Parts and Labor by Halimah Marcus

Blue Bike

Zoran Tairovic, Blue Bike, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

The first time I saw Jane I was working at the bike shop, a veritable cacophony of grease and gunk I only survived by occupying my hands. Bikes had a purpose that had nothing to do with me—every part fit together properly so my mind could remain free and unviolated. I still remember her walking in the doorway that summer afternoon, backlit in a yellow sundress and ballet slippers, her arms tattooed in half-sleeves. By her side, a Schwinn with a front flat, handlebars askew. Her left knee was scrapped, with pieces of pavement lodged in the wound. The sight disrupted my hard-earned equilibrium. I tried not to look, but it was too late. I had already imagined retrieving the bits of bloody gravel from her abrasion and rolling them like candy on my tongue. 

I could tell Jane, whose name I didn’t know yet, had commanded the attention of everyone in the shop, customers and mechanics alike, such was the appeal of her particular blend of punk-rock innocence—the sundress and the sleeves—and as a result, I disliked her immediately. Another mechanic, Lenny, came to her aid. He offered her use of the staff bathroom and a Band-Aid for her knee, but ignored her polite attempts at conversation as he does with all beautiful women; silence designed to communicate his seriousness and their incompetence. Her eyes wandered the room and found me. Probably because I was the only other girl there, she thought she knew me easily, and all at once. Our eyes met and she smiled—the only smile during the entire time I knew her, that I did not return.

*

I’ll admit I was in a fair amount of therapy then for a problem somewhere between obsessive-compulsive disorder and oral fixation. Whenever I saw an object discarded in the trash or on the street I would imagine it in my mouth. The more disgusting the object, the more acute the sensation. A fuzzy Jolly Rancher on the pharmacy linoleum, for example, would suddenly be vividly imagined on my tongue. A filthy sidewalk chicken bone, or a pizza slice face down on the trolley platform—each existed in two dimensions: where they already were, on the ground, and where they might be; between my lips, bringing with them the dirt and grit and rodent hair of an unclean city. But I didn’t imagine these things quantum leaping into my mouth, or some evil-doer force-feeding them to me—I imagined myself picking them up and putting them in my very own flap trap, compulsively and against my will. When I had these thoughts I’d shudder, or gag. Twice I threw up into a trash can, once into the gutter. At parties, in crosswalks, in supermarkets and in parks, I repositioned myself so my line of sight was free of trash. Public restrooms were out of the question. Suffice to say, it had become a problem that interfered with my life, though I hid it from everyone I knew. 

As treatment, my therapist had me “stay with the object.” Whenever I had a mouth thought, instead of immediately turning away, which was my impulse, I was supposed to continue to look at the object. Only then would I realize that it was not in my mouth, and that it wouldn’t be in my mouth unless I chose to put it there, which I would never do. For months I couldn’t bring myself to do it, to “stay with the object,” so she had me practice with items from around her office like trash can gum and blackened banana peels, and eventually, it helped. I wasn’t cured, but I could walk down the street without a barf bag. The disgust-desire dissipated and my physical reactions became more manageable. She had me do all that without drugs. Sometimes, I thought I loved her.

*          

Rick, the guy I was fucking at the time, had also become a bit of an addiction. Being with Rick was like world building, or binge-watching. Half of the reason for doing it was that you were already doing it, and the more you did it, the more entrenched the behavior became. In bed, Rick helped me lose my mind for fifteen minute to one-hour intervals. Out of bed he was a joke. He was almost ten years older and overweight and didn’t really have a job, but I was hornier for him than I’d been for anyone in my entire life. So, whatever; I wasn’t judging. Every morning when I woke up and thought about my day, the most I ever had to do was show up to work at the shop, see Rick, and sometimes my therapist. Life was low stakes, and the potential for a punch line was everywhere. 

