Whatever, Forever

Joseph Salvatore

Bats Need Friends Too, her T-shirt reads, Maya's t-shirt, the thirteenth of sixteen guilt-exonerating gifts that her dad has mailed her since last summer, since June 17th, 1994, since the divorce became final and he moved into the new house with his girlfriend, Bethany—his girlfriend—a phrase that, when she hears her fifty-five-year-old dad, over the phone, refer to his 34-year-old office partner that way, makes Maya want to gag, but what-ever with those two.  Her father says please accept these gifts as his way of saying sorry, because he'd love to see her more often, but his practice and his new house are just taking up all his time, and now Bethany wants to go back to school for another degree, but she also wants so bad to have a baby, she's getting older, you know, and we have to start thinking about these things; but regardless of all that, he's been a little worried about Maya, her mother called him last week from Taos and said she hasn't heard from Maya in a few weeks, said Maya hasn't been returning her phone calls, is something going on with Maya?, blah, blah, blah, but her dad was so glad to hear that Maya liked the bat T-shirt, it warms his heart, and he thought of her, of course, as he and Bethany explored those caves, learning all about the bats, Maya's favorite subject, he says all buddy-buddy-daddy-daughter, and someday Maya absolutely has to join them for a visit there, because he'd really love for Maya to get to know Bethany a little bit better, because she's said on many occasions that she's very interested in having a real relationship with Maya, but, as a counselor to young people in crisis, Bethany knows exactly how Maya feels, she has no intention of trying to replace Maya's mother; she respects Maya's need to be alone right now, we both do, honey, because, her father says, they both know how busy people can be, people do have lives, after all, her father says, but then, well, he guesses Maya knows all about that, what with his being so busy with the new house these days and Maya's mother taking off to New Mexico like she did with that Helen friend of hers in tow, but he doesn't want Maya ever to forget that he loves Maya more than anything and misses her and wishes they could see each other more often, she should not hesitate to call him whenever she needs anything, promise?  Whatever with those two.  But indeed the bat T-shirt does rock, it's already got a few small holes and some black stains from her Manic Panic hair dye, and it's the perfect sleeve length to reveal Maya's sleeve tattoos: on her right arm: the old Vegas strip of Freemont Street set against a backdrop of casino chips and many colored dice; and on her left: twelve different species of bats set against a dreary midnight sky full of star-shaped stars, and Maya's had the T-shirt for only a few months, but she wears it all the time, like even sleeps in it and then wears it the next day without washing it, so it smells a little like vinegar and garlic—a body odor she delights in inhaling; she wears it so often not because her dad gave it to her, please, but rather because it has this really cute cartoon bat hanging upside-down from a Gothic font which reads Carlsbad Caverns, and because, as everyone knows, Maya loves bats, loves everything about them, and not—as most people think— because she's into quote-unquote the goth scene, but because bats have the word survivor inscribed into their DNA, genes of brutal evolutionary tenacity helixing around their cute little molecule stems—goddess gracious, she just loves them, and she knows everything about them, too, everything: their sleeping habits, their breeding practices, their food and feeding rituals, and the way that bats relate to other animals—and to humans too, she knows it all and not only can but will relate it to you as she does so often to her friends in this really breathless way she has, a sort of raspy, staccato celerity she possesses, a rhythm that infects her speech (her speech patterns, as her father, the clinical psychologist, calls them), it's the way Maya has always talked since she was a little girl, bursting into the wide open spaces of a new idea, then digressing off of that idea, and then, all excited, getting a new idea, interrupting her own digression, saying: "Oh, wait, no, but then there's also this...", Maya having a sudden epiphany, Maya needing to get it all out at once, declining through her digressions like Diamanda Galas glides through vocal ranges, winding and winding down the widening gyre of her thoughts with vertiginous torque—a kinetic style really, as if her sentences never end, as if she never uses periods, her sentences just running on like bats flying away up into the night sky, then swooping back down low, just above your head, confusing you, putting you off your game, then up she flies again, a great swarm of up, a great up of swarm; and she knows she does this; it's not like someone has diagnosed this tendency; she's aware, and in fact, secretly, she kind of does it on purpose, because she feels it's a part of her identity somehow, her worldview, her caffeinated cosmology, but most of all she sees it like an accessory to go with that most elemental outfit of Maya's: her own body; because the deal