I Am Santo

Fiction, poetry, music and mindscape pictures by creative artist Jason Santo

Out Riding

His name was Carlos, or so he’d said. Min-jung honestly didn’t care. He was young, strong and beautiful and he believed her when she said her name was Areum, so all things being equal, he had every right to be Carlos, Juan, Victor or Pablo. She didn’t mind as long as he held her again the way he had last night, when the moon slipped from murky clouds and lit the alley and his grin in a blue devil’s light. His stubble raked her chin and neck and her body surged with yearning to feel the hardness of his stomach against the soft flesh of her own belly. She’d inhaled a piss-stained quaff of air when he slid his hand inside her jeans and traced the swelling beneath her underwear gently with thick fingers, but she didn’t wince, didn’t wrinkle her nose. Instead she kissed him harder. All the alleys of El Gotico – of most of this brick and chiseled stone requiem of a city – reeked of drunken incontinence. Barcelona was sin dressed as Saint, the lurk of desires like lava beneath the centuries old crust of Catholic worship, and in her six months here she’d worn white and waved silent crosses while dreaming of nights like last night, of nights like what she hoped would happen tonight. Cammie, a carrot-haired girl with skin like a rice bowl that was in her class and from the U.S. immediately started her terms abroad with a swarthy local named Miquel. He was lean, muscular and smiled as if every day were a joke, every evening a punchline. Min-jung had caught him on several occasions looking at her own exposed legs when Cammie wasn’t looking, and so she began wearing her shortest skirts whenever he was around to see his reaction. On Saturday nights when Cammie would stay out late with Miguel, Min-jung would lie awake, her hand moving beneath the sheets, feeding what was increasingly hungry low and inside her, imagining the contrast of their skin in dark light, the rhythm of their kisses and their slow moans and sighs, like those she heard from gomo with her boyfriends over the years back home.

Her father’s sister Kyong had many suitors while she lived with them after jobu and jomu died in a car accident when gomo was only 17. The loss of their parents freed Kyong from their discipline but strained the relationship between her and appa, and in the mornings when she did not come home, Min-jung would hear her father whisper angrily about her over the running water of mother’s dishwashing: gul-leh-gat-eun-nyun. Every time she learned a new language, she’d learn a new word for Kyong, who did manage to calm down and marry in her twenties. Puta. Puttana. Whore. And as such, Min-jung worried about her own desires and tried to remain uninterested in Cammie’s kiss-and-tell with Miguel, a feral dog hiding from tantalizing bones. But the hourglass sands of her stay in Barcelona were expiring and the simmering lusts she’d felt while there watching handsome men study her had turned to a boil. Last night the pot bubbled over and tonight, in just an hour or so, she was going to allow Carlos to kiss every inch of her, to touch wherever he wanted however he wanted because for one night, she was her gomo and Cammie and herself. She was Areum, legs wide and shirt off, skin scalding. She started noticing the bike seat rubbing against her softening sex, and the self-conscious feelings she had about looking silly on the rental, peddling in new high heels and and the high blue dress she’d bought that morning, dissolved into pulsing desire.

Tourists swarmed around her, but she only thought of Carlos and what he might do to her, how he’d control her for the night by looming above her, lying beneath her, thrusting behind her. And as her mind swam in lust, her peddling kept the pace of their intimacy, the hardness of the seat growing more arousing with each pump of her legs. The way to Carlos’s place was winding, uphill and often over stones that made the bike vibrate, and soon she was breathless and sweating from the seat’s diligent friction. Halfway there, Min-jung pumped harder and gripped the handlebars while blank-eyed strangers huddling all around her studied crumbling palace walls, tapas menus and leather bags. Her knuckles whitened, thighs tightening and the bloom of release spread like a cresting wave over the beach of her belly, chest and neck.

She didn’t anticipate or want this flush of satisfaction, but welcomed it among the many buzzing around her and shook on her bike, nearly falling into a Dutch or German father herding his children out of a store stuffed with tchotchke bulls and miniature replicas of of Gaudi’s Sagrada Família. Min-jung steadied herself and then continued in to the base of Carlos’s apartment building, a conventional stone edifice with more history than style framing it.

