So…this thing is anonymous, right? I confess, I tried to squirm out of it a few times. I wrote few lines, then different lines. I figured, better play it safe. Get in and get out: a good
story, a few juicy similes (cock glistening like a glazed cudgel…a salted caramel thigh, buttocks like a plum tomato…no a Carolina peach…no a plum tomato). But then the contract looked pretty airtight on secrecy, and I thought, is this really the way to use this opportunity? A few tired titillations? The chance to say “cock” on the playground? Here I am, with an anonymous platform, and nobody is ever going to guess my name.
And…look…here you are on the same list. You will know who I am, no matter what I write. So I might as well tell you some secrets.
Once at seventeen, I stood with one foot on a toilet rim, scissors aimed at my hymen, thinking I’d break it myself. I didn’t do it—but I’ve been that stupid before.
Once a gyno told me I have a beautiful clit, like the plump dewdrop tongue of a baby cat. I always wanted to tell someone that, and to ask if it was okay for her to say it.
And that was me fucking in the bathroom at the Brooklyn Book Fest. That whimper you heard as you washed your hands and shook them dry—that was me, as a much-too-young beard scraped against the soft flesh just past my thigh…
…but you already know that, though you didn’t at first. You ignored us, because it was a unisex bathroom in a far-flung part of the festival, and you smirked at the thought of some horny young couple about to get caught. But then you heard me say a word, a syllable, and you stiffened. And in that beat when you could have left, you teetered on your leather-soled shoes (you still wear those) and stayed, holding your breath. Why didn’t you go away? You must have felt the mood shift inside the stall. Through the crack in the door, I watched you stretch your wrists. Do they still ache?
“I love the connecting parts,” you used to say. And then you’d kiss me in all those curious, unloved places: wrists and ankles, the web of veins bursting away from toes, the place where the pale skin of an underarm softens into torso, the pencil-thin lines where buttocks break from thighs and breasts sprout from a chest. The smudged corners of mouths.
“Is this asshole just gonna keep standing there?” he whispered against my cheek. You shifted from foot to foot, turned on the water again, rinsed your hands the way you do, fingers laced. He mouthed, “Oh Christ,” and started performing for you. “Like that? How about a blurb, then?” he breathed loudly. And I snorted, and he said, “Say it’s stunning…say it’s groundbreaking.”
We both laughed (not him and I; you and I). I heard you, across that metal door. Some accidental wit, you might say, good for him. He slapped a hand across my mouth. I saw the sleeve of that olive Barbour jacket you wear. He grabbed my chin, turned my face toward him…
God, it’s weird to see your name beside mine again. How’ve you been? What will you write about? Not that I plan to go looking…
Then his fingers slipped under my skirt, and I forgot you— pretty completely, I swear—and I groaned into his chest. And he pressed himself against me and bit my ear, and one of my earrings—remember the gold ones?—fell into his mouth. He spit it out.
I pulled away, scrambled to catch it. I heard it clink across the tiles.
“What are you doing?” he muttered.
“I want my earring,” I said, squirming away from his fingers. “Stop that.”
Do you remember how I used to watch you eat? You ate in a way that made everybody hungry, in that sumptuous but elegant way—scraping chocolate with your teeth, licking oil off your lips and nodding, and wiping the plate clean with a morsel of bread, rapturous over braised short ribs. You used to growl at your meat and tell it not to be scared, it’ll be over soon.
Our first meal together, we argued about economics and politics. I didn’t tell you that I had studied all that. I called them soft sciences and dared you to give me any term and I’d divine its meaning. You laughed, took another bite, and you said, “Giffen good.” And I said, in a mock-girlish voice, “Sounds like…maybe, um, the kind of good where if the price goes up people want it more?” And you moved to my side of the table and kissed my cheek and whispered against the corner of my mouth, “You little hustler.” Then you noticed my gold earrings and said, “Those are lovely.”
The gold stud skipped toward a drain. He pushed my skirt up around my waist. “I said stop.”
He sighed, found the earring, and worked it back into my earlobe, a tight smile asking if this bullshit was finished now. “Try to relax,” he said.
Do you remember (maybe you’ll write about it) that month we lost? It just vanished off the calendar. It’s strange the details that have stayed and gone. I don’t remember what we ate or the color of your sheets. I don’t remember how many chairs you have in your bedroom or if we left the lights on. I remember the sweaty, musty smell of the bed in the morning, after we’d spent the whole night wrecking it, the scrape of your dry knees against my thighs as you parted my legs. The way you bit my collarbone, bit my lip and the tips of all ten fingers. I remember your enormous hands sliding down my back, thinking, Does my back curve like that? How nice to feel so much of me, so much forgotten skin, at once. The way you threw me into fits of laughter by growling at my flesh like the meat. When we fucked, the sweaty hairs between us rustled and merged, our mismatched colors, and I thought you might crack my pelvic bone.
Afterward, a coarse black hair drying on my hip, curled like a question mark. I told you about your hands, how they set alight vast spaces I’ve forgotten. You inspected my fingers and quoted a line from E. E. Cummings: nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.
“Get off, I can’t breathe,” I told the hipster in the stall. And he did.
Do you know he’s vegetarian? I wondered at the start of this if vegetarian lovers ever do that kind of play…pretending they’ll eat you. It wouldn’t be convincing, would it? Well, he does other things.
I took a nervous breath. You were still there, waiting without reason, defiant now. Why didn’t you just leave?
“I think that creep’s listening,” I whispered, the betrayal landing like a bad swallow in my chest.
“Good, let him listen,” he said, and bit my earlobe until it stung.
“I don’t want to anymore. It’s gross in here.”
“Fine.” He zipped up, straightened my skirt, and shouted, “Hey, buddy, some privacy, please?”
You cleared your throat and left. When we emerged, you weren’t outside.
I came to your panel. I saw you in the back row of mine.
What are you doing in this anthology? Did you know I’d be here? Maybe somebody told you, and you started thinking about the old days. I won’t go looking for your story. I don’t miss you at all. And it’s pretty pathetic, you following me into that bathroom, and then here. Because you know that what we had wasn’t love. Love is newness. Love is hipsters in bathroom stalls begging for blurbs. Love is success and fun and never fighting about the sheets, the dishes, the bills. Love is fascination, discovering each other’s forgotten corners—and we can’t do that again for the first time, can we? Love is a series of small erasures, until that final unimaginable one.
But…I just wanted to say thanks for staying, for keeping your ear to that door. That guy wasn’t bad, you know. He was great, actually—and so was his book. It was groundbreaking, astonishing, stunning…and the prose. The prose was like a glazed cudgel…like a Carolina peach.
Don’t laugh—that’s the actual blurb I gave him. He didn’t use it. And I don’t think he’s coming around again. Funny the snatches that survive the years, after every other detail has been erased. Your scratchy knees. Your playful growl. Your teeth scraping my collar, your hands, your salted caramel laugh.
Excerpted from Anonymous Sex, edited by Hillary Jordan and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. Excerpted with the permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2022 by Hillary Jordan and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan.