DOWN IN ARMS
(By Matthew Walden)
Jordan hated the Giddy-Up Boys in his office. That’s what he called them privately in his head, because anytime a moderately attractive female would pass, the four of them would flap their hands in the air like they were riding a horse. Well, honestly, they were probably pretending to slap the woman’s ass, but then they’d follow it up with some hand and hip gestures that suggested they were grabbing the reigns and riding that stubborn old nag back into the stables. Afterwards, they’d high five each other as if they’d just delivered a real gut-slapper. Pryor on the Sunset Strip they were not.
God, Jordan really, really hated the Giddy-Up Boys.
The Giddy-Up Boys walked down the muted beige hallways of PynePlex with the most dickish exaggerated swagger they could muster. Like if Jordan were to do a caricature of a frat guy walking with his chest puffed out and his upper lip curled, that would be subtle compared to the Platonic douchey ideal their swaggers reified.
When the Giddy-Up Boys began growing their ironic moustaches in late winter that year, Jordan had simply had enough. They didn’t all show up together with them on the same day, though. John, the tall-one with moles on his face, kicked off the trend.
“All right, all right, Long John Silver,” said Rick, the short, balding one, as he passed John in the muted beige hallway. “Rockin’ stache!”
“You know it, Rick Stick,” said Long John, as he made the jerking-off gesture in front of his pants.
“Easy there, mister,” said Rick Stick. He dodged Long John’s imaginary ejaculate. This cracked them both up, for which they rewarded each other with high fives.
Long John fiddled with the short brown hairs on his moustache and the two men winked at each other.
I hate his goddamned moustache, thought Jordan, as he filled his coffee mug with hot water.
Jordan spent the rest of the afternoon red-flagging emails in his PynePlex corporate account, trying his best to sneak a glance over the cubicles at the darling new temp, Prescott, who had just joined the team last week. That day she was wearing a modest burgundy sweater with a pleated grey skirt and oxford kitten heels that aroused anything but modest thoughts in Jordan.
An image flashed across his mind of him lifting that modest burgundy sweater and burying his face in between her breasts, her nipples just stiff enough to be faintly visible against her royal blue lace bra. And then he stopped himself because he respected women, and most of all he respected Prescott, who probably slept on pillows made out of angel wings, and probably cried anytime those ads came on TV with those babies with distended stomachs and cleft palates. What kind of music did Prescott like, in addition to classical?, Jordan wondered.
He red-flagged three more emails that he might need to cover his ass when / if the PynePlex analytics package for GramRock fell to pieces.
A week later, Rick Stick passed Samuel, the skinny black member of the Giddy-Up Boys, in the muted beige hallway. Rick Stick had now grown a moustache as well.
“Rick Stick,” said Samuel in his deepest, blackest voice.
“What’s up, my man, Sam-Blam-Thank-You-Ma’am?” asked Rick Stick, as Sam-Blam engaged him in an elaborate seven-step hand shake that ended in a fist bump, but not an explosion. Explosions were a young man’s game. They kept it classy.
“Got a little action there, I see?” asked Sam-Blam, who wiggled his fingers above his own still bare upper lip.
“You know it. Choice. She was totally choice,” said Rick Stick, his smirk uncontainable, quickly widening into a grimace.
“Easy. Settle down. I got next,” said Sam-Blam, and they were both off to the races, giddying-up down the hallway.
Two goddamned moustaches, thought Jordan, as he filled his coffee mug with hot water. They’re infecting each other.
Jordan spent the rest of the afternoon unflagging emails in his PynePlex corporate account. The sale with GramRock had gone through, thank heavens above. He would not be held accountable for that time he had ruffled the stupid ad reps’ feathers with his honesty and sense of urgency.
The way things had shaken out, he now had total immunity. He was like one of those crafty contestants on Survivor. He had been so smart and subtle in his maneuverings he was practically a sex-god, ready for any intelligent and completely consenting woman brave enough to take him on. He should join the gym.
Jordan rapidly clicked down the list of old emails with red flags, feeling renewed vigor and determination. Won’t be needing these anymore. Click. Click. Boom.
“If you click it too much, you’ll go blind,” said Prescott, whose sing-songy voice must have been transmitted through her genes from Hildegaard of Binen, because it was so pretty and unique, and righteous and wise.
“That’s what they say, isn’t it?” Jordan quipped back with what he hoped was the perfect blend of chipperness and worldly cynicism, but the mild kind of cynicism that didn’t lean too far toward noxiousness.
They both laughed. This was going great.
“Are you our new intern? I’m Jordan. I don’t believe we’ve met.” He stood to shake her hand, hitting his knee against his keyboard on the way up. The resulting clatter on his desk sounded like a hailstorm, but he tried to paper it over with the most gentlemanly and self-assured handshake he could conjure.
“Of course we’ve met, silly. You showed me to the kitchen on my first day.” Prescott’s smile widened, revealing an inwardly slanted left incisor. An imperfection. It only made Jordan love her more.
“That’s right. The old ‘trip round the kitchen.’ I didn’t forget,” Jordan laughed back at her, straightening his tie. “It’s just I wouldn’t blame you if you’d forgotten with all the hustle and bustle. It’s been a bit nutso here lately hasn’t it?”
“I can handle it. I’m a bit nutso myself.”
“So not your first BBQ then?” asked Jordan. Goddamnit. First BBQ? What kind of pathetic shit is that? That’s not how you talk.
“Honey, I wish it were,” said Prescott, before adding with false modesty, “but thanks for thinking I’m that young.”
She had called him honey. Already. It was a love chosen by the stars. She was probably a feminist. One of the good kind. He smiled at her in a way that he hoped suggested, Don’t worry, gal. I’m probably a feminist too. Then, but only in his mind, where, really folks, it didn’t count, he buried his face into that bountiful royal blue bra.
The next week, Sam-Blam passed Ralph, the pudgy one with the handsome jawline, in the muted beige hallway.
“Once they go black, they always want a smack,” said Ralph, pointing out Sam-Blam’s newly sprouted moustache.
“You know it, Ralph Macchio,” said Sam-Blam, adopting the Karate Kid crane stance. “Hwaaaaaaaaaaa!”
Ralph adopted the Karate Kid crane stance as well, but given his pudginess, he struggled to maintain his balance and parlayed his wavering arms into the jerking-off gesture, but with both hands, and a subsequently large imaginary explosion: “Pa-kow.”
