by Alex Poppe

She’s fallen and she can’t get up. Slipped on the wet tile floor. Legs akimbo. Head arching backwards over the rim of the tub. She closes her eyes to catch her breath.

There’s something tickling her memory like a dandelion held under her chin to see if she likes butter. The tickle haunts the back on her throat. She remembers having a conversation about prostitutes and the Secret Service in Columbia. She remembers that much.

The bathroom exhaust fan rattles.

She remembers a ceiling fan whirling above them, kicking out cold air to
combat the desert heat. They had to be quiet. The walls were thin, and
the Dynacorp PSD guy on the other side could easily report them.

She wants to know if he has ever been to a prostitute. He thinks it’s a
trick question. “Do you fuck differently because you’ve paid for it? Is
it rougher?”

“Well, there’s no intimacy. It’s just sex.”

Was it sex or intimacy as she straddled him on a chair and thought about another? She doesn’t look him in the eye when she comes. She doesn’t press her hungry mouth against the tendons in his neck to stifle her moans. She stays silent looking over his shoulder into the dead screen of a laptop. On the way out, he will give her a jar of peanut butter from the PX.

They move to the bed where he lays her sideways. “You have been corrupted by porn,” she jokes as he positions her head to dangle off the side of the mattress. An uninterrupted passage. He towers as he rubs his head along the back of her throat.

“Jesse,” the woman announces to the ebbing bathroom steam like she expects a prize. The “ee” floats upon humid air. She remembers his dark, gelled, Jesus mane caressing her thighs, her flesh long gone mottled and papery. Her mouth waters. Impatiently, she heaves herself up.

Face to face in the medicine cabinet mirror. Lines criss-cross her forehead; deep tracks spotlight her mouth. This close, under harsh fluorescence, it’s impossible to believe in the better version of yourself. It’s only you. They were both self-acknowledged cheaters.

The woman softens her edges with moisturizer. A movie montage streams across her mind’s eye, blurring fiction into reality: Jesse toking a Partagas cigar, Jesse smoking the pool table, Jesse blowing down the freeway on his Harley. The woman abruptly snaps off the light. A long silent scream. She snaps the light back on. She gargles. She spits.


This piece was inspired by Alex Poppe’s experience living in Iraq. It is not a war story.
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