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Where Do You Wear Your Cross?

Chris Huntington

Wendy had five tiny blue tattoos, the kind you make with a paperclip and a ballpoint pen. They were like spilled paint on her collarbone, looked like crosses with little sunburst glows coming off the top. She had a beer and opened her shirt an extra button and I saw two of the crosses when she leaned over the bar. I had six crosses just the same, in between my knuckles.

I moved up next to her and tossed my empty bottle onto the bar. Ordered another and a pack of Marlboro. Let my fingers beat a little rhythm on the wood. I saw her looking at my tattoos. I asked her where she got hers.

She said, "right here," pressing her fingertip onto her skin, right below her neck.

"No, I mean, like: you do them yourself or a friend or what?"

"Oh, my sister gave them to me when I was fifteen. What about you?"

"Pelican Bay. Bored as hell."

"You musta been pretty bored, handsome. Mine hurt like hell."

"Twenty-two and a half hours a day in solitary," I said. "You get pretty fucking bored."

Pelican Bay is the sphincter of the California Department of Corrections, and itís just as tight as a sphincter can be, holding guys it would like to shit out but canít. Every inmate in there on 23 hour lockdown; little six foot by eight foot cells with no windows. Three years later, when I did get out and was sitting in my brotherís car, my arm out the window, we had a four hour drive ahead of us in the afternoon, and I hadnít seen sun, or felt wind like that, for so long, I started crying. I cried so much that my brother pulled over and I waved my hand at him: "Drive, just drive."

"You ever done time?" I asked Wendy.

"No," she said. "My ex-husband did."

"For what?"

"Possession." She eyed me sideways. "What did you do?"

"You name it."

"You ever hit a woman?"

I smiled. "No."

Wendy slid off her stool and slapped me, hard, across the face. She shook the sting out of her hand and stared at me --for the full half a second it took me to focus my eyes on her. I was mad. But I didnít do anything. Or say anything. I kept my temper.

Wendy sat back down. "Sorry," she said. "I was just checking."

I looked away and took a drink of beer.

"You didnít even tell me to never do it again," she said. "I like that."

I shook a cigarette from my box, and she opened her hand next to mine, so I tossed the box down.

Wendy fished out a cigarette. "My sister wanted to give herself one, on her arm. But she wanted to practice first. So she told me I couldnít be her sister anymore 'less I let her give me one. And when I started crying, because it hurt, she and my step-brother held me down and gave me, like, four of them."

"Like four of them?"

"Five," Wendy said.

"I see two."

Her cigarette tilted upwards between her lips. A crooked smile. "Keep talking, handsome. The night is young."

That night, back at her place, I saw the rest. She had a blue cross on each side of her collarbone. And she had three right at the base of her spine, just above her ass. They were a little blurry, like the X-chromosomes you see in biology books. I kissed each one.

That triangle of blue crosses was something special about her, so kissing them was like kissing her and nobody else. But then I got to thinking how every guy whoíd seen her naked had probably thought the same thing, probably stopped and put his lips on each of those little crosses.

And that made me feel sick, like Iíd just kissed all those other men. I imagined our lips meeting there on her skin. I felt like I was doing the same unoriginal shit Iíd always done, and making the same mistakes that me and everyone else Iíd ever met was always making.

Just like that, I lost interest and I sat back off her and reached for some cigarettes. She opened her eyes and looked back at me when she heard the lighter. "What are you doing?"

"I donít feel like it no more."

"What? Why? Whatíd I do?"

"Nothing."

"I donít get it."

"Nothing."

"Fuck me, Goddamnit!"

"Jesus, listen to the mouth on you."

"You lost it?" she exclaimed. "Already? What, you shoot on the sheets?"

"I got a bad taste in my mouth."

"Fuck, give me a cigarette then." I did. She blew a spray of smoke over the bed and then cocked her chin at me. "Thereís a bad taste for you. Why do we smoke these things?"

"Cuz weíre stupid," I said.