Sam-Blam shook his head. Explosions were a young man’s game. He tried to keep it classy.
“We’re counting on you Ralph. We dug the trench. Now it’s your turn to lay in the pipe.”
“Done and done, Toucan Sam. Woah. Easy there,” Ralph shouted as he giddied-up down the hallway.
Jordan bristled with hatred as he filled his coffee mug with hot water.
Later that afternoon, Jordan bristled with hatred a second time when he spotted Ralph leaning over Prescott’s partitioned cubicle wall. They were too far away for him to eavesdrop on their conversation, but Jordan’s heart plummeted into the lower depths of his stomach when that utter cretin practically forced that angelic angel into giving him a high five. It’s as if Ralph had come by with an extremely dull knife and carved off a corner of Jordan’s soul.
Prescott didn’t belong to the Giddy-Up Boys. She belonged to the entire world to behold as an object of beauty. And now that she’d been high-fived by that utter dipshit, something intangible, yet still very real, had been sullied. Fuck everything about that high-five.
* * *
Jordan leaned against the window overlooking the PynePlex parking lot, trying to regain some semblance of waking consciousness. It had been a rough weekend. He had wanted to get some jogging time logged, maybe dip in and catch a few of the silent films at the von Stroheim retrospective.
Instead, he’d spent the damn thing microwaving cartons of supermarket Pad Thai in his apartment while texting back and forth with the PynePlex VP, Ramsey Yardden, who’d done too much coke on Friday evening, again, and had chosen Jordan, again, to babysit his self-esteem and affirm each one of his chaotic new business venture propositions with asininely soothing texts, such as these, which Jordan practically typed on auto-pilot:
“You’re a true visionary.”
“You lead and I follow.”
“The team’s going to be jazzed to make a few sacrifices.”
The avalanche of texts Jordan received from Ramsey adhered to no known-terrestrial sleeping schedule, with the first arriving at 3:30 am on Saturday, then 8:15 the following morning, then radio-silence for about 4 hours while Ramsey ran out to buy more coke, before resuming at 12:58 in the afternoon, at which point they fired in a steady beat every fifteen minutes until the weekend had been spent.
They began with the fairly rational,
“Let’s print out some schedules and re-prioritize our action items next week”
with a slight falter in Ramsey’s faculties by the time the following arrived,
“try to shoOre up rrelaitions while Awaiting Q2 results”
before eventually leading up to the grandiose,
“NEVER WORRY ABOUT THE CRITICISMS OF ANYONE WHO DOES NOT HAVE HIS HANDS COVERED WITH THE BLOOD OF THE CALF THEY WILL EAT.”
Jordan had been so busy catering to the whims of Ramsey’s ego that he had barely found the time to properly masturbate over Prescott, sneaking in hurried and undistinguished sessions over the kitchen sink until his cell phone inevitably chimed him back to the concreteness of his tiny studio apartment, with grey ringed cobwebs surrounding the vents above the stovetop that perfectly matched the droopy, wrinkled bags of loathing just below Jordan’s eyes.
Before finally succumbing to sleep sometime after 2 am, let the damn thing chime, he had typed up a frantic email to his mother on his laptop while laying in bed. He only initiated correspondence with his parents when his anxiety climbed to its shrillest peak:
Hey Mom. You’re such a sweet, generous spirit. We’re lucky to have a gal like you around.
One never actually sends an email like that. One deletes those types of emails. It’s not his job as a son to coddle that old hag’s self-absorption. There were jobs where they paid people minimally acceptable wages and allowed them half-day Fridays during the summer for performing that sort of task.
And so it was that the glass window overlooking the PynePlex parking lot felt particularly cool and calming against Jordan’s tense cheek that Monday morning. But his respite didn’t last, because soon enough, Ralph squealed across the asphalt in his metallic blue Chevrolet Monte Carlo, the body of the car thudding deeply from the bass in a dubstep remix of Wonderwall.
Jordan spilled some of his hot green tea onto his palm when he saw Prescott exit demurely from the passenger seat. Ralph stepped out too and made an elaborate display of locking the car remotely. Prescott gave him a playful punch on his right shoulder after he honked the horn three times. Jordan wasn’t sure, but it looked like Ralph mouthed the words “me so horny” to her, to which Prescott replied with a half-hearted slap to the back of Ralph’s neck.
Jordan trudged back to his desk demoralized, and then angry with himself for getting demoralized, and then angry with the world for allowing really nice guys like himself to be demoralized by demoralizing assholes like Ralph.
He would bet money on the fact that Ralph probably never volunteered for the PynePlex Community Works program where employees could clean up the beach or mentor disabled Puerto Rican kids for a day. Jerks like Ralph never have the heart for a life of service.
Jordan didn’t want to live in a world where guys like Raph got to sleep with seraphic embodiments of femininity like Prescott, but then he immediately reminded himself that he hadn’t seriously considered suicide since high school, and a good way to not get caught in that kind of trap again was to not think about the degrees to which he no longer wished to live in the world. Nope. Everything was just fine in Jordan town.
Jordan had almost collapsed into a pile of his own exhaustion by late afternoon, which propelled him to the water cooler for his seventh mug of hot green tea. The Giddy-Up Boys had already congregated in the muted beige hallway, along with Ramsey Yardden, corporate VP, who was complimenting them on their new moustaches.
“Nice work boys. Glad there’s still some real men left in the world. And Ralph, I see you’ve got a bit of a starter growing in there too. A little something?”
Ralph turned bright red as he fingered the stubble starting to grow in above his lip. “Working on it boss. Working on it. I’ve earned it, so to speak, just letting nature run its course.”
Long John and Sam-Blam and Rick Stick giggled low-fived each other. Rick Stick gave Ralph a noogie.
Ramsey laughed a little too hard, joining the commotion with a baritone guffaw that begged to be let in on their private joke.
Long John glanced over his shoulder before putting his arm around Ramsey. “You know Prescott, the new temp we just picked up?” he asked in a half-whisper.
Ramsey nodded solemnly with his lips pursed, as if to say, what sort of eunuch wouldn’t have clocked her?
“Well,” Long John continued, “the four of us had a little gentleman’s wager that we’d each be able to land her.” He whistled and made a downward swoop with his hand.
“And …?” Ramsey prompted, gesturing conspiringly with his palm up at waist level.
“And,” Rick Stick jumped in, “Never point a loaded moustache at a woman you don’t intend to thrill.”
