A Rose on Long Island | The New Engagement

A Rose on Long Island

By Richard Wilde Lopez

Abrahan keeps driving, because driving means he is no longer where he was just a moment ago. His car contains him the way his head contains his thoughts, which recently seem to be seeping out of his head and into his life like a slowly-leaking jelly jar. If he stops, he has to be somewhere and somewhere sounds terrible.

“Abe, we have to talk,” she had said. She could have just stopped right there. What was the point of continuing? She was never meant to last this long, anyway. She was supposed to be a fuck, but somehow fucking turned into breakfast, and breakfast led to more sex and when you’re having breakfast and sex all the time, you inevitably end up in a relationship.

So, he continues driving. Abrahan doesn’t replay the entire conversation, but he can’t shake that last bit: “You know Abe, you have a rose, a long-stemmed delicate red rose inside you.” And she kissed him on his cheek and closed the door behind her.

A rose. He didn’t understand. The eerie part is that this wasn’t the first time he had been told this, that bit about the rose. Once, in his early twenties, a different girlfriend - blonde, honey eyes with a round ass - made him go with her to a psychic. She was into all that spiritual bullshit. Yoga instructor. And this old lady, fully playing the part of the seer, dressed in a flowy skirt and headwrap, made him draw some cards from a tarot deck. At the moment, he doesn’t remember which cards, but he does remember what she told him. You, my dear, are like a rose who needs watering. He immediately dismissed her as a hack. But, hearing the new (ex) girlfriend use this particular term struck in him a distant chord of remembrance. His answer to this parallel talk on roses is to drive.

But, since he cannot drive forever, he eventually finds himself in a mall parking lot. This particular mall is deserted, a relic of the golden age of commerce. Most of the big department stores are closed, the large letters SEARS are faded a lighter shade of concrete against the side of the building. All that is left are a few smaller chains and a Starbucks, which seems new, impervious to economic change. He mostly shops online; this place feels cheap and pedestrian. He sits contemplating his next move. Abrahan takes a moment to gather himself and sighs. He sighs again only louder and with more intent. And one last time. It comes out as more of a yell, gripping the steering wheel tightly with his large blocky hands.

 

Liquidation. Last day Sale. Everything Must Go!

 

He is surprised it is still there at all. All of the Toys R’ Us’s were set to go out of business. It had been in the news for weeks. The big websites had toppled a once giant and wildly successful cooperation. Out of nostalgia, and a lack of knowing where he wants to be, he goes inside. The shelves are mostly empty. It reminds him of the end of days; apocalyptic. There had been an apparent mad dash to attain rations of Power Ranger action figures and My Little Ponies, seemingly in the wake of a zombie epidemic. Big bins of toys are scattered around the store with prices slashed to ribbons. He lollipes up and down the isles feeling his size and displacement. Abrahan is a considerable man of six feet five inches; rough, a construction worker with unfeeling calloused hands. He turns down the next aisle and is taken aback by how starkly pink the shelves are - Barbie world, girl toys. He feels particularly ridiculous here, being swallowed in pink and walks a little faster through the aisle.

A young, curly-haired girl turns into the aisle and they are standing there together. She has that childhood look of wonder in her eyes; this is her domain. At her height she is eye level with the shelves, and she takes her time going through what’s left of the dolls until one in particular strikes her interest. Abrahan watches her lift the box, it looks large in her little tan hands. Her smile is broad and bright with one front tooth missing and for an instant he is reminded of his sister Nancy and misses her.

“Mom! Can I have this one too?” she yells in her small powerful voice. Her mother turns into the aisle wielding a shopping cart. The mother’s younger child, a dark-haired boy with a dark complexion, sits in the baby seat bouncing and chewing on something intently.

“What was our deal?” she asks her. Not wanting to seem too involved, Abrahan picks up a different toy and examines it.

“I can only have one toy,” she says knowingly, but determined she continues.

“But it’s the last one! Can’t I have both?” she pleads. She gives her best forlorn eyes. She really puts it on.

