He smokes his pipe in the kitchen, and the ashes he dumps in the sink, and the nylon lantern it dangles from the ceiling, lopsided, dolent. I’m the earth mama, bearing gifts, a case of ruby beers and an ashtray stand. I am out of my depth with this man. It’s how he trots out his opinions, how he’s on the fritz in the AM, how he’s a self-made man with no friends. We met at a café, a flirty do-si-do around a lone stool. He said he had a good revenue stream, was never given a leg up, gave me the flip book version of his youth, abuse upon abuse and the drugs to abate. He is a blowhard and a softie, a doyen of pain and an unfledged lover – a mishandled man carrying an ankle gun. He peddles me love, aplenty, says he loves me, only me, only me, says the violence he cannot help, it whooshes out of him, a muscular misuse. He’s got birds and flowers on his skin and saluting monkeys. He’s got dimple piercings. Nice hands, the rugged kind, surface wrinkles that attest to good spirits.

He isn’t tall but I love the way he wears his jeans, how he rids himself of clothes, his rough-and-readiness in bed, his manual ableness, Swiss army knife swain. He is a metal worker, works in a shed by a kerosene lamp with chassis punches, snips and shears. It’s a lifestyle, he says hence the blind drunkenness, hence the unease vis-à-vis proper grammar, the then and than blur. But he’s a poet at night, after a bombardment of tequila shots, when he slurps the muse off the rim of the last standing cup; parchment napkin and fountain pencil, sloppy cursive and big words. He’s not hung up on money, makes a sizable living cutting molds; not a buzzard, transacts business with bottles of bubbly squirting him in the face and freshly rolled cigs. He speaks the insidery Pennsylvania slang, draws a crowd with his inky skin, earned his bragging rights getting soft time in county jail plus a couple of saloon brawls.

He says we’ll go on a cruise soon, coast along the Cyclades, eyeball calderas, lagoons and cliffs. He says we’ll be a family, me, him and the dog. Buy a house, laze around the grassy yard, basting barbecued lamb in rosemary sprigs, and a posse of kids. He who never wanted children wants them with me only two months in and a house all plywood and gypsum boards. He loves me, I think, for he says it by the truckload, between two sips of zippy red, between spoonfuls of pureed beans, while fast asleep tugging on the sheets. He’s a darling cooking me meals, buying me sweets and fast food treats – finders keepers for my chunks.

We fight me and him, and the police come. We fight and he doesn’t let go, clings to the deed with ferine vim, and so we split. He leaves me his kissy-huggy friend, floppy-eared, tricolor puppy pet. I take him for walks, have him choke on his chain leash lest he bails, never bag his excrements, let them wane amidst the city’s leftovers, Gillette razors and kebab meat. Didn’t beat you or nothing, he says, as though that’s all it takes to keep an old lady content. I will miss the grainy hands, the mustachioed pecks, that tingling sweep. I will miss the love, an uncanny deluge, although it was sterile. I will miss the incarcerating arms, those that enrobed and enlaced, those that roped and retained, that possessed then pushed away as though peasant food.

By Patricia De Oliveira

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