In his eyes I see all the history of Asia, in the rise and fall of his chest, where his heart lies tucked safely under his bones, the multicolored houses that dot the hills of Port au Prince like pollen-tinted beehives. In his perfectly beveled nails ‘you can’t have fingernails if you’re a musician,’ I see a blunt German matter-of-factness, yet there is a playful messiness to him, especially in his hair, which isn’t German at all, but a natural refutation of everything straight, blond, and blue, as if white could be contained in a carton of milk, or caramel in a cellophane wrapper. The easiness about him isn’t studied, it appears to be natural, though I find it suspect, because I’ve never met anyone comfortable in their own skin, at least not as an adult—children, yes, but they are dumb animals who have not yet learned how horrible the world is, and so they move through the world with a kind of ease, a beautiful tunnel vision that is slowly whittled away by the knowledge of death, that the gift under the tree did not come from a strange man breaking into the house at night, the fear that the most beautiful colors are also the most artificial, appearing in nature only as warnings, and finally, the first orgasm, which is a form of death most of us pursue throughout adulthood.


My pill box helps me keep track of the days. It’s a circular pill box, pink, soft rubber. The lid for each day of the week has the raised dots of Braille on it, which feel good to the touch but are meaningless to a sighted person such as myself, just another mystery of the ATM, a language that aliens will wonder at a hundred years from now. It took me a few minutes to figure out its intricacies when it arrived from Amazon, I didn’t want Mother’s old-fashioned pill box, which reminded me of death, and belligerently clutching hold of old things, boxes stored in closets, dresses hung on bone-white hangers like old skin, dusty on the shoulders from non-use, it’s been years, Mother once said, So why not get rid of them? I’m not fat like you, mija, I can’t just wear anything, all the designers making clothes for fat people now, with that stretchy stuff in them, Walmart doesn’t sell clothes I fit into, and Sunday is the end of the cycle, when I must get out of bed, with the aid of an aluminum cane, my Lady J urinal on the hospital table, full and rank, the air conditioner more a suggestion, not really reaching my room at all, while Mother sits cool in her room at the far end of the hall, the urine orange and cloudy and definitely of the piss variety, a vulgar word I hate, it took me a moment to decipher its secrets, but then when I finally worked the soft lid of my new pill box, by pressing my thumb against the soft outer edge while fingering the inner core, the lid came easily, and I enjoyed the feel of it in my hand, because when one is dying, well, joy still has a way of occasionally finding you. When my pill box is empty I know it’s Sunday, when I swiftly vibrate the pill box in my hand and hear nothing, as if my sickness had somehow disappeared, and I could once again walk, walk without pain, without the need for a cane, or a female urinal, or the empty pizza sauce cans, 6 lb. 11 oz., that Jace so kindly brings from the restaurant, for bowel movements, their bright red and white labels an insult, and I think it’s all so circular, I eat what was once in this can, and the waste of my body returns to it, the open metal lips, sharp to the touch, opened by an industrial opener, My boss says buy expensive and you only have to buy once, Jace once said to me, early in our relationship, and it is terrible, being trapped in this body, with this pain, reliant on others, exposing others to the hideous sour folds of my body, and I really don’t eat much, at least I don’t think so, I try to control myself, and so on Sundays I slowly get out of bed and move down the hall, toward the guest bathroom, which is only a few steps from my room, and Jace said Why not move your pill bottles in here? Because I need the exercise, dear—my sweet boy—because if I don’t, I’ll never get up again, and when I could walk, I walked with purpose, and had no use for slow walkers, amblers, children dawdling before me, so slow I thought I might push them to the ground, where they belonged, their foreheads covered in dust, the ash of the sacrament upon them, and my bathroom mirror is split in two, so that when I am finally in the bathroom, after a painful, tortured shuffle, I throw the light on and my face is split in two, two Elizabeths, one loving, and kind, and the other hateful, and bitter, and very male, and wishing nothing more than the collapse of the outside world.