“Boom,” said Sam-Blam, wiping his finger across his moustache.
“Boom,” repeated Ralph with a wide stubbled grin, turning bright red once again.
Ramsey leaned his head backwards, closed his eyes and laughed, then shook his his face and shoulders like he was finishing a euphoric, long-awaited piss. “I didn’t hear it.” He held up both his hands next to his face, “As your boss, I didn’t hear it. I’m extremely proud of the thing I didn’t hear and have no knowledge of.”
Ramsey walked away smiling to himself, and gave Jordan two light pats on the back as he passed by. “Cheer up pal. You look sleepier than Satan on a Sunday morning.”
Jordan wondered if anyone else in the history of life had ever experienced as much suffering as he did at that exact moment. And there it was again. The ugly beast of self pity, coming to scrape against his defenses with its dirty, sharpened claws. Of course people had suffered worse than him. Like that Jesus fella, just to think of an example, who died nailed to some planks of wood, of all things. That had to suck.
But hang on. Jesus probably didn’t hate himself with the burning intensity of a white dwarf star. Jesus was on a mission to save humanity, presumably, and, according to the most popular account, had succeeded on that mission. That’s enough to give anyone some temerity in the face of adversity. Now, if Jesus had died while under the impression that he were not the son of God, but merely a colossal fuck-up whose life had been pointless, and whose inability to connect with any female had left his black cauldron of a soul simmering with muted resentment, well, that would’ve counted as a sacrifice.
The winds of sadness continued to blow through Jordan that afternoon, whistling an age-old tune, with countless notes of fragile dissonance, of which further enumeration here might prove counter-productive.
Hey Dad. It’s Jordan. Having a bit of a rough day at work and I wanted to check on you and the dogs. Hope things are good and just wanted to say if you ever need to come down and visit, I’m feeling more receptive to the idea lately. All my best.
Delete. Delete. Delete. Deleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeete.
Jordan ran into Ralph at the elevator. Ralph gave a big salute in a way that suggested, hey, maybe one day we might become chums. Jordan glanced at his obnoxious half-stubble moustache, then turned to stare blankly at the numbers descending above the elevator. They both entered and the silence enveloped them as the door shut.
“Ready to get out of this shit hole,” Jordan mumbled.
“Is it really a shit hole?” Ralph asked smiling. The smile looked like it had enjoyed rubbing itself all over Prescott’s body.
“Everywhere’s a shit hole after a few months,” said Jordan.
“Well, be careful, my friend,” said Ralph, following behind Jordan as the elevator opened onto the parking lot. “The shit holes get a lot deeper out there. Trust me.”
You can drive your stupid blue Chevy straight into a shit hole, thought Jordan. On no less than twelve occasions, while fighting his way home through rush hour traffic, he practiced saying it aloud.
The next week was rough for Jordan, even though he knew it shouldn’t be, given everything he knew he was supposed to appreciate about his life, like not having malaria, or not being in danger of becoming ethnically cleansed.
The temptation to feel sorry for himself was strong, but it appealed to the worst angels of his nature, and besides, he should really be feeling sorry for Prescott, who was so clearly being taken advantage of and humiliated in that grotesque frat boy ritual. He couldn’t bring himself to dole out his chipper hello nods when he passed her in the hallway anymore, as if merely acknowledging her existence would somehow make him complicit in the Giddy-Up Boys’ schemes. Every fist bump across the partitions, each cockeyed smirk, any spontaneous eruption of masculine joie de vivre cast a shadow across Jordan’s sullen corner of the office and planted a dim barrier between him and his feelings of human connectedness.
One night at home, he poured himself a glass of gin, couldn’t find anything else to mix it with, and decided that grapefruit juice might not taste that bad. Maybe he’d invent his own drink. That would lift his spirits if it turned out to be drinkable.
Prescott: What are you having?
Jordan: This, oh nothing, just a Grapefruit Ginny.
Prescott: I’ve heard about that!
Jordan: I discovered it. It’s delicious.
Ralph: Me and my boys drink that shit all the time.
Jordan: Go to hell.
When he’d reclined himself across his grey couch Jordan gently shook the glass, swirling the pink sludge. He really hated himself for letting them get to him. When whom should he be hating? Them of course. Those ridiculous, low-class apes.
Jordan finished his drink in one giant gulp and felt his stomach gurgle in disapproval. He turned up the volume on CNN in his bedroom before he drew himself a bath. A new-age health guru was urging Wolf Blitzer to get in touch with the loving side of his personality.
The bathwater was too hot; Jordan always made it that way so he could sit with it for a while before it turned cold. It stung his legs and ass as he lowered himself into the water, and he scratched himself along his thighs with the hunger of his ravenous disappointment.
“Mister Blitzer, repeat after me: I am capable of giving and receiving love. What could it hurt to say it?”
The steam clouded Jordan’s face and he closed his eyes, lowering the back of his head into the hot water until only his mouth and nose retained contact with the air outside his liquid shell. He found himself repeating the slogan inside his mind, despite finding it so obviously phony and uncool. I am capable of giving and receiving love. Jordan swam toward the black hole at the center of his thoughts and tried as hard as he could to not give himself over to despondency with its endless supply of empty gifts.
Jordan flushed the toilet in the bathroom stall at work, and came out to find all four of the Giddy-Up Boys stationed along the sinks, lathering their upper lips with shaving cream and ripping disposable razors out of plastic Rite Aid packages.
Rick Stick had finished shaving off his moustache first and was busy flicking shaving cream into the eyes of Long John.
“Normally, I wouldn’t tolerate that,” said Long John, tempering his anger with a slight smile, “but lucky for you, I wish I were blind right now.”
The four of them burst into laughter. Sam-Blam tapped his razor against the side of the sink and caught Jordan’s eye in the mirror. Sam turned around to face him, with a large dab of shaving cream still covering half his lip. “Caveat emptor, there chief. The Girl’s Gone Wild. When Nature Attacks.”
Sam’s warning seemed less cryptic, that afternoon, when Jordan finally saw Prescott’s newly grown moustache while walking down the muted beige hallway for his afternoon tea. At first, he thought a tiny caterpillar had fallen onto her face, because that seemed much more probable than an actual moustache. But when he squinted and pretended to look past her, it was undeniable: she had a moustache of her own, not quite fully grown, a bit thin and bristly, but certainly something more substantial than a good bleaching could cure. She stood tall with her shoulders squared back and gave Jordan a large wave and a smile as he approached
“Hi there, Jordan! Tea time?”
