Black Iris: Chapter Sixteen
A jackhammer at a construction site three blocks away wakes me from a nightmare at the ass crack of dawn. In the dream, Queenie is on top of me, her big saucer eyes locked onto mine, her perky breasts glistening with oil. I reach up to run my claws through her hair, and her ear falls off. Then her nose. Bit by bit, her skin peels away, revealing Gia’s face underneath. The sex continues, but I’m starting to notice my dick being crushed like a vice inside her. She leans down to kiss me, and when she comes back up, her lips are gone. The rest of her face falls away, revealing a cow skull underneath. In the voice of Twiki, the annoying robot from the old Buck Rogers TV show, the skull says: “Just because they’re after you doesn’t mean you aren’t paranoid.”
The dream reminds me of something the Phantom said about friends and family acting strange. I doubt Gia has been replaced with a robot, but the woman I know would never be caught dead with a stiff like Brett. If something is up with her, then I owe it to both of us to figure out what it is.
Every Friday afternoon at 5:15 p.m., she grabs dinner at a nearby bookstore café before her evening class. The place happens to be just two blocks away from my favorite art store, and since I have to pick up more charcoal and paper, I stop at the café on my way home. She’d never believe that us running into each other was a coincidence, so I stay out of sight.
From between two books in the next aisle over, I watch her thumb through a copy of Noa Noa: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin. I read that in an art history class I took once. It’s the artist’s memoir from the time he went “native,” married a 13-year-old local girl, knocked her up, then got bored and left her. That’s more or less what Gia did to me, minus the pregnancy part.
When I shift my weight, my paper bag full of art supplies crinkles, and Gia glances over her shoulder. I duck out of view just in time.
She puts down the Gaugin book and picks up one about early French cinema. We watched a lot of those films together. They’re not my thing, but they made her horny, so I never put up a fight. If she ends up buying the book, it could be a good night for Brett. Just thinking about that makes me want to knock over these shelves like giant dominos.
I move to another aisle to get a better view. As always, her skin is flawless, even under the harsh yellow lights.
Jean Grey, a needy Russian Blue, appears from around the corner and starts rubbing against me.
“Not now, Jean,” I whisper.
Gia peeks over the top of her book. “Snowball?”
I scamper down the aisle and take shelter under the 50% Off table. With a whimper, Jean Grey scurries in the other direction. Dark toes in cream-colored stiletto heel sandals approach.
“I see you under there,” Gia says.
“Yeah, I, uh… just dropped my…” I look into my bag. Two out of three charcoal sticks have been pulverized by the 18'’ x 24'’ pad of newsprint. I come out from my hole to see Gia standing over me with her hands on her hips.
“What are you doing here?” she asks.
“I was in the neighborhood picking up some art supplies and saw you in the window as I was passing by. I thought I’d stop in and say hello.”
“Oh really? Then why didn’t you?”
“I was just about to, but then Jean Grey came over, and you know how she can be.”
“Here, get up. People are staring at us.” She offers her hand and helps me off the floor.
“Since when do you care about what other people think?”
“People have a right to come into a bookstore without having to deal with someone else’s drama.”
“I disagree. Anyway, people are staring because I’m famous. Nothing I can do about that.”
“You used to be famous for being a cat-man. Now you’re famous for making scenes in public.”
“Pff. When have I ever made a scene?”
“That time we had dinner with my friend Saladin.”
“Salad Fork? I remember him. I thought that dinner went well.”
“He wasn’t a fan of that little nickname you gave him, and no, that dinner did not go well. You kept knocking his utensils off the table, and then you spilled his water.”
“The guy kept looking down your shirt.”
“That was just your imagination, Snowball. God, you were always so jealous.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a jealous bone in my body.”
Jean Grey comes back and starts rubbing against Gia. Gia bends down to pet her, and a surge of rage pulses through me. I ball up my fists and fight the urge to punt the cat across the room like a football. Fucking flirt.
“Any time someone texted me, you’d be looking over my shoulder to see what they said.”
“Only if the message made you smile. I think that’s totally reasonable.”
“One time I came out of the bathroom and caught you reading my email.”
“It’s not my fault you forgot to log out. Curiosity is in my DNA. You know I can’t resist things like that.”