As a person who works with children, observes them daily, or worked, I keep forgetting—I can tell which children have experienced orgasm by their own hands and which have not…those who have not, sit on the heel of their shoe, a dirty-grey Vans tucked under their butt, writing a carefully formed thought in broken longhand, chasing gold stars—is this going to get me an A? Boys’ legs folded under their bodies, pliable as warm licorice, girls without the shadow of makeup on, learning to create masks without alumina, silica, or talc, that comes later, usually in junior high or middle school, when the drive to become just like everyone else reaches its tribal apex, the shadow of puberty eclipsing everything, when girls and boys truly become different animals, jigsaw pieces that rarely fit together, if one is honest. Aren’t girls comfortable around other girls? Trade secrets, a sisterhood gathered together against grubby, wandering hands, and the ever-present, fabric-piercing male gaze. And what of those who have? There is a secretiveness, a slight upturn of the lip, a darkened lazy eye, boys not really boys anymore but nervous jaguars looking for a soft neck to sink their teeth into, the killspot just below the ear—did he get her phone number? The stink of a sixth-grade classroom, of unwashed bodies after recess, the pull of menarche a gravity boys do not understand yet are instinctively drawn to, save the occasional queer. I don’t remember boys asking such a thing when I was in school, but that was so long ago, and now the children don’t bother with the game of conversation, the collection of ribbons…everything is pictorial, the mobile having replaced folded notes passed hand-to-hand between desks. The devices have changed but it’s still the same, the pursuit of the flesh, a prolonged stupidity that lasts perhaps thirty years. I once took a mobile from a boy as he sat giggling in class, showing something on the screen to another boy, snatched it from his hand and held it to my chest as I would a playing card, and on the screen, in flushed peach, the index finger of his small penis. The horror in his face, having been caught, as if every event in childhood were the building blocks that would eventually become your own prison. I handed the phone back to him without a word, except now we shared a secret. I was glad when I finally gave up men, Mother once said as I stood in the kitchen washing dishes. When your father left, because he was too weak to finish anything, I was done. You should be thankful no one ever bothered chasing you. It never amounts to anything—not anything good, anyway.


When I was a girl there were no boys, and the only girls I knew were fat girls, girls like me, girls who were molded like silly putty in their mothers’ hands, every dimple and divot thumbed in hatred. How many times I heard you’ll never get a man or thank God I don’t have to worry about boys chasing you, Mother’s proclamations more for her than me, Mother reminding herself she had the upper hand, which was a lie—my father had beaten her to the punchline the day he walked out and never returned. And now we are six, and already I am heavy—You were never thin, never—with my dolly in the front yard, sitting on a patch of smoldering grass, the Texas heat cutting me in two, all the world entering woman through the cleft between her legs, nature the first temptation, the heated graininess of cement steps leading up to the little white house with chain link around the yard, an Adirondack chair left by a former tenant no one ever sat on haunting the front porch, the dirt on my behind hidden under a Salvation Army dress, looking beyond the skeletal fingers of dead trees, half-expecting my missing father to come walking down the mountain, a puppy or a kitten or a bag of groceries in hand, growing up on a street more asphalt than grass, more Mexico than United States, radio antennae on the mountains giving the street a ghostly, moon-like feel, as if I lived in an abandoned human settlement on Mars, small houses painted embarrassing oranges and yellows, colors white people could never understand, the people in my sickly neighborhood all browner than the teachers at school, Mother and I living alone, Mother tamping my fear, my rebelliousness, with a spatula to the back, the almond-colored plastic leaving red tattoos that would slowly fade in an hour or so, before school and after, but my father never came home—he’s out there somewhere, probably drinking his paycheck in a bar with some whore around his neck, don’t sit on the dirt like a little puta, mija! You’re more boy than girl, ¿Qué voy a hacer contigo?


The few friends I had, all heavy, a Mexican girl in particular, Melissa, sitting with me on the swings above the dead brown grass of an elementary school, both of us talking about rain, how it never rains in the desert, everything brown against the depressing white walls of the school, and the Franklin Canal ran behind the school, its banks dotted with mulberry trees, a fence around it to prevent drownings, or escape, its milky brown water murmuring toward a future I couldn’t see, come back to my house, Melissa said, and so we left the playground, and our talks of cute boys we liked in class, and in Melissa’s house for the first time I saw a wealth that was hard to imagine, only learning, many years later, that Melissa’s family wasn’t wealthy at all, perhaps middle class, a group of people who no longer exist, but more likely she was working class, working-class people who had a little money, enough money for a sofa, a large television, a video game console, carpeting, twin Pomeranians who yapped once or twice before totally accepting me for who I was, and I said, perhaps foolishly, and embarrassing for Melissa, You have such a nice house, to which she replied thank you—what else would she have said?—and the sun was extinguished behind heavy drapes, as if it never existed, the cool of the living room opening into a kitchen with an island, silver utensils hanging from a rack on the ceiling like shiny stalactites, my room is in here, and I followed Melissa down a hall, past her brother’s room, terminating in her room at the end of the hall—her parents’ master bedroom was on the other side of the house, away from the children, and the beeping noises of their video games, a dot matrix banner on her brother’s door announcing KEEP OUT until finally a white door opened upon an expanse of pink…


