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Traci Sobocinski

Each and Every Logical Confusion

"Defenestration" is a pretty word. Just as pretty as "hematoma" or "butterscotch." Rico told me he knew a girl who didnít trust the word "lips." I guess I was auditing my vocabulary when Rico explained how his dog had jumped off his apartmentís roof and impaled herself on a wrought iron fence. I held the phone tighter. I said, "Sure, Rico, crash at my place. What are friends for? Thatís too bad, Rico, címon, dude." The right words escaped me, even the ugliest ones would have been useful, but all I came up with was, "Geez, Rico, I just loved that dog."

The next Friday night, I came home from work and Rico was sitting in my hallway reading a yellowed paperback copy of Carrie.

"P. J., what the hell happened to your face?"

I put my key in the lock. My cat, Dogma, was caterwauling behind the door.

"How was the bus ride, Rico?"

"I took the train." Rico put his hand on my shoulder. I could smell something on him: bus-stink, cleaning fluid. He smelled like crack.

"Come on in and take a load off," I said. "Weíre going out to dinner with Nel. Mexican. You up for that?"

"Whatever," Rico said. He stepped over Dogma, who was chewing the plaster corner where the kitchen met the hallway wall. He threw his pack down. He went over to the futon and stretched out.

"Your face looks like you got run over. Who got a piece of you?" he asked me.

"Long story," I said. I took my jacket off. Underneath, I was rumpled. Somehow, Iíd lost my necktie between meetings. Strands of my hair had broken free from the lame-ass ponytail I was still using to cover up what was getting thin on top. My teeth hurt. I slapped open the refrigerator door. The interior was maleficent. The bulb was gone. Shadows of cat food and condiments. Nothing had moved, nothing changes.

But I held up a silver bowl of cole slaw. Iíd fixed it especially for Ricoís visit. I knew Rico loved cole slaw. "Want some?" I asked.

"Sure," Rico said. "Iím starving, actually." He came into the kitchen. He looked at least thirty-two years old. Heíd done a bad job shaving; beads of dried blood peppered his jawline, a gaggle of blackheads flocked across his nose. His glasses were filthy.

"Someone hit you, P. J., Jesus!" Rico said.

"Howís New York, Rico? You keeping busy?"

"I gotta tell you, not so good. My roommate booted me out. Since Zonkers died, itís hell. Iím couch-surfing now. Oh, and I got terminated from a temp assignment for sexual harassment."

"No shit. Pray tell."

We settled down with the bowl of cole slaw at the kitchen table. We went at it with spoons.

"This chick at my last gig nailed me. One minute we were friends, weíre going to poetry readings and stuff. Nothing serious. Sheís a cool girl. Then I gave her a peck on the cheek one morning, the next thing my supervisor calls from the agency and tells me to get my time sheet signed. I told them I would never do anything untoward. Me? Can you believe it?"

"Impossible," I said. "She probably wanted you. She had an agenda."

Rico came over and took the empty bowl. We left the sticky spoons on the table, and Dogma leapt up and starting licking them. We watched the cat for a while. We didnít kick him off.

Rico went into the kitchen, and I heard him try to fit the bowl into the sink that was filled with dirty dishes. I thought I heard a wineglass implode.

"Sorry about that," Rico said, wiping his hands on his jeans. "Iíll do the dishes if you want me to. Iíll pay for the goblet."

I didnít say anything, and he came and stood near me. I wanted to rest my head on the tabletop that was covered with cat hair.

"Hmmm," Rico said. He tilted his head sideways and pressed his lips onto mine. We stayed that way for some time, until I remembered I hadnít put the apples Iíd bought into the cole slaw. We stayed that way until my door buzzer rang. It was Nel saying she didnít want to go to dinner, she wanted to go to the health club. Rico and I stayed pressed into that kiss, pressed into oblivion, pressing into the jokes he hadnít told me, until I realized that more than anything, this was something.

"That was something," I said.

"That," said Rico, "was an ultimate Band-Aid."

