Fiction by Phill Arensberg
It was one of those perfect New York City summer nights. The cool of the evening had just begun to settle in and the humidity, previously so oppressive, was a comforting lushness in the air. Outside of our kitchen window, elms and oaks clustered around the brownstones and apartment buildings. The everpresent lion’s roar of New York was there; running in counterpoint was the music box melodies of a lone Mr. Softee truck plying its way back and forth through the grid. We had a galley-style kitchen in our apartment. Small, tight, and intimate. It mushroomed out into a dining area where our battered table lived. The table was covered with two cats drowsily nosing the breeze, a tangle of New York Times sections, and our wine glasses. Brenda and I moved easily around each other in the small kitchen as we prepared our meal.
Mexican night. She toasted taco shells in the oven while I chopped and diced onions, peppers, and chilies for ceviche. It was perfect — one of those sweet, soft moments that you summon when things are cold or tense or dire. I remember Count Basie on the stereo, “Stomping at the Savoy.” Negative spaces — between the piano and the orchestra, between Brenda and me in the kitchen. Comfortable yet charged with energy and passion.
Passion. When passion is given such a fertile, lush, luscious arena in which to loll and lounge, it will get antsy. It will get stir crazy, and, as the oppressive heat of July in the city lifts, it will grin its ape grin and start to stir the pot. I stirred. I stirred the bowl of chopped lime-soaked aromatics. I stirred in my jeans and T-shirt. Brenda was wearing a white skirt, loose and diaphanous, low on her hips. She swayed and bopped with the music. Her FASHION SUCKS T-shirt stretched across her breasts. I stirred. Passion grinned and turned up the volume. We had our backs to each other, she facing the stove, I facing the counter. I had just diced a deep green, glossy jalapeño and added it to my bowl. I started to mix gently and to knead, wiped my hands with a tea towel, and turned.
Brenda was grinning at me. She was grinning a grin that passion had lent her. And it worked. Well. I couldn’t help but smile back at her. It was a perfect evening. We were young, safe, in love in New York. We kissed. My hands trailed to her hips. We kissed some more. Her hands cupped my face and played with my hair. My hands moved up, under her shirt, lifting, cupping, teasing. Her hands were like birds. Not fluttery and delicate, but like kingfishers: focused, dive-bombing toward my fly with intent and purpose. There was no fucking around. The skirt was next to go. I remembered she had bought it in Mexico, and, despite the heat of the place, I’m sure the skirt, raised in a strict Catholic country where propriety is paramount, could not be party to the porn that was about to go down in our kitchen. Ever chivalrous, my pants had departed, as well, no doubt to escort Brenda’s skirt to a place of sanctity. I pictured them nestled together in a quiet church for vespers. But regardless of how demure our clothes were, we certainly had other plans. I stroked myself briefly, then saw to Brenda like John the Baptist and prepared the way.
Her hands slammed down on the counter, rattling the cookware. She looked over her shoulder at me, smiling, the all-American-beauty wet dream dangerous curves ahead whipsmart .357 Teflon-coated Saturday night special liberal heartland taking what she wanted and giving back the same. And we moved together. And still Basie and his crew jumped and jived as twilight turned to dark. And it was perfect. The floor was cool and the night was spread out and we moved together. And then it got hot. And with that last sentence, I have abandoned metaphor. It was not porno hot or erotic hot. It was actually hot. I wasn’t sure if I was imagining it or not, so, like a good soldier, I continued onward toward victory. Then, all uncertainty departed the situation as Brenda jumped forward and left me hanging.
“What the fuck?” To this day, I’m still not certain who yelled it, but we were both thinking it.
Our genitals had become completely coated with the oil from the jalapeño, inside and out. There is no small amount of personal insight you may gain from jumping around a tiny kitchen with your lover whose junk, like yours, is smeared with Mexican fire juice. I was in no position to appreciate truly the finer points of this insight because I was busy trying to wedge my pelvis into the sink.
Brenda was in much the same predicament, although it was apparent that she had a somewhat firmer grasp on the cause/effect symmetry of the moment. “You ASSHOLE! Why didn’t you wash your hands?” This was delivered in something halfway between a yelp and a giggle.
By this point, I had moved to a prone position on the linoleum and was in the process of trying to get my jeans off over my sneakers. My cock was still sweltering under the devastating onslaught of the fiery Latino pepper. Brenda was doing laps around the apartment, fanning her crotch with a magazine. This seemed like a good plan.
Dignity, often something we take for granted, can seem like a faraway shining city on the plains when you’re wearing nothing but shoes and a T-shirt while playing tug of war with a copy of Mirabella so that you can fan your wang which had, by this point, turned the color of a flamingo. The air currents clearly were not working. In fact, both the fanning technique and the application of water had done nothing but exacerbate the situation. We once again found ourselves in the kitchen, pantsless with our junk on fire. I was at a loss and was trying to envision a life where “searing pain” would be the default state for penis.
Brenda grabbed onto the front of my shirt, twisted, and took a toupee’s worth of chest hair with her. “Milk!” she yelled. I looked confused, but as I had basically caused this entire incident and had nothing as productive as “Milk!” to offer, I figured discretion should be my watchword, right after “Fuck, my dick is burning!”
Five minutes later, we were hanging out in the bathroom, while the cats quietly dined on broken taco shells shattered in our Crotch Fire dance. It was once again quiet and cool in the apartment. I stood leaning against the sink enjoying the feeling of the cool tile on my bare feet. Brenda sat next to me on the toilet. I reached out to lay a hand tenderly on her shoulder. My other hand loosely held a glass of milk in which my cock and balls lounged like retirees in a Palm Beach hot tub. Brenda tried not to snicker too much, as it tended to complicate the milk-soaked tampon she was currently enjoying.
“When I turn this into a short story,” I asked, “where do you think I should say I got the idea?”
Brenda’s response was instantaneous and vehement, “Other people’s lives.” It was perfect.
The 2015 Luminaire Award for Best Prose
We are pleased to announce this piece as a finalist for the 2015 Luminaire Award for Best Prose, honoring the independent press’ best short stories and hybrid prose works of the year. The winners are selected by an external panel that judges all pieces blind and selects the full list of finalists. Alternating Current does not determine the final outcome for the judging; the external judges’ decisions are final.
Originally from Albany, NY, Phill Arensberg graduated from Connecticut College with a BA in English literature and he attended the conservatory program at Chicago’s Second City. Phill is the co-author of the serialized radio play, Who Killed Mysterioso, as well as the creator of five improvised plays. He’s also authored the narration of the documentary, The Albany Mummies. Phill is also an avid improviser, performing with Comedy Sportz and Boom Chicago. Currently, Phill lives in Seattle with his amazing wife, Holly, and their cat, Haroun.
Originally published on 7/9/15.