By Jordan Alexander

        “I was on a bus, sitting next to a crippled boy.”

        Fred watched me. A cigarette between his Mexican lips.

        “He loved music and loved the idea of Christianity.”

        Mint smoke rose between us. Rum settled inside us.

        “But he found a conflict in loving both.”

        Fred didn’t ask me what the boy looked like. He didn’t care how the boy smelled.
But I told him. “He hadn’t shaved in a couple days. And he wore this polyester, zebra-print
button down. His pants were very short because his legs were half gone.”

        Fred emptied himself in my toilet, refilled our glasses, and sat back down.

        “I wanted him to sit next to me. I don’t think I made that clear. I think he thought
I felt obliged to move my bag. But I wanted him there, and I put away my book, and felt
his arm against mine. He smelled like sour man.”

        Fred gave the rest of his rum to me, and I filled the toilet, and we left my

        “I thought about doing something to him.”

        We ran into a homeless man we knew. Fred had offered this man a job at the
store where he worked. It was a lie, but it had made this man’s night, and here he was
again. His cheeks were full of crinkles and caverns, and my sight ran through them,
hurdling over dirt and overflowing pores.

        “Sorry, we don’t got any change tonight,” Fred said, addressing the man by his
name. I have forgotten his name.

        “You need some money?” And the man offered us some change.

        We took nothing, shook his hand, and continued down the avenue.

        We stopped at a bar on 7th street. Fred had, some months before, chosen the
bricks of this particular bar to drench in his urine. That night we did not get in. Tonight
the man at the door was a big black man, negro to the touch. He was a good man, with a
memory for us, and we walked past his glowing teeth, into the heat of the bar. The music
wasn’t terrible, and the people weren’t ugly, and the prices of the drinks poured acid in
my pockets.

        In the bathroom we filled two empty bottles with our own beer. In the bar’s
basement, a girl with birthing hips teased the air. She rocked on a pedestal, and it put me
at peace for a moment, until Fred took me away. Two ladies were watching us. They
were older and wore expensive coats. One of them had dry hair like my mother’s and the
other had dark skin like Fred’s. They sucked their drinks through straws, and moved
their mouths so confident. I wiped the corners of my mouth as they approached us.

        “You two are untouchable.” That’s all they said. I wanted a hug. I wanted a
body. I wanted a warm breath and tight grip on me; eyes that didn’t look away from me;
steady motion; satisfaction; a wanting to return; I wanted one of them to have a desire to
relive a moment with me. I wanted it all. Fred’s night was perfect now. He smelled like
content. He looked like satisfaction.

        The two ladies went upstairs, musk perfume following.

        “Why did they not want to talk?” I wanted Fred to know it all.

        He tried to convince me we were beautiful and that those ladies, or women, as he
called them, were afraid of holding us and losing us.

        “I want to know who they are.”

        Fred said we would hurt them.

        A last waft of musk mixed in my throat, and the bad beer dove deep inside me.
Upstairs we found a table. It was nice to tell a story while you knew you were being
watched. My words went back to the bus.

        “I was watching the trees pass as we talked.”

        Fred drank his beer at just the right speed. He would let me finish before refilling.

        “And he had a lot of awful things to say about music. And he didn’t know much
about the Bible. I convinced him to read it again.”

        Fred liked being watched also. Some girls, not old enough to drink, were
optically impregnating us, as Fred would say. Fred said many things like this, but many
things died with my brain cells choking on gin.

        “One of his crutches tumbled into the aisle. He bent over to pick it up, handing
me an envelope. In it were tickets to his next bus. And then I thought I might do

        Fred saw me, and saw past me, and in that see took everything in. All the women
and all the underage girls twirled in his head. He managed to watch me and listen at the
same time.

        I wanted his eyes to follow the bus that was making its way home in my head.
The least I could ask was for his eyes to stop swimming, and look into me. Sit by the
side of the road, Fred, and ignore every smell and girl with wet eyes. You’re here in this
hole in my head, and stay for a moment to fill it. As I ride by, look into the windows to
see me thinking what I’m almost about to do. Smell, Fred, the scents of that boy, with
legs the size of a child’s. Smell the sweet waft that comes from the knobs at the end of
his legs. Together we inhale and know what it smells like to have no feet. Know what
I’m thinking, Fred.

        “I could just open the envelope and take the tickets. I could keep the tickets, go
my way, and leave the boy hobbling, no way to get home. No tears for a bumbling boy
with no ticket. I had that power.”

        Fred knew it was time to get another drink. He knew it was time for a cigarette.
Outside, he was careful not to blow smoke in my face. I wanted to know why I had so
much power over that boy. Fred said to be me, and to have been on that bus, was where I
should have been. Just as I was meant to have been there, so were my thoughts meant to
have existed. If a crippled body was left in a bus station, then the body was meant to be
there. Maybe I should have done what I could have done to put it there. Now this was
just a past, related to Fred, who stood with his head cocked to the side. Our structures
carved the path that other eyes followed. And the scent of the bar and the way people
stood meant we belonged somewhere else--somewhere not like here, where a pelvic
thrust in your face could bear a child at any moment. We took one glance and a final
exhale onto these men and women--their groins and hipbones consummating the air--and
left them as they ate their cigarettes.

