E
Jul/Aug 2002 fiction

Bulk

by Keleigh Friedrich


Art by Bob Dornborg

 

His name is Ezekiel, and he is the color of the center of a sunflower. His eyes are nearly black. His fists are the size of my breasts. Even when he doesn't bathe, he smells like basil and saltwater.

This man I have, he is a hunk of man. He knows that we are each allotted space in this universe, and he uses his to its maximum capacity, plus any extra that people around him fail to fill. These people, he says, these shrink-wrapped specimens, they know nothing of girth. They belong in hidden annexes, tiny garrets, closets that open only from the outside. He knows the only way to buy is in bulk.

"Lorna," he tells me, "Lorna, you sit too small. You lock up all your doors and cabinets and hide the key under your tongue."

Tonight I am making him ham, asparagus, green salad, baked potatoes, a pear pie the circumference of my belly. I cook with skill and fury, with the confidence of nine generations of sweating mystics, gypsies, and midwives. In my twenty years on Earth I have learned a few things. I have learned how to hold a glass of wine as if I am Daisy Buchanan and a man's eye until I see him swallow past the knot of his Adam's apple. At twenty I have been massaged and petted until I purr, naked and glistening like a diamond while I suckle strawberries between plump lips. I have twenty-nine pairs of thong underwear, two shoeboxes stuffed with love letters, fifteen nude photos of myself taped to the walls of the closet.

I add slivered almonds and feta cheese to the salad, baptize it in balsamic vinaigrette. The kitchen swells with odoriferous glory as I remove the pie from the oven and set it on the stove to cool.

The telephone rings and it is Cynthia, panting. She is a year younger than me, and I call her Sin.

"My Lord, Lorna," she says, music pounding in the background. "He's on his way over right now."

"Who?" I ask.

"Damn it, you know who! Lordy, Lorna."

I know who, indeed. Franklin Octavio Randall, owner of the Q. At the Q, beautiful ladies dance on strips of runways where men seated at either side nurse various species of sophisticated alcohol. These women have magnificent breasts, gently curving hips, a soft stretch of stomach the color of walnuts. There is lively music and dancing, people from all over aching for physical poetry.

"Sin," I say calmly. "Sinny, take some deep breaths. Give me some exposition."

I hear the music level amplify and a voice barking in the background. I know it is Leelee, screaming Cynthia's cue to go on.

"Lorna, I gotta go," she says. "Kitty already made $200 tonight. That fat-ass, shaking like a Jell-O Jiggler. Hell must be frozen over or something..."

I interrupt her strongly, tell her to hop off and be gone, leave me to my necessary arrangements.

There are only three things to do, and I do them quickly. I place the ham back in the oven to keep it warm. I cross myself twice. I apply lipstick, deep red. The color of crime. Then I sit at the table and wait.

It isn't difficult to go from Point A to Point Z. You can bypass what is irrelevant, as I did, and end up with mass, with substance, a man like Ezekiel. When he cups my breasts, they glow hot like embers.

There is a knock at the door before I expect it, and I jump. My skin feels suddenly itchy and flammable. I walk to the door and open it, and there stands Franklin, pale and delicate as a moth.

"Lorna," he says.

"What are you doing here?" I ask. I am surprised he used my real name. At the Q I was known as Queen, Queen of the Q, and always came on last, in the finale so to speak, wearing a headdress and high heels, oftentimes singing, a majestic warbling vision in gold lamé. I was alabaster white, the color of royalty, and always immaculately shaved. From the waist down I could have been a little girl playing dress-up in garters and stiletto heels.

"Can I come in?" he asks.

I shake my head slowly, one fist nestling into my hip. "You have seen my man," I tell him. "He has no shortage of muscle. He could smite you with the palm of his left hand."

Franklin tugs at his sparse blond mustache. He has Mexican blood in him, somewhere, but all that's visible is an expanse of mottled skin the color of flour tortillas.

"Lorna," he says, "it's time to come back." I see his nostrils flare, bull-like, and his fists clench only slightly. He knows he lacks credibility—and heft. "I am not going to tell you where you belong, or guess at what kind of make-believe world you have created here. You know where you are supposed to be."

"Yes, where I'm supposed to be is standing in that kitchen, admiring a pear pie and waiting in nothing but an apron for my man to pull into the drive."

He hardly flinches. "Lorna," he says. And then, again, "Lorna. I don't need to look you in the eye to see that you're not happy." His hands begin to shake, nervous, dreadful man that he is. His voice becomes tighter, more frantic. "I don't have to remind you of the crowds, the way the runway sparkled beneath your heels, the feel of a foreign hand against you. I am only here to tell you that your home will not be yours to return to much longer. And this man of yours, Lorna, he will not be satisfied forever. A man like that, he is an inner cripple, dragging a gimp leg behind him, always afraid of being discovered for what he really is. You cannot possibly believe that people fall in love with fantasies."

