BY BECKY TUCH
You know Urmquast Meldoofi? The guy who writes the homeless features for The New York Times? Published a book not too long ago about the plight of the homeless in small urban centers?
Yeah, well one time Urmquast Meldoofi and I were going at it on my father’s living room couch. This was back in high school, when my hair was long and always in a ponytail, and Urmquast Meldoofi’s body was pale, skinny, tall as a rubber flagpole. That was the problem, actually. He was just too tall. His legs kept hanging off the couch, which was too plush, it being new, part of my dad’s post-divorce living room makeover kit.
Anyway, my dad was over at his girlfriend’s and there was Urmquast Meldoofi with his big lips and slanted brown hair and me kind of sliding off the plush cushions of the couch, trying to hold onto his ribs but just sliding backward because big as that couch was, Urmquast Meldoofi’s legs were just too long.
In the kitchen I tried something else. I sat on the countertop and wrapped my legs around Urmquast’s hips and I trickled an ice cube down his chest.
That’s cold, he said.
I know, I said, jutting my chin as if to say, But it’s hot.
I’m getting a chill, he said, and he shivered as goosebumps hardened all over his white skin.
Come closer, I said, pulling at his hips with the backs of my ankles.
This isn’t fun, he said.
We were seventeen, eighteen. It was the summer before college. It was the summer before the tectonic plates would shift, when all we knew how to do was hold on to everything. I was trying to hold on to Urmquast Meldoofi by pulling his body closer to mine.
Look, he finally said, I guess you’re just not a very sexual person.
How did we part ways? I don’t really remember. A handshake? A hug?
What I do remember was the night was dark and hot and mosquitoes zapped my shoulders, my cheeks. My hair was down now and I was sweating on my arms. It was a fifteen-block walk from my father’s house to my mother’s house. I tell you, I was humiliated.
This, I thought, would be my future? I would go to college and graduate and get a job and move away somewhere and everywhere I went I would know that Urmquast Meldoofi did not think I was a very sexual person. Inside my mind I saw unravel man after man, a potential boyfriend, a possible husband. No thank you, they would say. Not very sexual.
It was hot and the sidewalks were streetlamp-yellow. Not a soul was out. The kind of night where warm blood pounds inside you, pressing against your skin, wanting you to do anything harder and faster than the way you’re doing it. Jump in front of that car! Climb on top of that building! Run after Urmquast Meldoofi and press your pitiful lips hard against his until your teeth clack to almost-breaking.
Restless and sad and mortified and seventeen.
This is the part of the story that gets unbelievable. But I tell you, it’s true, all true.
On the corner of First Street, there was Salvador O’Brien.
Salvador O’Brien. He was the one who, back when we were twelve and thirteen, used to come by the schoolyard where we all hung out. He didn’t come by every day like some of the others, just now and then. A Salvador O’Brien cameo. He was tall and muscular and different from the others, soft where they were hard, clean where they were dirty. Didn’t drink forties like we did, out of the paper bags and such. Didn’t smoke blunts or press his face up to ours trying to make out, saying, Why you frontin’, yo? when we tried to turn our heads.
He was polite, sweet. As an example, one time in the summer someone pointed to me and said, Damn, girl, you got big knees. Salvador O’Brien leaned in close to me and said, No she doesn’t. She’s got nice knees.
So, on this sad and drifting night, I swear to God, there was Salvador O’Brien, standing on the corner, as if he was waiting for me to walk by.
Salvador O’Brien! I said, my voice high and friendly. Apart from this one night, I was generally a cheerful kind of girl, and I could be reminded of that part of myself easily and quickly.
Well, he said. Well, shit.
We laughed. He walked next to me. He was tall as Urmquast Meldoofi, but in a different way. Unlike Urmquast, he seemed to know how to be tall. His shoulders did all the work for him, so that from the rest of the way down it looked effortless.
He walked me all the way home, loping next to me like a dog about to be fed. And after being with Urmquast, I tell you it was a pleasure to be next to such hunger. We made small talk, this and that and the other thing, but the spaces between our words were crackling like static. He smiled with half his mouth. His blue eyes pulsed inside my veins.
So this was what I told Salvador O’Brien when we were finally in front of my house. I said, I was just with this guy, and he told me I wasn’t a very sexual person.
What? Salvador O’Brien said. Are you fucking kidding me? Then he started to laugh with his body folded over and when he leaned back up his grin was wide as a city street.
Well, I said, bashful now, it’s what he said.
For a long time, under the flickering street lamp near my home, Salvador O’Brien just looked at my face.
Then he kissed me. And all at once I became an inside-out thing. Skin as tender and quivering as a tongue. Body as damp and reaching as the first petal of a tulip opening toward the sun on the very first day of spring inside the first field that was ever planted on this earth.
I tell you that was the best kiss of my life. I tell you that was the kiss that saved my life. I tell you that there is no such thing as coincidence, except that running into Salvador O’Brien was the truest coincidence I have ever known.
These days, I see Urmquast Meldoofi’s name all over The New York Times. He’s doing good things, writing about important issues that we all care about. He’s going to publish another book. Probably has a family too, a good and loving wife, a woman as tall as he is.
But every time I see his name, I remember that night. How he murdered me. But how, thankfully, the death didn’t last very long.
Becky Tuch is the founding editor of The Review Review. She has received literature fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and the Somerville Arts Council and her stories have received awards from Moment Magazine, Briar Cliff Review, Glimmer Trainand elsewhere. Other writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Salon, Virginia Quarterly Review online, Salt Hill, Cleaver, Hobart, Quarter After Eight, and other publications. She lives in Pittsburgh.