My name means bee, Melissa said, because my parents said I kicked a lot when I was inside my mom, like I was busy as a bee, and we sat on the bed inside her bedroom, posters of Ralph Macchio and Duran Duran and Culture Club adhered to the walls as if by magic—poster putty, Melissa revealed—which, ten years later, would be replaced in my dorm room two hours north of home by River Phoenix and the Cranberries and Nirvana, and I wonder if perhaps my love of pink originated from experiencing the magic, the femaleness, of Melissa’s room so long ago, the subtle remembrance of a friend who seemingly wanted nothing from me, nothing other than my company. Perhaps I was a follower, liking such easily likeable bands, the retroviral weirdness of the Cure or Depeche Mode or Joy Division unknown to me, a front, I thought, for dark thoughts that really weren’t there, the empty posturing of youth, bands of persons five or six years older than me, who had personally witnessed the release of such albums, the girls and boys with posters of Depeche Mode or the Cure in their dorm rooms inevitably queer theatre majors who were often irritable and not much fun to talk to at parties, their makeup a shade too dark for my taste. The loud easiness of Nirvana, or the bedroom confessions of Matthew Sweet, contained a sugared palatability that didn’t require thinking, the papers written for class requiring all my focus, and even then, mostly Bs, after having stayed up all night and into the morning, the paper handed to the professor having been corrected for the third time perhaps only an hour beforehand, my face betraying nothing as she casually placed it on her desk atop twenty others, the occasional A both a surprise and a welcome shock. Or perhaps, in some way, I was still trying to emulate Melissa, all these years later, Melissa who had an unconcerned easiness about her, despite her weight, as if she had been loved, and had had real friends, an aloof yet protective brother, likely disgusted by our young age, and understanding parents, a father who called her by her name and a mother, short, proud, agreeable, open—who never corrected her occasional straying off the path with a spatula.


Melissa’s mother was an absence, a tiny Mexican woman who was small like my mother, but unlike Mother, didn’t view the world through a veil of fear and distrust. Melissa’s mother was often simply not there, and her father—he works a lot, Melissa offered, some kind of attorney or advocate, a community mobiliser, whose name was known, and I didn’t ask again, and thinking back, could not recall ever once having met him, though there were several family pictures in the living room with he and Melissa’s mother and the two children, one professional photograph even had the four of them in it with the two Pomeranians, which I giggled at the first time I saw, Melissa saying—I know, aren’t they funny?


Melissa’s brother had dark hair on his tanned legs—he was fourteen to our ten. He stuck his head into Melissa’s room and asked what are you dopes doing? How very male he was, and dangerous, his legs lazily dipping into the room, the door slightly closed behind him. Why are you two listening to that crap music? Haven’t you listened to anything I’ve taught you? Shut up, Fernando! Melissa said, the interplay between them playfully antagonistic, though there was something beneath the antagonism, a love, or a respect, that occurs between siblings, something I did not have. Much later, when I was a teacher, before I became a counselor, different students had different words coming from their mouths that equated to the same thing—she’s my dumb baby sister, he’s my gross brother, a hateful sheen glossed over what was really love, the kind of love that develops when people share close space, but on the other side of it, a familiarity, a disgust. So what should we be listening to?—Iron Maiden, man! Fernando briefly came into the room and rubbed his knuckles on Melissa’s scalp, then tickled her until she girlishly began throwing her fists in his general direction. Come on you irons, Fernando said, totally foreign, but when he was near me, near her, in his white basketball shorts and an undershirt that exposed his skin, his chest exposed by cutouts, I wanted a brother, or something, I wanted someone who would play with me, despite my size, or my unruly hair, or knees that looked like dimpled hams, as one of my students once said when my dress came up over a kneecap while I was wrestling with a Virco chair in the classroom, Ms. Salas your knees look like dimpled hams, and the children were laughing, and I laughed too, to diffuse the laughter, but found myself oddly impressed that a ten-year-old child would use the word dimpled in such a context, after all, these were agrobrats, the children of migratory farm workers—you will be the death of me, Mario, my eyes trained on the clock, which always appeared to be stuck at 11:05, perhaps the most drab part of the day, lunch not quite here and still another three hours after that, their smelly bodies glistening with recess sweat, hair stuck to their foreheads, deodorant apparently not a common household product, boys settling into their chairs to taunt girls, pull hair, and excel at math equations I found myself stumbling through. You’re holding the protractor incorrectly, Ms. Salas.—Why thank you, Eric, I said, and because I was young at the time, and never fit in with the old hags in the faculty breakroom, the vending machine filled with ancient product, idiotic candy bars that were old-fashioned when I was a child, I said—Please be kind enough to come to the board and teach us all how to use it correctly, which he did, and he insisted on saying, even when he was in sixth grade, a few years later, with one foot out the door and pointed toward middle school, that I was his favorite teacher.