It is perfect timing for Ezekiel to drive up, and he does. He has a large chunk of truck, silver like an overfed shark, hulking and masculine. I see my man's eyes quickly scan and assess the scene on his doorstep, and then he parks and disembarks gracefully, or as gracefully as a great bear of a man could from a raised vehicle.

"You have chosen the wrong time for this," I tell Franklin. I watch Ezekiel ascend the drive and move in upon us.

"Lorna," he says.

I slide my hands into my apron pockets, raise one regal eyebrow. "You remember Franklin, don't you?"

Franklin has turned and is watching Ezekiel like a starling tracking the course of a hawk.

"Nice to see you again," Franklin says, his shallow chest swelling. "Don't see much of you 'round the Q anymore."

"Why should I frequent the Q when I've managed to kidnap the Queen?" Ezekiel says, and smiles. His teeth radiate, glowing individually like small slices of moon.

Franklin tugs again at his meager mustache. The whites of his eyes are jaundice-yellow, flecked with red, as if they need to be cleanly scrubbed. Compared to his, Ezekiel's eyes look perfect, primal, like islands of round onyx floating in milk.

Ezekiel and Franklin both look at me. I am standing silent, watching, a spectator at a slow-motion bullfight.

"Is dinner ready?" my man asks, and I nod. He pauses. "Is our good friend Franklin staying for the Queen's gourmet?" He claps one hand down on Franklin's narrow shoulder.

Franklin takes a step back, his eyes widening. I see his chest swell again. His ribs must be tiny, slivers of bones arranged like metal wires, caging in his heart.

"We have a problem, Ezekiel," he says.

My man twitches. He does that sometimes, jerks his head like a tic. The first time we made love, I thought perhaps he was epileptic, his arms shaking and his head twitching as he came inside of me. It was the first night he came to the Q, the first time I ever saw him, and he had waited for me in the back parking lot, leaned against his silver truck, arms folded, then his hands like giant hams reaching out for me in the lamplight.

I had never slept with a Q man before.

"What is this problem?" Ezekiel asks.

Franklin pokes his chin in my direction. "You have hijacked her freedom. You don't know who she truly is."

"Is that a fact?" Ezekiel begins to expand, widening his space, replacing molecules of air with his shape. I can almost see him as a liquid filling a container, the glass walls accommodating his presence and straining with the weight of him.

"Yes." Franklin takes a barely visible breath and looks at me. "Christ, Lorna, tell him."

I stand as if carved from granite. I imagine removing my apron, my teal dress, unclasping my hook-front bra, walking to the end of the hallway and back with the pear pie balanced on my palm.

"I think we should all have dinner," I say.

 

The ham is perfectly cooked. It is a special recipe, a three-part extravaganza called "Ham Baked in Crust." It includes honey, raisins, red wine, and a sauce dreamt up by angels, by unclothed gods with luminescent fingers.

I serve the salad first.

"Wine," Ezekiel says. "We need wine, my Queen."

The wine glasses are heirlooms, perfectly spun glass engraved with roses. We all sit, me at the head of our square oak table, Ezekiel and Franklin at either side. Our wine glasses bloom out of our hands like tulips.

"To the Queen," Ezekiel says, raising his glass. He is smiling, a smile that looks to be all teeth and jaws, his gums purple and smooth.

"Long live the Queen," says Franklin, and they drink.

It seems only seconds before the salads are devoured. Not one lettuce leaf remains. I remove their dishes, replace them with huge dinner plates-bigger than huge. Hercules-sized. I set the Ham Baked in Crust at the center of the table, like an idol, a god. There is a serving plate stacked high with steaming baked potatoes, various dishes of potato adornments, a long verde row of asparagus.

I realize quickly that there is not enough food.

"This ham melts in my mouth," says Franklin. "I have never tasted anything like it."

Ezekiel reaches for thirds.

"More wine," he says.

I retrieve more wine. I fill their glasses. I pour apple juice into mine. I have not drunk alcohol since my first night at the Q, when Cynthia rubbed my shoulders in the dressing room and systematically poured vodka into an I Love New York shot glass, noting my progression from inhibited sober to willing inebriated.

Something must be done about the alarming paucity of food. The men are eating fiercely, resolutely, as if engaged in a high-stakes contest, survival of the gastronomically toughest. More wine is poured. Few words are exchanged. Every so often a mouth is wiped at, an eye is extended to me, fierceness glinting, and then the eating resumes. I transplant myself to the kitchen, panicked.

I bring out red beans and rice, whip up a fresh, hot batch of corn cake, procure two servings of chocolate pudding. I cut up apples and oranges and peaches, flood them with fruit cocktail juice from the can, add scoops of vanilla ice cream. The food disappears as quickly as I can deliver it from the kitchen.

"You have outdone yourself, babydoll," Ezekiel says, again and again, but keeps eating.

Four bottles of wine are emptied and another has been opened. The men have begun to make eye contact, shoving forks into their mouths with threatening speed and precision.

"I remember the first night at the Q," Ezekiel says suddenly, peaches swimming in the basin of his mouth.

"Lorna's first night?" Franklin says. "You weren't there Lorna's first night."