Her legs were shaky but she continued on despite her bliss for it was won weakly, alone. It was no different than the late night rhapsodies she sung solo with her fingers hitting each note of her yearning, only this time it was the rough seat of her bike. She was too awake now to turn back, so she parked the bike, chained it, then walked up the thick concrete steps to the double wooden door, stepped inside the humid lobby and pressed the button for the unit he’d instructed. After a moment his voice crackled over the speaker above the buzzer and the door shrilly sang entry. Min-jung pulled it open, feeling a residual tingle between her thighs and thought about Cassie and gomo Kyong; the gul-leh-gat-eun-nyun, las putas, le puttane, the whores.

They were none of this, she thought as she mounted the stairs. They were simply human and filled with eagerness to feel human. Just like her. Just like anyone with a leash removed and the courage to bark.

Sea Through

Are we flawless? No, windows dirty just as skin blemishes and thoughts corrupt the way lead paint chips. Death ensures imperfection yet we rage on with wild presumption and hand to mouth eagerness, our feasts a staggering display of gluttony awarded long ago only to the clergy conscripted; the divinely ordinanced few now have to share. On these pebbled banks, marine histories awash with salted avarice, the taste of yesterdays spilling like seed from stroked cock; it’s here where lovers leap and quarrel, where intentions reef and coral. The sea claims, rejects, reclaims, our brine mirror muddied with the push pull of these throbbing, misgiven hearts. What a bore, bronzing bottoms and bobbing breasts before barbarous breakers. Play along, creaming steaming skin seething to cancer, gambling health for beauty, longevity for youth. Garish desires suckle at the tit of this paradise, mother’s milk a constant yearning culled collectively by the tight grips, the pursed lips, of progress. Build, build, build into oblivion, dance, dance, dance among Phrygian spit gilded by Midas touch and Stygian row, collapse now, breathe and bare. Sunstung, radiant, smoothed, the beholders are many, sated, soothed, eyes lovingly fed, will neither here nor then but ebbing and eddying, pooling to make deep marks on forever shifting sands. Allure is the blessing of a moment, locked into long memory by first tastes and yearned for by all this dying, the cracks in our glass marring our transparency. Looking glass why do you promise anything more than what was? Because incarcerating time for all it has stolen is an addiction.

(at Barceloneta)

Open Streets (Carrer del Tiradors)

Come on all you ghosts. Lurk not in shadow, but sing wild requiem in an ethereal throat that echoes like moonlight off the weathered gray stone of Godhouses. Dreams wither and bloom in the clear dry of evening, reason expiates action, a deft caress, a tongue lash, a glimpse of softer flesh; the weight everlasting a measure of tranquil patience. Greedswirl, lust calderas bubbling under the surface of igneous calm, denizens softshoe their Vulcan urges, dragging on sweet hand-rolled tobacco and draping limbs on chipped benches, voices searching for the breeze, the moon. It’s been this way since Luna began her distant waning, spinning tales of wretched dieties to answer the hungriest of our motives, their great whimsy and folly mirroring the soiled graft and bliss that dirtied hands and souls then, now, forever. Greed keeps bloodlines strong, determined to pass on sinstrength and oh how the night has seen it all on these sweating cobblestone streets. Oh how the scent of our filth sweetens the air, the dog in our ancestry baring teeth and piss-swollen cock to silentscream dominance, only to be caught hollow in the damp of laundered cloth hung above to dry, secrets in the open. So much fire. So much memory. Symbionts culled from the calloused feet of almighties too distracted to reign with terrorflood, desires bathe in little acids, eating away at a world of progress despite those evening whispers. Brick and stone, flesh and bone, fathers intone, our ears deaf to their lessons, our souls drunk on their clenched fists.

at Barcelona, Spain

One Way

Gail had lost the bet with herself, an irony not lost on her. Lev’s decision didn’t surprise, but it irritated her the way a stain did when soup was ordered instead of a burger to avoid dripping grease on a new blouse. Still a drop blemished. Had she known how quickly Lev was going to head to the Casino upon arriving in New Orleans, she would have elected to have just gone to Vegas as originally planned. It seemed the more satisfying option of the two cities to her palette and either way she’d end up feeling like she was wearing ruin. It had been six years since she’d figured out his addiction to gambling, but when he won big last year in Atlantic City after losing nearly as mightily, she’d slammed the breaks on his behavior, the freight of their twenty-two years together thrusting hard against them as if they were a sixteen-wheeler on a rain-slicked freeway coming to a dead stop. Either Lev quit it or she quit them. It was simple. And he did, for a time, the gray-sky peril of their retirement dissipating into the clear blue tomorrows Gail had long believed would be theirs. Only she could feel a bigger storm brewing, percolating somewhere just over the horizon due to the El Niño of Gabe’s revelation that he was a homosexual.

