|Illustrations by Paige Imatani|
THIS IS AN UNPLEASANT STORY, SO I'LL TELL IT as quickly as possible.
When I was much younger, I went into a bar on Coronado and picked up a young couple: 30s, he was former-football-y and corporate, she was Asian-American and also corporate. Or they might have picked me up. It was hard to tell, because we were drinking a lot, except the woman, who was only drinking a little. Now that I think about it, they did broach the subject, by telling me about a swingers' party they'd attended but failed to participate in. And I said I'd never done it with more than two people in the room, which was true if it meant only two people awake in a room. Then he said, "My wife thinks you're pretty." So that's how it happened.
We went back to their house. The drive was long, long, up the mainland coast, to a place where the residential streets curved like a jigsaw puzzle, where there were big lawns but no sidewalks, and houses that looked much smaller than they actually were. The path from the street to their front door was lighted, but we went in through the garage.
They didn't take me to their bedroom first, but into the den, which was done in wood that I thought too light for a den, and upholstery the color of poi, beige but with a tinge, as if the sofa and loveseat had been thrown in the wash with a red sock. And some large, abstract whooshes over that, in blue. I don't remember very much else about what happened in the den, and then we did go into their bedroom, which looked like a motel room, meant for strangers and strangers only. The bed had a flowered nylon bedspread, there was no dresser or any other furniture in the room, just a wet bar and a sliding glass door.
We did that thing where you try to kiss and strip at the same time. It was easier with three, because only two could kiss at any given moment, letting the third take a shoe or a shirt off. She was wearing sexy lingerie -- mine wasn't too bad either, just because it never is, but she had on black stockings and a garter belt. He, of course, wore socks, and there was a moment: the two women kneeling on the bedspread, the man between them, sitting on the edge of the bed, peeling off his socks, and it was so horrifying I giggled, though I pretended it was only the cocktails.
So then we did it, mostly lesbian stuff with him reaching in and jerking off at the same time. I really wasn't into them at all, but getting out of something like that at such a late stage is next to impossible. I remember much more of what came after, because I'd sobered up some. She went into the bathroom and took a long, long time. He took the opportunity to chat me up. Strange to say, but it's true: He was hitting on me after sex, with his wife in the shower. He wanted something he hadn't got, so I just asked him flat out.
"What do you want?"
"I want you to tell me the strangest thing you've ever done."
"Why does your wife take so long in the bathroom?" I asked.
"She's douching, then she likes a bath. She feels remote after sex. She won't be back for a while. So tell me the strangest thing you've ever done."
"When my mother died," I said, "we built a pyre in the back yard and laid her on it. We lit it, and as the oldest child, it was my duty to smash her skull open with a big stick. Do you know why?"
"Why?" he asked.
"Because if you don't, the heat of the fire will make the head explode. After that we took her remains down to the sea and threw them in. We hadn't bought enough wood, so there were remains, not just ashes."
"I'd like that," he said. He didn't believe me, of course, but my father had seen this very thing done to the dead on his travels in India. I think about that ritual every time I feel my head is going to explode all on its own, which is every couple of days.