Jordan blushed. “Yes, indeed. You know me.” He raised his empty mug, “Gotta have … my tea.” He noticed he was blinking more than he should, and he reminded his woozy feet to step forward casually.
“Notice anything different about me?” she called from behind him before he could turn the corner.
“New shoes?” Jordan asked.
Prescott cracked up, showing off that undeniably adorable crooked tooth, still there, still cute, in spite of that awful, was it awful?, patch of hair infecting her smile. Prescott waltzed up and punched Jordan on the arm, in the same playful way she had down with Ralph in the parking lot.
“You’re all right, chap,” said Prescott.
Jordan couldn’t help but smile back.
That night Jordan smoked a joint and masturbated to his new image of Prescott with facial hair. He did a little prep work beforehand, turned the lights down, lit some scented candles in his bedroom, put on a luxurious microfibre bathrobe that felt like silk against his naked skin. “I’m such a girl,” he laughed to himself.
He even decided to make his arm fall asleep by lying against it behind his back with his full weight for ten minutes, a technique he reserved for only the most special occasions. When his hand felt loose and wobbly and numb, he closed his eyes and pretended it belonged to Prescott. His fingers felt foreign enough against his skin that he could almost believe it. By the time he brought himself off, he had worked into such a stoned stupor that his mind shot out into infinity and hovered there among the stars.
I am capable of giving and receiving love. An imaginary Prescott grabbed Jordan’s tingling hand as he shook it back awake and intertwined her fingers with his. He drifted off to sleep, with his leg hanging out of his bathrobe over the side of the bed, feeling shamelessly undomesticated and potent.
Jordan woke up with a deliriously enjoyable combination of grogginess and fortitude. Mustering his best Doris Day impression, he belted out Que Sera Sera to his apartment while he boiled water in a tea kettle. His english muffin, smothered in organic blackberry jam, which he always ate in the car on the way to the office, tasted like the sweetness of succumbing to anesthesia.
There was a new day in front of him. Even the buildings out the side of his car window looked different as he sped past. The imposing corporate business signs colliding through the strip malls didn’t taunt him with a world of adult responsibilities and power he had to play-act his way through. He belonged to it all. He was of it. A creator and builder of things and ideas.
Still high off his erratic and unscheduled infusion of good spirits, Jordan didn’t yet register the drastic difference in his coworkers as he strutted heel to toe through the parking lot, twirling his car keys into the air and catching them again, applauding his own hand and eye coordination as if it were something more magnificent than an innate skill available to all bipedal primates.
Prescott was waiting for him at his cubicle. For once, the universe seemed to have lined up its offerings with Jordan’s internal state of being. She was wearing a black chiffon blouse adorned with glittery silver stars, quite possibly obtained when she descended from her home planet whose atmospheric conditions had been perfectly calibrated to foster creatures of unique intelligence and elegance. Her moustache was gone, which was somewhat of a relief to Jordan. He’d tabled the idea that it had mesmerized him with a deep sense of perverse attraction. If it didn’t make another appearance he wouldn’t have to unpack whatever all that meant.
“Good morning,” Prescott said, offering up a modest half-curtsy with the perfect dollop of ironic detachment that nearly melted into sincerity.
“Morning, morning,” Jordan said, tossing his keys so that they skidded across his desk in the manner keys would if they belonged to someone with a high degree of confidence and self-respect.
They both looked at each other. Prescott closed her eyes before she spoke, “Typically, I’d do a little preamble here where I tried to butter you up first, but I had two cups of coffee this morning, and I’m feeling a little blunt.” She sensed Jordan’s unease in the way his eyebrows scrunched down.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she continued, running her finger along the plastic lining of Jordan’s partition wall, “It’s a good thing. I’m not asking for a favor. At least I hope it’s not a favor. Do you want to get drinks with me on Friday? For lunch? I’m a bit bored, and after my big splash here yesterday, people don’t seem to want to make eye contact with me.” She put her finger under her nose the way people do when they make a Hitler impression.
Jordan had imagined a multitude of arcane steps, as esoteric to him as the processes of alchemy or water dousing, coming between his desire to befriend Prescott and the actual event itself, so her abrupt invitation left him unable to speak. She filled the silence for him.
“No pressure. If you’re up for it, I’ll just swing by on Friday and we’ll head out together.”
“No, truly, that sounds great. One hundred percent up for it,” Jordan managed.
“Nice,” said Prescott. “You haven’t seen me drunk before. It’s gonna be a complete shit show. Joking. But it’ll be fun.”
They both smiled and let the moment glow between them.
Prescott finally added, “The moustache was just to get a rise out of them, you know?”
“Oh totally. Yeah. Of course,” said Jordan, who couldn’t help but look away from her as he responded, as if eye contact with her at that moment would somehow spell out how and why he had occupied himself the previous evening.
“I mean, it was real,” Prescott continued, “but it’s something I usually take care of, and I figured two could play at that game, so I let it grow out over the weekend and that was that. But I made my point.” Prescott crossed her arms in front of her chest. Jordan glanced at her eyes, then her chest, and then her eyes again.
“Hey, your thing’s your thing, right?” Jordan said, without knowing what he meant by it.
“Right? Thank you! See ya on Friday,” said Prescott. She smiled and pointed at Jordan, as if to say, this one’s got it figured out.
And when she walked away, her hips sashaying quite modestly, before the bubbles of excitement had even reached his ears, Jordan saw Prescott’s third arm hanging down from the center of her back, with its own black sleeve sewn onto the back of her blouse, as if it had always been there. It hung down slightly longer than the arms on her sides, and was bent slightly at the elbow, so that her third hand could rest naturally in the back pocket of her butterscotch stretch denim slacks.
Surrounding Jordan, across the whole floor of his office, how in the world could he have missed it?, stood a throng of employees, going about their morning routines, making phone calls, unjamming the Xerox machine, typing emails, chattering in droned banalities, all with an extra arm hanging down from their backs. They all looked uniformly natural, if you could call such a thing natural, in that they all appeared to be comprised of real human flesh, and they all fit nicely into everyone’s garments, as if shirts with an extra sleeve in the back were standard issue.
Jordan’s first thought was that he’d missed another email about a stupid team building exercise, in which they were all to obtain third arms that perfectly matched their skin tone and body types and all wear them to the office on the same day. But that was unlikely, because Jordan didn’t ever miss a single email, he was in fact, a god of email organization, his livelihood as Ramsey Yardden’s personal sycophant required it, and it was actually much more probable that the entire world would simultaneously sprout new appendages than for him to have missed a damn team building exercise.
