The commercial ended and the movie came back on. Karen straddled Desmond, holding his face in her hands, kissing him. Part of the TV was visible over her shoulder and it was the scene when Harrison Ford tells the cop he didn’t do it and the cop says, “I don’t care.” Karen shifted and Desmond missed seeing the famous jump.
“Come on, let’s go to my room.”
Karen stood up and it seemed to Desmond that he emerged from somewhere else. The things in the room were distant, unlit, almost not present. The people who stood nearby, drinking, had distant, unrecognizable faces. A smile shot out of a conversation at him and he wondered if he should be embarrassed.
In his right hand, there was a mug of wine. Desmond pressed it against his lips, pushed his head against the couch, and the wine drained into his throat. From inside the glass, the light was different and Karen was a distorted blob of dark red.
He saw himself watching her through the glass and snorted. “It’s probably not a good idea.” A drop of wine dangled from the glass’s lip and he pressed his tongue against it. “After all.” He shook the glass in her direction. “We’ve been drinking.”
Her breasts were pushed together inside a white tank-top and around them there was a plaid flannel shirt. “So what?” She moved backwards and Desmond’s elbow went straight.
He noticed she had pulled her hair back. Whatever she had done to it since the last party was now less noticeable. He remembered now why he had fooled around with her the first time.
“Let’s stay here.” Desmond motioned towards the TV with the glass and tried to shake his hand loose of her grip. She ended up intertwined with him again.
“Upstairs.” Her mouth -- warm and wet -- was close to his ear. “We can do more stuff.”
“You’ve been drinking.” He liked the idea of going upstairs but he wanted to watch the end of the movie. “It’s probably not a good idea.”
“It’s a good idea.” Karen pulled at his arm and Desmond stood up. “I want to. Really.”
The room twisted and wobbled and Desmond stepped abruptly in the direction Karen pulled him. A lot of the lights that had been on before were now off. He worried someone might see his erection pushing up his pants and then he realized no one was in the room anymore.
Karen pulled him out of the living room into the hall. At its far end, away from the staircase, the kitchen was brightly lit. Tania leaned against the counter with a drink in her hand, talking to Shane and another girl. Her eyes turned towards Desmond, as if she had expected him to appear. He smiled, rolled his eyes, shrugged. She didn’t acknowledge him and her eyes returned to the people she was with.
Desmond followed Karen up the narrow staircase. The banister wobbled and every step creaked. She went ahead, holding his hand. Light drained into the stairwell from the bathroom at the top. The pressure in his bladder expanded.
“Hold on a second.” Karen went past the bathroom and Desmond trailed after her, down the hallway overlooking the stairs. “Hold on, fuck.” He pulled his hand from hers and it took much less effort than he expected. “I’ve got to take a piss.” A shape in the darkness turned towards him and he waved at it. “Go ahead. I’ll find you when I am done.”
Light exploded around Desmond and he pushed into it, closing the door behind him. The hook rattled and he missed putting it into its hole. He sighed, pushed his shoulder into the wall, and took a deep breath. He looked at the hole closely and slowly pushed the hook into it.
Desmond saw himself, as if from above, doing what he had done. He shook his head and smiled.
Tugging at his pants’ button, Desmond turned to the toilet and it began to sway. He grabbed the sink for support and steadied himself. He tugged at his zipper and the button came undone. His penis was hard and he had to wait for it to soften before he could pee.
Pink shag covered the top of the toilet. A straw basket filled with brightly coloured and flower-shaped soap sat in its fuzz. Above the basket, on the wall there was a framed black and white photo of dressed-up kids holding coloured-in flowers.
To his right, the medicine cabinet hung over an old style sink with knobby taps and rust stains melted below both faucets. Two pastel coloured tooth brushes and two kinds of tooth paste poked out of a clear plastic cup with little flowers on it. A bottle of liquid soap was next to it.
The shower curtain was pushed to the far end of the tub, away from the sink. Tucked into the tub’s different corners were different brands of shampoo and conditioner. Two washing puffs hung from the shower head and the grunge on the bottom of the tub had strands of hair in it.
On the shelves opposite the mirror, over his right shoulder, there were two hairdryers, a bunch of brushes and combs, cans of mousse, tubs of gel, a bunch of skin lotions, and an unopened basket of Christmas-coloured bath beads. The gooey insides of a red-flavoured air fresher glistened at him.
Desmond’s penis softened, he pushed, and urine spurted in the wrong direction, landing on the toilet seat. He jerked his hips in the other direction and the stream of urine hit the other side of the seat and ricocheted onto the floor. He twisted his hips again, bent his knees, and managed to direct the urine into the toilet.