“Only one,” her mother says wiping the baby boy’s face. The little girl, defeated, puts the doll back onto the shelf; it has not been chosen. Her betrayal to the toy does not go unacknowledged. She brings her face close to the box and whispers softly, “I’m sorry,” before walking away. Grateful to have witnessed this interaction, Abrahan is touched. He lingers in the aisle until the small family is gone and then goes to examine the rejected toy.

At 43, Abrahan understands with certainty that men do not play with dolls. He’s known this for as long as he has known anything about manhood. Having a penis means dolls are off limits. But when he sees her, the last of her kind — purple hair with big dewy green eyes, wearing a tiny faux leather biker jacket and matching leather pants — he is overcome with inexplicable joy. There is something enchanting about the plastic toy. He walks away with it, unsure as to why.

For a while, he searches the store for the little family, determined to buy the doll for the child that looks like his sister. After some time however, he realizes they must have already gone. Walking toward the exit, he intends to leave the doll in one of the bargain-bins up front, but before he does, he hesitates and makes his way over to the register. Perhaps he can catch the little girl and her mother in the parking lot.

His face turns a hot red when the sales woman shares, unprovoked, that her daughter also loves the Sydney dolls. Well no one asked you, he thinks, smiling at her brightly as he swipes his credit card. Outside, he scans the parking lot, but he does not see the family, he knows he wouldn’t. He knows, although he denies this even to himself, that he did not buy the doll for the child. An urgency takes him, a fluttering panic in his chest and he knows he needs to hide. The thought of anyone seeing him with his purchase fills him with anxiety. Of course, this is irrational. He knows that he can quickly say the doll is for his niece or a friend’s child or any number of lies he rattles off in his head within a second, but still his hands sweat. Where did I park the damn car, he thinks, and just for a moment he regrets his sensible choice in a silver Honda Accord. Everyone has a silver Honda Accord.

Then, as if divinity knows he is vulnerable, he sees his foreman. It is unmistakably him with his top-bald-head and bulbous protrusion of a belly, accentuated by a too-tight polo shirt, hanging painfully over his leather belt and pleated khaki pants. Abrahan tries not to look at him, keeps his eyes downcast and walks forward, still unsure if this is the direction of his Honda.

“Salsedo! Salsedo that you?” He looks up and smiles a big almost-honest smile and says, “Foreman Johnson, how are you!” It comes off a little too excited and he regrets his tone remembering to bring his voice back down to a gravel adding, “Good to see you.” More baritone, deeper. The fat foreman walks over to him, more slowly than Abrahan would like and they’re making eye contact the entire time, which makes him very uncomfortable. He brings his hand behind his back holding the Toys R Us bag just out of sight.

“Salsedo, doing a little shopping?” He keeps the eye contact and shakes his hand, hard. Abrahan shakes back gripping his just as hard if not with a bit more force than necessary. The handshake is always a test. You never want to be the man who winces, or the one who presents too meekly. It means you are lesser, the beta. He was good at this greeting game, despite the many variations. Older men are easier, a plain handshake nice and firm. It was always the same. The younger generation of men have all sorts of handshakes, each a different kind of test with many possibilities to fuck up. He learned to read the signs and try and predict some of the forthcoming protocol. Sometimes there is a handshake with one hand and an open inviting arm with the other: this meant they are going to side hug with minimal body contact and often an aggressive slap or two on the back. Sometimes they go for what he calls the “shake, slide, and claw.” In this version the men first shake briefly and firmly and then upon releasing the shake, you slide your palm across the other man’s hand and before you lose contact, you curl your fingers into a claw and hook hands for a second before releasing. Occasionally, it ends with a finger snap, but that’s optional. Abrahan never sees it coming, the snap. Luckily, this isn’t something he needs to worry about with Foreman Johnson, however it always crosses his mind for just a flash whenever he greets a man.

“Yes sir, just needed to buy a last-minute gift for my niece. It’s her birthday this week.” Convincing.

“Oh? How old is she now?” He asks. Damn it I can’t remember.

“Um she’s nine I think, can never keep track. They grow up so fast.”

