The Horns of the Bull Pt. 1
Oh, how strange, Julian thought. Why did that memory just flash in my mind? The memory was of his roommate’s crush back in college: Naomi with her legs bent and open, lying naked on cold bathroom tiles waiting for Julian. That was over ten years ago, he thought, putting down his chopsticks.
“What’s wrong?” April said. She was sitting across from him holding a Chinese soupspoon by the lip of her bowl. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“It’s just this look crossed your face,” April said.
“What do you mean?” Julian said, playing things off. He looked down at his miso soup. Steam rose and met his gaze. I know what you’re doing to me, Naomi said in his mind, the Naomi from freshman year. Julian remembered she said that when he was getting her drunk on his bed while his roommate Paul watched.
April had been speaking but Julian hadn’t heard a word. In the middle of his chest it felt as if a plug was pulled. All of his positive emotions were draining out, past the pit of his stomach, and out the tip of his dick.
“Are you sure you’re ok?” April said.
“Let me go to the bathroom,” Julian said, standing up. “Excuse me.”
They were at April’s favorite Japanese restaurant. They’d been going again for the last two months. They had been getting a room afterwards at the love hotel around the corner. Though there were a dozen other restaurants in the area, April was picky about food and always ate at the same place. Julian was getting tired of it. Sort of how he was getting tired of having sex with her again, or being around her again, or seeing the old issues come at him like the horns of a bull, and he, the experienced matador, gliding his body and his red cape away from the fatal blows, until the moment he would finally be skewered.
Julian went through a blue curtain with white and red characters. He pushed open the bathroom door and went into a stall, sitting on the toilet tank with his shoes on the lip of the bowl.
He stared at the stall door feeling a panic attack coming on. His hands were clasped between his thighs. He could hear his heartbeat and the pumping of blood across his whole body as if a bass speaker had been turned on at full volume. His head and the veins in the back of his neck pumped the same rhythm, and he felt it too inside his clasped hands. As he started breathing faster, Julian realized that the bathroom smelled of scented cinnamon.
The bathroom door opened and the sounds from the restaurant increased. Then as the door closed, as if someone had turned the volume down, the music and the voices dissipated. Julian cleared his throat, letting whoever was there know he was there. Through the stall, Julian could hear the man dragging his feet as he walked.
But Naomi, Julian thought. Why Naomi? I haven’t thought of her in years. Not that we had many pleasant memories together. Why did I fuck her when I knew Paul liked her? God, I was such a fucked up person back then. And still am.
The stall door suddenly rattled, startling Julian. “Heyy, what are you doing there, buddy? I usually go by the feets,” a man said. His accent sounded Italian.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Julian said, coming down from the tank and opening the door. He raised his hands, showing the janitor he didn’t have anything. “I just don’t wanna be out there with my ex-wife.”
The janitor scoffed and said, “I hear you, buddy.”
Julian washed his hands, giddy at how clever he felt about saying that to the janitor. When he stepped out of the bathroom and past the curtains, he saw April staring out the window. He bowed his head and walked back up the long length of the counter like a dog with his tail between his legs. When he got to the table, April reached out and grabbed his hand. He sat down and said, “Ugh, I don’t know what got into me there.”
“Are you feeling better?”
“Yes. We’re adults. I can tell you what I was doing in there — “
“Nonono. It’ll ruin my appetite,” April said, waving her hands.
“I was sitting on the toilet — “
“And the janitor is moping and pulls on my stall door, scaring the shit out of me!” Julian said and laughed. April laughed as well. Julian saw she let that dirty joke go for once. He followed up and said, “The other funny thing was that the guy said to me in this thick Italian accent, ‘Heyy, what are you doing there, buddy? I usually go by the feets.’”
“I usually go by the feets!” April repeated, her body shaking from laughter in her chair.
“I know! ‘Heyy, I usually go by the feets,” Julian said in an Italian accent. “What a weird guy.”
“But wait, how could he not see your feet? What were you doing? Were you sitting on the tank with your feet up?”
