It had been two years since I had seen her, and no, I hadn’t expected to ever see her again. We had carried the kind of friendship which relied on the presence of others at all moments, precipitated by my ex-girlfriend, Beatrice, being her roommate for a year. A terrible roommate, this woman was. Untidy, constantly using Bea’s tea kettle without asking, sneaking Bea’s humidifier into her bedroom to sustain her in-home garden, committing boisterous sex with a dozen different partners late into the night.
I was on a business trip when we locked eyes across the restaurant.
After Beatrice dumped me, I moved two states away. Unfortunately, as an account manager for a national publisher, my job required a frequent return to Lawrence, where Bea and I had kindled our relationship.
I suppose the break-up had torn me apart. Break-ups do that. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, but once I saw Rebecca across the restaurant, her eyes land on me, I knew there would be conversation. I knew she would ask how are you? what have you been up to? you’ve lost so much weight, are you doing okay? And I knew I need not admit to her that Beatrice had broken my heart, because surely Bea would have severed all contact with Rebecca after that horrendous year.
Rebecca was working at the restaurant, a local Indian place that reeked of oil and yogurt. The only reason I had gone there was because my job offered limited travel pay, and I would be covering the client dinner, which my career rested on, that night.
She did not come up to me as we held the gaze. She did not wave or mouth words. Only a smile had been offered, quiet, quick in its growth, slow in its release. I only addressed her after my meal was finished because I could not stand to ignore the coincidence of our proximity, despite how little I had felt for her in the past.
“Hello, hello,” I had greeted her. “I did not expect to see you here, how have you been? God, it’s been so long.”
Two years wasn’t long enough.
She responded that she had been good. This was one of her three jobs, apparently. Before realizing the impact, the consequence of my words, I said,
“I’m in town for the day. Would you like to hang out? Grab some coffee?”
Her smile returned. Suddenly grown, reluctant to leave.
“Sure,” she replied. “Of course. I’m free after four. We can meet at my place. I’ve got coffee, tea, whatever you like.”
“Great.” Perfect, I thought. The client dinner was at five-thirty, ensuring minimal hang out time, an excuse to leave without the burden of seeming in a rush to escape.
She wrote her address on a piece of receipt paper after wiping her greased fingers on her apron. She adorned the note with leaves and flowers.
Upon reflecting on it, I realized that day that it was not a dozen men she had sunk her claws into that year. It was dozens. Thirty at least. I can’t count how many times Bea and I were out with Rebecca, at bars, for dinner, at music festivals.
Her eyes would land on someone and they would stay there until she had gotten what she wanted. Once they saw her, they couldn’t let go.
I never understood it. She was short, meatless limbs and breasts that barely deserved A cups. Her hair was always tangled, whipped across one shoulder or the other, and she never wore makeup except for mascara, pulling her lashes into long, brittle strands.
Arriving at Rebecca’s place a few minutes late, I was caught by the beauty of the place. The building was all brick with small balconies lined with nouveau-style rails. The windows were wide and clear. It was nicer than my apartment. Why the fuck is she working three jobs, I wondered. Her apartment was on the top floor. Inside, I gazed out into the world I had just left through the window across from me. It felt like a departure, crossing the white door-frame into her home.
The apartment was viscid. Parturient.
It was cleaner than I expected, but suffocating. I thought of asking her to open a window. All around the studio apartment were plants, the same kind she had grown two years ago, when she had lived with Bea. They were unlike most house plants in that they were grotesque and carnivorous.
Burmese Sundew. She had started with one when she moved in with Bea, which had grown to two, three, four in that year, all stemming from the first. It was because of these nightmares that she had stolen Bea’s humidifier on a regular basis. Eighteen sundews carrying small rosettes or long, green tendrils glittered with soft spikes were placed around the apartment. Upon contact, the tendrils would secrete, ensnare, and digest, but only the smallest of prey. They obscured the view of the window, turned the thirty by fifteen foot rectangle into an Amazonian jungle of uncertain perils.
“Tea?” Rebecca asked me. I said no, thank you. Was there anything cold to drink? She handed me a sweating glass of iced coffee.
For seating, she had an array of glorified bean bags decorated in floral prints. I could see the impression of a couch against the window, but the plants had overtaken it.