Lev hadn’t handled the news of their only son being gay well at all, and as Gail stepped further down Bourbon Street gripping her plastic Hurricaine glass by the waist, she wondered if this was the kind of place Gabe felt at home in. There were men dressed in leather that looked like runner-ups at a Village People audition and several older, portly guys wearing pastel short-sleeve button-ups and wide smiles, their voices lilting in the still air. Everyone seemed happy, and Gail thought of the term, “gay.” It seemed appropriate, at least in this sweaty corner of the French Quarter.

She looked up at a corner to check for a street sign and instead was greeted by a black and white “One Way” sign that had been re-stickered with two G’s; one before the word “One” and one placed over the “W” in “Way.” Gone Gay. She laughed and a tall fella, mid-forties with dirty blond, wind-tunnel tested hair sitting on a stoop one house down with an old gray shnauzer looked toward her, grinning. Gail pointed at the sign and nodded her head and he chuckled with her for a moment before returning his attention to his dog.

Despite the gray of the day, Gail could tell it was getting late and that she should probably head to the Casino to check on Lev. But the thought of him hunched over green felt, nervously sweating while absently stirring a Jack and Coke made her stomach lurch. No. This was better. Rather than take a right, she kept walking down the “Gone Gay,” taking a moment to pet the shnauzer named “Benny” while his master cordially asked where was from. She told him Maine and he mentioned having been to Ogunquit which was South of where she and Lev lived, but where Gabe hung out a lot now with his friends and, presumably, lovers. Lev called it “Fag Town.” Gail had only been through the place on the way to other destinations, but after being here and speaking to the man while running her fingers through Benny’s soft fur atop his head, she decided she wanted to see it. There was something calm underlying the craziness of New Oleans in this neighborhood; a sense of belonging and security. Gail liked it. She thought about Lev in the casino and how he would say this place was an aberration, how it was drenched in sin and sickness. And yet there he was actually sinning and sick, staring at the back of cards, wagering their years together against increasingly bad odds, hungrily trying to recapture the feeling of that first big win.

Gail reached the end of Bourbon where it met the wide spread of Esplanade right as she reached the end of her rope and the end of her drink. She’d braved a one way and decided to leave it that way and not return up Bourbon, back to the bawdy madness that was brewing even at this early hour at the mouth of the street. Instead she wanted to stay down here, in a swirl of humidity, rum and rumination. She wished her son was here with her so she could see the comfort in his eyes being among people he understood and Gail decided they would visit together sometime after she and Lev split up so she wouldn’t have to hear his noise about it, suffer his hypocrisy. She took a right onto Esplanade, studying the lush green trees and small gardens exploding from the gated, postage-stamp yards in front of bold white houses that she felt looked like Colonel Sanders. Somewhere men hooted and hollared, bringing in the night, a sound both drunk and happy. Gail held up her empty glass to them, whether gay or not, and toasted. “To your health,” she said aloud as she continued on her way, deciding she liked New Orleans more than Vegas already.


