On Love – Sasha Benderskaya


There were theoretical mathematics professors more understanding. Land mines more tender. Shattered glasses more intact. And yet—
        As her eyes flitted over his (clothed well but not well clothed) body, over its various and ill-maintained contours, its once-hardened ridges and tremulous curves, she decided that what he could not make up for in anger, he ripped wide open with beauty.
        And who was it, anyways? Who was it that scanned so mercilessly but with no ill intention? Who was it but her that so closely analyzed his stagnating form? That instigated these cricket-ridden one-siders over his very presence?
        Who was it but the author to trace the outlines and the insides of his ever present, always missing self, always invariably coming to rest on the sags and wet swallows of throat and face? It was me, blunt, brutish, informal, unsophisticated, tired, naked to any shining notions of deformity me who, nevertheless, in the final analysis, in the private drawroom of her mind’s eye, came to the conclusion that one had to regard his beauty as a hideous and deeply poignant dent in an otherwise shining coat of armor. As though General Sherman had carried an eyebrow-hair tweezer.
        And what else was there but his face?
        He had a moral compass like a spilled ink cartridge. His views of mankind took the form of written musings so foul and innately pessimistic that even the mere idea of their transcription causes a little sourness to well up in the back of the author’s throat.
        What he—a man of unwashed trousers, of two shirts, of a torment worn short and broad, of shitting and fucking and rusting fishing poles, of highbrow, threadbare anguish—could want with me, with my kiddy socks and bloody shoulders, my broken wrists and weak jaw, my bruised knees and brutish nose, I do not know. I never thought to ask. I remained unkempt by his gaze, busy watching the whites of his eyes yellow and expand to the tune of a song short and sour.
        I wrote him music impossible. Plays unperformable. He wanted me desperately, and I desperately begged him not to.
        (The author would like to butt in for a moment here and be very clear that his affections did not go unreturned. Those crooked hugs and lippy smiles, those nibbled necks and watery eyes, they did not go unresponded to. Each kiss was sweeter than the last—except, of course, those received in the dead of a night blue and hanged, rattled by the passing train cars and coyote cries. Those reigned high, mighty, and supreme in their wetness and bite, leaving each bottom lip red-rimmed and glossy with its pooling of blood. Each quick squeeze of hand left a little catch in the author’s throat. A little sourness. A little despair. But even in those blue-black nights, her hair was left soft, but uncurled, unkempt, unbrushed. Maybe what she saw in him was his refusal to question her methods, maybe it was as simple as his lack of hairbrush.)


Once, the author made the simple mistake of rising from bed too early in the morning to give a kitchen a light. Give a mouse a cookie, and the whole world will go bananas. There was a little tripping, a little wading in the toilet bowl, a little time spent plotting a later session of sunrise-watching, one that would go unheeded and forgotten. Give a cowgirl a sunset, and oh just wait and see what she will renounce.
        Through wading and water, an echo sounded. A crash, a hit, a shotgun blast! If you will. Whatddya say, pardner? That such a loud noise could sound from the blasted gray bathroom of a suburban house in a sprawling neigh-bor-hood, much less in those warbled wee hours between clock-hand three and four, was inconceivable to even the rowdiest of cowgirls. Even the deepest cunt-plungers, the heaviest breathers, the most avid and adept crackers of viper-skin whip could not have come up with a herkier-jerkier noise.
        The author cannot say she was not terrified of the repercussions. It may not be suave to say so, but there was a fuddy-duddy cut on the right thumb and a resounding crash, one whose hums and whimpers remained fuzzed in the air for hours after the initial slip-up.
        And that is what it was—a slip-up, a drop, a miscalculation in counter space and sink depth, an o god, o no, o jesus fucking christ!, a terrible mistake ending in an f-d thumbcut and a piss-poor judgment call in the efficacies of cracked marble countertops.
        The author cracked her whip upon a similarly cracked telephone screen. His affections did not go unresponded to.
        “I like everything about you; I just broke a glass on my hand in the bathroom sink.”


To wish to be selfish is a terrible thing.
        (There is no reasonable love, she whispers. Strokes a hair and cries.)
        To wish for a cigarette is a terribly selfish thing.
        (There is no reasonable love, and to this she licks his nose like an upchucked third drink. Sprawls naked in his living room and thinks of ungodly men and beautiful women.)
        To need to be held is a wishful thinking.
        (There is no reasonable love. It dawns on her, there, in the empty corners of a house unloved that they were the first to teach her this.)
        She may cry, but thinks herself sick, instead.
        (Eureka, she whispers.)


“What do you think about when you masturbate?”
        A little time passes. She takes another bite of hamburger (the author presumes, as she can never remember if it was the girl or her left-hand-man who was the ostensibly responsible vegetarian-type that so plagues the American collegiate campus, so blossoms like a barn-orchid upon the lips and taints of women over the west coast), and wipes her ketchupy lips on a barstool napkin. Hair of the dog.
        “What?” she asks, eyes big and round like Crimean dinner plates. There were IRS GS-9s in Peoria, Illinois who watched television programs of cowgirls riding jellybean horses, whipping cotton candy lassoes. Their eyes resembled hers. There was a coolness, a stillness, an overall gaze of complicity and repression. A mark of cowardice, callousness, and general stupidity.
        There are no cowgirls to be found in Peoria. Only 1040s and W-2s and miserable little men. Somewhere in the Dakotas, a horse rolls over and tries to lick its saddle.
        A blink, a sigh, a mouthful of (maybe faux) hamburger.
        “Like, when you dig.”
        Her head bobs, not unlike how I imagined her to look whilst fellating the left-hand-man, in all his bubble-bathed glory.
        “Like, in your cunt.”
        “Are you listening, Princess?”
        There is an intense sigh, a shaking of the head (though side to side and not at all like I imagined it), an exasperated eye roll. She is sick of my shit, I think.
        “I don’t think I’d call it digging, frankly, and I wouldn’t go so far as to say I think of anything. I use my mind when I need to, I do.”
        A cocked head, a smorgasbord of pornographic thought. I wonder if she knows what it is I think of, and then shake off the thought with a hard shoo and a harder thrust. She is no wanton; she shows no inclination.
        “You are always so crude with observations, I can hardly stand it. And what do you dig for, child, honestly. That’s what a man is for.” A barely nondescript cringe ensues.
        “I mean honestly, child, do you think it is so out of the realm of possibility that you may be harboring some sort of crimes of nature? That you may be afflicted by more than a schoolgirl’s onslaught of psychopathic thought? That maybe you are simply one of those—”


O raven. O monastery. O mother of milk, o winter of men.
        She cradles this image in her barren throes of a womb, as though it is the last such image she will ever, can ever hold.
        She, woman of mercury-laden thermometers and fishing poles. Woman of premarital amoeba training, of shitting and fucking and threadbare linen throws. Woman of culture breathes in, and out again. Retains her vocal capabilities.
        “O monastery,” she croaks. “O great navel, umbilicus of my desires, rope of fertility and all things unrequited, show me the wisdom of your keyhole, unplugged.”
        She awaits the arrival of something. Unaware of what, her stupidity resonates, permeates. Lifts, puckers. Her stomach quivers—much like his did, once, in that train yard so many light-years and sound-scapes away.
        The aforementioned navel stretches its lint and sighs. It is tired; no calls will be made today.


“Where is the beginning?”
        What is, a cheat. A liar. A terrible, awful woman. A thief of things unholy but unpaid for. A scarlet letter, inscribed with toe-trodden ink on her neck.