Maybe he had a new arm too. Maybe humans had always had three arms instead of two, and he had just gotten so snookered on marijuana last night that he had damaged the parts of his brain that contained the knowledge that, yes, we all indeed have three arms. He reached around to his back and rubbed with his hands to see if he could feel anything, but there was nothing to reassure him he wasn’t yet again a lone wolf, missing that mysterious ingredient that helped him belong to the rest of the human community.
* * *
Friday couldn’t arrive quickly enough. Of all the days of the week, it had become the singularity, the horizon beyond which everything in Jordan’s life would become unpredictably dynamic, even potentially, dare he dream, better. He could feel it down to the soles of his pleather penny loafers.
So absorbed was Jordan in his impending conquest that he only devoted half of his thoughts to the utterly absurd revolution in arms that had taken place in PynePlex. Ramsey Yardden, corporate VP, had called a meeting, which had managed to simultaneously elucidate and obfuscate the issue.
Ramsey stood on top of one of the empty desks near the entrance to the third floor and clapped his normal hands together.
“Listen up, folks. Listen up,” said Ramsey. He surveyed the office while people gradually ceased their bustling and turned toward him in their chairs.
“You know how I’ve always said you’re only as great as YOU think you are,” Ramsey began. Everyone nodded. A few kiss-asses gave a ponderous, “Hmmm.”
Ramsey continued, “I hope you’re feeling pretty damn great right about now. Don’t let my praise mislead you though. It doesn’t matter if I’m your boss. Well, it matters. Let me back up. Johnny, you’re smiling too much at that one.”
Long John raised all three of his arms. Guilty as charged. Polite laughter, drained of warmth and dignity, ensued.
“What I’m saying is, existentially, in terms of the soul and what have you, greatness comes from within, not from your boss telling you he thinks that, collectively, as a team, you’re all shit-hot and on fire right now.”
Everyone broke into applause, using their extra arms to thump the partitions in the cubicles, or to rap their third set of knuckles against their desks.
“So, I hope you’ll take this with you today, as we continue to exceed our grasp, and dream of bigger opportunities,” Ramsey clutched his heart with his third arm (which was now the one sporting his extravagant crocodile-leather watch), and paused for a beat.
“Arm yourselves against intruders of your spirit. Arm yourselves against those who would rob you of your joy. Congratulations everyone. You’ve earned your growth.”
Ramsey raised all three of his arms, with his fingers outstretched, the digits on his extra hand extending above the back of his head, just enough to give him the look of warrior headdress, poised to participate in an ancient ritual they’d all forgotten still loomed at the edge of time.
The crowd dispersed. Jordan slumped in his chair, hoping to disappear, feeling ashamed for yet another vestige of success he seemed to lack. And, as if following a hidden schedule of pre-ordained torment, the Giddy-Up Boys trotted over to his desk.
Rick Stick ruffled Jordan’s hair with his third arm. “Hey, look at this guy. He doesn’t know whether he wants to sneeze or fart.”
“I don’t need to do either, right now,” Jordan grumbled back, shoving Rick’s third hand off the back of his head. He had touched it, if only for a second. It felt warm and powerful.
“I don’t need to do either right now,” repeated Sam-Blam, with an edge of Eeyore in his voice for added humiliation.
“Where’s your new arm?” asked Ralph.
Silence while Jordan sat up straight in his chair. The Giddy-Up Boys exchanged pitying glances, as if they’d stumbled across a dead squirrel while taking a stroll through the park.
“Yeah, where’s your new arm?” Long-John asked. He reached over the partition with his third arm and swiped Jordan’s NPR coffee mug filled with ballpoint pens. He turned it over and poured all the pens into Jordan’s lap.
“C’mon, that’s not cool,” said Sam-Blam, “Let me give you a hand with that, buddy.”
Sam-Blam scooped up a chunk of pens off of Jordan’s lap with his third hand and stuffed them into his own shirt pocket. He made batman glasses with the fingers of his normal hands. “Look. I’m Jordan. I’m a giant nerd. Does not compute. Does not compute.”
“Could I please have my cup back?” Jordan asked, with no emotion, trying to remain hidden within himself. The mug was a Christmas gift he’d given himself last year, which he’d wrapped and placed near his television for two weeks, where he foolishly hoped it would be joined by other gifts, given to him externally, by other people to whom his existence might have occurred.
“Your face looks like someone dropped a pie … on your face,” quipped Long-John, before he released the NPR mug from his third hand’s grip. It fell to Jordan’s desk, the impact shattering the ceramic handle into a pile of royal blue shards. Jordan refused to look up at the men as they sauntered off with a mixture of gloating and false shame. He opened his desk drawer and swept the shards into it with his soft, undistinguished hands.
That was when Jordan knew, deep within, he would need to obtain an extra arm, by hook or by crook, in time for his big date with Prescott on Friday.
On the way home from work, while waiting in his car at red lights, he scoured Yelp on his phone looking for well-rated prosthesis stores in his neighborhood. He ultimately decided on the adequately reviewed, but moderately priced, “Limbs on a Whim,” which was in the same strip mall as the Food Lion just off of 7th.
When he stepped through the front door to the modest mini-mart, the little bell on the door handle jingling, he was overwhelmed with the antiseptic smell of bandages and disinfectants. The brightly lit shelves were stacked with stump sheathes and suspension belts, jars of Ampu-Balm, packages of blister pads, silicone gel strips, hip bands, and silver knee shrinkers. He could see himself getting lost in here if he had a real medical need, instead of a sore ego.
“What can we do for you?” a matronly woman with curly grey hair and kind eyes asked from behind the counter.
Jordan was in new territory here, and he wanted to navigate his purchase with as much tact as possible.
“Yes, ma’am. Actually. I’d like to buy a prosthetic arm, please?”
“Is it for yourself, dear?” she asked. “I don’t mean to pry, but it looks like you’ve got two hefty fellas on each side of you in good condition.” She drummed her fingers on the counter. Jordan shifted his balance to his left leg.
“The only reason I ask, hon, is because if it’s for someone else, I hope you brought their measurements.”
