You got a eye booger, Del tells me. I can’t look at it, it’s sick. You all gooey. A goober goo-face. This he finds funny, he laughs loud, his mouth huge, all teeth but for where a ridged half-tooth is working its way down in the front. I try but can’t get a purchase on why it was so funny, but even so I laugh too, I work out the eye booger with my fingertip and try to be demure when I wipe it on his momma’s carpet. All the magazines say it’s important to laugh together, laughter is important in any successful relationship, I laugh until Del gets distracted by his Transformer and tells me in his Transformer voice that it’s time for me to die. I die over and over, wilting into the carpet, one time I wilt onto his laser gun and he tells me to quit being a stupid dummy. This hurts, I pretend I have to use the bathroom, I run the water and cry a little. When I get back Del asks me Number one or number two? but I don’t answer, I never know how to answer that.
Later we drive to the Arby’s for milkshakes. That’s something any other woman might get agitated about, having to always be the one who drives, the one who pays, but I like that about me and Del. He’s content just being taken.
You remember when we met? I ask him. He’s playing with the radio, a preacher shouting a woman moaning an old hillbilly crooning the news the weather the traffic. Yeah, he says, you was in the library same as me. He goes rigid, then a machine-gun fart rat-a-tats out from him and he relaxes. Scuse me, he says.
That’s right, I say, we both like books about aliens. Isn’t that something?
This tastes like barf, Del says, but he keeps drinking. We are quiet for a while, which is a relief cause it can be a difficult, getting a 9-year-old to conversate. I drive around the parking lot, into the next parking lot, maybe we’ll go in to the store and look at Legos, sometimes we do that, sometimes Del lets me take him to the ladies clothes area so I can get his opinion on tops.
This is boring, Del says, and I get scared he’s talking about us, so I rev the engine and pretend like I’m going to ram into an old woman with a shopping cart. Yeah, Del screams, I want to see her guts!
Back at his house he asks if I want to play Princess Leia and I am touched, I know he’d rather have her for a girlfriend than me, It’d be an honor, I tell him, and he hands me my light saber and then knocks it out of my hand with his. You’re dead cinnamon-bun dumb-hair, he says, looking up at me through his bangs, my hand is throbbing from where his light saber hit, again I die for him, I shudder and quake and cry out and fall at his feet and die. Now I’m going to maybe spit in your hair, you don’t know, keep your fat eyes closed, he says. Okay, I whisper.
Dinner, Del’s momma calls, and I stay dead, waiting for Del to ask if I can stay and eat, but when I open my eyes a moment later he says You gotta go.
I get up on my knees and hold my arms out, Del lets me hold him, he smells like sweat and his momma’s shampoo, Herbal Essences, the pink kind, I checked. I squeeze him extra long cause I can’t get up the nerve to kiss his cheek, maybe next time. I’ll miss you, I say. Let go, he says, you acting like a butthole uglyface.
I pass his momma on the way out, standing at the stove in her housedress. You know I don’t like you coming around so much, she isn’t looking at me, just watching her own hand move the spoon around the pot. You a nice lady but my son is 9 years old and you are what? You are what? I want to say I love your boy Del but I never even said that to Del yet, so I just leave it be.
On the way home I stop and buy a can of beefaroni, me and Del can eat the same dinner even if we ain’t in the same place. Over the program I watch I can hear Del’s momma saying You are what? You are what?
Del has a new friend, this Simon child with glasses and a neon snotlip, he is over every afternoon now, the first time we meet I offer him a tissue and he tells me I should use it to wipe the old off my face. We drive to the Arby’s and Del sits in the backseat with Simon, I watch Del’s face in the rearview, I wait for him to look at me but he doesn’t, when we get to the Arby’s I tell them I don’t have no money even though I have fourteen dollars in a roll in my purse. On you? I ask Del, I am turned around and with a jovial look on my face, this is a adventure, my face is saying. Del says Huh? and Simon says We ain’t got a dime, lady, we ain’t even double digits yet. On you? I ask again. Let’s just wander the store, Del says, and my middle flutters cause I love when he is decisive.
Hold my hand in the parking lot, I say to Del, for safety. In the magazines they talk about how important touch is, affection, showing instead of just telling. In high school I held a boy’s hand at a football game, the boy’s hand rigid and cold in mine, the lights exploding around us and the air smelling like pizza and hot dogs and bubble gum, the boy got up to use the restroom and took his cup of 7-Up with him and did not return. Go on, I say to Del, holding out my hand. Not a chance in heck, he says, he has recently learned to belch, the word heck comes out in a moist growl.
In the store Del and Simon race to the drinking fountains, Simon gets a mouthful and gleeks it at my slacks, says Oh hey, pisspants, Del points and laughs. In the magazines they say men are sometimes cruel because they are testing your emotional boundaries, I want Del to know I am boundless, I am a universe, I grit out a smile and follow them to the toys, they arm themselves with swords and commence to stabbing me, Simon saying Lop off her tiddies, Simon saying I wish these blades were real, and I wish you were dying like old ladies are supposed to, Del chops me in half. A woman smiles at me, says Boys, I want to tell her Del is my man, tell her he is not a boy, but she is wearing a pink hairclip and a wooden necklace and this convinces me she would not understand.
In the video games aisle I stand behind Del as he and Simon shoot at homeless people and prostitutes, I wait while they throw basketballs at each other’s crotches, I buy them hot dogs and Simon says I knew you was lying about the money. I wait outside the bathroom while they relieve themselves, Simon comes out and says Del barfed up his hot dog, I don’t know if this is true or not. In the recreations area Simon and Del spin the wheels of the hanging bikes and dare each other to stick their fingers in the spokes, I am desperate for Del to look at me, for his gray eyes to meet mine, all I require is a single moment, it is all I need in this world, I cannot go home to the bed and the walls and the single channel on the television and the white plate on the table and the drying tulip from Del’s momma’s garden without my moment, and I know what the magazines say about jealousy being a powerful motivator when a man can’t commit, I grab for Simon and push my lips onto his, his smell like mold and ketchup and dirt, his heart beating out his whole body, his lip cold and wet, the snot, the snot, I pull away and he is wiping his mouth and gagging, the snot smeared across his cheek now, a glistening wing, his glasses fogged, Simon saying What? What?, Del emitting a high whining ewwwww, all eyes fixed on me, marbles of horror, I back away, I turn and walk through the blender aisle the baby clothes all the lotions and powders and mints and magazines asking me questions about myself, me thinking How should I know?, me wondering why they don’t say nothing about a kiss being salty as a tear.
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