“Ha! Yeah, don’t I know it. Well, goodnight then Salsedo, see you monday morning.” He waddles away leaving Abrahan feeling relieved. That was close.

In the car, he is safe. He puts Sydney in the foot area of the passenger side and drives the 20 minutes back to his apartment. Katy Perry comes on the radio, he can’t help love her with her boppy beats and big breasts. He’s already bought a doll today so fuck it. He turns up the volume and sings and roars all the way home.

He takes the stairs. His one-bedroom apartment is on the second floor of a three story building. Heatherwood “Luxury” Rentals was never supposed to become long term housing. Abrahan wanted to move into the city. He wanted get a studio somewhere, the East Village or maybe uptown. Long Island, however, has a way of keeping you there. You say you’re going to move, but you end up bridge-and-tunnel. 

His living room is carpeted wall-to-wall a dingy beige. There is an archipelago of stains hidden under strategically placed black leather furniture. His TV is the epicenter of the space; a big screen purchased before big screens became flat screens. It is a monster of a television with visible wires. No one is impressed by this kind of thing anymore.

He takes the Sydney doll out of her bag. She is a contradiction in the space; bright and pastel, she illuminates the room. He opens the box and slides her out, she is still attached to the cardboard backing with little twist ties around her limbs, the same kind used to tie off a bag of sliced bread. She is lighter than he expects, but well made; the makeup on her eyes expertly applied. Her purple hair is in tight waves, crimped maybe, he isn’t sure, but he loves the effect. She looks badass. Left in her box are a tiny pair of what look like Doc Martens, a yellow tutu, hair brush and a miniature guitar he hadn’t noticed back at the toy store. A rocker chick. He is enamored by the smallness of the objects in the box. He reads the back of the box out loud:

“Sydney lives for music. She loves to jam out with her friends while playing bass guitar. Her style is edgy and cool. Her favorite foods are Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Sushi and she is looking for a new member of her band. Will you rock on with Sydney?”

He goes to his iPod sound dock, the older kind, and hits shuffle. The prelude to a No Doubt song comes on and he nods along with the intro melody. He picks Sydney up off the table and clicks her guitar to her interlocking hand. He pretends she is playing the chords and it makes him laugh. It’s a giddy, silly feeling, but he keeps it up. He grabs a beer from his fridge and sings the rest of the song. A new song comes on and he sings that one too. Five beers later and he is drunk and laughing with Sydney in his hand. More than once his thoughts go to the reality of what he was doing, but it just makes him laugh more. He dresses Sydney in the neon pants and pulls the tutu over them. He really enjoys the contrast. In the box there is a silver clip-on hair piece. He attaches it to her hair, and it looks a little too long, kind of fake, so he gets his nose hair scissors (the small ones that he always fears will snip his nostrils) and trims the hairpiece to the right length until it’s just perfect. He takes out his phone and snaps a pic, then a few more of Sydney posed in various places throughout his apartment: Sydney sitting in the recliner. Sydney climbing the lone surviving plant in his kitchen. Sydney in the refrigerator contemplating what to eat. He is still singing and opening another beer when someone knocks on his door. The knock makes his heart jump and he runs to the sound dock to lower the music, tossing Sydney out of sight behind the kitchen island. He composes himself for a second before opening up.

“Abe, what the hell are you doing up here?” His downstairs neighbor Brian is standing in the hallway looking annoyed.

“Sorry man, was I being too loud?” Abrahan asks, his heart beating rapidly, his skin damp with sweat.

“A little yeah. Marcy is sleeping and we just got the baby down.” Abrahan nervously fidgets in the doorway, squinting, occasionally looking toward where he has thrown the doll. He and Brian are not quite friends maybe occasional beer buddies if anything. Brian is the neighbor that invites him to the apartment complex barbeques on the quad. These events are mostly younger families with kids running around. Single guys his age just make people uncomfortable, especially around their kids. Abrahan knows these invites are out of a sense of pity, or perhaps mandated by his kind wife Marcy. Either way, the requests make him defensive and he is never too well behaved, getting a little drunker than he should. He can tell Brian feels sorry for him. Even now his eyes show pity through his irritation.