The stream straightened and he stood up properly again. The sound of the pee entering the water went on for a long time.
He zipped up his fly and buttoned his pants. Looking at the urine on the toilet seat, a rhyme went through his head. He had read it on a plaque above the toilet at the house of some kid he had played with when he was little. The plaque had a picture of an embarrassed kid caught in the act of peeing on the toilet seat. The words underneath said, "if you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie wipe the seatie."
Desmond shrugged, smiled, and tore off a long piece of pink toilet paper. He bunched it up and dabbed at the urine. The paper saturated quickly, he felt dampness at his fingertips, and he flicked the sopping paper into the bowl.
In the living room of that same kid’s house, Desmond had seen another plaque as well. A little girl reached into a little boy’s pants and the boy had a funny kind of mixed-up smile on his face. The words said, "That’s why little boys run faster than little girls. They have a stick-shift and two ball bearings."
The look on the kid’s face was a mix of pleasure and embarrassment and it had made Desmond feel odd. The whole house had. There was a grandfather clock in the living room and the sound of its movement woke Desmond up in the middle of the night. He remembered watching it for a long time.
The toilet seat still looked damp and Desmond tore off another length of paper. He bunched it up and wiped the seat again. Between the wall and the toilet, he saw urine on the floor, and he imagined the gunk that had probably accumulated there. The rhyme went through his head again.
“Fine. Fine. I’ll wipe it up, too. Fuck.”
Desmond wiped the floor and looked at the paper. He gagged and dropped it into the water. The toilet didn’t flush properly and he waited for the basin to refill, watching the paper wag from the toilet’s hole. He flushed again, holding the lever down, watching the water swirl, until all of it disappeared into a throaty gurgle.
The liquid soap smelled like strawberries. Desmond washed his hands twice.
At the house with the clock, he remembered, the kid’s grandmother also lived there. The smell of old person was everywhere and they had to keep quiet because she didn’t like much noise. Once when Desmond had gone to the washroom, she called out to him to be quiet and it frightened him. The hallway had been dark and her voice came out of the black rectangle of an open door.
Desmond shook his head and picked up a towel from the floor to dry his hands. He felt strangely sober and almost sad. He decided to go downstairs and watch the rest of the movie. Karen, he hoped, had gone ahead to her room and passed out.
He popped the hook out of its hole, turned off the light, and opened the door. A silhouette leaning against the banister turned towards him and held out a hand for him to take.
“I didn’t want you to get lost trying to find my room.”
Desmond didn’t take her hand. “Maybe we should go back downstairs.”
“I don’t know.” He didn’t know how to explain the strangeness of what he felt. “You know, we’ve been drinking and I’m older than you and you know.”
“I don’t care. You have to come with me. ” Hurt spilt out of the darkness and washed over him. “You have to.”
Her voice went hard. “Because you have to.”
Desmond didn’t feel her hand when he took hold of it.
*Karen closed the door and turned the light on.
The ceiling slanted at a hard angle and the floor was cluttered with clothing. Faces were everywhere. Photos in frames, celebrities on posters, and models from fashion magazines. On her bed, a variety of soft toy animals were lined up in front of the pillows.
She jumped knees first onto the bed and swept the toys to the floor. She twisted her body and leaned back so her shoulders were at her ears.
“What do you think?”
Desmond used the question to look away from her. The colours of the furniture, the wallpaper, and the lamps looked too bright and too colourful. The mounds of clothing on the floor were very dark. There were a lot of shoes and the smell was musty and cosmetic.
It was the first time he had ever been in a girl’s bedroom and it felt like an adult was going to come in and ask him to leave.
Karen clicked on a bedside lamp. “Could you flip the light-switch for me.” She pointed to the switch by the door and let her hand drop to the bed.
Desmond flicked the switch and the colours of the room were subdued and the faces disappeared into the shadows. He took a long deep breath and felt very drunk again. He turned around and the light from the lamp made Karen’s face shadowy.
“Are you going to come sit down or what?”
He sat near her with his back against the wall, leaving some distance between him and her. He looked at a small white dot near the hem of his pant leg where a drop of bleach had spilt when he was doing his laundry. The bed was soft and springy.
“Wait.” Karen bolted out of bed and collapsed in front of her stereo. “We need music.” She rummaged through some cassettes in a shoebox and popped one into the player. She pressed play and looked over her shoulder at Desmond. The music began and Desmond didn’t recognize it. “Is that ok?”
“Sure.” He shrugged. “Whatever.”
Karen turned quickly and jumped up. She stood close to Desmond and he felt her hesitate before sitting on his lap. She kissed him quickly and then pulled away to look into his eyes. He had never looked so directly and carefully at a person’s eyes before. “I like you, Desmond.”
