A Woman Object (Exploding) by Lidia Yuknavitch

Bookcover displaying an illustrated wolf amid bright strips of color set on a blue background

Goddamn it to motherfucking hell, she says. 

I think that ought to cover it, he says. He asks her why she feels the need to swear so much, so deliberately, what depends on it, why it’s so important to her. Why, after so long, she hasn’t grown tired. Worn out in the mouth.

She looks straight into his eyes, straight into his skull, says, Fuck you.

It’s curious, he says, because now when she uses profanity, it sounds like everyone else’s ordinary speech. Like when she says, Goddamn it, she may as well be saying, can you let the dog out? or I’m going to check the mail. She wouldn’t say she’s angry, but her eyes flash hard at him for saying this, as if her language did not disrupt, did not slice open the air and slash him across his goddamn stupid too beautiful face. She knows he is lying. The simple truth is, he was raised Baptist in some shitty little West Texas town, and she was raised in a fucked‑up place called Father. His hands are beautiful. Her mouth is potty. They are lovers.

The real reason she’s swearing is that they’re on their way to an evening art party. He knows how they make her feel. The art parties they attend together are full of falseness. He is a white male genius artist in San Francisco, and there is nothing real about white male genius artists in San Francisco: not the art, not the women who live with them, not the men who live with them, not the galleries, not the critics—My god, the art critics, can’t we just shoot them?—not even San Francisco. Everything is filmy, filmy as bay fog.

All of them together make one big pile of shit, she declares, grabbing his hand as they approach the neighborhood of this evening’s party. He squeezes her hand. She squeezes back, thinking, How meaningless, wondering, Where is the risk in squeezing a lover’s hand while walking to an art party?

They pass rows of colored houses, staring forward like so many faces. Her descriptions: the fucking amazing view, the goddamn little rows of windows stretching for fucking miles. His: more azure evening light, warm glow from the inside out, houses alive. Doors, windows, roofs speaking. They make a good pair, or rather their mouths do: hers pushing out, exploding, his soaking everything in, slow and sweet.

When they’re almost there, she suggests, wild, Why don’t they run back down the hill, past the doors and windows and faces into the evening. She starts to unbutton her blouse. The light is dim; he can barely see her. She tugs at his arm, and he half believes her, as always. But just then someone sees him from the party house and calls out his name, so they turn around and go in after all. She leaves her excitement standing in the yard, leaning toward the night, eyes wide, chest heaving, naked. 

Inside, everyone calls him Pater. His name is Peter, she corrects them, but she is the only one who calls him this. Finally some man with a mostly bald head except for some styled and sculpted gray on the sides explains to her that Pater sounds more like the name of an artist, that more people will buy from a Pater than a Peter. She is astounded that he thinks he must tell her this. The paintings:  What is being bought? Sometimes she can’t remember his name at all, simply his paintings.

At the art party she does what angry women do. She drinks. A lot. Language in the rooms of the party suddenly turns liquid. Animals begin crawling out. One man be‑ comes a lizard, his belly scraping the shag carpet, his arms and legs sticking out stiff from his body. Another man who has been pinching the asses of women all night turns into a crab with one huge red claw, so heavy he cannot lift it anymore. A woman with big lips becomes a blowfish, bubbles rising from her face now and then; her eyes, moved to the sides of her head, look magnified. Peter, Pater, becomes a bird with extravagant colored plumage, terribly magnificent: His back sways, his chest protrudes.

She drinks wine she drinks whiskey she drinks beer she drinks tequila shots. She still feels like a fucking person. She goes into the bathroom and removes her bra and underwear from beneath her clothing and stuffs them into the medicine cabinet. She emerges from the bathroom some new animal that no one has ever seen before. Everyone notices her. She pretends they all see her as a magnificent exploding poppy but knows they likely see her as a stain. In her head she names herself something between the color red and the word “devour.” She looks for him.

Some small man who might be a ferret or a weasel is talking  to Pater/Peter, the rooster or the  peacock. Everything swims. She watches her lover shrink. She moves closer. The ferret/weasel’s mouth is making sharp, jerky movements. Closer still she hears words like “ridiculous” and “no talent” and “not a chance in hell.” Her lover is shrinking before the weasel into a small bird, then into a chick, peeping uselessly. The ferret‑man’s tongue looks long and dangerous; his lips are knives moving together, slicing and clicking.

She hates. She hates the ferret, she hates the smallness of the chick. She hates the alcohol, she hates the art party, the animals, the body who came into the house. The ferret’s mouth becomes the only thing she can focus on, even as a crowd is gathering—because by now of course she has started swearing, a mighty swear swarm, like starlings murmuring. Even as the fish‑woman swims up and blows diplomatic bubbles between them, even as the giant red pincher drags itself near, the ferret’s mouth clicks and slices and becomes more clear than is possible, so that finally she has a direction for her hate to aim at, and she punches his mouth right off his face. Everyone is a person again, humanly stunned.

A man rests on the floor. Her knuckles ache. Some quiet hands lead her away, a man whose name she cannot remember. He is saying, It’s all right, it’s all right. She suddenly realizes this is how she feels every goddamn night of her fucking life. His hands are on her face, her shoulders; he tries to sculpt her back into being okay. Her own hands hang useless. This love cannot live unless she fights him every day of her life. He paints, will paint. She aches for it all to be over: the years, the relationship, the waiting. She aches to summer over into a different life. She runs toward summer with no hands. All mouth. All mouth. Her mouth.

From Verge: Stories by Lidia Yuknavitch, to be published on February 4, 2020 by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2020 by Lidia Yuknavitch.

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