“Abe, are you alright? Do you, um, need anything?” Although he means well, his neighbor really just wants to go back to bed with his wife and Abrahan knows this.

“Yeah, I’m good man. Just a little drunk. I’ll try and keep it down. Sorry about the music.” He shuts the door before Brian could respond. He leans back and listens for Brian's footsteps in the hall, then the elevator door before he goes to the kitchen to retrieve Sydney. She is lying discarded on the floor, one of her shoes is missing. He smoothes out her hair and straightens her limbs locating the shoe under the kitchen table. He holds her in his large hand and looks at her for a long while. He grabs the beer he had previously opened and sits on the floor with the doll in his lap. An unease fills his chest, a quiver of something that feels like fear. He swigs from his beer again and gets up shakily. He stumbles toward his phone on the couch, he wants to text his ex but when he unlocks his phone the image of Sydney in the fridge is immediately on the screen. He bursts out in laughter and swipes through the rest of the photos.

Succumbing mercilessly to the glowing screen of his phone, he goes down an Instagram rabbit hole, liking photos of friends he never sees and insignificant influencers. He feels a longing for something, he is not sure what. It’s an emptiness that makes him want to change everything about his life, to move away somewhere far, to create a new version of himself. Looking at the Sydney doll on his lap, he thinks perhaps he is already doing this. Can we long for something we haven’t known? Tonight, his body’s mass makes him feel lonely, too much of him unloved. He wonders if there isn’t a small part of him that wishes for something that glows with softness. Nancy is the softest, strongest person he knows and for the second time that day he misses his sister. He goes to her Instagram, she’s grown fat now with marriage and two children, but back then she was small and loud. He can picture her in her house in Massapequa, maybe watching TV with her husband and kids. He sends a text.

Hey. I miss you Nance. For just a few seconds he waits for a reply before picking up the phone and calling her. The phone rings twice and she picks up whispering.

“Hey, Abe. You okay? What’s wrong?” He hadn’t checked the time. Maybe it was too late to call?

“Hey no no, nothing wrong. I just, missed you that’s all, thinking of you.”

“Um, one sec Abe.” She slowly gets out of bed trying not to wake her husband and shuffles to the kitchen. She holds the phone between her cheek and shoulder and opens the fridge pulling out a half-eaten store-bought rotisserie chicken before she sits down at the kitchen table.

“Hello? You still there?” She asks.

“Hey, yeah I’m here. Totally ok, I’m fine. Great.” There is a silence for a moment as she waits for him to say more. He is looking down at the doll in his lap.

“It’s almost 1 a.m.  Abe, what’s up?”

“Do you remember that time we played tea party in your room?”

“Which time? I feel like we played that a lot. You were kind of obsessed.” She pulls a bit of chicken breast from the bird and examines the fibers of the meat for a moment before popping it in her mouth.

“I was not obsessed.”

“Oh yeah you were, you loved tea time.” She sucks the moisture out of the meat and chews.

“Well, whatever. Those are some of my favorite memories of us together.” He fidgets on the couch and lets the doll fall to the floor. “Dad fucking hated when we played like that. He was such a dick sometimes.”

“Yeah, he was pretty hard on you.” She walks over to the counter and rips off a sheet of paper towel and wipes her mouth.

“But to his defense, I did put lipstick on you and butterfly clips in your hair.” She says laughing. Abe laughs too.

“He was so pissed when he came home. Me and you sitting there talking in British accents, my stuffed dog Max with a bow on his head.” He laughs more.

“Well there was a strict no boys allowed policy at these functions.” She eats another bit of chicken. “He didn’t have to hit you though. Or destroy your stuffed animal.”

“Ugh! I hated him for that.” He remembers his father’s heavy feet and sharp brows. He remembers the feeling of embarrassment, of getting caught doing something bad. After that there were pieces of smashed porcelain with blue flowers painted on them all scattered on the floor and a little blood on Abraham’s already red lips, it tasted of pennies and chocolate chip cookies. Max had his head torn off and Abrahan cried more about that than the bloody lip. He remembers Nancy mouthing I’m sorry.

