The First Time

by Melissa Middleberg

The first time we had sex he devoured me. Of course I let him shower beforehand—I encouraged him to. It turns out the smell was more than I could handle.

But his dirtiness was part of the appeal. It was what attracted me to him in the first place.

I first saw him underground. I was waiting for the L train. He was standing against the wall in his dark green knit hat, the one I always saw him in, staring dismally at the gum-splattered concrete beneath his boots. He had a full, coarse beard then.

A few weeks later I saw him sitting at a table outside a café near Bleecker. He had newspaper scraps and small slips of paper stacked and tied up with red and white baker’s twine. He was working furiously at sorting these things—putting the right slip in the right stack and re-tying the twine, pulling it tight. His beard was just a shadow now and I could see the L of his jaw and his sunken cheeks. I approached him as he was carefully clipping a paragraph of text from a newspaper.

“Your beard is gone.”

He looked up. “I found a blade at a good time. Season’s starting to change; snow’s melting.”

“I liked the beard.”

“It’s too warm. Gotta shed the layers I can afford to.”

I nodded and understood and walked on.

Later that night he stood over a grate in the sidewalk that was breathing steam. He was a shadow engulfed in white, smoky light. I went to him. With his gloved hand in mine, I led him up to my apartment and we stood in front of the door. I put my lips to his. He had a pungent oniony smell but beneath it was something familiar, something that drew me.

I showed him to the shower. Off the floor I lifted his pants, jacket, turtleneck, T-shirt, two pairs of socks, two pairs of boxer briefs, and that green knit hat, shoved them into the kitchen sink and turned on the cold water full blast.

Then I let him sweat on me.

Afterward I gave him his soggy clothes, which smelled even worse than before, and told him to put them on. Then I let him back out into the night.

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Melissa Middleberg likes the way envelopes taste.
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