is, she's a small girl, she calls herself a stick chick, only five-feet-one, a hundred pounds, and when she goes off on one of her rant-rages it seems like her metabolism has taken over speech, her hands and face getting twitchy and manic, vibrating to the music of her own spheres, as she stands there shaking and talking and frowning and waving, in her black combat boots and black tights and torn black skirt and black leather coat and black lipstick, and black eyeliner and black hair, some people say she looks like Robert Smith, but she prefers Ian McCullach, but don't get her wrong, she loves The Cure, maybe even more than the Bunnymen, something in Smith's lyrics making her feel sane, or rather feel like she's not as insane as some people make her feel—Oh, wait, no, but then there's also this: little dots of black polish on the nails of her tiny bitten-nubby fingertips, but she doesn't care that she's got shitty fingernails, only breeders and lipstick girls care about that, except that she wouldn't mind a nice set of claws, claws like her winged friends have; claws that could hold onto ledges of dizzying height, like the stone belfry of Old Salem Church, from which foggy perch she could peer down upon her entire Witch City, peer down upon Salem Harbor with the hillside cemetery of Marblehead off across that dark water, peer down upon the old lighthouse overlooking the salty mouth of the Atlantic, down upon the dry-splintered eaves of the House of Seven Gables, down even to Swampscott, to the gallows there where, contrary to popular knowledge, were hanged the wise women of her township, the women who did not need men; claws that could act as protection, as weapons, while she flies through the night air, her outstretched wings a dark sail billowing above, the moon behind a flaming penumbra; claws that could scrape down a lover's back, down even (yes, she wasn't afraid to say the name) down Angie Kosinski's back, Angie Kosinski, (there, she said it), but Angie won't be around any longer, not anymore, because she believes Maya uses people, eats people up, drains them like a vampire, or worse: like an artist, just cycles through people, feeds off them until she's bloated blood full, then finds another host, but, fine, if that's what Angie Kozinski thinks, then she can think it, because Maya knows better, knows herself better than Angie ever will, and yet, one time, toward the end, Angie had claimed that she understood Maya better than Maya understood herself, which of course is total bullshit, on so many levels, one being that of hubris, that she would actually claim such a gift, the gift of inner sight, the gift of the Goddess, the second being that she actually had the ovaries to utter such total crap aloud to Maya's face, like without assuming it wouldn't infuriate Maya, infuriate the shit out of her because the one thing Maya cannot stand, positively cannot abide, will punch the wall right next to someone's head if they even so much as try, is when anyone thinks they understand Maya, thinks they got her figured out, like those pages in the DSM IV that when she was in high school her dad used to put little pink Post-It stickies on so that Maya could be better acquainted with terms like narcissism, anxiety disorder, ADHD, sexual addiction, relationship addiction, co-dependency, whatever with all that, but then that's Angie Kosinski—the great knower of Maya, understander of all that is Maya; and that's why Maya's glad she's gone, because now the apartment is cleaner and patchouli-free, now there's more vodka left in the freezer, now she can bring girls home whenever she wants, although she hasn't actually been with anyone seriously since Angie left, but last night she found the green wool socks that she'd acquired the night she first met Angie in Boston on Lansdowne Street, that October night when Skinny Puppy played a Halloween show, and Maya had just bought the Skinny Puppy VHS video collection at Newbury Comics the night before, and she was talking about that new purchase to this girl named Loretta DeFazio, whom everyone called Laverne, because she was this total 50's girl, a real rockabilly chick, with short black bangs and a black satin bowling jacket with an image of Betty Page on the back, Betty's hands raised above a conflagration of orange flame in which she knelt, Betty's face the spitting image of Laverne's, and Maya actually had a mini-crush on Laverne that night, crushed out on her white-pancake-skinned face and the barely visible plucked brows and those blood red lips amid all that white foundation, dear goddess, but that mini-crush was soon to fade, she was getting tired of the rockabilly scene, and in the coincidental synchronicity of someone torn between two pop-cultural aesthetics, that was the exact night she met grunge-girl Angie Kozinski—auburn haired, green-eyed, non-rockabilly, Seattle-style hippy-chick, small-boned like Maya, with an ungodly affection for the band Hole.  Angie came up next to Laverne, wobbling a bit in her big hiking boots and old floral skirt, holding a cocktail, and wearing a Carpe Scrotum pin on her frayed flannel shirt, and Maya had left off the topic of Skinny Puppy now, and was boasting about her most recent prized purchase, the entire series of Twin Peaks on VHS, and Maya was dishing all this to Laverne, when Angie Kosinski interrupted and said almost in slow motion, totally fucking up the speed-metal tempo of Maya's diatribe, Angie held up her many-ringed hand and slowly slurred:  "Wait a minute, wait a minute, hold it.  