“I still kind of hate him.”

“It was a long time ago Abe. He didn’t know better.”

“Don’t do that. Don’t stick up for him.”

“I’m not. It’s just, Dad was old school. All machismo. You know?”

“Well whatever, I’m glad he’s gone. What are you eating?”

“I’m not eating anything.” She wipes her mouth again.

“Sure you’re not. I’ll let you sleep, go back to bed.” He sits up on the couch and feels the doll with his bare feet. He doesn’t want to talk about their father, that’s not why he called. But somehow the conversation always goes back to him. “Wait, Abe. You sure you’re okay? I mean you haven’t called in a while and now you want to talk about us playing tea party?”

“Mommy who are you talking to?” Interrupts Nancy’s six-year-old daughter, Camila. She is standing in the kitchen looking wide awake. She walks over to her mother and takes a piece of chicken.

“Just uncle Abe honey. Wanna say hi?” Abrahan does not want to talk to his niece. He wants the entire day to be in the past. The breakup, the stupid doll, everything. But he could hear the phone being passed and exhales before speaking.

“Hi uncle Abe.” Her small voice is loud and clear, like Nancy’s when she was her age.

“Hi chicita how are you!” He says cheerfully.

“I’m good. Just eating chicken with Mommy.” Abrahan laughs.

“Is it good?”

“It’s okay. It’s cold.” He laughs again.

“Well little one Uncle Abe is going to bed. Sleep tight okay, put Mommy back on the phone for a sec will you.”

“Night night. Love you Uncle Abe.”

“Hey.” Nancy says taking back the phone.

“Chicken huh?”

“Fuck off. I should put her back to bed. Call me tomorrow?”

“Yeah, ‘night Nance.”

“‘Night Abe. Be good.”

Abrahan puts the Sydney doll in his dresser drawer and says goodnight to her too.

***

Under the table, she lightly touches his foot with hers. He definitely notices and smiles at her before asking for the check. It is their third date in two weeks. Tinder. Everyone had told him to get on Tinder. He was apprehensive at first. It had only been four months since the breakup. The online thing just seemed so silly, all the swiping and matching, but sitting here with Amy staring at him across the table, he no longer regretted all the time spent getting “ghosted” by twenty somethings, even if he did find it insanely rude.

Dating etiquette is one of the things he does right, albeit a little old school. She seemed surprised when he held the door open for her and surprised again when he paid for her cab home after their last date. And tonight, once again he unflinchingly picks up the check.

“Thank you for dinner Abe. Where are we headed now?” She keeps her eyes on his, her smile says, tonight.

“Where would you like to be?” He asks knowing the answer.

In the car, her legs shine in the passing streetlights. It’s distracting. Abrahan tries to steal an occasional glance but he fears causing an accident. That sort of tragedy would happen in a moment like this, when things are going right. If he could, he’d knock on wood right now to shake out the malevolent spirits, the plaguing ones that hate this sort of felicity. He smiles looking forward, tightly clutching the steering wheel. He smells her softness, a suggestion of perfume that lingers in his car. He wants to keep driving with her, he wants to inhale her scent, let it fill the car entirely, hot box it with her pheromones so he can draw them in through his nose and out through his mouth and taste them.

They are kissing now, outside of the apartment. Her tongue is sweet fire in his mouth. He breaks away for a moment to retrieve his keys. He drops them and they laugh. He is giddy for the first time in a while. In the hallway, their hands are all over each other, his hands on her tiny waist, hers on his face while they kiss. The face is especially intimate, always visible but rarely touched. He walks backward into his neighbor's door before reaching the elevator. He pushes the call button and pulls her into him. She is small in his arms. The elevator dings just as Brian opens his door.

“Hey Abe, I’m glad I caught you. I was just about to make a run to the store, out of diapers.” His eyes fall to Amy for a moment. “Oh, sorry man. Didn’t mean to interrupt.” He smiles at Amy in acknowledgment of her presence, then back at Abrahan. “Oh dude, you got a package today, Amazon. The FedEx guy needed a signature, so Marcy signed for it.” He leans into his apartment and retrieves a small box that was apparently near the door and extends it toward Abrahan, who releases Amy for a moment to walk over and take it.