I set my glass on the hardwood floor. Condensation pooled at the bottom, expanding.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “You must be dying.” She opened the window. I breathed deep.
Squatting across from me, her legs parted much farther than I believed possible. The crevices between her toes, the grains of the ball of her feet were creased with dirt and peat moss.
I initiated the cursory questions.
“What have you been up to? Do you like your jobs? Are you seeing anyone?”
We made no eye contact. I was afraid what such contact would rein in.
She answered my questions in slow but short meter. She didn’t refract as I’d expected. Instead, she scooted closer to me, the heels of her feet grazing my crossed knees.
“How is Bea doing?”
“The last time I saw her,” she started and though I didn’t look directly at her, I saw her wriggle her head about like she was pulling up the memory from droplets in the air. “It was here, wasn’t it? She visited me quite soon after we moved out of the house.”
“What?” I asked. “Bea never mentioned that. Are you sure it was here?”
She giggled, her broad teeth glinting in the filtered light cast across the room.
“Yeah, of course. She came to visit. She was feeling low, you know, about the job in Kansas City.”
“Kansas City?” I rifled through my own memory.
Bea had been offered a job at an art museum in KC, which was a big deal because there weren’t many jobs in that field when she graduated, and she’d been coasting through corporate jobs.
In fact, as I thought about it, it was right around that time that Bea dumped me. Sure, it was only forty-five minutes from where we lived, but she thought the distance would be too much for our relationship to stand. She had come home after disappearing for three days and out of the blue told me she had taken the job and found a place and she really cared about me, she did, but this was important, it was integral to her career. She had come home covered in a sheet of sweat and the smell of earth.
I shifted away from Rebecca. I didn’t look at her.
“That, that’s interesting.”
“I haven’t seen her since. I hope she’s doing well,” she said, brushing her hair off her shoulders. She was wearing a spaghetti strap blouse that hung too low on her chest. She shifted her legs away from me and wiped sweat off her chest. She flicked it into the air and let it mingle with the vapor.
“And how have you been,” she asked. “Have you been doing okay? Do you feel fulfilled?”
“I’m sorry, what kind of question is that?” I was defensive and I didn’t know why. “I’m fulfilled. I’m fucking ecstatic.”
That’s when I looked at her, finally. She wore a smile, but not the cruel kind. Her head was tilted, exposing her long neck. She didn’t speak. She only bore into me with her eyes. I felt sick. I mumbled that I needed to leave, that I was ill, when I slid on the wet floor and knocked over the iced coffee.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” I said, bending over and pressing my hands into the liquid as though they would absorb the mess. I started to moan. Mucus seeped out my nose. I cried and cried.
Rebecca, without a word, enveloped me. Her palm smoothed over my hand, her hair cascaded over my shoulder, and her stomach flattened against my back. I moaned and moaned and shrunk into the floor, she following me. It was as though, as her pupils lay into me, the rancid, coiling tissue I had been masking was ripped open. Her touch was simultaneously the salt and the aloe.
She had begun kissing my shoulder, the back of my neck. Her fingers sunk beneath my shirt and wandered. Without saying a word, she commanded me to undress and so I did, keeping my face against the hardwood, knees folded below me, back bowed.
She was gone for the longest thirty seconds in human history. As Rebecca returned, I heard the snap of Velcro, the cumbrous impact of her clothes on the hardwood. A thick, rubbery mass grazed the contours of my inner thigh. She asked, is this okay? And I pleaded with her to sink in.
In fifteen years of copious lesbo sex, I have never gone to the places she coaxed me into. There were moments, opportunities where I could have left, cleaned up, and made the client dinner, but I was transfixed. I spent all afternoon, evening, and night in her small jungle, sucking up the dew in drives.
Toward midnight, as Rebecca ran a shower, I approached the long window looking down on the still, dry, silent city. I pressed my palms to the glass, feeling the cool of the other side. Around my arms, stomach, and breasts the spiked tendrils of the plants stretched toward me. They latched on, layering my skin in a sweet syrup.
Rebecca pulled me away and turned me round. Her tongue grazed the residue, licking up the sweetness.
Though the digestive syrup had gone, I felt a hole boring into me, deeper and deeper, making me nauseous. I treasured it. I nurtured it. I closed my eyes and dreamt of what seed may take root to propel me onward.