We wound up splitting the box of Marlboro over the kitchen counter. We were both half dressed, wearing jeans, and she had a too big V-neck T-shirt that looked real good on her. "Whose shirt is that?" I asked.

"My brotherís. Why, you jealous already? You my husband now?"

"No, I ainít your husband."

"It was a short honeymoon anyway," she said. "What, my ass too fat? Turn you off?"

"No."

"This happen to you before? Itís okay, anyway. . . Itís not the worst thing that can happen. Hell, you donít hit, barely swear. You seem like a nice guy to me. How you wound up at Pelican, I have no idea."

"I got a pretty good idea," I said.

"Tell me."

"No, Iím done with all that now. Itís in the past."

"Leave a bad taste in your mouth?"

"Something like that."

"A bad taste. . ." she laughed. "Shit. My problem is, I ainít got no taste. I always bring home losers. Nothing personal."

That made me laugh. She was honest as hell; I'd never had a woman talk like that with me before. I tried to think of someway to tell her why it hadnít worked.

"Thatís okay," she said, interrupting me. "If itís not me or my fat ass, I donít need to know."

"Well, it ainít your ass. Itís those tattoos."

"What? Right! You got them too! The fucking same!"

"Yeah, but I just saw, in my head. . . a bunch of other men kissing those tattoos. It turned me off."

"That right?" she said, inhaling. "Well, if you saw my ex-husband, I wish youíd have asked him where he spent that last fifteen hundred bucks my father sent me. No, skip that; I wish youíd kicked him in the ass. Youíre big enough. No, wait, if you saw him kissing my tattoos, did he like, maybe ask you what you were doing naked with a hard-on in my bed?"

"No, Wendy. Itís not like that. Iím not like a psychic or something."

"So what are you saying? That you think Iím a slut or something? You saw a hundred men on top of me, kissing my tattoos? I should be so lucky. . ."

"No."

"What, you think Iím a virgin?" She laughed. "Yeah, thatís right. Iíve been saving myself for you. And I went to that bar tonight, because I had the premonition you were going to be there. And you really let me down, Ďcuz I put on my old sheets and everything so you could bust my cherry."

"I can see why you wanted to know if I hit women," I said. "Because Iíll bet you got the hell beat out of you before."

"Got that right," she said. Smoke came from her nose like water from a fountain. "I just don't get it. You're fucking crazy."

"No," I said. "Itís just that--this was different. Different from men fucking you before."

"How?"

I waved a cigarette at the window. "With you, I felt like. . ."

"Yeah?"

"For a second, I felt like I was Christopher Columbus or something. And then, a second later, I felt like I was at the end of a line. Of losers. And everyone who had come before me was just as fucked up as me. In jail and whatever, you know?"

"Youíre pretty fucking honest."

"You arenít?"

"You know how to make a woman feel like a winner, all right."

"I donít care. I donít feel that great myself."

"An honest man," she said, shaking her cigarette over the sink. "Now Iím the one who should feel like Christopher fucking Columbus."

I smiled.

"I tell you what," she said. She went over to the telephone and pulled a paperclip off a bunch of coupons. Then she found a ballpoint pen and tossed them both down on the kitchen counter next to my lighter. "I really want to get laid tonight," she said. "Why donít you give me one more. Give me a cross no one else has ever seen."

I picked up the lighter and the paperclip, turned them in my fingers. She leaned forward across the counter and I felt like I did that one afternoon with my brother, in his car, the wind pulling my hand outside in the air. The sun in my eyes and my eyes overflowing with all the new things I saw rushing past me.

 


In the last ten years, Chris Huntington has been wandering around Ė six months in the Sahara, a year and a half in a small town on the edge of the African rain forest, two years doing special education in New England, four years in Taiwan, and he recently (seven months ago) moved to Paris.

His fiction has appeared in Blue Murder, Space and Time, the Indiana University Arbutus, and his journalism has been featured in The China News.


 

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