“Dude, she’s hot.” Brian whispers to Abrahan quietly as he takes the package from him.

“Thanks, man.” He says out loud, a reply to both the package and Brian’s approval of Amy. Brian says goodnight while walking out the door to his car. Holding the package, Abrahan walks toward Amy, still by the elevator. For a moment he can’t remember what he ordered. He calls for the elevator again (which had already gone back upstairs) and his stomach tightens as he remembers. The parcel in his hands contains a few new accessories for Sydney. A tiny new silver dress that shimmers like mercury, a little neon pink romper and a doll sized purse. Amy takes his hand and leads him into the elevator. He hadn’t realized the doors already opened.

“What floor you on handsome?” He looks at her smiling at him, but he is no longer spellbound by the moment. The package seems to take up all the space in the elevator.

“Abe? You alright?” She is still smiling, but her eyes are searching, she knows he has gone somewhere else in his mind. She does not affirm his awkwardness, and instead tries to find the energy they built before they were interrupted and touches his chest.

“Oh, sorry second floor.”

She pushes the button and turns around to face the door. They both face the door now, the elevator a momentary visit to purgatory. When it finally dings and the doors open, Abrahan exhales, realizing he was holding his breath the entire time. He tucks the small box under his arm and takes Amy’s hand. Find it again, he tells himself. And he inhales her scent hoping to jumpstart the electricity that has been drained from the moment.

In his apartment, he brings the parcel to the kitchen and slides it toward the corner of the counter, hoping to forget about its presence. Booze. I need a fucking drink.

“Would you like something to drink?” She had only one glass of prosecco at the restaurant and he had nothing since he was driving.

“Do you have any Malibu? I’d love a Bay Breeze.” She takes a seat on his leather couch. As she situates herself, he could hear the puckering scrunching noise leather makes against bare skin. It seems exceedingly loud in his quiet apartment, and he hits play on the sound dock. Mariah Carey comes on and he quickly changes it to Sade.

“Um, no Malibu sorry. I can make you a margarita? You like salt?”

“Salt sounds great, not too strong though.” She looks around the room. The TV is kind of ridiculous, way too big for the space. He needs a flat screen. It’s obvious to her that Abe has not lived with a woman, well, probably ever. The place is tidy though, which is good, but so masculine it might as well be a gym with leather couches. She smiles and stays though, because there’s something sweet about him, despite his overcompensating. He’s shaky and anxious, he tries too hard, but not to impress, it’s not exactly that, that would turn her off. It seems to her that Abrahan is the kind of man who tries to be the man expected of him. Maybe, she thinks, the booze will get him to loosen up.

He hands her the drink, it’s good, he knows proportions well. He sits on the couch with her but not too close and drinks half his margarita in one go.

“So how long have you lived here?” She asks him, sipping the cocktail.

“Hmm, seven, eight years? I can’t remember exactly. I really would love to move into the city.”

“I went to college there actually, NYU. The city has this hum, this pulsing energy that’s right under your feet. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah, it’s called the subway.” He laughs moving closer to her.

“Ha ha ha,” she mock laughs with him. “And he’s funny too. So, what’s your deal Abe?”

“My deal?” He takes another big sip of his margarita. “What do you mean.”

“Well you’re handsome, tall and very sweet. Aside from your ridiculous TV, you’re kind of a catch. Why then, is Mister Abrahan Salsedo still single?”

“The TV is bad isn’t it.” He says looking at it, flaring his nose.

“It’s so bad it belongs in a museum for technology’s mistakes-past or something.” She laughs and sips her drink.

“But seriously, why don’t you have a girlfriend?”

“Well, I’ve had a few relationships. But no one ever sticks around for the hard stuff. I don’t know, maybe I’m a weirdo.” He moves in a little closer to her. Their legs lightly touch. He puts his arm around her and pulls her in close.

“You seem pretty normal to me. Unless you have some weird fetish or something I don’t know about.” She puts her glass down on the coffee table. There are no coasters.

