China Plum

Harold took the bus, not because of any budget, but because he never felt lonely on one of those hard seats, rocking along in the bleached light. There were other people who rode. He neither liked nor disliked them, when he really thought about it. Often times, however, Harold was transfixed by them. This spongy one frothed on his mother’s sweater. That scrappy one held dirty coins with dirtier fingers, clicking them against the dirtiest nails they’d ever seen. Those two, in discounted hats, talked about everyone else, openly and cryptically impolite. Harold, were he this or that or those, would be the somber one wearing everyone else’s shoes. Harold wasn’t an artless poet with gold flecks in his eyes because no one ever got close enough to notice. Riding the bus home was Harold’s family dinner. His own dinners were white breasts, green starches, and the occasional chatter of a kettle.

Harold preferred breakfast. When he woke up, he poached four eggs with minimal salt, maximal pepper, and marginal vinegar. If it were a national holiday, like Tax day, or Cesar Chavez day, or Purim, or St. Patrick’s day, he’d dress each egg with a ribbon of lox and adorn them with caper gems.

Before Harold went to sleep, he removed his black socks slowly, running the stitching against his calves, pressing his thumb in at the shins. Harold needed a massage; his denial spanned 14 years. Once removed, the socks reposed in the hamper and Harold looked down at his waxen feet. He stretched out his toes. He liked to imagine that he and his feet lived on opposite schedules. They snoozed on his insoles all day then spent all night flirting under his sheets. Before he slid them to the bottom of his bed, he waited for his cat Georgina to lick his achilles tendons and wrap her gray tail around his ankles. She usually did, but not always. Harold liked this about her. Harold also liked how she didn’t seem to mind being called Gina, Gigi, George, or Georgie. Harold looked forward to hearing what he would call her each evening.

Some nights, after a three or four hour respite from being Harry and gray, Harold rolled himself awake and found that he was sitting in the center of a tree trunk. Sometimes, he picked at the bark until, reaching the smooth spiral of rings, the owls hooted from the branches and he sighed a mile long.

Other times, he decided that 2 or 3 a.m. was a fine time to start the morning. Harold worked from early to late. He expected himself in his office at 6:25 a.m. For five minutes each morning, he took vigil before his window. He looked down, thought of his favorite plastic slide going on forever. He looked up, thought of all the ways to eat a worm. He was the first person there each day. This was his single step to success. Harold took no other steps in his life, so this one stood out.

When he decided to start his morning at 2 or 3 a.m., Harold called a number by heart. It sunk, it rose. A voice with feminine unctuosity took a familiar order. She would arrive in 20 minutes, an apricot or maybe a nectarine. To prepare, he gargled baking soda and tea tree oil. He put on fresh black socks. He slid Gina’s bed to his study, waited for her to curl up, then closed the door.

On the present night, a bruised swan arrived. A dozen ravens clawing and cascading down her shoulders. Harold’s approach was a museum-goer idling past a giant china vase. She was regally boring. Harold was not impressed by her size, shape, or intricacy of blue ink. He never was before the drink he asked her to mix from his bar. Surprise me, he always said. Then he stared until the frigid porcelain morphed into something warm and sweet or sour.

This woman, he decided, was a plum. Harold wanted past the peel, tasteless and toxic. He nodded, and she dropped her pageantry of clothing. Pearly breasts, with sugar veins from collarbone to navel. She would be full of dull yellow beads and jewels.

Harold became a blade. Thin, decisive, surgical. He scratched his gums on her pit. He sucked at the buttery salt of the cut. Slices scattered on the bed, he gnashed on each one. Some were firm and bitter, others honey-soft, others gloopy and dying. Harold mashed her to jelly and plum sauce. Before he entered her, he spread it evenly with his tongue and licked the knife clean.

Harold’s ex-wife had trained him to make small circles, so Harold made wide circles. She had told him to squeeze her wrists gently, so Harold nearly snapped the ulnas from her elbows.