Rick and I had also met at the shop. His problem was similar to Jane’s—a flat without the crash—but when he smiled and flirted, I responded eagerly, contorting myself to entertain him as I worked. It wasn’t for the tip, though it had been large and included his phone number. There are just some people who make you want to fulfill their expectations. Later, when I called him, he told me he noticed I was smart before he noticed I was beautiful. His compliment was insulting but it also had integrity, because smart before beautiful was the order that held up to moral scrutiny.  

Quickly, I started spending my free time at his place. As it turned out, Rick lived like a yuppie king and paid no rent. His landlord and best friend, Cliff, had renovated their home, a row house on Baltimore Avenue, top to bottom with his wife just before she divorced him. She was in love with someone else, it turned out, had been all along. Apparently she had this epiphany sometime after every last faucet and light fixture was installed, as if the pristine interior had put the lie to their marriage. So, their dream home, built by mutual good taste but apparently not love, became a daily reminder of Cliff’s heartbreak. Even the floorboards pitied him. I could feel it the first time I stepped through the doorway and saw Cliff sitting by himself at the enormous kitchen island with a sad glass of tap water. 

Rick became Cliff’s platonic domestic partner, and to ward off further loneliness, Cliff hosted parties. He bought top-shelf booze with the money he made from having a real, nine-to-five job, and polished fingerprints off doorknobs. I met Jane again, officially, at one of those parties. Rick introduced us, said they knew each other from “around,” which I knew meant fucking.

She recognized me from the bike shop. I hoped that would be all, hello/goodbye, but then Rick was gone, drawn away by someone messing with the music, and we were left standing alone together, locked in the inevitability of conversation. I thought of the Pop Rocks in her knee-wound and asked about her fall—the culprit had been trolley tracks—and she complained about Lenny. 

“That guy can eat a dick,” she said.

I shrugged, because the bigger of a dick Lenny was, the more it meant he liked you, and I was pretty sure Jane understood that. 

Jane rolled her eyes. “I get it,” she said. “Who has ever heard of a friendly mechanic, right?” I watched as she scratched a bug bite on the tattooed part of her arm. The pink welt was almost aligned with the eye of a giant squid that had its arms entangled, consensually, it appeared, with a mermaid. “But the next time I come in,” she said, “be nice.” 

Her comment didn’t surprise me. I knew I hadn’t been nice—I had been not nice on purpose—but I was surprised to find myself ready to admit to it. Before I could respond, her face, the squid, the mermaid, all lit up pink; someone was shooting off fireworks. Instead of apologizing, I took her hand and we ran outside. The street was narrow and we watched while a spinner danced across the sidewalk and a rocket hit the telephone pole.  The genius with the lighter was drunk and unrelenting. People screamed and ran for cover. In a flash of green I saw Lenny’s face behind the blaze. He was the one terrorizing the neighborhood. Anarchy mistook for humor. 

Everyone scattered before the cops could come. Jane and I got separated and I didn’t try to look for her. Rick, Clint, and I were the only ones who remained, standing in the blue light of predawn surrounded by firecracker casings and cigarette butts. Cliff announced he was going to get a broom. As Rick’s eyes followed Cliff inside I saw they were heavy with resentment. I didn’t have to ask. Rick, like me, feared Cliff’s pathetic situation was contagious, or worse: that anyone who wants anything traditional won’t just be punished, they will be cosmically mocked, the butt of the joke that is their own desires.

That night, while Cliff cleaned up downstairs, Rick and I had sex above him, bed skidding and squeaking across the floor, certain he could hear the desecration of his hardwoods as clearly as my cries. The next morning, the house was immaculate, as if no one had even set foot inside, let alone partied like river rats. Cliff, who surely would have refused our help even if we had offered it, had done it all by himself. Not that I would have offered—I was not nice, that was now official. I grinned at him across my cereal. Cliff glowered back at me with the weariness of a man who wished to do me harm but had instead been forced to listen to my repeated pleasure.