Jordan took the opening. “Yes, it’s for my nephew,” he lied. “The tough little fella, he just got back from Afghanistan. Got discharged for ‘pre-existing PTSD,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean, right? He’s got one of those cheapo army surplus models that can barely lift a fork up straight, so we’re all pitching in to get him something with a little more dignity.” The word felt strange coming out of Jordan’s mouth, as he sensed whatever remained of his dignity seeping out into the floor.
“Oh the poor dear. Why don’t you bring him in with you? It’s much easier to get him set up if we can measure him here in the store.”
“That’s the thing,” Jordan continued, “He took a pretty big hit. His left eyeball looks a little … melty. Like dripping down on the side,” Jordan patted down the skin on his own cheek, “so he’s not super comfortable going around in public.”
The store clerk gave a tiny pout and tilted her head to the side, “Bless his heart. That’s just … well, that’s the kind of thing that makes you …” She removed her glasses, folded them, and set them on the counter next to the register. “I think he should be proud of his disfigurement. Someone had to go and sort them out over there, didn’t they?”
Jordan approached the counter. “Yes ma’am. I think it’s a process though. You know. He’s getting there. Acknowledging that suffering is a part of existence, and reminding himself to be kind to himself in the moment. That sort of thing.”
The clerk closed her eyes and patted herself on the neck where her red cardigan opened up to a bouquet of freckled wrinkles. On the wall behind her, half-a-dozen deluxe model prosthetic arms had been mounted, illuminated by the glow of radiant track lights on the ceiling. There were three male units and three female units, each clothed in the sleeves of distinguished business casual attire.
“Which do you think he’d fancy?” the clerk asked, noticing Jordan’s gaze. He imagined himself wearing each of them, reaching out to run his artificial fingers through Prescott’s hair. The first arm looked too frail and elderly, like something that might have belonged to Peter O’Toole. It was labeled with a sign that read, “Uptown Scholar.”
Jordan also disregarded the next one, which looked pale and doughy, and whose sign read, “Modern Effete.” He already had two of those, thank you.
“I’m thinking he’ll like the third one, right at the end,” Jordan said, and tried to contain the flush he felt forming in his cheeks.
“Of course, the Total Sex-God,” the clerk chimed, “That’s our most popular model.”
Jordan pictured himself strutting around the office with his new arm. The hands looked masculine and rugged, but with an alluringly gentle side, sort of like Mel Gibson in the first Lethal Weapon.
“Why don’t we just take my measurements and hope they work for my nephew,” Jordan said. “He’s the same size as me.”
“Of course he is,” the clerk winked at him. “I’m sure that will be fine.”
By the time Friday arrived, Jordan had cobbled together a way to control his prosthetic arm. The first thing he did was clasp a belt around his chest, and then wound half a roll of duct tape around the arm to connect it to the belt just at the center of his back. As long as he didn’t jiggle too much, it was at least secure enough to get him through the day.
He checked himself out in the bathroom mirror after throwing on a steel-grey, wool sport coat, to which he’d attached an extra sleeve in the back using iron-on adhesive tape. He wouldn’t say he cut a striking figure, exactly, but there was something about the get-up that was working. Jordan smiled and instantly felt the urge to rub the day-old stubble on his chin using his brand new hand. That’s when he realized the thing had to be mobile to sell the whole package. He rummaged through a drawer and dug out some clear dental floss. After tying a loop around the middle fingers on each of his hands, and incorporating three rubber bands, and adding a few additional layers of duct tape, he was able to swing the thing in four of the egocentric coordinates.
He might actually be able to pull this damn thing off. Overly excited, Jordan Tebowed in front of the sink, ripping the duct tape off his belt on the way down, sending the arm thudding across the linoleum of his bathroom floor. After another half hour of work, and a slight decrease in his enthusiasm, he took off for the office.
For once, Jordan was actually happy to run into Ralph in the elevator on the way up. And for once, Ralph seemed to eye Jordan with something nobler than disdain.
“I gotta hand it to you, man, you’re a beast in that jacket.”
“Why thanks, Ralph.” Jordan shook out his lapels and pulled his jacket tighter against his stomach.
When the elevator doors chimed open, Jordan yanked the dental floss around the middle finger on his left hand. His new appendage responded and reached out to touch the elevator door.
“Let me get that for you, chief,” said Jordan, as he tried not to grin.
Ramsey Yardden, corporate VP, spotted Jordan in the muted beige hallway and strode over to him with that grand mix of purpose and ambivalence that marks the gaits of those with power.
“Mornin’, mornin’, Mister Jordan,” said Ramsey, delivering a sharp salute. “Never got a chance to tell you how much I ‘preciate you taking lead on that whole GramRock mess. Truth be told, our ad reps were pissing down their own legs till you CC’d me. I knew it, and they knew it, but thanks to you, we all knew we all knew it.”
Jordan didn’t even bother with false modesty, “Coming from you, that really means something. Had to be done, boss.”
Jordan hadn’t figured out how to maneuver the digits on his new hand yet, but he nailed a broad wave by yanking on the dental floss in his right hand to elevate the arm above his shoulders.
Ramsey gave Jordan another salute with his third hand as they parted, “My boy!”
Had it been this simple all along? Everything he’d thought he’d been missing out on, he could have just faked his way through the whole time? Why don’t they tell everyone this?
And there was the Morningstar herself, Prescott, wearing a turquoise flared lace dress that bloomed achingly into an inch of perfectly pale skin above her black, twist patterned knee-high socks. She stood there sipping coffee with an air of casual audaciousness that made Jordan deeply question his agnosticism.
“God that’s hot,” said Prescott, before spitting coffee back into her cup. She wiped her lips with the back of her hand.
Jordan lifted his eyebrows and gave her a sympathetic grimace.
“All right there?”
“Nope. All good here. Just burned my tongue. Couldn’t wait three minutes for my coffee to cool down. Had to suck it down, didn’t I?” Prescott rolled her eyes at herself and stuck out her tongue. And no matter how much he protested out of respect, Jordan’s brain was determined to picture that tongue darting about, discovering locations on his body he had forgotten belonged to him.
It could have been the burnt tongue that distracted her, but Prescott didn’t react at all to Jordan’s new arm. He could only hope that she hadn’t noticed it was missing all week.
Later, on their way through the parking lot toward Prescott’s car, he decided to check back in on that tongue.
“Know any lunch places good for a burnt tongue?” Jordan threw out, hoping it would propel the conversation through their first awkward lull.
Prescott’s eyes looked lost at first, and Jordan hoped it didn’t mean he was already floundering, but then the memory caught up with her and she gave a laugh and a tiny nose twitch.