It felt strange to hear his name.
*“Stop it.” Her body went hard and tense. “Stop it.”
“What?” Desmond pulled his lips away from her belly. “What’s wrong? What am I doing wrong?”
“I don’t know.” Karen lay still, where she was. “I don’t know.”
“It must be something.” Desmond straightened his arms, pushing up his head and torso, and he looked towards her face. “What is it? Tell me.”
“The way you’re kissing me.” Karen turned her head and looked at the wall. “You’re reminding me of the guy who raped me.”
“The guy who raped me did the same thing?”
“Did the same thing?” Desmond sat up on his knees and put his weight on the back of his heels. “What? What did I do?”
“I don’t know.” Karen shook her head and looked towards the ceiling. “The way you were kissing me. The way you were going down on me. He did the same thing.”
“You’ve been raped.” Desmond slid his weight to the left, towards the wall, and he placed his hand on the bed. “When?”
“I don’t know.” Karen shrugged. “A couple of years ago.”
“My God.” Desmond slumped back against the wall and pressed the back of his head against the cool of it. Something drained out of him. “Who did it?”
“Who did it?” His eyes began to burn and he had to concentrate not to cry. “Who raped you?”
“No one you know.”
“How do you know?” Desmond pushed the heel of his right hand into his forehead and it made a sound he had not intended to make. “You don’t know all the people I know.” His voice was also louder than he had intended.
“What difference does it make?”
Desmond shrugged and let his chin fall forward. “I don’t know. It doesn’t, I guess.” The button of his pants was undone and his fly open. It felt stupid and wrong. “Was it a relative or something?”
“No.” Karen shook her head and the rest of her body remained still. “It wasn’t anything like that. It was a boyfriend.”
Desmond swallowed a lump out of his throat. “How did it happen?”
“I don’t know. It just did.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Are you sure?” Desmond looked up towards her. She stared at the ceiling and her shirt was still pushed up off her stomach. “It might help.”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Ok.” Desmond buttoned his pants and did up his fly. “Fuck.”
Karen lifted herself up on her elbows and looked at Desmond. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing.” He did up his belt and shrugged.
Karen sat up, drawing her legs in towards herself. “We don’t have to stop.”
Desmond pulled in his chin and shrugged. “Sure, we do.”
“No, it’s ok.” She smiled and shook her head. “I was only weirded out by it. I needed a break, that’s all. We can keep going.”
“No.” Desmond pushed air through his nose sharply and looked away from her. “No we can’t.”
“Why not?” Desmond looked in the direction of her eyes. “Because you said I remind you of the guy who raped you. I mean, fuck, it’s not exactly a mood enhancer, you know.”
“You don’t have to be sorry.” Desmond ran his fingers through his hair and took a deep breath. “You haven’t done anything wrong. You had to say something but we have to stop.”
“No. We have to keep going.”
Desmond pushed air explosively out of his mouth. “No. No, we don’t.”
“Why?” Karen crossed her arms in front of her and raised her chin. “Are you scared or something?”
“Are you chicken?”
“Are you kidding? Chicken?” He pushed air sharply through his lips and teeth. “What the fuck?”
“Well, what is it then? If you’re not scared, what else could it be?”
“What else? What the hell are you talking about? You’re the one who said I reminded you of the guy who raped you.” He watched her out of the corner of his eye. “I mean, you’re the one who should want us to stop.”
“I explained that already.” Karen hit the mattress with the butts of her fists. “We don’t have to stop.”
“But you should want me to stop.”
“Oh ok, so it’s my fault then.” Karen shook her head, without moving her eyes from him.
“Tania said you’d chicken out. Because you’re a virgin.”
“What?” Desmond rolled his eyes and sighed deeply. “I can’t fucking believe this.”
“You're afraid. Admit it. You won’t do it because you’re afraid to, that’s all.”
He heard himself swallow hard and he noticed his teeth were clenched and his tongue felt too big. His eyes were dry and he forced himself to blink. A long breath went in then out of him.
“Fine.” Desmond broke his stare and forced air through his nose. “If that’s what’s you want? Fine.” He looked at her and she was already looking at him.
He shrugged, shook his head, and kissed her.
*The stairs creaked and the toilet filled noisily behind Desmond. He leaned on the banister and descended the stairs into the heavy scent of burnt toast.
At the bottom of the stairs, he heard the scratching of a knife against toast. He looked down the hallway into the kitchen. Karen stood alone, one socked foot resting on top of the other. She dragged the edge of a knife across a piece of toast and black crumbs fell on the plate in front of her. She was wearing the same tank top from the night before and a pair of plaid pajama pants. There didn’t seem to be anyone else in the house.