*

My third encounter with Jane occurred a few weeks later. Cliff was out of town for the weekend and Rick celebrated by going down on me in the kitchen. When it was my turn, I didn’t reciprocate. Instead I gave him a hand job with dish soap, ignoring the familiar pressure of his hand on the back of my neck. 

Later, on the couch in our underwear, he asked me about it. It was a question I had been waiting for, though I was dismayed by how childish a man could appear while inquiring why he wasn’t getting head. My therapist and I had prepared for this eventuality. I told him I had an oral fixation problem and had been professionally advised to separate arousal from putting things in my mouth. It was Freudian enough that he accepted it. “I didn’t know oral fixation was a real thing,” he said. 

Neither had I, I said, before the problem started. 

Rick appeared to consider this, and then stood. I thought he might tell me, from this commanding vantage point, that I was being ridiculous. Instead he pulled a book from the shelf. “You won’t believe what I found,” he said, flipping through the pages. “It’s one of Cliff’s.”

He handed the book to me. It was porn, but all the girls had twee haircuts and tattoos. I was looking at the very cute asshole and pussy of a girl bent over like a tripod. 

“Recognize anyone?” he asked, still standing over me.

Her face was upside-down so it took me a second to place it. “Is that Jane?” 

“Can you believe it? She told me she had done some porn work back when she lived in LA but I had no idea it was anything like this.” 

I flipped through the other pictures. “What else can ‘porn work’ mean? Did you think she held the boom mic?”

“I guess what I meant was I didn’t really think about it,” he said.

He was lying, but I stayed calm. Until then, I’d thought, to the extent that I had thought about it, that it was women with fake tits and spray-on tans living in sparsely furnished McMansions in Vegas who made porn—not girls who rode bikes and had almost certainly slept with my, for lack of a better term, boyfriend. But, I reminded myself, I supported women and their bodies and their right to make money off their bodies, be they spray-tanned or tattooed. Which meant that I supported Jane, at least in theory, and Rick, and Rick’s right to look at porn, and to look at Jane in his porn, and to fuck Jane, maybe still.  

I tried not to be jealous that he could see her this way whenever he wanted. Porn was clinical, Pavlovian. I’d watched it before, but only at the behest of others, usually as a joke. All those monochrome bodies, hard in unnatural places, posing in unlikely locations—it was not the kind of arousal I felt with Rick, the sweaty, grimy kind, where my knees bruised and cum dripped down my leg.  

*

At home, I went to the website that had published the book. There was Jane on the landing page, under the alias “Bizzi Bee.” For free I could watch a teaser of her getting tanked, but the video was only a few seconds and was cut like a trailer. I set up an account with my credit card and real name and watched the whole thing. This guy had a dick the size of a sanctuary candle, and entered her slowly, without a condom. Mostly it was close ups of her pussy getting slowly fucked, but when the camera showed her face she held her mouth open and gave knowing looks to whoever was on the other side. During one of those looks, her eyes darted in another direction and I could see that her mind was elsewhere. It didn’t matter what the guy’s face did, as long as he was hard. The few times the camera caught his expression he appeared stern, even bored. I was wet and had that pressure between my legs that I couldn’t ignore. I put the computer down next to me and masturbated. Then it was time to go to therapy. 

Still distracted by my afternoon research activities, I opted for the indirect route, the safer one with more bike lanes, the one that happened to veer closer to the neighborhood where, based on the location of trolley tracks where she’d fallen, I deduced Jane was likely to live. Biking down Pine Street, visions of Bizzi Bee dancing in my head, my orgasm still fresh against the saddle. Until then, I hadn’t found her sexually attractive. I still didn’t, but I appreciated her work ethic. Plus, I was now very familiar with her vagina, which was not something I could say about anyone else’s, not even my own.

I might have crashed into a double-parked car if I hadn’t seen, out of the corner of my eye, a woman bending over to retrieve her dog’s shit in a plastic bag. As soon as I saw it, I thought of licking the plastic bag clean, the soft texture and the bits that would get lodged by my tongue in the creases of the plastic. 

