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Authors: Kevin Sampsell

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BOOK: This Is Between Us
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“I can feel it in there,” you said, touching my bump. I put my finger on it too and imagined it looked like a sesame seed.

I saw you searching your purse and then you pulled out something that I hadn’t seen before. It looked like an
X-ACTO
knife. “You just carry that around with you everywhere?” I said. My body was tensing up.

“Let me get a hot cloth on it first,” you said. You went to the bathroom and I heard the water running. I figured I had about forty-five seconds to think of an alternative. When you came back, I saw a bounce in your step. You pressed the hot towel to my face and smiled. I asked if we should numb it somehow but you laughed and said, “This will be fine.”

I felt the small blade press into the bump. “Here it comes,” you said. You stopped for a second and then reached over and grabbed your glasses to put on, like a doctor protecting her eyes. There was a little blood and a gentle scratching with the blade and then you reached up and caught it with your finger. When you showed it to me, it looked like a small, perfect pearl. It wasn’t what I expected. “Back to normal,” you said, and then you squished it in your fingers and pretended to eat it.


We took the kids out to the pumpkin patch. We’d been together for about a year, but Vince and Maxine were still getting used to being around each other. If we didn’t plan activities, like going to the zoo, the park, or a movie, they’d grow restless and uneasy and squabble. This was a slight strain on our relationship but it gave us something to talk about when we felt dull or tired.

One long-bed tractor gave all the parents and their kids a ride out to a large corn maze by the pumpkin patch. Each year the maze was cut into a different image that could be seen only from an aerial view. One year it was the shape of Oregon with a duck and a beaver in the middle. This particular year it was supposedly the image of Lewis and Clark. “How do they make the shapes?” Vince asked us. We didn’t know and frankly it hurt to think about. I tried to make a joke about aliens, but Maxine didn’t like the joke and said something about alien abductions.

Another tractor took us and a few other people out to the bumpy fields where pumpkins riddled twenty acres. We sat on bales of hay as the driver went slow, sometimes turning around to make sure we were all safe and smiling. You looked like a farm girl, so I took a picture of you with a disposable camera.

After the tractor engine was turned off and the brake was set, the four of us scattered to find our own pumpkins.

“How can you tell which one is the best?” Maxine asked.

“As long as it’s orange and shaped like your head,” I told her.

Everyone grabbed pumpkins that were shaped amazingly like their heads. I was the only one who broke my own rule. Mine was a fifteen-pounder shaped like a heart. Not a valentine heart, but an actual heart.

We walked back to the spot where the tractor would pick us up again. The air was crisp and full of warm voices and laughter. The sun, low and gleaming, made our shadows long in front of us. “Look at our shadows,” I said. We raised our arms up and made the shape of a crown. Then we put our pumpkins on our shoulders and stood together to make an eight-headed creature. We laughed and then stood apart from each other and made our shadows hold hands.

You looked at me and said, “I like our shadows.”


“I want to see you dressed like David Bowie,” you said.

“For Halloween?” I asked.

“No,” you said. “For the bedroom.”

“Keep going,” I said.

“I want to see you with seventies space shoulder pads and gold tights with leather platform boots.”

“What about my hair?”

“Big and poofed up, like a lion!”

“Like in
Labyrinth
?” I tried to remember if I liked that movie.

“Who do you want me to dress up like?” you asked.

I had to pretend like I was thinking about it, but the truth is I’d had the answer to this question in my head for most of my life. Still, I tried to play it a little vague.

“Um, I can’t remember her name,” I started, “but she’s on an album cover from the seventies and she’s wearing roller skates, striped athletic socks up to her knees, short shorts, a white T-shirt, and a satin letterman jacket.”

“You want me to dress up like Linda Ronstadt on the cover of her album
Living in the
USA
?”

You seemed weirdly happy and excited about this. “And she had knee pads too,” I said.

You squinted your eyes at the ceiling fan, like its spinning above us was your brain working out a plan. “This might get complicated,” you said.


Instead of a bomb threat, you called me at work with a sex threat. You disguised your voice, scrambled your number. Made promises. I was working at the front desk and I had just checked in a tall, beautiful redhead with breast implants. I was thinking about what you would look like with breast implants when you called.

I hung up the hotel phone, shaking and a little aroused. I went into the bathroom and took a picture of my cock with my cell phone. I sent it to you but you didn’t reply. An hour later, I sent you a picture of my mouth. You sent me a text that said, “Mixed message.”

I tried to think of something else to take a picture of. I wondered to myself,
What’s more exciting than a cock and a mouth?
I took off my shirt and snapped a picture of my left breast, where my heart lives. I looked at the photo and realized that my nipple looked disgusting. It didn’t look round to me. It looked like a flat tire, deserted in a bed of black weeds.

I took another photo and it was blurry, which made it worse. I found a red marker and drew a heart shape around my nipple. I colored it in, then took another picture. I felt like a tart. I felt like a clown.

Ten minutes later, you sent me one like it, but much better. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet. How could I work under those circumstances?


We drove up to Bellingham and spent a weekend at your sister’s house with the kids and it was one of those houses where we had to take off our shoes. This No Shoes in the House rule bothers me. I wanted to walk around with my shoes on until they said something, but they would probably just twist their faces into concerned looks.