Did you say Twin Peaks? Oh my God, I so totally love Twin Peaks."  And then Angie closed her eyes, put her hand over on her chest and said that she simply frickin' loved Twin Peaks and oh my God especially that frickin' Kyle; and Maya made a weird face that Angie ignored, because Angie knew what Maya was hinting at, but Angie Kosinski, at that time, wasn't all the way in or out of any closet, so for a while Angie was all about pretending she never caught Maya's many references to that alternative lifestyle, but so as to push Angie's buttons a little Maya said, well, she simply frickin' loved Lara Flynn Boyle, and Angie merely smiled, looked down, and twirled her plastic straw around inside her plastic cup that looked like it was full of a lot of cranberry juice and very little vodka, but when Angie offered Maya a sip, Maya winced and said, Damn that's strong!, and Angie showed her the pint of vodka in her backpack, and then Angie got so drunk that night that later, when they were back at Maya's place and making out on her futon, Angie actually puked, like totally threw up in Maya's mouth, mostly vodka though, nothing chunky, Angie later apologizing and claiming to have been so dizzy that she absolutely couldn't pull herself away because she thought that moving even just a little bit would surely make her vomit, her head spinning and throbbing, and but then it came up anyway, and Maya yanked her head away so fast that her neck was stiff for days, but she toweled up the mess, wiping Angie's mouth and her own, then tossing the towel into the giant dark Hefty bag that Maya kept slumped for way too long in the corner of her kitchen, and when she came back into the living room, she stood and looked down at Angie passed out on the floor, her flannel shirt unbuttoned, her purple bra still attached above those freckled ribs, her throat arched up, exposing the dip and cream curve of her neck, and then Maya got an idea, she knelt down on the floor next to Angie's head and put her fingers to Angie's lips, holding them there, touching their puffy softness lightly, then slowly she put a finger inside Angie's lips, rubbing her front teeth and then beyond them to her tongue, all the while Angie never budging; and then Maya reached out, and began slowly, incrementally, to lift Angie's skirt—just a little, at first, just snooping around, pulling it finally all the way up—then she got down and untied the laces of Angie's big hiking boots, tugging each one off, then peeling down the clammy green wool socks and then, in one smooth determined motion, she pulled Angie's underwear down her legs, releasing into the room Angie's hirsute scarlet diadem,  Damn, this chick is hairy, Maya thought, and then she put the same finger she had just used as a tongue depressor into her own mouth, it tasting vaguely of something bitter and acidic, but Maya was way too drunk to care, and so she licked her finger all over, leaving a drop of spit shiny on her little black fingernail, and then carefully, stealthily, never taking her eyes off Angie's eyes which never opened, Maya put that saliva-wetted finger into all that red bush, but she contacted bone sooner than she imagined, and Maya realized that Angie's pubic bone bulged out over her softer parts like a cliff above a cave, and then Maya traced her finger down the curve of that bone, and farther down still to that nub of reticent tissue so full of shy remembrance, and all at once a real physiological wonder presented itself to Maya, something about Angie down there was larger than Maya had expected, so she took her fingers and parted all that hair, and, when she did this, lordy lord, she saw that this girl, Angie Kosinski, was not a girl at all, but some marvelously constructed woodland nymphic hermaphrodite or something—but no, wait, not a hermaphrodite, Maya decided, but there was something branching off of Angie down there; where Maya had only a little button, Angie had what seemed to be a thumb, and so Maya moved aside more of the flesh and realized that Angie Kozinski wasn't quite like any girl she had ever been with, and something stirred inside Maya, deep inside Maya; she looked again at Angie's closed eyes, the smudges and streaks of eyeliner, her lipstick smeary from their vomity kisses, and then all at once down Maya went, swooped down really, so hungry was she to taste this little mound of Angie, her tongue feeling out the bump of Angie, that firm but tender sovereign, and she did this for a while, got lost in the activity, and soon all this attention had a sobering effect on the passed-out Angie: Maya saw her open her eyes, yet when she looked again they were closed, but Angie was fooling no one that night because this passed-out girl began raising her hips with every push and shove of Maya's mouth, raising her hips and pushing back into Maya's pushy face, getting ready, getting everything aligned, because, as she told Maya later, Angie realized to Angie's great surprise that Maya was really good at this, and she realized