My therapist compared my condition to vertigo: standing on a ledge, she said, one has both the fear of falling and the temptation to jump. For me, she explained, it was like fear and temptation were all of a piece, and the very fact that I feared disgusting things getting in my mouth, the very fact that I found them disgusting to begin with, meant that I desired them involuntarily. 

But what is desire, when blended with repulsion? My bike coasted past, and, unable to stay with the object, I stuck my tongue out to the cleansing wind.

“That’s a good look,” someone said. I glanced to my left. It was Bizzi Bee riding a bike. 

I did my best to call her Jane. 

She said she’d just gotten off work and suggested we grab a drink.

I thought of my sweet therapist in her neat J. Crew outfits, her sympathetic face, and her glorious breathing exercises, looking at her watch. I thought of the $120, nearly ten hours of work at the shop, that would not be refundable. I thought of all my problems, which, at this rate, would surely lead to me actually tasting shit to tell the difference.

I told Bizzi yes. 

*

At the bar, I sipped my lager with a flushed face, worried that she could somehow see the pornographic images in my mind projected onto the barroom walls. I kept my lashes low and asked her normal questions about her job and her current life, keeping my true curiosities secret. She worked as a nanny. She dated. She went to shows. She was thinking of going back to school to become a nurse. I guess she was in a sharing mood because she told me she’d never been in a real relationship, and, until recently “had basically never had sex sober.” 

“NA,” she said. I noted her seltzer, didn’t ask. Instead, we talked about Rick. She said there had been a drunken night and maybe a few more after that. “It was ages ago,” she said, though she’d just told me she hadn’t been sober long. Whatever; it didn’t matter. She could have him, or I could share. 

I let her take her time clearing the air about Rick, let her think I was uncomfortable, which I was, but not for the reason she assumed. As she spoke, my mind displayed parts of her body, her pubic hair, her unshaved armpits, her asymmetrical bellybutton, mixed with Ricks, his fluffy chest, the crease between his belly and his groin, his delicate ears. 

Bizzi did not seem to notice. “I didn’t believe it when I heard Rick was dating a mechanic. He always likes the girlie femmes.” 

“Is that why you came into the shop?” I asked. “To scope me out?”

She gave me an appraising once-over. “You don’t look like a mechanic,” she said, which didn’t make any sense. My jeans were covered in grease; my fingernails were crowned black. Washing them made no difference. 

“I’m actually a ‘junior mechanic,’” I confessed. “I’m paid four dollars less per hour.”

She laughed. I hadn’t said it to be funny. The truth was I wasn’t as good as the other mechanics and I deserved to be paid less. I was getting better; I’d set up a workshop in my basement and serviced all five of my housemate’s bikes for free, just for the practice. Still, I was always having to call the other guys up for help, and they gave me shit for it. I didn’t care. I took it. They had something I wanted; something I was certain I would eventually get. It wasn’t respect, exactly. It was an innate ease. I saw it in everything they did. I saw it when they took off their jackets. I saw it when they entered a room. I saw it when they dismounted their bikes and wheeled them through the front door. I saw it when customers came in and they called each other man—What do you think manI don’t know man—like chromosomal punctuation at the end of their sentences. 

“Actually, it’s funny that you’re with Rick. Not the other way around.” Bizzi said. “All these girls want those messenger types. The rough skinny ones who track stand at red lights.”

I’d seen Rick ride a bike. He could do it, but it wasn’t natural. 

“You’re already in, but instead you’re with a guy who I once saw literally whimper because he stepped on a cockroach.”

I flashed on an image of an exoskeleton in the crevasse of a Doc Martin. My jaw tingled. “You’re missing the point,” I said. “I’m not trying to fuck them. I am trying to become them.” 

Bizzi stared at me blankly, unable to tell if I was joking. I caved and smiled, gave her permission to laugh.  

