I try to explain to her that if she leaves the body, it’s not the same, but that’s alien to her. It’s like her trying to explain to me where she goes, and the closest I come to grasping it is to think of it not as a place but as a mind-state, like deep meditation or dreaming. Like astral projection, but I don’t know what that is either.
Also, there’s the anatomy. She told me to imagine it as a golf course. More like miniature golf, I said, and she told me that I should give myself more credit, that it wasn’t that small. I didn’t know what club size she had become accustomed to, but of course that just created more self-doubt. Miniature golf must’ve never made it to her planet, but I thought that the explanation of my analogy — her anatomy compared to drain pipes, windmills, and impossible angles — would end up doing more harm than good. So I let it at that: a game played with tiny clubs and balls.
“You let me leave the first time.” She stretched out on the bed, like someone preparing for final rites. “And it went fine, didn’t it? I mean you liked it.”
“No. I felt it. I thought it was me. That I was doing something wrong. I mean, well, I hadn’t thought of the other possibilities.”
“I’m tired,” she says. And she says other things. About her compromising for my own foreign sense of how it should be, of my forcing her to be there even though such things are outlawed elsewhere. And so on and so forth until there’s nothing to do but let her go.
And so she does, leaving me with the body.
I don’t know how the body works without her, how it responds and listens and requests. I feel like I’m with a sex doll. In stories about everyday guys who find themselves with prostitutes, they just sit and talk, and pay her anyway, because someone has to have a heart of gold. Not that prostitutes are sex dolls. I don’t know what I’m saying.
“Well,” her body says. “What will it be?”
“Do you remember how we fell for each other?” I undo my bathrobe and pour the sesame oil onto her back. I rub her as I would a genie’s lamp.
“Yes, I remember.” She hums and tells me about the double-booked hotel room; her saying when I walked in on her, “Now that’s what I call room service”; the shimmering aqua blue drinks; but still I doubt that I’m really with her.
I move my way down the body, pouring and rubbing. I ask her more questions and she knows all the answers. Whenever she reaches back for me, I twist away and say, “Not yet.” She mumbles a strange word, maybe a sigh, maybe a curse.
I find myself repeating, like a moan, “Is she coming yet?”
“Yes. She’s coming.” Her body rises against the pressure of my hands. She’s coiled, released, then sitting next to me. “Now you.”
“Nah.” I say.
“Nah. What’s that?”
I move her hand. “That is not for you.”
The body wanes, and she’s back from the nether lands. “Oh, how could you?” She explains to me what I’ve done, the ancient unwritten laws of her land, about completion and rites, and not to mention she thought I might love her, one day.
“What must I do?” Whatever it is.
This time, when she leaves, I try to find her trail, as one might do after a death, in search of the soul, and one always imagines it rising, like steam or birds, so I’m looking at the ceiling, waiting for the body to do what it wants.
But there’s nothing. I sit up. “What?”
Her body throws the sheet over me. “First, I want to know why you didn’t complete. And then there are feelings that need to be unbroken, and then I will rub you.”
“That would make you the rubber,” I say. “No, wait. Don’t do that. No more jokes. I promise. We’ll talk. Really.”
She tilts her head, like an owl.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” I say. “It’s just — that. Insecurity. It’s all kind of beyond me.”
“I will show you.” And she opens herself up like flowers and books. “Are you set?”
“Yes. All-set. Tell me.”
I’m all ears. I’m all in. I’m following her until the talk turns to hums, until we create something that might make her feel, upon returning, she’s the one who missed something.
Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning flash fiction collection Mad to Live (Flume Press 2008). He teaches at and directs Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. His short and very short fiction has been published widely, and his essay “Making Flash Count” appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field (Rose Metal Press 2009). He also appears in Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer (W. W. Norton & Company 2010). He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net.