantage from it so I tell her and she cries a little and says, “I’m so, so sorry,” and I know I am not completely being honest. How can anyone ever be completely honest? But she probably wants me a little more because of it, someone to save, and I will let her think she can rescue me.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” I say. I have a pretty good idea.

We stare at each other sideways, our heads resting on feather pillows. A tear trickles over the bridge where her nose meets her brow and disappears into her other eye, finding its way home. I pluck an eyelash off her cheek, hold it on a fingertip and tell her to make a wish. She has beautiful eyelashes.

“Oh, no!” she says, clamping her hands in front of her chest. “What if I make the wrong wish?”

The only women who love me are women who hate themselves.

“I don’t know which wish to wish for!” she says.

“Just blow,” I say. My eyes narrow and I smile.

“You’d like that,” she says. She closes her eyes and blows. The eyelash sticks to the fingertip.

“Harder,” I say.

“That’s my line,” she says, and she blows like she is putting out birthday candles, eyes open, and the eyelash vanishes and I write something down.

She whispers the wish in my ear and her breath does not smell like the breath of other hers, it is her breath, the only wind I want. Everything smells like what it is: fresh hair and flesh. I kiss her and our faces are so close they are blurry, cross-eyed, one-eyed, underwater. I pull away, into focus, and when I stare into a woman’s eyes, all I see is my reflection.

I will move.

A man in full colors, who splinters and fades, and she might cry and maybe I will feel bad, but secretly be happy that I can cause so much pain just by not being there.

I do not regret it. I do not regret anything. I regret everything.

“What does it feel like?” I say.

“‘What does it feel like?’ is my favorite game,” she says. She straddles me, sits up and flips her hair to the side. “It feels like a stranger staring at you on a train, and you staring back until someone smiles.”

“That’s it?” I say.

“It also feels like,” she says, searching for it, “knee-bows.”

“Ah, now I understand.” I press a finger into my chin. “I think it feels like a wave right before it crests.”

She purrs and nuzzles my shoulder.

“That’s dumb,” she says.

I count the trails of sweat on her chest, eyelashes by the bagful, the hairs on the back of her neck that thinly zipper down her spine. I slide a finger through what is left of me on her skin, close my eyes and memorize her body like a blind man, trace slick lines that glisten against curves and softness and bone. Sentimentality is not free. The cost is being stricken, intertwined.

She rolls off and I open my eyes. A slow, deep bite. A soft moan turns into a whisper, a secret to neither keep nor betray, like the sky in the window, neither day nor night and the lamplight outside flickers, confused.

A passing car fills the room with music and she says, “The only songs I like are the ones that make me sad or make me want to fuck.”

The music disappears down the street.

“Well,” she says, “I guess that’s kind of the same thing.”

I slap her and she laughs and says it was not hard enough. She is covered with my effort: a bruise like a butterfly wing, another like a bloody kiss under her skin, a crooked ring of red marks, and she wears them like badges and says, “There’s no going back now.”

She has great elbows. I tell her that. Soft, smooth, not too big/small/sharp/dull. Nice. She touches mine and says, “Wow, you have great elbows, too.” I check. I say, “Damn, you’re right. My elbows are even better than yours. I’m great!” She laughs, probably because it is true. I write that down and she says, “Write everything down, sir!”

Motorcycles rumble and the windows shake and a bus beeps and hisses at a stop. I count the beeps. Two men yell in another language, words that must be curses and threats.

“See, they know what it feels like, too,” she says, “because losing it is the only thing that could make anyone that angry.”

I walk to the window to watch the fight but notice an attractive mother in tight jeans holding a tiny hand and I imagine the child being pushed out of her vagina and I imagine the mom being fucked the night of conception and I feel a little bad for thinking about that, or at least for admitting that in my brain there is shit like that.

“This is quite a piece you did on my shoulder,” she says.

A pigeon pecks at something in the street that is so delicious the bird has lost its fear of death. I count the cars that almost hit it and it does not fly out of the way. It just struts to the side, a car barely misses, its feathers ruffle in the whipped air, and it struts back and pecks.

“What happened with those guys?” she says.

The men are gone and I shake my head. Children are playing in the fountain in the park. A plane flies between a star and a silver toenail clipping of day-moon just above the trees and the sky makes the blue it only makes just before dark.

I pull the white leather chair in front of the open window and sit with my back to the world.

“It feels like,” she says, “a perfectly poached egg.”