After beers I rode straight to Rick’s house and got him to do me in the living room, taking the place of Bizzi in the scene I had just envisioned, shoes on and shorts twisted around my ankles, the threat of Cliff walking in at any moment. 

Afterward I called my therapist from the bathroom with the water running and apologized for missing our appointment. The call could have waited, but I was keyed-up. Logically, I knew I hadn’t manifested Bizzi on the street next to me, but part of me felt like I had. “It sounds like Rick is trying to introduce pornography into your relationship,” she said after I told her what had happened. She was half-assing it because I had missed my appointment, but, still, it was a useful observation. It wasn’t my mind that had brought Bizzi into my life; it was Rick. I hung up and sat on the toilet for a while, wondering what Bizzi had been thinking about in the video when she rolled her eyes back and looked away.

*

Bizzi and I had made plans to go to an art opening the following week, and I anticipated our date with a fervor I had previously reserved only for therapy. Meanwhile, I watched a significant amount of porn with her in the starring role, including one in which a machine made of gears and belts fucked her with a very realistic looking dildo. It had never occurred to me that such a machine existed, and I watched it repeatedly and with great curiosity. The stern man, who had only been good for his dick to begin with, had been replaced by something even less lifelike and more efficient. The machine churned and thrust on its own as Bizzi stood, accepting it from behind and delivering yet another performance of ecstasy. I watched her eyes, which held steady. Behind them she was pure professional: bored, practiced, committed.

Three or four viewings revealed that the gears and belts were mostly for atmosphere, and the actual thrust came from power source off screen: electric, disappointingly, as elegant as a vacuum cleaner. 

At the opening I got drunk on free wine and made fun of the art. Afterward everyone went to the bar, where Jane and I talked politics and I did her shots. On the way home I fell off my bike, tacoed the wheel, and had to walk it the rest of the way, front end in the air like a rearing horse. Bizzi strode along next to me and unburdened herself of inconsequential secrets. When we reached the street corner where I would go west and she would continue south, I thought for a moment I might confide my mouth issues, kick of an escalating exchange of sensitive information. She’d respond in kind by telling me about her porn career. Had it been empowering or degrading or both? Whose idea was the machine? Her face under a streetlight gave nothing away. 

We parted instead with an effusive hug and promises to text when we got home, to call tomorrow, to do this again soon. And we did. Just like that I was with Bizzi all the time, and the more I saw of her, the drearier things got with Rick. The guys at the shop teased me about her; they liked it when she came by to meet me after work. Predictably, she started fucking one of them—Lenny, in all his pyrotechnic glory—and though I expected myself to be jealous, I wasn’t. I was happy she had Lenny’s dirty hands all over her just like she wanted. 

Rick was jealous, but whether it was of me and Bizzi or Bizzi and Lenny, I couldn’t tell. Either way he had lost some of his power. Even I felt it. He put stops under the bed so it wouldn’t slide across the floor. He told me to keep my voice down when I came, said it was Cliff’s house and we should respect it. 

*

There were parts laying around the shop even Lenny didn’t want, and I took those home to outfit my workbench, along with duplicate tools and old catalogue drawings I tacked up on the wall. My housemates loved the free service and knocked $50 off my rent. I spent more and more time down there, listening to music and taking bikes apart and putting them back together, taking derailleurs apart and putting them back together, taking internal hubs apart and putting them back together. Sometimes Bizzi came over and talked to me about how Lenny fucked her. He had this long, thin penis that was proportionate to his long, thin body and that twirled around inside her like a tongue. 

We talked about sex constantly, Bizzi and I, but she never mentioned her previous life and I didn’t ask—I didn’t know how. I could feel her talking around it when she told me about dropping out of college and living in San Francisco, then LA, getting into pills and how easy it became to do coke four or five times a week, how there was always someone who’d give it to her and how she never had to pay. I suppose I could have asked her who the drugs had come from, and the answer would have been her producer, her co-star, her camera guy or her key grip, but I knew what it felt like to be burdened by specifics. 

