Issue 69, Spring 1977
I was living with a woman who suddenly began to stink. It was very difficult. The first time I confronted her she merely smiled. “Occupational hazard,” she said. The next time she curled her lip. There were other problems too. Hairs, for instance. Hairs that began to appear on her clothing, sharp and black and brutal. Invariably I would awake to find these hairs in my mouth, or I would glance into the mirror to see them slashing like razor edges across the collars of my white shirts. Then too there was the fruit. I began to discover moldering bits of it about the house—apple and banana most characteristically— but plum and tangelo or even passionfruit and yim–yim were not at all anomalous. These fruit fragments occurred principally in the bedroom, on the pillow, surrounded by darkening spots. It was not long before I located their source: they lay hidden like gems in the long wild lanks of her hair. Another occupational hazard.
Jane was in the habit of sitting before the air–conditioner when she came home from work, fingering out her hair, drying the sweat from her face and neck in the cool hum of the machine, fruit bits sifting silently to the carpet, black hairs drifting like feathers. On these occasions the room would fill with the stink of her, bestial and fetid. And I would find my eyes watering, my mind imaging the dark rotting trunks of the rain forest, stained sienna and Mandalay and hooker's green with the excrements dropped from above. My ears would keen with the whistling and crawing of the jungle birds, the screechings of the snot–nosed apes in the branches. And then, slack–faced and tight–boweled, I would step into the bathroom and retch, the sweetness of my own intestinal secrets a balm against the potent hairy stench of her.
One evening, just after her bath (the faintest odor lingered, yet still it was so trenchant I had to fight the impulse to get up and urinate on a tree of a post or something), I lay my hand casually across her belly and was suddenly startled to see an insect flit from its cover, skate up the swell of her abdomen, and bury itself in her navel. “Good Christ,” I said.
“Hm?” she returned, peering over the cover of her Yerkish reader.
“That,” I said. "That bug, that insect, that vermin.”
She sat up, plucked the thing from its cachette, raised it to her lips and popped it between her front teeth. &8215;Louse,” she said, sucking. “Went down to the old age home on 13th Street to pick them up.”
I anticipated her: “Not for—?”
“Why certainly, potpie—so Konrad can experience a tangible gratification of his social impulses during the grooming ritual. You know: you scratch my back, I scratch yours.”