 

 

The Mexican joint was dicey. It was one half of an old menís bar converted into a South-of-the-Border young menís restaurant. Someone had erected a barbed wire fence to separate the smokers and the bar crowd from the diners, except the wire was plastic and wrapped with puce Christmas lights. We sat on oil drums around a wooden spool the phone company had once used to deploy cable. We were on a little platform overlooking a festive sea of bald spots at the bar beyond the corral.

The waitress was as close to a babe as you can reasonably get in a place like that. A blackish stone sat in a dent in her clavicle bone, hanging from a thin gold chain. The jewelry rode her breath, it dipped and settled with each pulse.

"Iím Rico, and this is my friend, P. J.," Rico told the waitress. She looked me over and gave me a smile, then scowled at Rico.

"I hope you werenít a party to that," she said, laying the menus down and gesturing toward my eye.

"Heís from New York," I told her. "Youíre sure suspicious."

"I got my reasons," she said. She held a bouquet of steak knives and then let them clatter onto a place mat with a sombrero on it. "Whatís this?" she asked. She picked up Ricoís key chain. Heíd attached Zonkersí blue nylon collar to the loop of keys.

"Dog died last week," Rico said. "Iím sentimental."

She didnít put the collar back on the table. She handed it back to Rico. She looked him straight in the eye.

Rico took a blue bandanna napkin out of his sangria glass and tucked it into his shirt collar over his "Client/Server Technology: Enabling Customer Intimacy" T-shirt. "Whatís good, darling?" he asked her.

"You," she said. "The burritos are okay."

 

 

"A woman," Rico said. "What were you doing with a woman?" He pulled the last of his margarita up through his straw. The food was horrible, a huge mound of coagulated beans. It all looked the sameóthe rice, the chicken, the tacos, the lettuce. It was all brown and gluey. I felt sorry for taking him there.

"I donít know. She tied me up."

"What?" Rico said. "She what?"

"She handcuffed me to the leg of the bed. We were at the Marriott. Sheís, ah, a pilot I think."

"Whoa," said Rico. "Hang on."

"Really. She handcuffed me to the foot of the bed. Fine, I said at first. Fine. This could work. But then things got out of control. She panicked or something. I panicked."

"Howíd you lovebirds meet?"

"Nelly introduced us. The woman wanted to open a dry-cleaning franchise. She flies for a company out of Saint Louis, and she was in town."

"Youíre kidding. What happened to the eye?"

"She bit it. My brow bone, actually. And then she threw a lamp at me." I prodded my cheek gingerly.

"On the way to finding Mr. Right you cry with the wrong person," Rico said.

"Right, mister. Two rights donít make a wrong if you know what I mean."

"Fuckiní A," Rico said. "Iím buying this round."

 

 

We got back to my apartment close to one. We were laughing that the bar tab had amounted to three times what weíd paid for the lousy food. "Youíre not mad, are you?" I asked Rico.

"Nah," he said. "But I could use some more of that cole slaw." He giggled then let his arms dangle at his sides and hung his head as if he were really depressed.

"Sorry," I told him. I went into the hallway to get sheets for the futon. He followed on my heels. The cat was underfoot, too. The cat got nervous and hooked himself between my legs when he felt he wasnít getting his fair share of affection.

The hallway was narrow and Rico pressed against the wall to let me pass. The linen closet butts my bedroom door and Rico stood shadowed in the entrance. Behind him I could see police lights swabbing the venetian blinds. The stripes flickered across my king-size mattress. There was a shelter across the street and late nights there was a lot of trouble.

"Whatís up?" Rico said. He was smiling so I could see only his top teeth. "Didnít you make your bed today?"

"Huh," I said. "These are for your bed. Youíre on the futon."

"Actually," he said, stepping towards me. "Just a hug," he said. He pulled the dog collar out of his pocket and looped it around his right wrist. It reminded me of the pilot coming at me with the handcuffs. I pushed a magenta sheet at him. "Poor Zonkers," Rico said. "Poor P. J."

"Get over yourself," I told him. I brushed past and locked the bathroom door behind me. I lifted the seat on the toilet bowl. The last time Rico had used it heíd put it down. I pissed and got an idea and forgot to brush my teeth. I returned to the living room. Rico was sprawled on the futon, the folded sheet over his face, Zonkersí collar on the floor by his outstretched arm. He was snoring.