at Bourbon St, New Orleans


Whine by the bellyful, the sanguine press of a bleeding heart wreathes like those thorns across the forehead of a savior, spilling forgiveness. There’s none to be had. Hands filthy, the ridges of identity choked with grime and guilt, it’s nothing compared to the blemish of those actions. What’s done, so much louder than words, countless excuses, gods, heavens to mitigate the stain of that charred soul rub, rub, rubbing itself to ecstasy despite the wretchedness of such vinegar thoughts. Sour cock, why search the hatefields to sow your seed, threading dry needles with unsheathed traditions and presumed clemency? Letter opener, thighs unmercilessly spread with the forced grunt of psalms echoing in the chaotic sharp heart searching not for words, but resolution, climax. Those envelopes, sealed shut by tongues, how they’ll be claimed by the richly deserving, the scion of faith in hard work and publically clean noses. Verse chorus versus the rhythm of that pump, pump, pumping bloodrush, demand crushes supply every time. And tears mix with goblin globin, the anachronistic shedding of remorse that gleans sympathy from the buttersoft when it should be like tears from granite. Oh, precious and glorified fuck, how the world was owed you! Now robbed of full pallet, the screeching of debasement is a shallow sip of sediment-heavy vintage; what weight decisions carry! For the taking of what’s not permitted is within His acceptance. But the legacy of shared cork-tainted nectar leaves blessed lands fallow, a grape left to raisin on the vine.


At Your Smallest

Tiny things,
That first breath taken with morning eyes
Or the way both arms reach to the headboard
In a satisfying stretch,
But specifically the smile
The way it crests with sunny realization
That there’s love in this bed,
This house,
This air.
Spring can have its opulent blooms
And Summer can pull hair,
Wild with its thick air
And stuck faceside by sweat.
Fall will endear with its poignant color
And Winter will hide secrets in plain view,
Its melt and shed layers seducing.
All those seasons strive
To capture the breadth of meaning
Latent in that lazy first glance
Across the continent of down
And mountainous pillows
Threatening apart;
How those little worlds crumble
At dawn’s assurance,
Glints of fresh sun
Spilling gold, gray.
It doesn’t matter.
Nature swoons whoever gives her time
A chaotic blush aggressive beauty
Grown envious
Of the smallest of gestures
The frailest of sweet,
Shared moments.
Let it all go green,
Startle back with imperious naïveté
Then close circle again
With the stamen’s reach,
The soft open petal,
The sprinkle of pollen lust.
It’s a whisper drowned
By the silent poetry of this subtle waking.
Try try try
All you songbirds,
You gregarious orange cloud bottoms
And creamy, seductive mists.
Plenty will mistake such arrogance
For a standard,
But four walls,
Tangled hair,
Rumpled sheets
And an inelegant yawn
Are where beauty lay,
Where every other miracle
Earns its measure against.
My love,
You are not as gorgeous
As ocean dusk
Or any season’s demand for attention.
They are only as Heaven-sent
As effortless you.


Anger Keep Out

Gasik stepped down the drop-off toward the water and breathed shallow, the sulfur of the pond stinging even against his effort. The place was a swollen lesion on the ass of the town; a chained-up, fenced-in, sign-posted swath of embarrassment that was the subject of children’s dares and adult’s dark grumbling. Gasik’s own child has come here though and now it was his annual turn to visit, enduring gnat clouds and the soggy muck that sucked at his shoes as he miss-stepped. Every year it was the same thing, shoes caked in mud, face red with insect irritation and a soul leaking as if he were a balloon stuck by the sharp pin of memory. But he came, never planned, but always around the same time when the trees sprung back to green and the air vibrated with cricket lust. He’d see the sign suddenly while at work, reviewing a legal memorandum or listening to a client drone on about their fair share of assets and he’d know it was time to disobey again that warning. “Danger Keep Out.” Only now it was “anger” he was warned to keep away from by chipped green paint and rotten wood. Because the danger had been ignored, a bold little boy with a head full of nothing and curiosity greater than any cat’s ducking under the chain, dismissing the sign he barely could read. And now it was anger that Gasik had to steel himself against, as his bile rose equally from the stench of the waste filthing the air here and the thoughts of his son losing his footing where he should never had set foot. Tears now, there they were. He shook his head as if the thoughts clinging to him were gnats. But they stuck like bad promises, tenacious as the brier to his now ruined slacks.

Who cares?

He pressed on, feet damp, feeling the will of the swamp exacting on him with every step as if there were whispers of forgiveness in the knowing rustle of leaves. He stepped onward, shoes cupped by the poison marsh, legs straining against its murky grip, until he reached the edge of the water, a calm pane of glass rippling under the dance of water bugs that likely would die soon from what had been dumped here. It was quiet but for the sounds of woods like any other. He frowned. This was nothing like any other woods.

