Robb Todd

And Her Eyes Said Something I Did Not Understand

A herd of garbage trucks groaned down dark streets fill­ing their black hydraulic hearts with rot­ten trash­cans and glass, and a smile ate her whole face. I showed her a text from a friend: “T‑minus 10 sec­onds till melt­down.”

She laughed and I wrote back.

A small, well-dressed man stopped next to us on the side­walk and said, “What’s with all the garbage trucks?” I shrugged. He sniffed the air, looked at my shoes and  said, “Isn’t it weird how some peo­ple have foot fetish­es? That’s so dis­gust­ing.” We nod­ded. What else could we do? Then we start­ed walk­ing and looked at each oth­er like what-the-hell and laughed when we felt far enough away. We were going to a par­ty. I did not want to go to the par­ty.

I told her about the park that day, about walk­ing into the chill of a tun­nel and a tiny girl mov­ing her feet in quick steps, yelling to her dad: “I’m run­ning away!” The father laughed, smiled at me, shook his head and called out: “But you’re not even a teenag­er!” I shot impromp­tu hoops with a corn-rowed dude in a wife-beat­er and design­er jeans. A lit cig­a­rette stuck to his lip the whole time and he talked end­less shit. The rim was the rarest of city goals: it had a net.

We walked past an eye-bright laun­dro­mat. I noticed the foot-fetish man fol­low­ing us. He said, “Hey!” I do not know why we stopped. He caught up and said, “Look, let’s just go in there —” he point­ed at the laun­dro­mat “— and let me smell your feet.” I said, “No thanks,” but he did not leave. My phone vibrat­ed. We walked away and I read the text: “Despite repeat­ed warn­ings that we can’t fit all this shit in the car, we can’t fit all this shit in the car.” I wrote back and she sniffed my sleeve and said, “Maybe we should let that guy pay for wash­ing this stink­ing shirt of yours — and your socks after he wor­ships them.” I told her how I liked the way it felt when my bas­ket­ball sweat cooled on my skin in the air con­di­tion­ing of the train.

The man was still fol­low­ing us, but I was more amused than threat­ened. I told her that all I could smell on the train were peanuts because a woman held a can­dy bar wrap­per next to my face and she fold­ed the wrap­per into squares and unfold­ed it and fold­ed it again and again until her stop, and a guy got on and struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with a man car­ry­ing a lute. The shit got deep real quick. I heard the word “baroque” and ques­tions about the num­ber of strings and what is tech­ni­cal­ly a lute, and this pret­ty girl sat between me and this oth­er dude, who took two stops to work up the nerve to say to her, “Look, I’ll just start by intro­duc­ing myself. Where you live?” The train-pick­up is the hard­est maneu­ver in the game and this girl just looked away, plugged her ear­buds into the holes in her head and turned up her music. It was hard to watch out of the cor­ner of my eye but I noticed she had a tat on the top of her foot, a bunch of cur­sive words I could not read, but it did not mat­ter because she was wear­ing pink leop­ard print shoes and that is fuck­ing crazy.

Dude is bet­ter off,” I said.

Yeah, he is,” she said. “It’s all a con­fi­dence-and-num­bers game.” I thought she was talk­ing about pok­er for a sec­ond, but she was not.

The man caught up to us again and inter­rupt­ed: “Have you been wear­ing those socks all your life?”

Look,” I said. But before I could fin­ish, he said, “I’ll give you ten dol­lars for them.”

She tugged on my elbow, but I was not sure if that meant she thought I should sell them or if we should run.

Twenty,” he said, face seri­ous.

I had worn them for days. They were worth way more than twen­ty.

Sorry, my man. I need my socks.” He stared at me for a moment and his face turned sad and he walked away.

Another text: “Wish I could, bro, but we have shelves to put up! … Right after secret­ly pre­med­i­tat­ed make­up shop­ping.” The garbage trucks feast­ed.

I said to her: “Everything is great right now, and all I can think about is the day, soon, that you’ll have to for­give me. I am here to test your capac­i­ty for that.”

Her hair was the most beau­ti­ful dirty-water mop that nobody else appre­ci­at­ed, and she told me she hat­ed the peo­ple behind the glass at the post office for not speak­ing English. My phone vibrat­ed in my pock­et and I did not answer it, and that is when I knew, that moment right then.

I reached across the table for her hand and exam­ined her fin­gers. The one with the ring on it was longer than the oth­ers. My phone kept vibrat­ing.

Where’s that lady with my cof­fee?” she said. “We’re going to be late for the par­ty.” I did not want to go to the par­ty. She looked over her shoul­der and frowned. “Listen, I have some­thing impor­tant to tell —” I pinched the tip of her ring fin­ger, wig­gled it and said, “That means you’re a vam­pire.”

My phone stopped vibrat­ing.

She rolled her eyes. “Vampires are as played out as zom­bies. Can I be a lady­bug instead? No, one of those blue things that live in mush­rooms and get chased around by that bald wiz­ard weirdo and his stu­pid cat.”

Sorry, I don’t make the rules. But I abide by them,” I said. “Although you’d be stun­ning with blue skin. More stun­ning, I mean. You’re already stun­ning.”

My phone vibrat­ed again.

Are you going to lis­ten to what I have to tell you?” she said. “And if I don’t get cof­fee right now, this very instant, things could go ter­ri­bly wrong tonight.”