"Christ, idiot," my man says. "I meant the first night I went to the Q."

"Right. Because you weren't there to see Lorna on her first night."

"I thought it was a pretty goddamn classy place." Ezekiel pours more wine. "Except the girls were all boring, all blond, flesh too comfortably exposed. Fake tits."

I have never before heard my man say tits.

I bring out warm rolls, an ivory dish of butter.

"There are only three girls under my roof with fake breasts," Franklin says. His words are slightly slurred, s's rolling snake-like from his tongue.

"And then Lorna," Ezekiel continues. "Like some exotic bird. And breasts, so white, almost blinding. Christ." He grabs a roll and splits it open in one fluid motion. I watch him apply butter, so much butter that the bread appears to be drowning, bubbling over with hot gold. My stomach turns.

"We would never advertise Queen," Franklin says. "We put Trix on the poster. Word of Queen spread by mouth, one man confiding in another about this stunning apparition."

"Untouchable," Ezekiel says.

I bring out the pear pie, cut it into thick triangles, dish out mounds of ice cream.

"Not quite untouchable," Franklin is saying. "A night not unlike other nights, our Queen came to me in tears asking for retribution."

"Retribution?"

Franklin heaps another piece of pie onto his plate. His cheeks puff out for a moment, his eyes bugging as he covers the small bulge of his stomach with one hand.

"Something must always be returned," he says.

Ezekiel finishes another full glass of wine. It dribbles in tiny rivulets down his chin.

"She was untouched," he says.

"Who?" Franklin looks up from his pie. His eyes are red and roving.

My man looks at me. It appears as though the wine glass will shatter inside his fist.

"Brandy," he says.

"The redhead? The one with the freckles on her ass?" Franklin looks from Ezekiel to me, and then back.

"Brandy," my man says again. "Have we still got that brandy?"

I get the brandy. I pour it. Ezekiel reaches for the last slice of pie. "This is unsurpassable," he says.

"She may have been untouched when she came," Franklin says, swishing his alcohol in its glass. "Her eyes were wider. Her legs were like perfect white stems, thighs like stalks of white chocolate."

"I loved her because she didn't belong there," Ezekiel says. He belches, leans forward and unbuttons his pants. His gut hangs freely, breathing in relief.

"Son of a bitch," Franklin says. "I have heard the stories. Seen some of them myself. Not men from the club, no, not from the Q. All of the intellectuals within a thousand-mile radius. Professors. Doctors. Scientists. But especially writers. They called her Circe. You should see her love letters, my man. They used to come cry to me, beg me to make her go."

Ezekiel is sweating. He dips three fingers into the puddle of ice cream on his plate, presses his fingertips against his forehead, closing his eyes. He hiccups, belches again, cheeks puffing.

"Christ," he says.

He moves out of his chair, clawing at his shirt as he struggles to his feet.

"Off," he says, barks, orders. "Off."

I move to his side and help him. "Shirt off?" I ask.

He lumbers to the couch and collapses, legs sprawling open, head back against the cushions.

"Off," he says again.

I unbutton his shirt, press my cool palms against the heaving plates of his chest.

"Christ," he says again.

"They told me she tasted like Eve, if one could imagine what Eve must have tasted like. The very first and only of her kind. Moving always aware of God's eyes." Franklin tugs at his tie, gags and coughs for a moment, then closes his eyes.

"Stop moving," Ezekiel tells me, gripping my hands in his. "Sit right there, at my feet."

I pull off my man's pants for him, unleash his arms from his shirt.

"Is that little son of a bitch still over there?" he mumbles. "I could crush him. He would be dust in my hands."

Franklin stumbles over to me. He glances at Ezekiel, whose eyes are half-closed, arms spread-eagle over the couch pillows.

"It's hot in here," Franklin says, and I nod. His mustache is askew. He leans in close to my ear. "Come back," he says. "Tonight."

"Should I open a door?" I ask. Franklin shakes his head, lets it fall slack. I loosen his tie and begin unbuttoning his shirt, guiding him to the easy chair across the room. The wood floor barely creaks under his perishable weight.

"My stomach," he says.

I undo his pants, slip them off his small frame. His tiny gut balloons out like a puffer fish.

"Have you shown him?" he says. "The pictures, Lorna, the letters?"

I fold his pants into a square. Ezekiel grabs hold of my hand as I walk past. He pulls me down next to him. Sitting beside me, more sweat drips down his face, as if he is nearer the perihelion.

"Tell me it's true," he says. "I will kill him if it's true. I could, Lorna. I could kill him and the whole Q would shut down. In a day it would. In one day."

I wipe at his forehead with Franklin's pants. I knead the muscles around his shoulders. He is enormous, inhuman, swallowing the whole room with his presence. He suddenly leans over the side of the couch and vomits into a planter.

I stand and watch him heave. His toes curl up. He holds onto the armrest with clenched, trembling hands, eyes squeezed shut.

I return to the kitchen. There is a lot of cleaning up to do.

 

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