 

 

We were standing near a bank of phones waiting for Amtrak. Rico had forgotten a lot of stuff at my place: his paperback, his toothbrush. He was complaining heíd have nothing to read. The station was jammed. They had some problem announcing the tracks and things were backing up. "Weíre having difficulties," the track announcer said. "Technical difficulties with the signals. You know the domino effect, folks? Well, we got it and weíre paying for it. We ask that people please sit tight."

"I think itís funny how you slammed the door in my face," Rico said. "I think itís a riot what you said." He whipped his backpack strap around in a circle until it made a whistling sound. He massaged the buckles against the green khaki. "So much fits," he said.

"What did I say, Rico?"

"You said, donít even think about it. Rico, donít even think about it."

"Weíre friends. Weíve been friends forever."

"So?"

"So, why ruin it?"

"Why would sex ruin it?" Rico said.

"You know," I said. "Youíve got a point, but itís a dull point. Youíre wrong."

"Fuck you," Rico said grabbing the receiver of a pay phone and pretending to talk.

"Fuck yourself," I said. "Okay. Maybe I was thinking dogs donít jump off roofs. Maybe I was thinking Zonkers was pushed."

 

 

They called the track for the Patriot Express and people mobbed the sliding glass doors. It was like a molten river of anxiety; there was no reserved seating on these trains. A little girl was pushing her own plastic stroller toward Track 4. Where was her mother? Plastic bags full of Pampers hung off the bent handles and she pushed hard, with determination. People cut her off, but she kept zigzagging through them, driving the flimsy stroller at top speed toward the exit. The stroller finally tipped, and she went over with it, in slow motion, crashing onto the linoleum. The crowd just steamrollered her.

Rico was gone in a flash. He kicked the stroller off her, picked her up and smoothed her hair. Her mother came up out of nowhere, put her in her stroller, and wheeled her away without saying a word. I shoved my way over to Rico. He was standing in the middle of the frenzy, like a log jammed between rocks in some rapids. Things were accumulating in the still pools of his eyes. He looked up from his inspection of his yellow basketball sneakers. I noticed his face was wet.

"Did you freaking see that?" he asked. "Whatís going on here?"

"I saw it," I said. "Uh, Rico?"

"Yeah," he said smearing the tears into his sideburns.

"Yeah," I sighed. "Nothing."

It only took a moment for him to squeeze my hand. He still had six minutes to hold it, but he let me slip away. His palm was greasy, like an unwashed bathtub. "Your hands are dirty," he said.

"Hang in there," I said. "Iíll wash íem."

"The thing is, P. J.," he said, "whether you know it or not, youíre exactly the same!"

"The same as what?"

"As what?" he snorted and picked up his pack and turned away. Then he spun towards me again. "As you were, soldier," he said. He saluted meóa quick hacking of the air near his right eye. I saluted back, and he gave me a mealy grin and was gone.

The station cleared out fast. It seemed as if everyone in the world had found his seat, and I stood in that echoing public place while a third-shift janitor bent to his knees in the cleaning solution and held up a bill. I wanted to see better so I put on my glasses. He waved the hundred dollars around. Nobody was around to see, not the other janitors, not the conductors, not the signal crew, or a single late-night commuter. I mean it was just me and him, and he was calling out fiercely, with something in his voice you just donít hear every day, "Hey, somebody, look what I found!"

There are situations where the word "carnality" should never be invoked. You shouldnít sleep with your mom or dad, friends or shrinks. That was all I thought as the weight of my body parted the automatic doors and I walked onto the street.

It was a windy night and everything was getting twisted and flying apart. Flags wrapped around flagpoles by the Federal Reserve, pieces of trash scudded down Atlantic Avenue like nervous animals running away from something bigger that might kill them. Even though the wind was strong, I felt if I just walked into it, kept plowing right into it, everything that was getting blown around would straighten out and calm down. I turned east into a fresh blast of it, and started walking home.

 

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