I Am the Poisoned Meat
I’m really in the room. I’m here next to the baby. He’s a lump through the slats of his crib. It goes street voices, window, me, baby, wall. The street voices populate my vision with colors and figures. The window’s wavy panes are wide and loose in their wood frames. Air cools our skins in the dark.
A dark figure floats through the window into our room. In, in, just like that, it buzzes my ear on its way to the baby. It’s headed for the baby, and I get up and find it perched, evil-angled, on his sweet inner arm. A stab ricochets between my balls and anus, the one that comes when I see the baby getting too close to the edge of a height or putting his face in water.
I shoo the predator away, follow where it lands on one of the crib’s slats, slap and miss. Another landing, this time I creep up and miss. A third landing and I try both, slow then fast, and miss. It disappears. I carry a chair over and sit on watch. I take off my clothes and sit again. I’m inches away. Look at all this blood, ten times more. I am the cheese in the trap. I am the poisoned meat.
The baby sighs. I close my eyes. When I open them it’s on his eyelid, easing its proboscis into the softest of the softest. I try to pinch it and thumb the baby’s eye. The baby turns his head from side to side and the intruder takes a hit, droops in flight, staggers. I pursue it around the arena, maiming it at every opportunity, finally, cornering and smashing it, a victorious comet of blood on the baby’s sheets. I look at the baby sleeping. I am doing a good job. I’m glad you have me, Baby. I could lift any car you are trapped under. Another lands on his forehead.
It has been the case since I was a child that I can’t fall asleep without touching someone’s hair, and so, after I moved out of my parents’ house and all the nights of being gently untangled from them and moved into my own bed, I planned breakups around sleep, never ending a relationship without having another already matured into the stage where we spent every night together.
In order to be the one in control, I have to be exactly what everyone wants. Luckily, I’m beautiful, and I appear not to know it. My hair is so blond it’s almost white, which is rare in adults. I am tall but not imposing. I know enough about world history to answer most people’s musings during a movie. I am employed and dependable and interested in art. I am patient and respectful and full of desire.
So it comes as a great surprise that, in the middle of our romantic tour of the Iberian Peninsula, Camille, my girlfriend with mouthwateringly slippery hair, is leaving me in Lisbon. She locked eyes with a waiter and Jardim das Cerejas and now, while she picks her dresses up off the floor of our rented apartment and bunches them into her bag, apologizing, she isn’t seeing me. I know her, always seeing, now she’s seeing his eyes everywhere she looks. This is how I explain her cruelty to myself, some sort of trance, because she knows that perhaps even more urgent than the pain of being left by my beloved is the logistical nightmare of being trapped in a foreign land with no sleep.
It’s too expensive to change my flight, and whenever I arrive back in Detroit, there will be no hair to touch there, either. Of course I’ve tried wigs. One has to live in the world as best they can. But even touching those made of real hair is like trying to get warmth from a picture of the sun. A prostitute, perhaps, would be affordable if I could explain we wouldn’t need to have sex, that they’d only need to stay a few minutes, could slip their hair out of my hands and leave as soon as I was snoring. But I only have enough Portuguese to say, “I have money. No sex, please, only hair,” and while I practice it under my breath, I’m ultimately too afraid to try.
All night I walk from miraduro to miraduro, sit on benches that overlook the city, the glowing lights and hills and houses. Maybe someone will sit down beside me and fall in love. I watch the hair of people kissing. The kissers don’t know what they have.
In Bairro Alto I dare to dream someone with long, curly hair will emerge from a bar too drunk, need help getting in a cab, or better yet, pass out. But everyone is with someone else except for the men hosing down the streets.
My desperation is the agent of my deliverance. I must look it, having spent two nights outdoors, not having slept for three days. I must look open to the man who approaches me when the world is turning from black to blue, waiting for a walk signal, and says, “Do you speak English? I’m Ricardo and I’m looking for a boy to spend the day with me and have some sex.” He smiles brightly, as though he’s asking me to sign a petition.
His hair will barely do—so short and straight it’ll be impossible to get it satisfyingly between my fingers. I’ll have to touch this stranger’s head a lot. Even in my delirium I can see it clearly. But when he says, “I live only a short train ride away. 45 minutes,” I say yes.
Poor Ricardo. I suspect it was impossible to rouse me at his stop, because after draping my arm behind his seat and flirtatiously touching his hair, the next thing I know the conductor is clapping in my face and saying, what I imagine is, this is the end of the line.