One day, we had been sitting for hours in the basement, I was working on a bike and a six-pack while she hydrated, and later we brought the beers to my bedroom. It wasn’t so unusual for us to hang out up there—the bedroom and the basement were the only places we could be sure to escape all five of my housemates—but this time we lay on the bed talking and together we decided it was too late for her to go home even though, as usual, she hadn’t had anything to drink. 

I giggled when I tried to kiss her. She threw her head back and laughed once, like HA, and then said, “Okay,” and kissed me back. This kissing didn’t do much for either of us, so we started laughing again, and as a kind of joke I said, “Bizzi, oh Bizzi,” the way kids do when they pretend their arms are someone else’s arms, conveniently forgetting that her name was Jane, and as far as I was supposed to be concerned, Jane only. 

Her face slackened and she shoved me away. “What did you call me?”

“I’m sorry. That was a stupid way to bring it up. It just seems silly to keep it a secret.”

“Goddamn douche-bag Rick.”

“He just showed me a book. Don’t worry, I understand. It’s doesn’t have to be a big deal.”

“You don’t understand shit,” she said, and turned over and slept with her back to me, radiating resentment. 

She left before I woke up, and where her head had been I saw the backstop of one her earrings, the kind with two curls folded into the center, like a French pastry. Before I could hesitate, I plucked it off the pillow and placed it under my tongue. It tasted of metal and earwax, exactly as I knew it would. 

*

All week she didn’t answer my calls or respond to my text messages, and when I wasn’t with Rick, my pussy bone-dry from guilt, or at the shop, I was in the basement, working on a bike and watching Bizzi porn. I thought, if she would just open up to me we could share that part of her. It could become part of our friendship. I didn’t need the dirty details, exactly, I just wanted to know how it felt. I wanted to know where her mind went.

Finally, I brought it up to Rick, and asked him what kind of discussions he’d had with Bizzi about her porno past. 

He looked at me square in the eye sockets and said he didn’t know what I was talking about. Full denial. I couldn’t believe it. He even denied having shown me any pictures. 

“I don’t even know Jane that well,” he said. His stance was so committed, his lie so twisted, I felt something like awe. “Come here,” I said, and to his amazement I undid his belt and sucked him off. Brought him from duffle bag to stuff sack in thirty-seconds flat. Who is the insane one now? my sucking said. I was confident he didn’t know what to think.

*

Rick stopped wanting to see me after that, out of embarrassment I could only assume, and other than the odd text message I mostly left him alone. Bizzi, on the other hand, I continued to pursue with apologies. Lenny asked me what was up; she had dropped him too. I shrugged my shoulders and said maybe she was only in it for the fixed flats.            

One morning when I was riding to work, I saw Bizzi going the other way, struggling up Spruce Street. She was on her old Schwinn cruiser, heavy as a car, but she was strong and focused. I thought of a bike I had yet to build, a sleek single speed on an Italian racing frame, and I pictured her riding it, blue eyes matching the finish, legs spinning effortlessly, backlit the way she had been the day I first saw her. The image became a movie clip I played over and over in my mind. It would take me a while to collect all the right parts and a long weekend to build it—a royal blue Bottecchia with Campagnolo components, worth $900 easy if we sold it in the shop. I’d lock it on her front porch and leave the key in her door jam with a note. That way even if we never spoke again at least she could spite me in style. 

A week passed and I spent all of my free time working in the basement. I spent time that wasn’t free, too, and fielded angry phone calls from Lenny, said I was sick until it became easier to just ignore him all together. It seemed like ages since I’d heard from Rick, and I presumed by now he had a new girlfriend, my age or younger. As for me, I had the dream bike going by then. I couldn’t get the exact parts I’d envisioned but I got others. I thought maybe she wouldn’t want a single speed; maybe she’d want something more complex, with options. Instead of watching porn on my laptop I played it on my phone, which I kept in my pocket, and listened to it with headphones while I worked. The sex sounds syncopated with each task like they had been choreographed. Turn the allen wrench, groan, pant, gasp, repeat. The visuals were beside the point. I worked religiously, sent Bizzi text messages occasionally, just to let her know I was there. I kept the back of her earring between my molars and my jowl and went days without having a single mouth thought. 