What are their names? Shookie and Shoo Shoo, Melissa said, both of us too young to realize how ridiculous the names were, only knowing they were funny. Do the dogs go everywhere with you? To the store?—Oh no, they’re indoor dogs. My dad won’t allow them outside…he says someone would steal them if we let them outside even for a minute. We were listening to Seven and the Ragged Tiger on her Emerson Swingmate record player, both of us with Twix bars, each enjoying our own two bar package, cold from the refrigerator. My brother says not to touch sensitive electronics after eating, especially if I respect my records, I shouldn’t even touch the album covers with my dirty fingers.—Your brother is cute, I observed out loud, yet Melissa seemed unfazed. He’s mean, she said, but I couldn’t imagine it, I pictured his legs, in his basketball shorts, leading up to something I didn’t understand, a feeling in my chest, my core, a tightness unexplored. Do your brother’s friends ever come over?—They do, but they stay in his room, I’m not allowed, though I’ve opened the door a few times and he’s slammed it on me, yelling at me to get out. I think he smokes pot in there. He does what? I asked. Melissa’s mother quietly rapped on the door before opening it, a consideration I’d never witnessed in my own home. Melissa’s mother—I never knew her first name, she was only Mrs. Lopez—was always dressed as if ready for dinner in a restaurant my mother could never afford, while Melissa dressed in the garbage clothes of the day, bright pinks and neons and shoes unbelievably light, lighter than a thought, I like being comfortable, she said, which was a strange thing for a ten year old to say, now that I think back on it, possibly quoting something she’d heard her brother say, or perhaps she was just covering her belly, and her big legs, like I was, though I often drowned my entire body in a dress, Mother said big girls need to be completely covered, You will not wear pants, ever, Mother said, and so I never did, and it was one of the few things Mother taught me that I carry to this day, and I appreciate it, the modesty, the covering of the flesh, the separation of the world from the body, and when I see a young woman, or a girl, or, god forbid, a middle-aged woman wearing pants, I cringe at the tackiness of it, the uninformed maleness of it, laziness zippered for easy access. You girls make sure you wash your hands after eating those candy bars, Mrs. Lopez said. I don’t want chocolate all over everything. Are you girls ready for dinner?


We’re listening to Duran Duran, Melissa said, as if explaining a piece of mythical youth culture to a visiting alien.—Well alright. Did you two still want me to drop you off at the movie theatre after dinner? We nodded in excitement, giggling, Yes, of course, an unbelievable gift from an adult, to be trusted and completely alone, unchained by adult proximity, two girls in a movie theatre, holding hands, screaming at every false turn down a darkened hallway, a beautiful dumb girl up on the big screen, us taking supreme pleasure at being smarter than her, don’t go in there! my canolaed fingers grabbing Melissa’s arm at every hitched breath, each with our own popcorn and Coca-Cola, the darkened theatre flashing with strobes of light, as Mother’s house would occasionally do when a car pulled into the gated drive, another resident punching numbers into the dialpad, or likely using their clicker, an old person’s word I’d laugh at every time it came from Mother’s mouth, you’re so old-fashioned, Mother—Mother huffing as I laughed at her otherworldliness, trapped forever in 1962, or something approximating it, when she was young, and impossibly thin, and had dark hair, not yet trapped by a daughter gifted by an unlikely peasant walking out of the fields and into her life for the briefest of moments.—At least he knew how to spell his name, Mother said. Even simpletons get things right occasionally. I wish you wouldn’t talk about my father like that. // Don’t forget to call me as soon as the movie is over, Mrs. Lopez said. I’ll pick you up. Wait outside at the entrance, under the lights. Don’t talk to anyone. I don’t want you girls to get hurt, the world is a dangerous place.


I was maybe seven or eight when I asked Mother, in a child’s simplified phrasing, if we would ever leave this horrible place, this place that ate up my father until he disappeared, and her anger was immediate and unexpected, perhaps because I wanted sympathy and got vitriol instead, a child’s sense of place different from an adult’s, children being closer to the ground and more intimate with the soil.—I grew up here, it’s not good enough for you, you fat little cochina? I never asked again, but it wasn’t long after that we left Texas forever, I was ten, maybe eleven, and had finally found a friend just in time to lose her. I woke one morning in El Paso and faded into the evening in Río Seco, which looked a lot like El Paso, with the same hard, difficult soil, and similar people, brown, like me, at the time almost going unnoticed, because being among your own means being unnoticed, seeing without having to be seen, without having to explain. There were no false borders, only mile markers, Las Cruces, Tucson, Casa Grande…We arrived on a cousin’s doorstep somewhere outside Tempe, in Guadalupe, which is a small, strange version of Mexico outside of Mexico, a remote relative related in some unimportant way or another, a man in perfectly pressed chinos, and a wife who seemed unbelievably kind, with three children, and a daughter about my age, maybe nine, though children never pay attention to age when they are children, they only notice eye height, when I crawled from Mother’s car, the stink of road grime still upon us, and bent to retrieve a quarter on the concrete before me, but it wouldn’t come up, glued to the cement with invisible epoxy, the faintly-noticeable edges of glue ambered with age, Mother’s cousin laughing at me goodheartedly, and after that moment I would never again pick a coin up off the street or sidewalk, no matter the denomination, and the girl my age running from behind her mother to hug me as if we had known each other forever, how did people who did not formally know each other give love away so easily? You two are headed to Río Seco tomorrow, the man asked. Yes, Mother said. Ay, it’s so hot here. You need to rest, he said—come eat, the boys will get your things for you. That’s okay, Mother said, it won’t take but a moment…I’m kind of particular, Mother said, and the man laughed again, and it was an open laugh, nothing false in it, Well if you’re particular then Río Seco is the place for you, though there’s nothing I particularly like about it. You are so silly Juan, his wife said, and I disappeared into the bathroom, after asking where it was, with soap and towels and pictures on the walls, religious platitudes, footsteps and you’re not alone and I’m here for you, and have always been, but I didn’t believe any of it, trembling in anger and hatred, crying for no reason at all, the realization that all men are cruel, even under the guise of comedy, and will try to get the best of you, make you the fool, circumcise you and stone you and force darkened fabric upon your skin to deflect their own immoral desires, the eyes of the world quietly nodding in agreement.


I remember, on the corner, in downtown Río Seco, not too long ago, on a morning when I could still walk, next to a lamppost painted iridescent green, heavy with many seasons of paint, paint thick as a nickel in places where it was chipped down to the metal by feet, hands, baby strollers, and the cruelty of unthinking dogs, a handsome young man standing in a cheap suit, his back yardstick straight, not yet beaten down by the world, his spine proud yet pliable as a pipe cleaner, the curve of his body under thin fabric, perhaps one hundred dollars, his spiked hair dark as coffee grounds, the crosswalk signal changing to WALK, the hand beckoning him, as many hands would beckon him throughout his life, with an easy face, a beautiful face, a face unworried by hate, or doubt, a slight smile on his lips, he was maybe eighteen, nineteen at most, his suit tight and ungiving as cellophane, two girls walking next to him visibly stunned, as he crossed the street and disappeared into a building, and I watched a girl watching him as he disappeared into a glass building, a glass door closing lazily behind him, as if taking him in, not wanting to hurry him along, while I had stepped into such buildings, through such doors, and had been painfully bumped in the arm, or my backside impatiently pounded by the glass, hurry it along, and Jace, in his slow track suit, his dirty pizzeria shoes, a ring on his finger, and although I do not like jewelry, I do not mind it on Jace, a small pewter skull ring, the blackened eye sockets with a snake resting above them, emerald eyes and laughing silver teeth as agreeable as he is, and I remember the boy, the young man on the corner, how, despite the cheap suit, everything would be Yes for him, most everything, as it is to Jace, though Jace confesses there are days when his back hurts from standing too long in the restaurant, and I imagine his hands on his body, relieving himself in the restroom before a delivery:


And chatting with Nicole between deliveries, his little nothing, have they? I don’t—and his boss with the big belly, or the dough boy who won’t stop hounding him, it’s because you’re beautiful, I told him, and he is jealous, though Jace kindly ignores me, as he sometimes does, he ignores my superficialities, my regard – My back hurts a lot, Jace says…poor people problems, he says, and then I come down to earth, and I am the age I am now, which is old enough to be invisible, as I have always been, producing but not collecting, another invisible mass contributing to Social Security, security I will never collect on, with an empty bank account, no ring on my finger, and not a soul waiting for me at home each night, asking me how my day was, which must be the most beautiful question in the world, and I remember that Jace is just a man, a young man, and men have faults, and are far from perfect, and the world would likely be a much better place, a safer, more loving place, if it were a touch more feminine than masculine.


But what of Jace and his perfect American fingers, his cheekbones carved as if in preparation for a Hollywood screen test? Is there such a thing as perfection of the flesh? If so, it is only for a very short time, perhaps eighteen to twenty-four, when we are the least aware of our bodies, and yet most attuned to them, the newness of childhood having long since fallen away as a forgotten husk, colors having lost their intensity after our sixth or seventh Easter, the horror of puberty a broken cicada shell on black bark, and it is sometime after puberty when one can tell if a child is going to be beautiful or ugly or, perhaps worse—plain. The traffic collision body of a fourteen-year-old smoothing out at eighteen, comfortable with its own skin at twenty-two, or a strange antenna, concave, sterile, picking up and multiplying the ugliness of the world, likely through no fault of its own. I likely hover in the plain field, though Mother never failed to remind me how ugly I was, if the opportunity arose, which it often did. One of my first memories, age three, three or four, sitting on the red plastic seat and cold silver tines of a shopping cart, my mother likely saying I’ll be right back, but when one is three, everything is on on on, there is no future, no past, only the constant now, and after a few moments in the shopping cart I started crying, thinking Mother had left me. I asked Mother about it years later and she didn’t remember the incident at all, which I found shocking because it had left such a deep impression on me. We tend to forget the pain of others. Nobody would want you, you’re too ugly to steal, mija, Mother said when I pressed her. I’m just kidding, Elizabeth, you’re always so serious. But Jace, with his fingers on the black and white of a keyboard, or pulsing against the black grips of his bicycle, fingers that dip into the valley of a palm, slowly scaling the hills of a wrist, which must look enormous to an ant trailing it, undetected, leading to the ridge of an arm, the mountains of a collarbone, finally to rest in the hollow of the neck, him lying on my bed, on my pink comforter, familiar, his head cupped in his left hand, looking at me with my head propped against a pillow, considering me as if I were the only person in the world.—I’m stoned, he says, and we both laugh at the ridiculousness of our situation.


His collarbone, hung in my closet, familiar white, the brightness of it filling the room, and his legs, I don’t really like wearing shorts, they make me feel like I’m five years old, his legs—pistons slicing through the night, on his bicycle—it’s a bike, he corrected me, say it with me, his hands in the air, preacher style, It’s a bike—His legs strong and in his shoes at the end of his feet, I don’t really like driving, but I kind of have to with this job which is the opposite of my generation, Gen X, who were perhaps born and raised in cars. He opens the unlocked door and walks down the hall toward the blue light pulsing at the edge of my door, a distant star, newly discovered, and as yet unmapped, his fingers making his way through the dark at the end of the hall, the walls a now-familiar Braille, and he always knocks gently before he opens the bedroom door, which I close with a cane, or a broom handle, because I don’t want Mother looking at me. My fingers aren’t like Mouse’s, Jace says, he sandpapers his for the strings. I don’t have to do that because keyboards are smooth, maybe just a bad back // and I feel I know Mouse, his little friend, who I understand he is having trouble with, but why Jace? He seems so easygoing but you never know how people are once they walk out the door, the world changes people. He’s getting weird. I mean he’s my best friend, but there’s something weird about him.—Maybe he’s in love with you.—You’re crazy. There’s this book I want. But it’s two hundred dollars on eBay.—What book is it, dear? It’s a book on hallucinogenic plants. You’re so silly, my little space traveler. And I realize he is mentioning it because he is asking, in his own way, asking if I would buy it for him, or at least mentioning it, putting it out there.—That’s a lot of money, dear. Yeah but money’s just money. Like look at me, I pay eight hundred dollars a month in rent, and my homies pay eight, so I don’t think it’s a big deal, I pay eight hundred a month for something intangible, a place for my bed and a pillow and a room for Choco to sleep in, an old house that’s falling apart and a fat landlord who does nothing // Jace wincing at having realized he said the word fat, which I forgive him for and love him for // so what’s two hundred for an object I can hold in my hands, forever you know?