“Do you have an obsession with feet?” He shakes his head no.

“Bondage then?” She looks him in the eye, and he puts his drink down on the coffee table. He shakes his head no again.

“Please don’t let it be pee.”

“No, definitely not pee,” he says smiling at her. She wills him to make the move. And he does, bringing her face up to his and kisses her gently on the mouth. She responds by opening her mouth more, inviting him in. They find their rhythm, light kisses then deeper, more tongue, more hands on each other. The couch makes the squashing leather noise as they move, but he can no longer hear it. He allows himself to really see and smell and touch and taste Amy. She is delectably, inarticulately real. When she pulls away, she does so only because his body heat is intense. Abrahan is surprised when she stands up and takes his hand pulling him down the hallway toward his bedroom.

His bedsheets are from Ikea, she’s seen them before. Mentally, she takes note of this. He’ll need better sheets, she thinks as she lies down on her back, Abrahan’s massive body looming over her. He kisses her mouth and she looks into his eyes. His desire for her fuels her ego. This is something she does. A fantasy of being so beautifully deliciously attractive that he cannot resist her. He moves to her neck and she pulls down her skirt. He bites her, softly. She wants more of his teeth. She falls deeper into herself with every bite, every suck of his tongue. I want to eat your skin like a whole almond. I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes. A poem. Neruda. It stayed with her since college and it comes to her now. She envisions Abrahan taking big bites out of her flesh, huge mouthfuls of her, dripping and wet. She needs him to be ravenous for her as his mouth makes its way to her underwear. She giggles when his lips touch.

***

At 7AM, Amy crawls out of bed, careful not to wake Abrahan, and heads to the bathroom. She pees and then finger brushes her teeth using a lot of toothpaste, making sure to scrub her tongue. She creeps back into bed and pretends to be asleep for a while listening to him snore softly, wanting him to be awake with her. After a while, Amy really dozes off and when she wakes up again he isn’t next to her. She gets out of the bed and walks naked to the hallway where she can hear the sound of the shower running and Abrahan singing lightly. She lingers by the door listening to him.

“Cause baby you're a firework! Come on show 'em what your worth! Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh!" As you shoot across the sky-y-y”

Stifling a laugh, she walks back to the bedroom. She retrieves her underwear from the floor where they had been tossed and realizes then that she only has a skirt and sleeveless top to wear from the night before.

“He won’t mind, I’m sure,” she says to herself when she slides open his middle dresser drawer, looking for something more comfortable to wear. She finds a white T-shirt and imagines Abrahan finding her in the kitchen with some coffee brewing, wearing only his oversized white Tee. Sexy and cute, she thinks. The shirt is threadbare but soft and smells clean. Looking in the standing mirror, the T-shirt definitely has the right effect. It’s long on her, almost dress length, and her nipples show obscenely through the fabric. She slouches it just a bit to the side to make it look casual exposing a bit of her shoulder and runs her fingers through her hair flipping it over to one side letting it rest on her shoulder. Before she shuts the drawer, a little swatch of bright purple catches her eye. Listening for the shower to make sure he is still in it, she pushes the stack of folded t-shirts aside. There smiling back at her is a purple haired doll in a tiny neon biker’s jacket.

“What the fuck?” she says quietly to herself, picking the doll up from the bottom of the drawer. It’s so utterly puzzling that she sits down on the bed with the doll in her hands. She stares at it contemplating its existence in his apartment. Why is it hidden away in his dresser? She hides things in her dresser too, but what girl doesn’t hide her vibrator in the dresser? Oh god, is this like a sexual thing? Does he masturbate with it? It’s so small though? Maybe it’s for his niece, he said he has a niece, right? In her spiral she doesn’t hear the shower stop running, and she doesn’t hear him walk into the room.

“What are you doing?” Abrahan says standing in the doorway of the bedroom. He looks furious holding his towel, still wet from the shower.

“Um, I just wanted a shirt, and I found this. I’m, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to--” He quickly closes the distance between them in a few strides and snatches the doll from her leaving the room.

“Abrahan!” She calls after him.