also that she, Angie Maria Kosinski—of Salem, Massachusetts, daughter of a police officer and an elementary school teacher, baptized and confirmed out of the Church of the Holy Mother, a once highly decorated Brownie and Girl Scout, a much sought after dog-walker, a knitter of scarves and hats for friend's birthdays, president of the Massachusetts chapter of the Hole fan club—she, Angie Kosinski, realized that she was about to come on another girl's tongue, and along with this realization came a faint wave of giggles; she wanted to laugh, not because it was funny, but laugh because it felt so good, laugh because she just couldn't believe how frickin' talented Maya was at this, Maya was like a total frickin' pro, like a maestro standing behind her lectern, her tongue waving like a baton in a furious hand, directing the rhythm of Angie's orchestra down there, and all of Angie's musical nerve endings now dutifully followed their conductor, picking up the tempo and getting ready for the great crescendo; and for some reason the lyrics to that song from Heart came into her head: He's a magic man, mama/ He got the magic hands, and Angie wanted to laugh again, but Maya was now orchestrating something truly amazing, and the fireworks began blazing behind her eyes, and Angie tightened those closed eyes and concentrated, got into the rhythm, and everything was set to go: the feeling of being held between this girl's lips, the ticklish feeling of Maya's dye-damaged hair between her thighs, the just right placement of Maya's fingers, and then all at once, just as Angie was ready to let go, Maya stopped—just stopped—Maya then climbing up to Angie, lying down next to Angie, and slowly putting a deep kiss onto Angie's mouth, but Angie—now most certainly not passed out—took Maya's hand and put it back to work, and with a little concentration, Angie was back in the game, but this time she didn't want to giggle, this time she wanted to be hugged, and indeed Maya's other arm was under Angie's head, and Angie nestled into that slender tattooed nook, tensed her hips once again, and tried to refocus, to gather back up that gathering storm that had almost gone out to sea; and Maya, with her hand still working, leaning up now on one elbow, brushed back Angie's hair and softly kissed her ear, and Angie's breathing was shallow and quick and she was now moving her hips up and down against Maya's palm, and then, because she needed to let Maya know she was fully there with her now, her sister now, her girl, Angie uttered those three cosmic words, words that perhaps could be heard coming off the mouths of lovers all over the world at that very moment, words that were not even words but the breath of words, words of both poetry and prose, of lyricism and mysticism, of composition and journalism, words of both submission and agency, words that to a foreigner could be called idiomatic, three words that Angie whispered into Maya's hot face: I'm gonna come, and the whisper became a moan and the moan became song and the song became a howl, a throaty roar, a keening lamentation, a diaphrambic proclamation, as if she had just been given truly tragic news, a deep wailing really, and then she said one more thing to Maya, "Fucking kiss me"—and all at once Maya opened her mouth, leaned down and bit deep into the side of Angie's creamy curved throat, and then Angie's moans of lust became a scream which became a shriek and with all the power she had, Angie reached up and grabbed Maya's hair, and with the adrenilinized strength that only mothers of trapped babies possess, positively flipped Maya over by the roots of her hair, a basic judo move, really, a counter balancing of weight, something her father had taught her, and Maya went hollering all the way over her, a scream coming across the sky, and Maya landed hard on her side, her hips crashing onto the wood-planked floor, and Angie, drunk no longer, whipped up onto her knees and swept back her hair and in the same action stood up and stumbled back, falling against Maya's entertainment center, the TV toppling over, the VCR crashing, and the Twin Peaks tapes skittering across the floor, and Maya just watched, watched Angie wheeling around the room, naked except for her bra, and actually the bite was really small, just a flesh wound, but Maya could see that it was bright red, even from this far across the room, and Angie was staring at her hand, at the blood on her hand, and Maya was staring at Angie, who seemed now certainly sober and totally pissed, a fury made apparent by the words she was spitting: crazy fucking bitch, sick cunt; and then she flew back across the room at Maya, who covered up now, wrapped her arms around her head and curled up like a slug, Maya feeling her hair being pulled and twisted, a flurry of Angie's bare feet against her back, and then added to that fury she felt knees and fists and fingernails and elbows and even the wet of tears—or was that blood?—and then she felt everything stop.  Two weeks later, Angie moved in.  Go figure.  