“Funny that you ask. Just read a review in the LA Weekly about this new test-kitcheny type place. Apparently they use culinary physics to create these slabs of tofu in crazy shapes that smell amazing, but when you bite into them they taste like nothing, like you’re eating air.”
“Perfect,” said Jordan, unsure whether she was taking him for a ride, “I love air. Let’s go there then.”
“Why don’t we?” Prescott grinned, “Jonathan Gold called it ‘the Mott the Hoople’ of downtown vegan bistros.”
“I hear all the young dudes like it.”
“Look at you. And here I had you pegged as a Regular Randy.”
Jordan winced inside at the compliment, but it wasn’t the first blanket covered in smallpox he’d received in this life, so he chalked it up as a minor victory. At least he’d changed her mind. She was going out to lunch with him, wasn’t she?
Prescott used her extra hand to rifle through her imitation suede clutch purse until she pulled out a lighter and a silver pack of Parliaments.
“I know, trying to quit, before you say anything.”
She gave the pack a light shake with her third hand and pulled out a cigarette with her teeth before swapping the lighter to her right hand to light it. It was an overcast day, but she closed her eyes as if the sun were brighter than she could handle while she inhaled.
Normally, Jordan would count smoking as a mark against a woman’s attractiveness, but Prescott was an exception, due in part to the half-second fantasy that oozed its way out of the cracks of his imagination, and after picturing her smoking a cigarette while sucking him off (and wearing a dainty French beret, no less), he found he could easily accept this new information about her. And then he immediately tried to navigate through the thick funk of guilt that fell upon him like ashes from a crematorium.
Okay, let’s look this thing through: She smokes already. It’s not the healthiest lifestyle choice, but it’s a choice she’s made using her full faculties as an independent woman. In a way, it’s life-affirming to imagine her in the exact same manner as she projects her own personality. And the French beret. Should it be a crime to doff one’s cap, so to speak, to the grand bohemian tradition of fetishizing European peasant trumpery? Let’s certainly hope not. And the erotic fantasy. Well, that’s practically a biological imperative, a primordial howl from deep inside the sludgy miasma of his genetic inheritance.
So blowjob daydream. Not a capital offense.
Prescott drove them in her galactic yellow Jetta, a color so painfully hip she may have well been driving a fixed gear bike. She pulled it off though, and after twelve minutes of manic lane shifting and near miss yellows they lurched into curbside parking directly under the green awning of a restaurant that read:
Smells Like Something, Tastes Like Nothing
“This is really the place?” Jordan asked. “Kind of thought you were joking.”
“Doll, when I’m joking, you’ll know it.” Prescott laughed. She beat Jordan out of the car while he stared blankly at the brick exterior of what would undoubtedly be the most pretentious lunch he’d ever experienced. Prescott opened the door for him with her third arm, and after the trouble he went through putting together his sport coat, he wondered where she’d gotten such a stunning a dress. It looked as if it had been designed with a slit in the back for the exact purpose of allowing an extra appendage to slip through.
After a tortuous six minutes of looking over the menu, a labyrinthine foldout that was short on food and long on high-mindedness, Jordan convinced himself that swallowing his pride and eating this ridiculous lunch was a small price to pay for the company of his dream girl. He placed their order with a waiter whose ears sagged with the weight of wooden disc-shaped ear plugs.
“Uh, yeah, we’ll both have the Chicago deep-dish, right?”
Prescott nodded her approval.
“Good choice,” said the waiter, as he stuffed his notepad back into his apron pocket. “They’re pretty much my fave on our menu right now. And do you want the chipotle relish compost on the side? Wheat or rice pita?”
“Whatever,” Jordan waved him off, “However it comes.”
Prescott scoffed loudly enough for the middle-aged lesbians in tank tops at a nearby table to glance over.
“Watch. You’re gonna love it. Let yourself be surprised,” she leaned forward and whispered as if they were in on a grand joke together.
When their plates arrived carrying white slabs of jiggling tofu, pitas torn in the shape of the letter “e” (and a light drizzling of diced pepper gruel around the edges that truly lived up to the name compost), Jordan knew he’d need at least a few drinks to limber himself up for the chore ahead.
“Gonna need two whiskey sours,” he barked at the waiter while holding up two fingers with his right hand, which reminded him he needed to integrate his new arm into the flow a little more.
“Go on. Smell it,” said Prescott. She used her extra arm to spread out her napkin in her lap. In a stunningly unbroken series of dexterous dental floss yanks, Jordan managed to slide his own napkin off the table into his lap, where out of view, he cheated and unfolded it with his indigenous digits.
Jordan lifted his plate toward his nose, and if it wasn’t the most devilish thing, it actually smelled like a pizza. Chicago deep dish might be stretching it, but it definitely had the whole package, the marinara with a sweet kick of basil, good mozzarella, the fresh kind that floated in water, and that unmistakable buttery confection of yeast and cornmeal.
Prescott took a big whiff of hers and burst out into giggles.
“It’s fantastic isn’t it?” she said as she began shoveling large bites into her mouth. She closed her eyes while she chewed.
Jordan carved off a white chunk the size of an eraser with his fork and let it roll around on his tongue. It tasted like nothing. Like a cold chunk of nothing. He swallowed and followed it quickly with half of his whiskey sour, which had arrived just in time.
The waiter stood there smiling at him. “Gnarly isn’t it? I love watching people their first time here.”
“I’m not sure I get it,” Jordan said, coughing into his sleeve.
Prescott jumped in, but it wasn’t clear whether she was trying to save him or merely impress the waiter, “It’s definitely a conceptual thing, like a sort of commentary on ‘aloneness’ and signifiers. It’s like Žižek said, we lack the vocabulary to articulate untasting, but we know it when it’s in our mouths, that’s for sure.”
“Sounds like you’re in capable hands here,” the waiter said, and gave a slight bow and smirk as he left.
Even though the tofu was soft, Jordan worked at it in his mouth like it was a wad of Big League Chew, signaling his difficulties with the experience in spite of himself.
“Okay, so maybe it’s not a hit,” said Prescott. “Let’s remember, you were the chivalrous one catering to my burnt tongue.”
“They say alcohol’s good for numbing pain,” said Jordan, swirling the ice around in his whiskey.
“I heard that somewhere too,” said Prescott, raising her glass to his. “Race you to the bottom?”