He considered wading in. The pants were ruined by thorns anyhow, his shoes too. Why not? Gasik could see himself going in, working his way through slick strands of algae looking to wrap themselves around him in final embrace as if they were snakes with long enough memory to know the taste of his bloodline. “Oh,” they’d hiss. “We know you.”

It should have been enough to thrust him into their tangle. He could give in, find himself trapped and then, slowly, feel himself eaten by the mess of this horrid Hell he’d defended twelve years ago for the biggest money he ever made in his career. Bentol Solutions had come and gone as had the house Gasik bought for he and Sheila after he’d cleared the corporation of any legal wrongdoing. Now Sheila was in Chicago and he wrote settlements for rich divorcees. And Luke was here, not really but still. Here. Among the quagmire of choking Earth that he’d wandered into past a five dollar, rotten sign and a rope chain no more daunting than a weak parent’s suggestion.

“Stay outta there,” he recalled telling Luke once or twice when Sheila requested his stern voice assist with discipline. The boy would flinch as if a hand had been raised, and Gasik felt the sharp poke of guilt before returning to his iPad to finish reading the latest outrage. Of course the kid didn’t listen. If anything, he was driven to do the opposite of what he was told because his parents were always nose down in their phones, tablets, work, bullshit. At that time Gasik was seeing Arielle on the side, so maybe he was texting her what he wanted to do to her next time they met when Luke slinked off unnoticed and headed to Wraith Pond with his bear, Donny, and a backpack full of the kind of supplies only a five year-old would know to bring for a journey. They’d found Donny first, fur clumped with equal parts grime and blight, the part of him that has been submerged bleached from brown into a caustic white. They told him he didn’t have to see Luke, that the clothes, the articles found, the blood sample all proved who the boy was. He agreed, never seeing his boy before they buried what was left of him. Now Gasik wondered if he should just slink under the iridescent water and breath as deep as he could, soaking up every sin he was paid for and that he paid for. But like always, he got wet, got stung, got sad and after a while of sulking, he lurched back out of the slop, removed most of his clothes and drove home in his underwear. Next year. Next year he would walk further and face Luke’s final moments, welcoming danger and anger. Next year, Gasik thought. Next year.


Fire-spun furies beckon in hollow tones, a candied cadence sweet as child wonder and hungrier than hindsight, oh how the gray yearns for white or black. Meaning clings like flies to spun gossamer, strands choked with morning dew and shaken under tremulous limbs anxious for feeding; is there a finer delicacy than truth? A world can dip and dive under raging atmospheres roiling to the tune of vapid forecasts, but still that light arrives, that night returns, those hours tick tock tick, the wrap of knuckles, nick knock nick, on day doors and twilight walls housing parabolic hymnals growled from bellies bent by bowing. That rank suffer, it’s bucolic tradition stuffed between drywall and seeping the way dawn does at the end of a sleepless night, hues returning unwanted, sharp edges to the heavy-skulled. That scent flits between bars recited, drunk down shots of notes regurgitated as noxious melody and odious promise, the cloudy spew of each uncertainty held like afternoon, exposed and casting short, acute shadows. Black’s adorable to the fog, the mist, a propped-up, colorless conclusion comprised of nothing, lurking behind every tangible, light-pained whittle; flesh or wood or stone or metal cast, smoothed, soldered, sculpted by love or faith or art or routine. Understanding isn’t resolution or conviction, the dusty cells of the unwavering locked tight against smoky, acrid accretion. Loving the stench of rotting faiths is the key, sung low and out of earshot to those empty of rhythm, devoid of ammunition, intuition. Guessing is divinity, a sunset come around again until it doesn’t, the fuchsia-dipped pall of bones that once framed assertion. And color? She rewards, kisses on the raised skin of awareness, the desaturated, the robbed, swelling with the fever of learning, dreaming, being. For open wounds bleed, vivid drip drop drip, the drawn and quartered chip chop chip, art draining on the abattoir of alleged propriety. Hear that? It’s the song of the stubborn dead, their moans of yesterday crushed under the furious pounding of these marching unknowns. And herein begins that walk, setting heavy foot into perpetual, inevitable dark, spider-caught and struggling with sticky surety. Stop. Absence awaits, ready to dine forever. Better to leave it starving while gorging on today.

