09/27/2021

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.”