Karen did not look up. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Desmond stayed by the bottom of the stairs.
She started scrapping the toast again. “Do you want something to eat? This is the last of the toast but I could make some eggs.”
“No thanks.” Desmond rubbed his stomach. “I don’t think my stomach’s ready for food.” He didn’t know what he was suppose to do.
“Do you want something to drink? Water or juice or something.”
“Yeah, sure.” Desmond moved down the hallway towards the kitchen. He stopped at the door frame and leaned against it. Karen had almost scrapped all the black off the toast.
She smiled, without looking at Desmond, and motioned with the toast. “I burnt it a little.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“It’s the last of the toast.” Karen jabbed at an orange-yellow margarine tub. A ring of dark crumbs was left around the dent made by the knife, adding to those already there. She smeared the margarine and it clumped against the cold toast. She stabbed the margarine again.
“Should I get it?” Desmond tapped his chest with his left hand and scratched the side of his thigh with the right.
“No, I’ll get it.” She stopped pushing the margarine against the toast and let the knife rattle on the counter. Crumbs scattered and some fell to the floor. “There aren’t any clean glasses left. I’ll have to clean one for you.”
She moved to the sink and turned the tap on, letting the water run hard. She took a dirty glass from the counter, inspected its insides, and quickly cleaned it.
She turned away from the sink and yanked the fridge door open. The door was covered with a mess of different coloured magnet letters and inside the mess someone had spelt "fuck", "shit", and "dick".
“There’s orange and cranberry.”
“Orange would be great”
Karen pulled out the jug. The juice spluttered and pulped into the glass and a drop jumped out and fell to the floor. She returned the jug to the fridge and the door rattled shut.
Karen handed Desmond the glass without looking at him and returned to her toast on the counter. She pressed her hip against the counter, crossed her legs, and rested her left forearm in the crack of her right elbow. She looked in the vicinity of Desmond’s stomach and chewed at the toast in her right hand. The outside of his glass felt a bit greasy.
Desmond took a long, draining sip and the juice’s sharp cold sweetness filled his mouth with relief. He pushed his tongue against the pulp and rolled it against the sides and top of his mouth.
“That was really good. Thanks.”
He didn’t know what to say. They had never really talked much before. Last night, she had talked to other people most of the night and only appeared beside him on the couch when he was watching the movie. The next thing he knew they were kissing. It happened just like last time. Only this time, they went upstairs. He shook his head and drained the rest of the juice.
“I guess, I should get going.”
He moved past Karen, went to the sink, and washed the glass. After he put the clean glass on the drying rack, he squeezed out the wash cloth, draped it over the faucet, and washed his hands. He turned, raised his eyebrows at Karen, and he walked past her, out of the kitchen, into the hallway, and down towards the door.
His satchel, coat, and shoes were where he had left them. He sat on the floor to put his shoes on. Karen padded down the hall and stood near him. He couldn’t tell if she was waiting for him to say something, if she was waiting to say something, or if she was simply being polite and seeing him to the door.
He stood up, put his coat on, and slung his satchel around his shoulder. He pushed his baseball cap on, low over his eyes, and turned towards her. She looked confused.
Desmond shrugged and rolled his eyes. “I guess, I’ll see you later.” He turned the handle of the door but it was locked. He tugged at the handle and fiddled with the lock to get the door to open.
“Here let me do it.” Karen pushed past him and took hold of the handle and lock. “It's tricky.” When she had opened it, she stepped back and away from him.
“Thanks.” Desmond pushed open the screen door and looked back over his shoulder at Karen.
He stooped and looked back again.
She put her hand on the door. “Wait.” And then she softened. Her body, her posture, her mood, everything softened and Desmond realized how tense she had been ever since he had come down the stairs. “Aren’t you going to ask me for my number?”
“Why?” Desmond felt awkward and frowned. “Am I supposed to?”
“Sure. So, you can call me and we can get together.”
“I don’t know.” Desmond held the screen door open with his right hand. He didn’t want to take her number unless he was sure he would call her.
“We don’t have to be going out or anything. You know boyfriend-girlfriend stuff.” She shrugged her right shoulder. “I mean, I like you but not like that.” She shrugged her shoulder again. “You know, we can be friends. And still have sex. You know, whenever you want.”
“I don’t know.”
“It doesn’t have to mean anything.”
“I’ll have to think about it.” His eyes fell to her socked feet.
“Sure.” Karen nodded and made an uneven smile. “Ok.”
Desmond pulled the door slowly and shut it carefully. He didn’t want it to seem like he was slamming it in her face.
The screen door rattled shut behind him.
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