A breeze cools my skin and the curtain strokes my face and neck and I close my eyes. All at once: cars honk, motorcycles rev, a bus grumbles, kids, swings, ice cream truck. I open my eyes, swivel in the chair and look out the window. Two baby dolls tied together at the throat hang tangled like shoes from a bowed line over the lit street. To be so close.

“It feels,” I say, “like a sheet fort.” I really hit the T’s. Shee-T. For-T.

She laughs and pulls the sheet over her head and kicks her feet against it until she is out of breath.

“Let’s go for a walk,” I say. “Through the fountain.”

My jeans are crumpled on the floor like the bud of a rose. She tugs her skirt on and I slip into socks and we do little dance moves into the same clothes we wore last night.

Adults and teens and kids still fill the park but the fountain must have been turned off while we got dressed. We are caught in the crossfire of a water-balloon fight.

“Fuck you, nigga!”

“I got one for you, nigga!”

They are not black. Balloons burst. We stay dry. The sky is dark but the clouds are still white. Motorcycles. Bus breaks. Someone’s phone is playing music. We sit on a bench and look at the fountainless fountain. The air is thick. Kids zoom past on bicycles and I feel their wind.

Two guys box next to the monkey bars. Gloves and everything. I want to learn to box, to be boxed. Their gloves pop. I count the pops. Some teens run by, a race. A girl wins. Someone watching says she ran like a jaguar and she did. She beat a boy.

“I’m the fastest nigga around here! Don’t forget!” She is not black.

Squeaking playground bridge. Little girls on scooters doing laps: “When are we going to stop going round and round?”

I write it down and they do another lap.

“Let’s go to the boardwalk,” I say.

“It’s dark,” she says.

“That’s why we should go,” I say. “We’ll ride the roller coaster.”

We walk to the subway station. A kid in a window sprays me with a powerful squirt gun and yells, “Sorry, mister!” but he does not stop. I am soaked and I yell thanks and I tell the kid that if he knew me at all he would be using bullets.

The spray feels good, chills my face and chest and back. I open my mouth wide and he fills it with water and it is too complicated to drink.

On the train, a baby in a stroller reaches into my wet pocket and tugs at my wallet.

“Aw,” she says.

My feet are puddles. She has never ridden a roller coaster before. She says she is nervous. She bites her lips so much there is a ragged line of flesh on each one. I tell her someone died on the roller coaster recently and she gives me a frightened face. I tell her I will protect her and she kisses me and we make out to the point of annoying other passengers.

She tells me a long story about her archenemy when she was in school. She calls her a whore many times and says, “I’m sorry. I don’t feel like myself. Maybe you won’t want to see me again.”

Her lip is bleeding a little from all the chewing and kissing. The train doors slide open and a man says as he leaves, “Love is amazing with that kiss. Love is amazing! Get a life. Get a life!” I count the people on the train who I think are as unhappy as he is. The baby pulls out my keys and they fall to the floor. I pick them up and the stops roll past.

There is no line for the roller coaster. We have our pick of any seat, front or back. She screams and closes her eyes on the first drop and never stops screaming and she squeezes my arm and I squeeze a boob as we whip around corners alone with the noise, the force of planets stretching our faces.

“Thanks for letting me hold on to you,” she says when we get off. “That was the best part. I think I may have pissed a little.” She pats her skirt. “No, I didn’t.”

We walk out over the water to the end of a pier. The boards are crooked and nails lift their bent heads. People fish and play music. We kiss again and a little girl walks by and says, “Somebody eat my eyes.” I write that down.

I lean over the railing and watch the water lap against wood pimpled with barnacles and mussels and I spit and watch the white dots disappear in a swirl. She spits, too.

“It’s only fair,” she says and she makes a mock-stern face. I write something down and she says, “Taking notes!”

The ocean wind echoes in my ear and waves are better than music, and reels click and spin and birds cry and lines are cast and children squeal on the beach. We walk past carnival games and freak shows and beggars and cotton candy on the boardwalk and a little boy with wild hair wins a stuffed elephant, big enough for him to sit on, and he does an the knees give. A fake palm tree in the sand sprays rainbow mist under the boardwalk lights, and I walk into it to hide the water welling in my eyes and she follows me.

“Not as good as the fountain but it will do,” she says and water runs down my face and my clothes suck my skin.

I say, “It feels like not needing to be right.”

She says I should write that down but I do not need to.

“We will go broom shopping one day,” she says. “You just wait.”

