This Deborah talks out of the left side of her mouth, as if she’s trying to keep what she says secret from her own right ear. She wears three or four earrings in each one. Two hoops of equal size and little silver balls that trail up her lobes like tracks.
I see the tracheotomy scar immediately. She leaves the top two buttons of her blouse undone like she’s saying, Here I am, beaten and scarred, take it or leave it.
I’ve decided not to say anything, pretending either not to notice or care. Whichever she decides.
She talks a lot out of the left side of her mouth, which is good. The little I say I’m tired of hearing myself say it. And this Deborah doesn’t seem to care one way or the other, which is even better. Match made in heaven.
Just as we are pulling up to a red light she says like she is accusing me of something, You’re not wearing the seat belt. I answer I only put it on when it rains. Out of the left side of her mouth comes, You’ve never gone through the windshield.
There are only a few cars on this road to wherever it is we’re going. Some exotic barbeque place well off the beaten path. She spends most of the ride going through her purse like she is looking for something. She pretends to be preoccupied most of the time, I think. Otherwise she is preoccupied most of the time and I’m making her out to be clever in a way she isn’t. I turn the radio on and scan the stations, pretending that finding a good song is important to me. She stops going through her purse without having pulled anything out of it.
I don’t know whether or not she is expecting me to defend myself, my position on car safety. I just keep going up and down the dial, pausing to hear the end of a Willie Nelson song and most of “It’s All Right” by the Impressions.
Because I don’t have a lot to say people tell me I’m a good listener. But I don’t think that’s right, either.
I haven’t gone through a windshield, never even come close. I’ve never been injured or seen anyone seriously injured. I was at a party once as a teenager where someone was killed in a backyard brawl but it happened after I had left. He got his shoulder or his neck slashed with a beer bottle and bled to death.
All during dinner I try to imagine this Deborah going through the windshield, the mechanics of it, what actually happens when one goes through the windshield. I try to see her head making contact with the glass and shattering it. I try to see her body careening off the hood and landing on the concrete.
The thing is she doesn’t look like someone who’d gone through a windshield. If anything she looks like someone who’d been robbed at gunpoint, maybe assaulted. (One of those women that takes a selfdefense class and carries a gun afterwards.) Nothing where she was hanging on by a thread, hooked up to machines with one foot in the grave. I’m just guessing about that part, but it stands to reason.
She wears a lot of makeup but not enough to cover up any facial scars. She flaunts the one on her neck like it’s a piece of jewelry.
We go back to her place, which has two bedrooms and hardwood floors. On the ride over I fastened the seat belt but I don’t think she noticed. She opened her purse but didn’t go through it like she did before, probably just making sure the gun was loaded and accessible.
This Deborah’s hair is thick, more or less straight and dry to the touch. There’s a spot on the back of her calf that’s irritated from shaving. I think her left leg might be longer than the right leg but that could just be my imagination making her more interesting. The feet are bony so I leave them alone. Stomach needs work. I’m guessing the nipples aren’t sensitive because she seems bored when I work them.
I try to decide if she reminds me of someone.
I don’t know what she sees in me, if anything. My body is smooth and unbroken. No runs, no hits, no errors. I don’t have anything to say and though I listen to people when they talk, I don’t know if that makes me good at it.
She searches me up and down, says, I’m exploring you. Who knows what she is looking for but her exploration feels good, so I let her explore me. I tell her to let me know if she finds anything worthwhile. For whatever reason the line, Close your eyes and think of England, comes to me. I am Queen Victoria or whoever it was with my eyes closed and she is Magellan in search of god knows what.
She pushes her tongue against mine like she’s angry at it. The sound she makes is between a moan and a sigh. Every so often she pulls back and has a playful grin on her face. Eventually I start mimicking her, so that each time our lips are about to touch I pull back.
She smiles, tells me out of the left side of her mouth that I’m the first one to pass her test.
I say, I guess you’ve met your match.
I start behind the ear. She makes her sound and grabs hold of the back of my head, digging her nails into my scalp. Eventually I get to where we both want this to go. I run my tongue back and forth over the spot. The skin feels dead.
Robert Lopez is the author of three novels, Part of the World, Kamby Bolongo Mean River —named one of 25 important books of the decade by HTML Giant, All Back Full, and two story collections, Asunder and Good People. A new novel-in-stories, A Better Class Of People, will be published by Dzanc Books in April, 2022. Dispatches from Puerto Nowhere, his first nonfiction book, will be published by Two Dollar Radio in March, 2023. His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has appeared in dozens of publications, including Bomb, The Threepenny Review, Vice Magazine, New England Review, The Sun, and the Norton Anthology of Sudden Fiction – Latino. He teaches at Stony Brook University and has previously taught at Columbia University, The New School, Pratt Institute, and Syracuse University. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.