I exam­ined her thumbs. The part with the nail was a stump, like it had been chopped in half. Half-thumbs, like I imag­ined a dwarf uses to hitch­hike, but the rest was longer than nor­mal, like a fin­ger. It made the insides of my ribs swell. She snatched her hands away from me, tucked them between her legs.

My phone kept vibrat­ing.

Stop it,” she said. “I feel like I’m at the doc­tor’s office. Want to take my tem­per­a­ture anal­ly, too?”

I raised an eye­brow. Maybe I should have sold that guy my socks.

Gah. Never mind,” she said. “Let me see your hands.”

I slapped them on the table, fin­gers spread. She flipped both over, palms up, and slammed them down. The spoons rat­tled. She exam­ined the lines, offer­ing a hmmm and squint­ing her eyes as if she deduced some­thing mys­te­ri­ous and impor­tant. She shook her head, sighed and flipped them over, palms down. The forks jumped.

What?” I said.

Shhh. I’m con­cen­trat­ing extra hard,” she said, “which is quite dif­fi­cult while jonesing for caf­feine.”

The backs of my hands were all hair, veins and scars. My phone vibrat­ed, or maybe I imag­ined it did, while she played with the thick­est vein, press­ing her fin­ger into it as if she was kink­ing a hose, over and over until she gig­gled.

I think the phone kept vibrat­ing maybe. The wait­ress set cof­fee next to our hands. A lit­tle spilled over the side into the saucer. “Your knuck­les look like knots in trees,” she said, and I felt fresh from the womb.

I slammed the door on my way out of the par­ty, and not long after­ward heard heels click toward me, the quick steps of legs hin­dered by a tight skirt. I stormed toward the sub­way in long strides.

Please wait!” she said.

I walked faster.

Wait, moth­er­fuck­er!”

My phone vibrat­ed maybe. My feet slowed. The clicks got faster and near­er and a hand touched my shoul­der.

What hap­pened back there?” she said. “Why did you leave like that?”

Look, I did­n’t want to come to this fuck­ing par­ty to begin with, but if you’re going to drag me all the way out here, the least you could do is not suck some oth­er guy’s dick in front of me.”

Her mouth opened. She dropped her purse and pound­ed my chest with her fists and I laughed. My phone stopped vibrat­ing maybe or maybe it start­ed vibrat­ing. She was short, even in heels, and her head did not reach my shoul­ders.

How dare you say that to me!” she said.

You think I’m stu­pid?”

No, I think you’re an ass­hole!”

Right in front of me?”

We were just talk­ing!”

Oh, exact­ly,” I said. “And you must think I’m deaf. I heard what that moth­er­fuck­er said to you. Wasn’t much of a whis­per. And you sure did­n’t seem to mind, so I fig­ured I might as well jet and let you two com­mence fuck­ing.”

So you were just going to leave me out here?”

I fig­ured you had at least one place to sleep, cunt.”

She screamed, grabbed her purse and clicked down the steps to the sub­way and I scanned the street for I do not know what. I went under­ground and found her on the plat­form, alone, arms fold­ed across her chest. Her lips were a tight line and her eye­brows were angry. I kept my dis­tance until I heard her cry­ing. I walked up to her, put my hand on her shoul­der and she shrugged it off and turned away.

Her phone beeped, a text. She did not answer it.

Who could that be?” I said. I stepped in front of her and she would not look at me. She just stood there, star­ing into a dark tun­nel.

You bet­ter answer that phone,” I said. It was a threat.

She looked up at me. “Fuck. You.”

You have a foul mouth.” I snatched her purse and grabbed the phone. She lunged for it, but I held it in the air well out of her reach and read the text as she jumped and pulled on my arm, heels click­ing.

So how did this prick get your num­ber?” I said. “Care to tell me that? Very inter­est­ing what he has to say here, you fuck­ing liar!”

I hate you!” she said. She kept jump­ing and nev­er came close to reach­ing the phone.

A train rum­bled deep in the tun­nel and we were near the edge of the plat­form. I smashed her phone on the ground, dumped her purse out, and tossed the bag in her face. She screamed and bent over to gath­er every­thing.

Fucking shit!” she said as her nails clawed against the con­crete.

The train echoed clos­er. She shoved her keys and pieces of her phone and every­thing back in her purse, and I lift­ed her from behind with a bear hug, swung her back and forth like I was going to toss her on the tracks. I count­ed with the swings and she screamed loud­er each time. “One!” I saw the light of the train. “Two!” The train shot into the tun­nel. “Three!” I heaved like it was the end of her but held on at the last instant. Her heels flew onto the tracks and her purse slipped from her fin­gers and fol­lowed her shoes, sail­ing across the rails just before the train screeched past.

I set her down, shoe­less and weep­ing, no keys, no com­mu­ni­ca­tion, no mon­ey. She trem­bled and her face was streaked with wet black trails. Her eyes were for­eign words. The train doors slid open and I stepped on. The doors slid shut. She con­vulsed in sobs on the emp­ty plat­form. I beat on the door with a fist, got her atten­tion, pressed my mid­dle fin­ger against the glass and mouthed: “No. Fuck. You.”

The train moved. I watched her watch me shrink into the tun­nel, and when I was gone I looked around. I did not want to be alone. I walked between the cars until I found anoth­er per­son. I sat next to him. He was asleep, snor­ing and drool­ing, and smelled strong like socks, like a mid­night garbage truck mak­ing the cold streets cor­rect. I had to close my eyes to speak a sen­tence I thought was true: “The way we fit into each oth­er feels clean and fresh and good.”