“Abe, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snoop. I promise.” She finds him in the living room. The doll is on the coffee table and Abrahan is sitting on the couch, his face in his hands. As she gets closer to him, she sees that he is crying. Amy is unsure what to do. Her immediate reaction is to leave, just bail on this weird situation and not look back. However, seeing Abrahan, so big a man, in a towel crying into his hands, she can’t help but feel she’s done something wrong.

“Abe, I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to invade your privacy like that. Truly.” He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t even look up from his hands. Amy goes back to the bedroom and gathers her things. She takes off the t-shirt and folds it, placing it on his bed. After putting on her skirt and top from the night before she grabs her heels, takes a breath and walks back into the living room. He’s holding the doll again looking at it intently.

“I don’t know why I bought it. It doesn’t even really make sense to me either.” Amy doesn’t move, she just stands in the living room holding her heels, listening.

“My dad would laugh so hard if he knew about all this.”

“Maybe I should—”

Did I tell you my father died last year?” He interrupts her.

“Oh, I’m uh. I’m sorry.” She walks to the couch and takes a seat next to him leaving ample space between them.

“Don’t be, he was a dick.”

“Father’s are...complicated,” she says, unsure of where this is all going.

“I just felt so terrible that day, so fucking lost. She broke up with me, and then there was this thing. This stupid plastic, pastel-colored thing, and it just made me smile.” He turns and looks at her.

“You know, like childhood happy?” Amy doesn’t really understand, but she keeps listening.

“And I said fuck it, fuck everyone and fuck expectations because why not? It’s just a toy, right? It’s just a fucking doll and it made me happy to play with it.”

Hesitantly she asks with a face eager for only one answer, “So, um, you don’t have sex with it right?” Abraham's mouth falls open and he whips his head in her direction, his eyebrows so high up on his forehead they look like they might inch off his face.

“What? No! No! I do not have sex with the doll. Jesus!”

“Well! I mean it was in your dresser drawer, hidden away like a porno mag. What was I supposed to think?” Looking at Amy in disbelief he sees for the first time how ludicrous the entire scenario is and starts laughing. At first, she’s still entirely confused, but Abrahan just keeps laughing, he’s laughing so hard there are tears in his eyes. And then she looks at him, in his towel, the purple haired doll on the coffee table and the realization hits her. She has just asked her date, who she only just fucked a few hours ago, if he has sex with a doll. And she begins to laugh too. They sit on the couch cracking up.

“This has to be the most bizarre and unusual morning after a date I’ve ever had.” Her laughter subsides and she’s smiling at Abrahan. She picks up the doll and examines it for a moment.

“So, what’s her name?”

“Oh god, we’re not doing this,” Abrahan says shaking his head.

“No, I really want to know!”

“Sydney. She’s a, she’s a rockstar.” At the sound of himself saying the words out loud he starts laughing again.

“Ok, ok, so when you play with her, you what? You just pose her around and stuff?”

“Yeah. And we um, we sing together.” She looks up at him with a knowing grin.

“Cuz baby, you’re a fiiiiiireee wooork!” She sings. Abrahan inhales, sharply embarrassed.

“Oh my god you heard me singing?!” He turns a deep shade of red and Amy keeps laughing.

“You’re as red as a rose, Abe.” She laughs more, but Abrahan stops laughing.

“A rose?”

“Yup, a big ol’ red rose.” He smiles looking her straight in the eye.

“So, still want to date me?”

“Depends, do you have any coffee in this bachelor pad?”

“French roast.”

“Perfect.”

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Contests & Prizes

Flash Fiction Contest
On May 1st, we announced the winners of our Flash Fiction Contest: Thomas Garcia (1st), Rick Krizman (2nd), and Rios de la Luz (3rd). Read more.

The James Baldwin Literature Prize
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of The James Baldwin Literature Prize of $1,000 to Hafsa Musa. Read more.

The New Engagement

The New Engagement endeavors a novel approach to discovering, introducing, and showcasing writers, artists, and filmmakers, by providing them digital and print platforms, while encouraging and supporting their social-consciousness.