I’m glad she thinks it was only one time. I knew all of her usernames and passwords and monitored all of her social media accounts. I could list every item in her purse, tell you what she had under her bed, where she hid her nunchucks, and the combination to her floor safe where she kept her diamond-encrusted dildo.
“Then there was that time in class when you spilled ink on that guy’s drawing because you didn’t like how close I was standing to him.”
“In my defense, that was supposed to seem like an accident.”
She shakes her head. “I’m worried about you, Snowball. You’ve always had problems with anxiety and impulse control, but I thought you had a handle on it. Weren’t you doing those breathing exercises?”
She’s referring to the nadi shodhana techniques performed in pranayama yoga. For a while, it helped me cope with the stress of being a cat in a human world, with all of the sudden noises and flashing lights and locked doors.
“It stopped working.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but then you need to find something else. In fact, maybe you should think about getting some professional help.”
“You mean like a prostitute?”
“What? No, I mean like therapy. Satan knows, it’s done wonders for me.”
“Seriously, you want me to see a shrink?”
“Yeah, I think you should consider it.”
“What about a psychic, should I talk to one of those, too? Or a Tarot card reader?”
She sighs. “You should take this seriously, Snowball. You’re not well.”
“Why do you even care? It’s not your problem anymore.”
“Except it sort of is, since you’re stalking me.”
“Oh, come on, I’m not stalking you. We live in the same city; we’re bound to run into each other once in a while. I mean, my father’s your boss, for shit’s sake.”
Her lips tighten at the mention of her livelihood. “Stalking or not, whatever this is isn’t healthy. You know, I was really hoping we could be friends after we broke up, but that can’t happen until you get your shit together. Anyway, I’ve got a class to teach. Take care of yourself.” She starts walking towards the register with the French film book in hand.
“Hey, uh, I just bought some charcoal, mind if I…”
She glares at me.
“Ok, maybe next time.”
“Get some help.”
Jean Grey nuzzles sympathetically. I stay and pet her until Gia leaves.
Two bad decisions later, I find myself in the cluttered janitor’s closet at Eight Deadly Sins with my cock in Peppermint’s mouth. This time, it’s not going well. She moves it around with her tongue as though she’s sucking on a gummy worm, but the thing does not want to grow.
I exhale a sigh of failure. “That’s ok, Peppermint, you can stop. I guess it’s not going to happen today.”
She comes up from her knees. “Is something bothering you? Because this is the exact opposite of what happened last time.” The look on her face is sympathetic without being condescending.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I thought everything was back to normal, but I guess it isn’t.”
“Back to normal?”
“I had an, uh… accident recently. But it was fixed. Or at least it was supposed to be. As you said, last time I was here, I had no problem rising to the occasion, so I don’t know what the hell’s going on now.”
“Well, I’m no doctor, but I know this sort of thing can sometimes be caused by anxiety. Are you more stressed out than usual?”
I’m broke, I’m still obsessed with my ex, I’m down to my last life, and someone is trying to kill me, but Peppermint doesn’t need to hear all that. I’m not paying her enough.
“Maybe you just need more sleep.”
“I guess a cat can always use more sleep.”
“Come here. Let’s sit for a while.”
After closing her robe, she grabs my paw and pulls me to the floor. It’s actually kind of cozy in here. The heavenly bleach fumes work with the alcohol in my system to dull the sting of sexual frustration.
She rests her head on my chest and runs her fingers through the fur on my neck.
“This is nice, but won’t you get in trouble? Don’t you have to get back on stage at some point?”
I didn’t see any men in black when I came in, but there were plainclothes cops at the bar again.
She smiles. “I’m Mr. Makarov’s favorite. I can do whatever I want.”
“If you pull your shorts up, we’ll just be two people hanging out in the closet.
“Good call.” I awkwardly wriggle back into my shorts without getting up from the floor.
She’s not telling me that this sort of thing happens to all men, or that I shouldn’t worry about it, or that it’s no big deal. She’s learned these words only make it worse. Instead, she’s just letting me feel what I feel and not complaining when I drool in her hair. The goal in coming here was to fuck a woman who isn’t Gia, but I guess taking a nap in a closet with a sympathetic stripper is the best I can do these days.