On a Sunday morning I sent one last message off—I knew if she was ever going to forgive me I’d have to give her space, and I told her as much. I was ready to keep silent and let the bike, the dream bike, do all the talking. It was almost finished, finally, and I couldn’t wait to see the look on Bizzi’s face when I gave it to her. I imagined her hard mouth softening.

Bizzi relented and came by the house after all; she must have finally taken pity on me. I turned around and saw her halfway down the basement steps. Her face was twisted horrified as she stood there staring at what I had built, which, seen through her eyes, I now realized was an amateurish monstrosity.  

“You crazy bitch,” she said. But she didn’t leave. Instead, she descended the rest of the way into the basement. “You really are sick,” she said, almost amusedly. She kicked a pedal and, with her manicured forefinger, flicked the fleshy dildo I’d rigged through a hole in the bike seat. 

I waited as she walked around to the other side, and saw where I had painted “Bizzi” in swirling, rose-colored letters. The expression on her face, which I can only describe as plain disgust, revealed to me that, up until the very moment when she saw the lettering, she hadn’t realized the bike was for her. 

Bizzi made a noise that sounded like a swallowed burp, putrid and ugly. I watched as she then composed herself—I could see her tap into an oft-visited resource she had never before needed with me; the kind of rage-turned-steely-viciousness only found in people who have been habitually mistreated and survived.  

“Where did you get this horse cock anyway? Don’t tell me. It’s cheap, I can tell. It’s made of plastic that will give a cunt like you cunt cancer.”

I opened my mouth with nothing to say.

“What did you think was going to happen?” Bizzi asked. “Seriously. I am trying to figure out if you’re just a pervert or actually insane.”

I swallowed, urging myself to meet her eyes but managing only to look at her chin. “I’m not even sure if it works.” I was lying. It worked.

Bizzi’s shoulders relaxed slightly; she seemed to accept this. She turned a pedal and watched, almost affectionately, as the dildo went up and down. “You do know that you will never fuck me,” she said flatly.

I did know and I told her as much.  

“Good,” she said. Then the most shameful, pretty part: a silver tear in her eye. 

She stood still and allowed the tear to form. She didn’t wipe it away. She just grabbed the dildo with her fist long enough to stop it thrusting, and left.

*

Bizzi never spoke to me again, of course. The dream bike sits under a tarp in the basement, with the seat and dildo removed to protect against curious housemates. Without it, it just looks like a regular recumbent. 

I run into Rick sometimes and we’re friendly—but if we speak for too long I can still feel that old ghost between us, the eek eek eek of the traveling bed. Last I saw him, Rick said he’d gotten his own place because Cliff’s new girlfriend had moved in. Around the same time I saw Bizzi and Cliff walking down the street, holding hands. They scowled at me but I smiled, grateful to know that hating me had brought them closer together. 

Most nights I use the bike’s dildo on myself, manually. Bizzi was right; it is too big. Sometimes, when I’m feeling really low, I wash it in the bathroom sink, stand in front of the mirror, and take it deep into my mouth. I taste the cheap hand soap and the silicone and maybe also some lingering residue of myself. I open my mouth wider, stay with the object, and try not to gag.

Halimah Marcus is the Executive Director of Electric Literature and the Editor-in-Chief of its weekly fiction magazine, Recommended Reading. She is also the editor of Horse Girls, an anthology that reclaims and recasts the horse girl stereotype, forthcoming from Harper Perennial in 2021. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in the Indiana Review, Gulf Coast, One Story, the Literary Review, and the Southampton Review. She has an MFA from Brooklyn College.

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