We went salsa dancing. The only thing to do on a cold Thursday in a small town. The bar was overcrowded – a converted space that didn’t work.

Al Calkins
There were partners swirling and switching and everyone was dripping sweat into their beers. I waited in the bathroom line, open to pick-ups. I sipped on a beer that I couldn’t take outside – conservative town after all. There were many clocks on the wall – the sun ray kind from the 70s – but they were all broken. The hour hands had stopped on random time.

Why would I have sex with this man? Some hardness of his shoulder under my clasp, under the silky cotton of his black shirt? Or because we knew we would from our first encounter – not because of anything esoteric, just because the knob of sexual tension was tuned to the appropriate station?

It was rough and unmet. Our bodies knew nothing of each other. Our positions were mimicked from other lovers. Everything was false. His chin the wrong shape. His stubble in the wrong patches. But we both needed something – needed to forget something – ok, someone – else, needed to prove it to ourselves if to no one else – that we could break the body link, that the link was rooted in the act, not in the other.

Condoms slipped everywhere. There wasn’t light to reapply, rough carpet gave us skin burns. Worst of all, sleeping with a stranger. All we can ever do, of course, but at least it’s nice to have a familiar profile.

We said goodbye at my car door, both wanting to get away. In the upstairs bathroom I put Neosporin on the open wound, taped it over with a band-aid and climbed into sweatpants. I fell asleep hugging a crib blanket made by the church when I was born.

The two condoms fell out three days later, at my nephew’s birthday party. I was already an anomaly at their picnic – house full of young mothers, young children and young fathers. I pushed some kids on swings and stared. Half of the mothers were pregnant again. They were like visitors to a high school health education class, where you learn about the stages of pregnancy and its varied manifestations on varied women.

In the bathroom, I perched on the anti-biotic-ed toilet and leaned down to peel off the band-aid. The wound was covered in a white film now, but healing. Under the strap of my sandals, it looked like nothing more than the consequence of wearing an unbroken purchase. Stretching definitions, I suppose it was.

I rested elbows on knees, prolonging my break from the party. In the bathtub was a bag of those bright Styrofoam blocks that you stick to the wall at bath time when you have small children. Next to the sink were two big toothbrushes and one baby toothbrush.

I went to wipe and the paper caught on something. I suddenly thought of organs tumbling out of bodies but was quickly reassured. Had I forgotten a tampon? With a thumb and forefinger I explored, retrieved, viewed, blanched. Two of them, lost behind some epithelial corners. I yanked over the trash can and tried to vomit. No use, though. I’d already swallowed the horror and my body wasn’t giving back.

I wrapped a wad, tight and springy, shoved it to the bottom of the bin. I pulled off extra toilet paper and crumpled it all over the top of the trash and pushed it down again. I had an image of the family dog romping around with dirty underwear in his mouth. I stuck in some more toilet paper. I washed my hands with three squirts of liquid soap and scrubbed them until the skin squeaked against itself.

Unlocking the bathroom door, the kids turned to stare at me. Good show? I asked, glancing at the cartoon, but they didn’t respond. They didn’t know the first thing about what it means to meet a stranger.

I poured iced lemonade from the fridge and crunched up a cube. Through the screen door I stepped, armed with my drink, back to the world of khaki-shorted grandmothers and chocolate-faced two year olds.

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