by Yvette Ward-Horner
When I met him, he was thin and shifty and he did things to my body that no other man had contemplated. I called him the Mucky Man, blushing a little to think where his tongue had been. No crevice on the body too dark and fetid for him. I fell in love with his persistent fingers.At first, it turned me on to know he was cheating. He was at it constantly—with women from bars, with his middle-aged neighbor, with a friend's cousin, even with a couple of heroin addicts. His best friend, Roady, told me about it, leering over his beer.
"You're going to catch something," he said.
But I didn't.
After a while, his cheating made me fat and vicious. When he wasn't around, I sat in dim bars by myself, squeezing my cleavage between my arms and waiting for any old someone to buy me drinks. Sometimes Roady appeared, his big raw cheeks freshly pimpled with stinging razor-burn. He lurked by the jukebox, always pretending not to notice me. I went home with short men, dirty men, hairy men, men who scraped their callused hands over my thighs and whispered Oh baby in my hot, chubby ear. After a year of this, I left town and no one tried to stop me.
Roady followed me down to Atlanta, where I went to make a fresh start. He said he'd heard that Georgia had the best tomatoes on earth. Big, he said. And juicy.
I never saw him eat a tomato, but he came over for dinner often and I fed him the pot pies that were always on sale at Piggly Wiggly. He showed up with bulk-sized bottles of astringent red wine and we drank them in silence, glaring out of the living room window at children shuffling on gravel in the playground. I lost weight and became a stripper, counting on blacklights to minimize the stretch marks on my ass. Roady took offense at this and went back up to Kentucky, leaving suddenly in the middle of the week. No one ever called me.
I continued drinking the cheap red wine, but I missed having someone to share it with. Roady started sending me postcards from Europe. I called him once and he pretended I had the wrong number. A girl yelled in the background. She sounded fat.
Winter passed and I kept on stripping, kept on living in the same cheap apartment, though by then I could have easily swung something better. I wanted to keep it simple for the ex to find me. I knew I'd never meet another man as mucky as him.
Then, one night, he called, late, in the middle of summer. It was 3 a.m. and I was drinking wine and didn't need to look at the phone to know it was him.
"What?" I said, not breathing at all.
"I'm coming down to see Garth Brooks," he said. "Can I stay at your place?"
He showed up with Roady and I noticed immediately that he wasn't nearly as thin as he used to be. A small, bold belly pushed his shirt away from his hips. I let him in. I had left a sequined g-string draped casually over the couch. He knocked it aside as he sat down and it fell on the floor. Roady stepped on it. I chainsmoked and heated up pot pies.
I went with them to the concert, though I had never listened to Garth Brooks in my life. It was one of those outdoor venues with people sprawled on blankets, jowly and loose-eyed, unshaven faces slurping at cups of beer. The sky looked bleached. We spread out my Mexican blanket, which was really too small for the three of us, and the ex and I edged Roady off until he had one butt cheek smeared in the grass. Then we sent him to get more beer. He was the one with a credit card. Six of them, actually. It was the only reason the ex liked him.
An hour into the concert, I was bored with the music, but the ex was swinging his head back and forth, grinning with that hard wet mouth of his. Roady lounged on the other side of him, leaning back on his elbows, staring at me half the time as if he wanted me to look back. So I gave him little poisonous glances and finally hissed get lost and when I did that, the ex shot his arm out and grabbed my wrist.
"Aw sugar, don't get mean. You know I love you."
"No, I don't," I said.
He ran his thumb over my wristbones, pressing, rubbing. "I miss you," he said. "I like how you're all skinny now."
"You never loved me," I said, but I left my wrist in his fingers, turning it a little so he could stroke it underneath. "All you ever did was cheat on me."
"I didn't cheat," he said. "Where'd you get them ideas, anyway?"
I looked past him, at Roady, who was squinting at the sky. "Roady told me," I said spitefully.
"Aw hell," the ex said. "You know Roady's full of shit. Can't believe a word he says, ever."
"What about the heroin addicts?" I said.
The ex looked puzzled. He let go of my wrist and rubbed his chin.
"Roady?" I said. "Was he screwing those addicts or not?" We both looked at him.
He shrugged, shifting his ass over the crushed grass. "I don't remember. Who the hell cares now, anyway?"
I cared. But the ex was already losing interest, swinging his head back and forth again, and watching Garth Brooks stomp all over the stage. I watched the back of his head and Roady watched me. Finally, I threw my empty beer cup at Roady and it bounced off his head. The ex didn't notice. Roady wiped a drop of beer off his eyebrow and leaned further back, beckoning. I inched toward him, my eyes scrunched up, my forehead steamy. Our faces came together behind the ex's back.
"Fine, there weren't any heroin addicts," Roady whispered. "But I'll take you to Europe if you'll be my girlfriend."
I considered for a while. I could smell the ex clearly, leaned up behind him like I was. He always had pungent feet. He sang along with Garth Brooks, off-key, bouncing his head, and his lank hair flopped in big clumps on his neck.
"Fine," I said. "But I'm going to screw him before he leaves."
Roady sighed. "Yeah, whatever."
By the time we got home, the ex was tanked and Roady and I held his elbows to get him inside. Roady shoved him onto the couch with no pretense of affection, and then took to sulking in the kitchen.
I sat down next to the ex, pressing my thigh against his.
"You can sleep in my bed, if you want," I said, touching his knee.
The ex smiled. "Thatta girl," he said. Then he giggled. "Still kinda funny to see such a hefty girl turned skinny."
I pressed my tongue to the raw spot above my front teeth. I had burned it yesterday on a potato that fell out of my pie.
"Hope them ass bones don't bruise me," the ex said. He snuffled, slapping his knee, and giggled some more. The rich smell of his feet rose up between us. "Never seen such a flat damned ass on a woman."
Roady snorted. My thighs sagged into the couch. I stared at the bare walls of my living room, at the broken ceiling fan. It was time to pack up and find a decent home. The ex made a kissing sound and pawed at my hair, and I slapped his hand away. I got up and went into the dirty kitchen with Roady, who leaned on the wall, his hands shoved in his pockets. I grabbed him and pressed my mouth against his, my eyes wide open. His lips were dry. His hands made startled star shapes by his sides. Then he clutched my hips and started trembling, his hot belly pushing against me, his fingers digging. I stopped kissing him.
"I'm not going to be your girlfriend, asshole" I whispered. I felt his eyelashes flutter. I stepped back and pushed him against the wall. He sagged there, sweating, his lower lip puffy. I stamped back into the living room. The ex watched eagerly, all wide-open mouth and big damp eyes. I spat on his foot, snatched his lighter, and went into the bedroom, slamming the door. Through the cheap, warped wood, I could still hear his giggles, crawling all over my bare walls, making them dirty.
Yvette Ward-Horner lives in the Rocky Mountains, where she is working on her first novel. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Passages North, Necessary Fiction, Cantaraville, Writers Bloc, Clapboard House, Amarillo Bay and The Writer's Digest 78th Annual Competition Collection. Find her online at http://www.yvettewardhorner.com.