Before dinner, I decided to shave. I had to use one of your sister’s razors and it kept cutting me. I was bleeding near my Adam’s apple and on both of my cheeks. I decided to give up before I cut myself more. I came out with a scraggly goatee surrounded by red smears. Your sister’s seven-year-old son watched me as I ate and dabbed at the cuts every few minutes. Her husband was out of town and it was a quiet dining room without him. I apologized about my bad shaving and the boy said he wanted to shave now too. Vince and Maxine said we should play barber shop after dinner. I took your sister’s shaver and lathered the kids up. With the plastic guard covering the razor, I swiped all the shaving cream off, pretending to be very careful and professional the whole time. I took a red pen and made a mark on Vince like he was nicked. Then all the kids wanted that. “I want a blood mark too,” your sister’s son said.

And then suddenly, as if incited by the sight of our own fake blood, we were savages. We tromped around the house in our slippery socks and clean-shaven bloody faces. We were armed with blunt plastic toys. Grown-ups versus kids. We let the kids win.


One time, when I was eleven, I walked in on my parents when they were having sex. They were doing it doggy style, and my mom’s heavy breasts swung back and forth between her locked elbows. I made some kind of sound, a surprised groan maybe, and they noticed me in the door. My mom collapsed flat but my dad kept going on her. I locked eyes with him for a few seconds and he slowed himself to a frustrated stop. And then my mom said, “Honey, can you go to the store and get a loaf of bread?” She was trying to cover herself but my dad stayed defiant and naked, only his groin shielded.

“Okay,” I told my mom.

“There’s a five-dollar bill in my purse,” she said.

Her purse was on their dresser on the other side of their bedroom. I walked across, looking away from them, and unzipped her purse to root around for the money. It was very quiet now. I snuck a sideways glance and saw that my dad was wearing light blue socks that came to his knees. “Okay,” I said again.

“You can buy a candy bar for yourself too,” she said.

I left the room and walked down the hall. I went to the front door and opened and shut it loudly. But I stayed inside the house and listened.


I remember on one of our first dates, when we were at the park and no one else was there, you got on your hands and knees and pretended to be a dog. You smiled and panted and barked up at me. You were trying to make me laugh. “I wish we had a leash,” you said.

I petted you with pride.


Vince and I have something called
DTYM
. It stands for Don’t Tell Your Mom. She can be very sensitive and judgmental about things.

If we watch a rated-R movie or a show that might be too scary, it’s a
DTYM
. If I give him secret driving lessons in the mall parking lot, it’s a
DTYM
. Sometimes we’ll be watching stand-up comedy on YouTube and the material will turn raunchy. “Is this a
DTYM
?” Vince will ask.

When I gave him the talk about sex, when I told him that his penis can make babies and that girls bleed between their legs once a month, he looked uneasy, like he was in trouble for something.

“I’m just telling you these things so you know,” I said. “Do you have any questions or anything?”

He looked like he wanted to say something but didn’t.

“How’s your penis?” I said. “I mean, is everything okay down there? When you take a shower, do you wash it good?” This was actually a question I had wanted to ask him for a long time because of his foreskin.

“Yes,” Vince said.

“That’s good,” I said. “It feels good to wash it, you know?” I looked him in the eyes when I said this, although maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe it was too weird. But he had been taking long showers, sometimes twice a day, and I wanted him to know that it was okay.

“Is this a
DTYM
?” he asked me.

“Sure,” I said. “Sure thing.”


It was last call and we were much too drunk to drive. We were in a strip club where the walls were lined with huge tanks full of piranhas. We paid all the dancers to feed them in front of us. This meant they took a pitcher of water with a couple of goldfish in it and climbed a jungle-style rope ladder about ten feet above us and dropped them in. We watched a lot of flesh get naked and torn apart that night.

I ordered coffees in an attempt to sober us up enough to drive but the bartender brought us Irish coffees instead, heavy on the whiskey. It was snowing heavily outside, so we had no choice but to walk home. We slipped and fell down so much that we started to look like yetis, covered in white from head to boot. I stood guard while you squatted down and somehow peed a heart shape in the snow. It shined like gold under the streetlamps. You watched for cops while I made an arrow through it.


When Vince was born, at home with midwives, my ex-wife and I did not have him circumcised. I’m not really sure why we didn’t. I was a circumcised Catholic and his mom was an ex-Catholic. I always wondered if his mother was trying to make some kind of statement by not getting it done. Was it some kind of hippie thing? A way to keep him “natural” or something?

She had also not shaved her legs while she was pregnant.

Now, Vince’s mom has remarried into a Jewish family. There was talk for a while about getting Vince circumcised so he could convert to Judaism properly, but somehow it was avoided.

I’m not sure why I didn’t have it done when he was born. I sometimes wonder if other kids say anything to him about it, in the locker room or bathrooms at school. I always thought that the son’s penis should look like his dad’s penis. But my son has not seen my penis, so maybe he’s unaware that we do not match.

I mentioned this to a friend recently and he laughed and said, “Why do you need to match? For the family photos?”

Still, I’ve grown to regret this.


We went to meet some friends at a concert in the zoo. There was a big outdoor stage and a young British singer sang an array of pop covers in a pseudo-jazz style. There was something forced about his appearance, his personality. We could tell he was short and not very attractive, but his hairstyle and vintage-looking suit gave him the appearance of a kid dressing up for his older sister’s wedding.

“This is the kind of jazz that middle-aged soap opera viewers like,” I said.

“This is the kind of jazz that white people on boats listen to when they’re trying to attract a mate,” you said.

“What kind of mate?” I wanted to know.

“An exotic one,” you said. “White people on boats go for exotic more than anything.”

“Like a girl who can’t speak English very well?” I asked.

“That doesn’t matter so much. I know a really beautiful Korean girl who has never been to Korea or spoken the language. As long as they look foreign. Japanese, Mexican, Creole. Anything with dark or freckled skin.”

BOOK: This Is Between Us
6.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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