Darting his eyes, Julian said, “No! I don’t know. Maybe I have small feets.”
“‘You gotta go by the feets,’” April said, trying out the Italian accent.
“What are you a Russian mobster?” Julian said. “Did you just kill someone? ‘You gotta go by the feets.’”
For three years after the divorce, April struggled with herself not to call Julian. They had married too young. They started dating at the end of college and both enjoyed the idea of marrying their college sweetheart. And everybody had an opinion about her marrying so young. That he would cheat was the predominant concern. Yet looking around her life and all the women in the world, and throughout all of time before her birth and after her death, was there ever a time when a men didn’t cheat? But she didn’t ask for a divorce because he cheated. During their marriage, either he was very careful or he never did a thing. Of that she was sure.
April asked him for a divorce because in their early twenties something snapped between them. They both went through radical changes in their social and working life. They grew apart. Their interactions became routine and boring, and he missed or ignored the different meanings in the inflections of her voice. In the last year of their marriage, April finally understood that Julian no longer cared for her when he became indifferent to her getting sick, which she had always used as a measure of his affection.
They were divorced by twenty-five. Three years later, she found herself texting him. She hadn’t slept with anyone and Julian said he hadn’t either, which she half believed. And when he put her into new sex positions, she grasped that he had been with other women but then brushed it off. After their first meeting in the love hotel, April regretted texting back. She realized it was inevitable for things to collapse. So acutely aware was April of the end, every moment of intimacy with Julian felt as if she was walking away from herself and into a dark, snowy night.
Besides the joke about the janitor, Julian didn’t say much for the rest of the dinner. He was withdrawn, contemplative, and at times April wondered what he would bring back from all those minutes of thinking. But then even after dinner, he still hadn’t said much. As she went through the door he held open for her, April thought, Maybe this is the end.
When April saw the neon-green love hotel sign, three floors up and halfway down the street, she stopped. Julian took two more steps then turned to her. She stood still as a statue. “I can’t,” April said.
With a pained look, April said, “I just…I’m done.”
“It’s cool,” Julian said, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
“No, keep your cool. I want myself back. I can’t — “
“You didn’t have to say that?”
“I just,” April said, biting her lower lip. “You know, I just can’t anymore.”
“Let me walk you to the station.”
After April left, Julian Googled the nearest bar. He had two shots and then sat and drank a beer. He tried to shrug her off. He had nothing to worry about. She had come to him. Yet why did he feel like an old used condom at the bottom of a bin? He chuckled when he thought that, then raised his head and looked around the room. The only woman in the bar was a bartender. She was a handler, making sure all her lone dogs along the counter were drinking well.
In the restaurant it was Naomi’s image, her words that kept flashing in Julian’s head, and now it was the scene senior year with Paul that played. It started with Julian holding a bottle of Bacardi Gold by the neck and knocking on Paul’s door. Then both of them talking, catching up, and drinking. Paul’s bed was disheveled with papers and textbooks. On a corner was a green plate with crumbs. At one point, on the verge of confessing, Julian remembered hanging his head. The sound of silence and the feeling of Paul’s eyes bore down on his drunken heart. He remembered saying, “I really fucked up freshman year for you and Naomi,” but there his memory stopped. The scene changed and began again from the beginning — Julian holding a bottle of Bacardi Gold by the neck, knocking on Paul’s door.
What happened then? Julian thought, grasping at his memory. What did Paul say?
He couldn’t remember a thing. Seeing the scene play out again, Julian strained his ears at the end, but there was nothing to be heard. It all became hazy then started again.
Julian wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. He sniffed several times, rubbing his nose and shaking his head. He thought there were probably patrons staring at him, so he walked out of the bar without looking around. Outside, the evening chill stung his face. As he walked to the train station, over and over he heard himself say, “I really fucked up freshman year for you and Naomi. I really fucked up freshman year for you and Naomi. I really fucked up freshman year for you and Naomi.”