Jace lays on my bed, which he has nicknamed Pink Snow, his Pizza Belly T-shirt fragrant from the restaurant. Are you in the car or on your bike? Hey, you’re learning!—Just a quick break from my route. I have to get back but I wanted to say hi, check up on you. Is Nicole working tonight? Yeah she’s working, she’s still not talking to me, she’s being a quiet puss.—I’m sorry honey, I feel it’s my fault. Why can’t I have friends, Jace asks. Girl friends? She’s really jealous when I mention you but she doesn’t get like that with Mouse or Baby.—Women don’t like other women. Really? You’re the first person who’s ever told me that.—I’m old enough, I’ve learned a few things.—We gotta get you an intercom, I can install it, something on the door so you’ll know when a delivery comes.—You’re familiar with electronics, dear? Come on, I’m a man. It’s easy! And when he says it, I believe him, because I choose to. I touch his hair, which is knotted like the beads of a rosary. He doesn’t flinch, doesn’t move, nor does he brush me away. Well I’d better get back or my Jew boss will be wondering where I’m at. Honey, that’s terrible. I’m kidding! He loves me. Did you know he named me Jace? He called me Jace and I’ve been Jace ever since. Yo Jace, hey Jace.—What is your real name? My real name is stupid, Jace says.


May I have one of your shirts, just to keep here with me? You want a clean one or a dirty one? I’ve got a clean one in the Scion. But with the OvenHot it probably smells, too.—I’ll take the one you’re wearing. His Pizza Belly T-shirt, white design on black background, the silhouette of a fat man wearing a chef’s hat tossing dough into the air. Not very original, but memorable, which is the basic philosophy of the American business model. He got up from my bed and slowly pulled his shirt over his belly, over his head. It was the first time I had seen him shirtless, an expanse of unblemished caramel flesh, his nipples dark stars no larger than a dime, the curve of his hips, slender as a wasp.—That old man who spies on me is going to see me walking out of your house with no shirt on. Mr. Nelson? He’s harmless. I don’t know, I don’t think he likes black people. I see him watching me through his blinds every time I come here. I feel like he’s going to try some crazy George Zimmerman stuff but luckily he’s a hundred years old and probably can’t walk. He and Mother were friendly, well they are friends. Yeah but white is white, it doesn’t matter if you’re Hispanic or whatnot, he still sees you as white. Not everything is about race, dear.—You know you’re like the third person who’s told me that? He absently dug at his ear, then looked at his watch, a huge round-faced gold chronometer that fit loosely on his wrist. If I’d asked him to remove his track bottoms I felt he would have, but these things take time, and I don’t want to be greedy, Mother says I’ve always been greedy, though I know she exaggerates, like a lesson from the Bible.—Well I’ve really gotta go, lady. Enjoy that shirt. Normally we have to pay for them but my boss loves me so it’s no big thing. He massaged my toes through the comforter. You need anything before I go? When are we going to play thirty-one again? Soon, baby. I got Nicole breathing down my neck.—You call me baby like I’m sixteen years old. You’re young at heart, Jace says. He closes my bedroom door quietly, and in a few moments I hear the click of the unlocked front door. Perhaps I should give him a key? Mother won’t mind. But he’s right about the deliveries, I do need an intercom for the Amazon brats and the rude UPS drivers.— Just place them inside the door, please…and I can hear my boxes being rudely tossed into the living room, just beyond the door, threatening to wake Mother. The world comes to you, even when you’re hiding from it.


“The Most Beautiful Question in the World” is an excerpt from James Nulick’s new novel in progress.