Cherry Sin

Cherry-dipped sunsets soften with their grenadine punch, calliope keys pressed, whistle-blowing off steam. Truth wins every time, a revolution glowing brilliant as each note played, steam crowding unprepared skies with demand. Be seen, heard. Satisfied melodies ripping through golden hour haze, dripping longing in the boughs of bent tree stems caught in eerie silhouette; how that red tantalizes as a Pamplona beast set loose on comfort, China shop securities shattered. So many pieces left aglimmer, sharp edges hungry to lacerate and spill hot lusts, pried open mouths, thighs. Dreams saunter safely as hands stay pocketed, poise like loose change jangling. It’s a quarter ‘til day’s end, murky beauty seizing light and across the sweet horizon skin cools after the blush. Hush. Unfocused passions are a stain on better faiths, so push that lens west, turn it to hone the burn and walk away while the world’s caught. Fire purges. It’s the only thing hungrier than reason. And the drift of ash lilts in waltz during settling evening, a nocturne under the stars falling like black snow, a hint of sweet stinging air and memory.watch Annabelle: Creation film now


What Creezus Knew

She’d listened to Gary long enough, but couldn’t let go. Even before coming here, Marla knew they were nearly done, her nights in bed by his snoring side becoming an interminable endurance test. They made love infrequently, life painting them into separate corners with its financial redecoration of who they’d been when they met four years ago. Gary quit working with kids about six months after their first date, crossing into telephone tech support on the advice of his buddy Frank because there was more money in it. It changed him, his face pulled into frowns naturally during their quiet time together on the couch rather than the smile he wore when they first met. A few weeks after they moved in together, he punched the wall when Creezus wouldn’t stop meowing in the middle of the night, his fist leaving a dent in the drywall of their bedroom. Creezus didn’t like him right off, her black cat that was always cautious but usually warmed up to people never warming to him. Marla knew now she should have trusted the cat’s instincts, she’d named him after Jesus Christ, she joked, because the cat was as black as the real deal and hated water so much he could walk on it. But the real reason was that Creezus was sage, cool, caring. It was sad irony that he died with Gary present, the man’s hand gently stroking the cat’s dark fur while he wrapped his other arm around her shuddering. It was one of Gary’s best moments, the last occasion he’d truly risen for Marla. The rest of the past year had been as flaccid between them as the nights he didn’t visit the strip club before coming home late.

At first she didn’t mind. He’d gotten a promotion at work and the pressure of being a manager weighed heavy on him, bags puffing under his tired eyes as if each new responsibility was a landed left hook. The money was better though, and he felt proud as she did for him. They started paying off bills, bought new furniture and she managed to have a few weeks off to look for a better job after working for a tyrant the past two years.

Gary started treating his stress by hanging out with his coworkers at Bare Assets on Route 11. Bitching, beers and boobs seemed to improve his mood and his attention to Marla, and that was a Hell of a lot better than him grousing endlessly at home about, at best, work and, at worst, her ever-increasing waistline. The first night he’d arrived home tipsy and hard, it was a late-inning revelation, a walk-off home run in bed that left her breathless for the first time in over a year. She panted as she rolled off him and he grinned, although Marla saw distance in his satisfied gaze. It was as if he’d traveled briefly to a better life, a prettier woman with a trimmer belly, higher tits and tighter thighs straddling him to bliss. And Marla didn’t care because it was better, he was better.

But this was not better. They’d only been in New Orleans for a few hours, enough time to get to the hotel, check in and drop off their bags before hitting Bourbon Street and ending up at the first strip club Gary saw. It was as if it was any other bar to him and he didn’t care about Marla’s reluctance, the way he had to tug her as if she were a stubborn, cold, heavy fish. They flopped into chairs at the foot of the stage next to another couple, a ridden-hard-and-put-away-dirty biker dude and his lady puffing cloyingly sweet grape vapors from e-cigarettes. The bikers smiled as if their bellies were full of canary, the man with skin more leather than his riding cut blatantly studying Marla’s modest curves the way vultures study the starving.