But that's just the way Maya's life was spinning out its web in those days, Angie moved into the bat cave for three long months, and then one day, Maya came home and Angie's stuff was gone, no trace of Angie except for the green wool socks that Maya had stolen, but, hey, whatever with her, life goes on, and that weekend Maya went to a bar called Local 159, with Laverne, who would leave Boston for New York the following autumn and study creative writing in Greenwich Village and write stories about Maya, who the following spring would be found hanging from a pipe in her bathroom, Maya's black-rimmed eyes searching the ceiling tiles for two days before they cut her down, Maya's dad calling what friends of Maya's he could track down, offering her possessions to peruse if they wanted them before being given away; Laverne snagging the bat T-shirt, the smell of Maya still present (or so Laverne imagined); Laverne changing Maya's name in her stories, but not much else. But so that night at Local 159, while Laverne was playing pool with some side-burned guys screaming Johnny Cash lyrics, Maya gave her number to a bartender there named Jules, who never called her, but with whom she made out in the employee bathroom and into whose neck she also directed those teeth of hers, not breaking flesh this time, but really biting on, and Jules moaned and breathed in quick through gritted teeth, her knees buckling beneath her as she leaned against the bathroom wall for support, and, like Angie, pulled Maya's hair to finally, but sensually, unhook those little fangs, and later she set Maya up with a free beer, for which Maya tipped her three bucks along with her phone number, but to be sure: Maya really had a good vibe about Jules, and she felt that Jules really dug her too, because after this moment of porcelain intimacy and complimentary beer, Jules fell silent behind the bar, listening to the song Maya had just put on the jukebox, spinning a bottle opener around her middle finger, Jules looking reflective, sort of wistful, Maya thought: a beautiful bi-curious bartender with a big hickey and a bursting heart, standing there against the cash register, as The Cure blared over the bar's sound system, Robert Smith singing about how he knew he was wrong when he said it was true that it couldn't be him and be her in between without you, without you, perhaps Jules thought she had opened herself up too early to Maya, given herself away too easily, but Maya needed Jules to know that that was exactly all she ever wanted from someone, that Maya would also give herself over completely if someone would just give themselves to her completely, not hold back, not bullshit her and play her and abandon her and leave her hanging, alone, like some sad bat in a damp, dark cave, and Maya wanted to say this to Jules that night, so she held her eyes on Jules and when she looked up again, Maya smiled at her, winked, took a sip of beer, it was all she could muster; cool, cool Maya, outwardly chill, but inwardly swooning and falling crushingly in love with this Jules, all memory of Angie seemingly erased in that employee bathroom, and then later that night, north of Local 159, north of Boston, in that city of witches where midwives and old crones paid a steep price for their desire to be different, later that night in her Salem apartment, alone in bed, Maya rolled over, hugged her knees, and murmured Jules's name into her pillow, her eyes closed, her stomach empty, she said the name over and over as she began to pass out, mumbling it like a slurry prayer upon her lips (yes, like a prayer, OK?, because, whether you believe it or not, it did actually make her feel better just to intone Jules's name), amid drool and bed-spins and thumping headache, and then, like any self-respecting woman who gets blown off, she waited a whole week before going back to Local 159 and seeing Jules again, saying, "Oh hi, yeah, um wait, it's Jules, right?" to which Jules said, Sorry she hadn't called, she was like so busy this week, but she totally was planning on calling Maya next week like when her shit got less hectic, and Maya again was trying to act cool, a little aloof, nodding, smiling her crooked-toothed smile, but all the while as Jules spewed her excuses, Maya kept promising herself that she would, at the very first opportunity this evening, walk away, just go on, go on, and walk the fuck out of this bar and never come back again, never, ever—fuck this girl—who does she think she is, Maya would never sink so low as to return to ogle that fucking bitch across the bar, fuck her, never going to give her the pleasure of knowing how Maya feels about her, a heart of stone was Maya's now, she was through needing people, finished, finito, that was the end of it, totally going to cut Jules off, never going to talk to her again, never, ever, not in this lifetime, nope, uh-uh ... not, that is, unless Jules called her, but—and this was a gigantic but—Jules would have to call her within the next week, like she totally said she was planning to do, because maybe, who knows, just maybe, she really has been super busy, everyone can't be as available as Maya, she supposes, perhaps she'll give Jules one more chance, but only one, seriously, she means it, only one more, because people can be busy, after all, like her father said, people do have lives.  Maya knows all about that.




From To Assume a Pleasing Shape. Copyright © 2011 by Joseph Salvatore. Published by BOA Editions. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.