Sweating Buffalo takes the pipe into his big hands and puffs like a train climbing a steep grade. A smoke-sweet smell quickly fills the bathroom.
“It was another life,” he says, eyes gone dreaming. I prod him with a broom that was standing in the corner behind the open door. I’ve come too far, both in terms of geography and spiritual vulnerability, to let him drift away now.
He paws the bristles away from his face. The pipe falls into the wastebasket. Flames erupt almost immediately, a signal, I suppose, that there was more combustible material here than one might expect. I ought to douse it with water. Instead I prod Sweating Buffalo again. He stumbles back onto the toilet lid.
“Another life?” I say.
His brow bunches, a complex network of ravines that reminds me of the desert as the plane descended into Phoenix. I came to bury my grandmother who raised me.
“You said it was another life.” I jab the broom just short of his chin. He does not flinch, only nods, and pushes the bristles aside. I like his face, the broad chin and cheeks, eyes like black wells, a nose that does not kid around. He’s young, hair pulled back into a single tight braid, but I sense the roots of wisdom in him. I knew he was someone I needed the moment he walked into Charlotte’s party. She was my high school friend, ten years and three thousand miles removed from my career in New York.
“The pig,” he says.
“What about the pig?” I don’t know the symbolism of the pig in Native American culture. It irks me. I should have studied up instead of reading Vogue on the plane.
“The pig spoke to me,” he says.
“Yes?” I feel my body leaning. A great secret is about to reveal itself. I need that secret. I need to understand why circumstance has brought me here.
“Show me your breasts,” he says.
“What?” I pull back. My arms cross before I even think. That’s personal. That belongs to me.
“If you want to know what the pig said, show me your breasts.”
I hesitate. Sweating Buffalo — if that’s even his real name — watches serenely. Maybe there’s a reason. Maybe it’s a ritual. I force my arms to uncross. What harm is there, really? In his intoxicated state, he won’t rape me, won’t even catch me if it comes to a chase. You said that before, and look what it got you? There’s a scraping sensation inside me, deadened by anesthesia, but alive all the same. My body clenches.
I have not thought of the abortion in years. I put that behind me, put him behind me. I can’t even see his face, though maybe I can if I try. It’s right there like a reflection in a mirror just barely too dark to see. I want to spit. I want to vomit. Flames glisten on the metal sides of the wastebasket. I’m here, not there, I tell myself. With Sweating Buffalo, not him.
I undo the top blouse button.
“The pig was sitting in a puddle,” Sweating Buffalo says.
I undo the second.
“Mud was on him everywhere. I could not see his true skin.”
Sweating Buffalo chuckles. “It made him difficult to know.”
I finish unbuttoning my blouse, pull the tails free of my slacks. My nipples are like stones inside the bra. I shiver. His eyes shift down. His expression does not change.
“Know?” I remind him.
“To know whether it was the pig speaking,” he says. “Or the mud.” His eyes focus on mine. “One must see the flesh to know it is true.”
I shrug bra straps from my shoulders without removing the blouse. I pull the cups down. Air that seemed warm before is ice cold now.
The tips of his fingers brush me. It’s like lightning, that contact, nearly knocks me down. Currents oscillate: rage, lust, love. I have not let a man touch me since I was seventeen.
“Your milk comes from a good place,” he says, as if that pronouncement should set me at ease. Somehow, it does.
He stands from the toilet lid and I shrink. He’s so much taller than me, wider than me. His shadow becomes a scratchy blanket.
“What did the pig say?” I whisper. The flame in the wastebasket has receded. It feels the opposite inside me.
Sweating Buffalo cups my chin. “He said this is not a good place, this world, for pigs like him.”
My heart pounds fast. Blood pulses through my neck and face. He presses my palm to his chest. I want to shove him. I want him to touch me again.
“We should be glad that we are not pigs,” Sweating Buffalo says. He leans in and I smell the weed on his breath. Our lips meet.
His eyes become tunnels to someplace new.
Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania with his talented wife, Susan Urbanek Linville, and two reformed feral cats. His work has appeared in many places and his collection of (very) short fictions, Glass Animals, is available wherever fine books are e-sold.