        We went somewhere better. We needed someone between us, someone to add
aroma. Far away, in the tiny speakers in my phone, Erik said he wouldn’t come out. He
wanted to stay home, on his roof, where centipedes crawled through the window. We
stopped by his building, and a cockroach came out of a crack in the staircase. On Erik’s
coffee table we blew cocaine. A mouse with clumpy hair put its head out from under the
stove. In my head, for the better part of a second, I saw the mouse in a field, near a
stream, traversing through tall grass, following a scent. My thought followed it, and
almost smelled the sweat of the mouse, cutting through the sweetness of the towering
blades. But Fred put a bill in my hand, and with a quick snort I chased the grass and river
water into my stomach. Maybe that’s where they met and mixed. The mouse had turned
around and we could hear it scraping against the stove’s rusty bottom. We left the
apartment, Fred and I. Fred called up two girls and sent them to Erik’s.

        We ended up in a club, in a booth reserved for someone else, next to two girls.
Their speech stayed complete, and I coughed up fragments. I tried to make their words
mean what I wanted them too, but each inflection took me with it, and every silent blank
I filled with ideas. I couldn’t even give verbs to my nouns to offer these girls. When
they went to the bar I almost followed. But Fred sat back, his hair a gorgeous mess, and I
sat back too.

        At the bar the girls fell into the hands of rich men. Their buttocks were palmed,
the small of their backs pawed, and their mouths opened wide to the drunk breaths of
those men. They pretended to like the odors of these men—men with hands that smelled
of crotches, from too much time in self-preparation. The girls and men became
silhouettes, my sight floating on the lights on the walls and on the mirrors behind the bar.
From my angle I saw one hand go down the girl’s pants. It crept under the tight
waistline, and pulled aside the last stretch of fabric. I could see his hand disappear. In
the mirror behind the bar I watched her top split open. One button undone, the next one
popped off, and in salacious need, her chest settled into the man’s palms. His skin was
probably crinkled and cavernous, dirt and dried babies caking the prints.

        In the bathroom I closed my eyes, and in the mirrors on the inside of my lids, the
girls were there again. I tried to see them before they went to that jungle of men. Their
calves tightened as they walked, and they were lured toward the bar. One of the girl’s
lashes teased their drooling eyes. Then their calves relaxed and their posture caved in. I
finished and emptied myself in the toilet, some of me trailing onto the lid. The men
licked their hands and tasted the meat. The smell of me, and strange urine, and the big
black man holding my hand towel started me back to my table. When my eyes opened
and I came upon Fred, I knew he wanted to vomit. I said we must leave. We went over
to those fine ladies, and they fought to draw their eyes away and onto us. I got close
enough to exhale into one of their faces, and she could smell the insides of me. And we
left them to get eaten.

* * *

        Tonight of all nights was a night that I did not want go home alone. Outside the
bar I did not want to smell any more cigarettes. I couldn’t convince Fred to stay and he
went home to Jersey City to fall asleep next to his dogs. Between the bar and my
apartment I called up numbers on my phone. One girl was in a bar too loud to hear;
another had bad reception; another was going home; another was with her girlfriends;
another was already at home making soup; another was asleep and upset I called.

        On the corner of my block two girls stopped me.

        “You have an aura about you,” The short one with blonde hair said.

        “Where you going?” Said the one with bangs.

        “I’m going home.”

        They walked with me, each one wrapped around an arm, to my building. The
short one pulled herself closer. The one with bangs rested her head on my shoulder.
They both smelled like alcohol and vegetables.

        “I have to clean. It’s ugly. Give me a minute to make it look decent.” I left them
on the sidewalk. I ran upstairs to hide my garbage and mess. My sweat was making my
hair curl and frizz, and I could smell urine on the bathroom floor.

        The girls left. There were no lingering vodka breaths; no pretty hands reeking of

* * *

        I turned off my lights, and lay nude in my sheets. The television screen swam and
waved at me. I shut it off and in the darkness made one last call.

        “Can you please come over?”

        She did. She didn’t mind the scent of the floor or the cigarette filters soaking up
gin. I was too tired to get out of bed to greet her. She undressed and came to me and
tucked into my curves. I didn’t move. I listened to her fall asleep and smelled the way
her breath changed. From a soft shallow awakened breath it dove deep into a long thick
pull, and with each exhale I went deeper inside of her and closer to my dreams.

Jordan Alexander is a graduate of Fordham University and is looking for
as many opportunities to write as possible. BA in English, Minor in Creative
Writing. He grew up in New Hampshire and likes the ocean better than the city.

© 2004 Underground Voices