She averted her gaze to the empty stage as the waitress showed up, tight white t-shirt with a scoop neck revealing the tops of her large breasts and stretched taut. Marla watched Gary grin as he ordered himself a Bud and her rum and Coke. His smirk, the light in his eyes, it held as he glanced over at the Leathers, then as the next dancer took the stage, barely clothed, tone and surgically proportioned. It had been the way he looked at Marla when they’d first met, but now it was for the bitch bringing him overpriced drinks, the whore on the stage, any slit that paid him attention that wasn’t Marla. Her face flushed.

When the drinks arrived, she gulped hers down and waved for another to Fetchy McStretchTits, Gary barely noticing. The alcohol did little more than add to the brushfire at the sides of Marla’s face and she looked down at the scratches and nicks on the table, trying to rebalance the memories tilting inside her like countless dishes in the sink, fragile and ready to slip, chip, crack against the hardened edge of a sinking reality.

She sighed hard. Gary glanced at her. They’d gone to Bare Assets together a few times with his work friends, but this was different. She felt exposed and frustrated. She wanted out, out of this and out of the looks of disapproval he cast when she stepped from the shower, when she brought dinner to the table, when she spoke about her day at work, or what her friends did on vacation or what her nephew Snapchatted her. Miserable fuck. Tired, average, low and unappreciative miserable fuck. McStretchTits brought over Marla’s second drink and she gunned that one down too, as if dousing the rage stacking, flourishing, burning inside of her. Marla wanted to throw it into Gary’s lap, but she drank it all, let it slide and burn her throat. She was buzzing already and the edges of her off-kilter dirty-dish thoughts were dulling, falling into line. She looked up at the dancer on the stage, now topless and wearing nothing but a g-string as she writhed before them and felt a pang of remorse for the girl. Sure, it had to suck to be ogled by men four-to-eight hours a day, but how much worse was it to be hate-stared at by the women ignored by those same men. Maybe she didn’t care, but Marla doubted that anyone was fully immune to such laser derision. Her body may be perfect, but somewhere there were burn holes all throughout this girl’s soul.

Two more dancers came on. Marla finished a third rum and Coke before Gary got his second Bud, but then she stopped drinking, letting mild dizziness carry her like a tide might driftwood. Gary kept grinning, although not as wide, and Marla’s care faded until Lady Leatherskin called over to them, her own smile splayed across her face with switchblade tenderness. She spoke in a rasp, clearly a vaper only after years of the real thing ravaged her voice, but the intention was obvious regardless of how distorted her words sounded. She wanted to know if they were swingers and DTF. Marla felt icy fear swell up from her belly and she turned quickly to Gary who was looking the Leathers’ way. The fear turned hot. Gary’s grin was in full force, a twinkle of desire in his eye. The dishes tumbled. Marla stood, face red with alcohol and rage, Gary looking up at her like a kid that had set fire in a patch of dry grass that now consumed an entire forest. She broke his wide-eyed stare by walking toward the exit, trying to figure out how she was going to get home early. She would just go back to the hotel, grab her stuff and head to the airport. She wasn’t stuck. She could get out.

When she got outside, the humid air leeched into her cool, air conditioned skin and her contacts burned from a well of angry tears. She looked left, started to walk and missed the sidewalk, her sandled foot scraping the edge of the curb. Marla cursed and started to walk when suddenly Gary’s strong arm was on her, pulling her up onto the sidewalk. She thought about how he held her as Creezus passed away and her tears spilled over her ruddy cheeks.

Gary attempted to speak with calm, but she wanted his face to go away, just go back to its grinning state at the foot of stages where he could distantly dream of better than her. She looked up at him, felt his concern as his words assured like cooling breezes and she shuddered. Marla knew she wasn’t going anywhere, at least not then. When they got home, maybe, but she couldn’t leave now. She didn’t have the strength. So she listened and nodded, cried at his apologies and then they walked together arm in arm while crowds of revelers stumbled from clubs with loud voices and hard-ons. Gary catered to her and she slowly got her voice back, the red of her anger fading to pink, then dull beige. She knew they weren’t fixed by his sudden tenderness, but it was aloe on a sunburn. Turning onto the quiet artfulness of Royal Street, arms still encircling each other, Marla thought that when they got home she’d get another cat. And this time she’d heed any intuition, although she already knew what he would think of Gary.