by Ania Vesenny
The subway train brakes, screeches to a stop short of Chester. A fat blond man, almost an albino, loses his balance and grabs Stella's right breast. Stella had been thinking about a tongue inside her vagina. The unexpected bodily contact makes her cheeks burn. As she often does in moments of submission, Stella looks down, her eyes following the stranger's dimpled chin, thick double neck, damp underarms, a missing button on his nearly see-through white shirt, his hairy stomach overflowing the belt of his wrinkled white tennis shorts, the bulging crotch. Stella's head jerks up. His forehead is glossy with sweat, his face and neck turn the colour of a raspberry smoothie. "This isn't what you think," he says.In a flash Stella sees, through the layers of fabric, his café-au-lait penis amongst coarse pasty curls. Her laughter trickles between other passengers' sighs—the train hasn't moved, the air conditioning is off. A drop of sweat swells at her temple and slides down her neck. The fat man's laughter is soft and even, as though he is not nervous at all, as though he's undressed her too. Stella rises on her toes to touch the tip of his nose with her pinky, a compulsion that overtakes her when she feels affinity towards a fellow human. The train pulls into the station, but is now out of service. "How about we walk?" Stella says.
Outside, the air presses down Stella's eyelids as though she is in a sauna. She pushes her body through the heat, watches his Birkenstocked feet as they walk. "My name is Owen," he says.
"Stella. Would you ever consider getting your tongue pierced?"
This morning Stella had fought her repulsion when a boy of eighteen, homeless, cheerful, and reeking of pot, played with the stud in his tongue, across from her at the shelter's counseling room.
"Would you like to see the hole?"
"Let's go over your application form instead."
"I couldn't eat for a week. I lost ten pounds. I'd do anything to please my lady." He'd winked and slid his arm around his pimply, bald girlfriend.
In the washroom stall during her break, staring at the etchings on the door, Stella understood what he meant, and traveled through the door of her stall, through the red and heavy door to the attic, where the bald girl moaned with pleasure as the pierced tongue probed inside of her. Stella thought then about her husband's wholesome tongue, his navy suits and starched collars, his Wagner CD collection above their bed, his silk boxers, his schedules, alternating jogging with sex, him always on top.
"Would you like a coffee?" Owen says. Stella would like a coffee very much. She would like to sit across from Owen in an icy waterless aquarium of a coffee shop. She would bump his cup with hers, she would reach for his napkin.
"Two to go," Owen says. He hands her a large. His small looks even smaller in his hand. "Nothing is more refreshing in this heat than a hot coffee," he says. As Stella takes a step into the street, the air settles on her bare shoulders. The moist fuzz on Owen's chin glows in the evening sun. She holds the cup away from her, her palm burning.
Owen takes the lid off his cup and takes a gulp. "The body feels chilled because it releases sweat."
"This is why Bedouins drink coffee hot, not iced."
Stella takes a tentative sip, then takes stock of her torso and limbs. "I don't feel chilled," she says.
Owen rests his cup on top of a newspaper box, closes his eyes, spreads his legs apart, flutters his arms. Stella watches his fat fingers play something on an invisible piano. "Für Elise," Stella says, puts her cup next to his, and joins him on her violin, just a few scattered notes. The tip of his nose moves side to side. "I don't feel chilled either," he says. He drops the cups into a garbage can and takes Stella's hand. His palm is heavy. He walks west, pulls Stella along. He walks as though he has a purpose, as though he is taking her someplace.
"Where are we going?" She is trying to catch up with him, resisting the sensation of being pulled. The setting sun blinds her.
"I don't know," Owen says. He stops and squeezes her hand. The rims of his flat ears wiggle.
"What is it?" Stella says.
"Sometimes I hear voices."
"What do they say?"
"Someone was screaming."
"I heard a voice once. I was in the bathroom at work and a voice said 'I heard you fart,' but I didn't," Stella says. "I didn't fart."
"Was there someone else in the bathroom?"
"Random neural firings. Maybe a brain tumour."
"I thought voices came through a crack from another dimension. From a wrinkle in time." She had once said this to her husband, and he punched her with his brief stare and said, "There's medication for this, you know?"
Owen squeezes her hand. "Sometimes. You'll know. You'll feel the message."
Stella squints, tries to remember what she heard when she met Owen, but only the subway announcer's monotonous droning comes to her, "This train is out of service. All passengers please leave the train."
They cross the bridge over the Don Valley Parkway. In smoggy twilight the strings of car lights below, two red, two white, look liquid, suspended. "Some people jump from here," Stella says.
Owen stops and leans over the thick granite railing. "For you, I'd pierce my tongue," he says. The words hover above Stella like a halo. She catches them with her free hand, pulls them down, and shivers when hard cool beads perch around her neck and Owen's soft fingers fumble with the clasp.
Ania Vesenny was born and raised in the former USSR. Her fiction is forthcoming in Descant (Can), The Toronto Quarterly, and has appeared in Per Contra, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, and elsewhere. Before moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia, she lived in Iqaluit, Nunavut. http://www.aniavesenny.blogspot.com.