A trail of wet footprints dries on the subway platform. The train grinds its ax through the station, and I tingle at the thought of someone unseen pushing me onto the tracks. It whips past and the breeze tugs at our clothes. On the train she tells me how much she loves Christmas and I tell her how much I hate it but I never tell her or myself the truth about why and she snaps at me for the first time: “Fuck it then.”

I walk to the other end of the train and count every clacking rail, every dinging doorbell, every rattling cup of change. Too much everything, and owed apologies. She can talk and talk and I will listen mostly and I will kiss her so so soft to shut her up, whisper in her ears, but maybe I just want to fuck. Maybe that is a lie, maybe. A sound that sounds like this. There is nothing in here, not like she thinks, nothing for long to want, and I want to give her all of it.

I step off the train before my stop and she follows. She catches up and takes my hand and we walk along the edge of the park and watch the lightning bugs flash. She calls them fireflies.

“Aimlessly walking around the city is the only time I don’t feel completely crazy,” she says, and I laugh and she says she cannot tell if that laugh is “with” or “at.”

A man steps out from behind a tree and into the light and says hello. He is dirty and points down and pulls up the leg of his shorts and I think he is going to flash his dick but he sticks his finger into a crusty, bloody gash on his leg. I keep my eyes on his eyes and she walks faster and covers her mouth with her hand and I try to slow her down as we pass him.

“People usually give me money when I do that,” he says.

His eyes are resin, his teeth are tusks. I give him a look I hope seems like anger rather than fear and we walk away and he yells: “Oh, such a tough guy!” I hear footsteps but try to keep our pace the same. He yells something else, I do not know what, and she squeezes my hand as hard as she can until I do not hear footsteps anymore and I glance over my shoulder and he is sitting on a bench, knifing his head with his fingers.

We turn a corner and run to the door of my building, out of breath. I fumble with my keys and we run up the stairs and as soon as the lock clicks in the apartment, we throw our clothes all over the place, jeans crumpled in a blossom again, and I fuck her and she fucks me and we fuck. She says she wants to build a sheet fort and hides under the covers and her head pops out and she says she is thirsty. She walks to the fridge and pours a glass of water and pokes a magnet on the fridge that says I HEART PORN.

“Is that true?” she says.

“Hell yes,” I say.

“What kind?” She uses both hands to raise the glass to her lips.

“Orgies,” I say.

She swallows. “I prefer gang bangs.”

“I bet.”

“Hey, other than porn, I’m actually very conservative,” she says.

I say, “Yeah, right,” with my face.

She hands me the water and I drink the rest in one large gulp. She walks across the room and sits in the white leather chair, nothing but yellow panties on, and hugs her knees until she cries and it is possible that there has never been anything more beautiful. She cries until she stops crying.

There is no noise outside and I say, “I walked through a park on my way to work, just said, fuck it, I’ll be a little late. It was chilly and gray and a stuffed animal was stuck in a tree and the tiered fountain in the square was flowing, ringed in flowers, white and pink.”

She wipes her cheeks with the back of a hand and says, “You really have to watch out for those bears,” and I wonder how she knew the stuffed animal was a bear. I walk to her. I kiss her on the bloody kiss under her skin. She sniffs and wipes her nose.

“I’m going to invent a new way to hug, and hug you in a way that nobody has ever been hugged,” I say. “A hug to end hugs.”

“We’ll see,” she says, staring at the floor, and I stare at her stare.

I lean in close and she says, “Your eyelashes are so long. They’re like spiders.”

I pull her panties off, lift her in the air and she wraps her legs around me. She smiles and wipes off the last of the trails from her cheeks. We kiss.

“It feels like,” she says and I put a hand over her mouth and run my fingers through her hair and across the back of her head and say: “I brush my teeth just to call you.”

She looks like she might cry again and I do not want any more tears so I stick a finger in her ass. It slides right in, nice, and she does not even stiffen her back. Her face is a strong, blank dare. I set her down slowly, bend her over and she says, “Do whatever you want,” and I slip the finger in again and she stiffens, clamps down and I count silently in and out until she says, “Stop.”

She turns and her eyes are pools and I look for myself in the curved reflections and she says the meanest thing she has ever said to me: “I don’t like you any more.”

I tell her that is the meanest thing she has ever said to me and this is my chance to move but I do not. She bites her lip and hugs me and takes it back, tries to. I sniff my finger and it is so clean that she must shit bleach.

“What does it feel like?” I say.

“Not pleasant,” she says, pulling up her panties.

“No, not that,” I say. “‘It.’”

She sighs.

“What was that sigh for?” I say and she says, “Just pushing out feelings I don’t want to deal with.”

I walk around the room backwards, one step behind the next, and she asks what I am doing and I tell her that you cannot know where you are going if you do not know where you’ve been and this gives me a better view of that.

“I want to see everything except what is right in front of me,” I say.

She sits in the white leather chair, hugs her legs again and presses her lips against her knees.

“It feels like knowing you are dreaming during a dream,” she says, “and taking full advantage of all your sleep powers.”

A horn blast outside startles her and she laughs. I pick up a dirty shirt from the coffee table and throw it on the couch because somehow that seems better. She slides back in bed, rubs her stomach and stretches and her ribs are wonders and she says, “All this is making me hungry.”

Blue flames crown a burner, oil pops and an egg sizzles. I count the pops and I count them, count, and carry the egg to her on the spatula.

“What are you doing with that?” she says.

“We’re going to eat it,” I say. “It might be too hot for you right now, though.”

“I can handle it,” she says. “Do it.”

I flip it over on her stomach and she bolts up and shrieks. “Oh! Oh! Oh! It’s too hot!”

I scoop it off and blow on her stomach until she and the egg are cooler. Somehow the yolk does not break.

“Too bad it’s not poached,” she says. “Hey, I have something to tell you. Remember my wish? Well, I lied.”

I slide the egg between her breasts and pick at the whites with a fork.

“Needs salt and pepper,” I say. I hold the grinders up like trophies and grind both on her. “Don’t sneeze.” I stab the yolk with the fork and drag the golden ooze down to her navel with some swerves.

“Modern art,” she says.

“So what did you wish for?” I say.

I hold out a bite for her.

“Well, what are the wish rules?” she says. “If I tell you, it might not come true.”

I feed her another salty and peppery bite. She asks how long this kind of treatment lasts and I say, “Until you stop appreciating it.”

“Good answer,” she says. “I guess that’s the way it is with everything.”

Back and forth with the bites and I drag yolk over her nipples with the fork and lick it off.

“It’s like we’re living inside of a poem,” she says.

I feed her the last bite.

“Look, I know you’re not going to say it back, and I know there is a lot of responsibility with these words but —” she stops and stares at me, waiting for a sign that it is okay to say them and I say, “Look, there are so many better ways to say that, and saying it will take the place of them all.”

“Whatever, whatever,” she says. She gives me her “Yeah, right” face and bites the insides of her lips. I count passing cars, many of them.

“Can you slap me or something?” she says.

She walks back to the white leather chair and perches in it, a cheek resting on her knees. Her panties match the yolk streaked across her skin.

“You sitting there is the second most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” I say.

“Second?” she says, lifting her head and raising her eyebrows.

“Yeah,” I say, “second.”

“Well, what the hell is more beautiful than this?” She waves an arm across her body like a game-show girl displaying the grand prize, and says, “Nothing,” and she is right but I say, “I threw away a plastic bottle this morning when I was leaving the dangerous bear park. If not for that, you’d be number one. Easily.”

“Wait,” she says. “You are talking about garbage right now, you fucking dick. You realize that?”

“Well, what happened when I threw that bottle away really blew my mind,” I say.

“I don’t want to hear about it.” She swivels in the chair and looks out the window, and I look out, too, at the neck-bound baby dolls. I wrap my arms around her, press my neck against hers, and whisper: “I was walking through the park.” I rub small circles into her bruise, as water-ripple-soft as fingers can be, and I count the circles.

“There was a breeze that rolled in and out like a soft wave at the boardwalk.” I run my fingers into her hair and she closes her eyes, her lashes lovely.

“I took the last sip of my drink and saw a trash can.” I kiss the ring of teeth marks.

“The breeze picked up right as I tossed the bottle toward the trash can and it hit the rim and I thought, ‘How could I have just missed that?’ and I was mad but the bottle shot straight across to the other side, hit the rim again and bounced high into the air in a long, slow arc and froze at the top, like somebody was trying to tell me something important, and I couldn’t figure out what it was but it was beautiful in its holding still, and it fell straight in.”

She spins in the white leather chair and looks at me—this is where I am—and I say it again, slower, softer, holding still, not fading but seeing her in her eyes, every color burning into black holes.

“It hit the rim …” I draw its path in the air with a finger, slowly, “ … shot straight across … hit the other rim … floated … froze … fell in.”

She says, “I know you are just going to steal me for your stories.”

Robb Todd