“If you can help me find it,” said Jordan, with just a tad too much honesty in his voice. He was still unsure whether he was blowing this date or playing at the top of his game.
They clinked their glasses and downed their drinks in one huge gulp. Prescott slammed her glass against the table and wiped her mouth with the back of her third hand. She leaned back in her chair with a contented glow and a blurred intensity to her eyes.
“So … PynePlex huh?” Jordan tossed out, neutrally.
Prescott mimed gagging herself with two of her fingers, and Jordan quickly followed her lead.
“I don’t want to poison the well,” he said, “but take it from an old timer, it doesn’t get any better.”
Prescott rolled her eyes. “And that is what everyone says in every single office I’ve been to since I started temping. You’re all a sorry lot, aren’t you? Forgive me, but I’m not about to let myself become miserable. I’d rather die.”
“So what’s your plan, then?” Jordan asked.
“I’m gonna die.” Prescott laughed for a half a second and then went silent. She let it hang in the air while she crunched into one of her ice cubes and stared at the table.
“Hold on. Like soon? Like really?”
Prescott scrunched up her chin and looked into Jordan’s eyes. “Look, don’t tell anyone, all right? I shouldn’t have even told you.”
Jordan was still nervous about getting played for a rube, but the hurt in her eyes made him advance with caution.
“Jesus. I mean, that really sucks. How?” Jordan asked. Prescott’s cheek twitched, but other than that he couldn’t get a read on her.
He added in a low whisper, “Is it…?”
“It’s never a good sign when your doctor cries when she washes her hands after your exam.” Prescott stared past Jordan, like there was something in the window behind him that would fix everything for her.
“I’m so sorry. Are they sure, because—“
“Everything going all right here?” the waiter interrupted. Jordan could have sworn the prick did it on purpose.
“Two more of these,” said Prescott, waving her right hand in a circle above their whiskey glasses.
Jordan stared down at the buttons on his shirt until the waiter was out of earshot again. Prescott smiled up at him as if she were reassuring a toddler after his pet hamster died.
“I have polycystic ovaries, which typically isn’t a big deal. It throws off your hormones, which is where I got all that lovely facial hair.” She put her finger under her nose again, and they both let out a nervous laugh. “But sometimes, for a few people … it gets complicated. Look, I’m sorry. This is terrible while you’re eating.” She wiped her left eye and laughed again, hoping to signal the transition in moods.
Jordan laughed nervously. “It’s fine. Please. I’ll get a to-go box.” He slapped his fork along the top of his tofu and it jiggled in response. “This is important.”
The waiter dropped off their second round of drinks and was sufficiently warded off by Jordan’s unapologetic scowl burning in solely his direction. Prescott knocked back her drink with an unhinged ferocity that made something inside Jordan tremble. He felt a pressure to stay moderately even keeled in case the conversation needed a sober shepherd.
“I’m just glad the moustache didn’t throw you off,” said Prescott, with an adorable amount of meekness.
“Are you kidding? I loved it. I mean, you did it on purpose right?”
“Those guys, Ralph, John, the rest of them, they’re not representative of all of us, you know?” Jordan continued, “I was proud of how you flipped that whole moustache thing around on them. It just goes to show how regressive some people can be with gender norms.”
“Well, thanks,” said Prescott. “They’re not as bad as all that, though. It was just a bit of fun.”
“What are you talking about? They’re total creeps. I can barely stand to be in the same building with them.”
“You just don’t know them well enough. They’re harmless. Rick, for example, is a sweetheart. He tutors autistic children. And John does Habitat every weekend and plays softball with my niece. They’re a bunch of fun. They’re just manimals is all.”
“But you had relations with them?” Jordan hated himself for asking, but his ego wouldn’t rest without clarity.
“Not all at the same time, but yes. I did. A few of them.”
Jordan dove into his second drink while the confirmation sunk in.
“I don’t see what the big deal is.” Prescott continued, “Time is time and I don’t have enough of it laying around to not take risks. I wouldn’t be here with you if I weren’t playing it fast and loose, I assure you. Tell you the truth, I was flattered they’d thought I was worth boasting about. I am quite a catch.”
Like a hiker stumbling down a steep trail, Jordan couldn’t find his foothold in the conversation. Prescott was confounding, not at all what he’d hoped she’d be like, even if what he’d hoped for was admittedly bland. He didn’t know if he should comfort her, apologize to her, or pursue her. The warmth that tickled below his ears told him it was time to belly up to the bar either way.
“You’re right. I think that’s awesome. Good for you.” What the hell. He’d caught the ball at the sixty yard line. Why not run it down the field. “I have a confession too.”
“And what is it?” Prescott asked, teasingly.
“I found your moustache kind of … sensual, you know?” He knew he was blushing yet he couldn’t find a reason to care.
Prescott let out a big laugh that showed off her inward slanting left tooth, and Jordan knew at that moment he wanted more than anything to see this project through.
“Sensual? That’s a laugh. Yeah right. I suppose that’s a compliment.” She used her third arm to remove the napkin from her lap and tossed it on the table. “Well, now that the horse is out of the barn, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I find your new arm outrageously … erotic.”
Warmth rushed through Jordan’s chest. “What? This old thing?” He carefully pulled the dental floss with his middle fingers and guided his extra hand around to rub his chin.
Prescott applauded. “That’s the look. Right there. Can’t wait to take that thing for a ride.”
Jordan yanked his extra arm straight into the air, “Waiter! The lady and I will have more drinks!”
* * *
Prescott insisted she was okay to drive, and Jordan insisted he didn’t care either way. That didn’t stop the car from drifting over the double divider lines on their way back to the office. Prescott quickly corrected her steering, but it happened again when she placed Jordan’s third hand on her inner thigh at exactly the point where her dress ended and her legs began. She let her hand rest on top of his, working her fingers in between his own, rubbing softly with her palm. He would have loved to have glided his fingers over her with his real hands, but there was something even more satisfying about having his new limb already yielding such large dividends.
“Watch the road,” he urged her, because there was no way he’d be able to.
Prescott screeched into the PynePlex lot, and she managed to take up nearly three empty spaces with her creative attempt at parking. They leaned against each other and laughed like old high school pals as they crossed the blacktop. Jordan hoped there was someone in the window watching them above, experiencing the jealousy he once felt.
“Let’s take the stairs,” Prescott whispered to him, before taking a light bite at his ear. Jordan’s face went red with whiskey, fear, and excitement. Prescott led him by hand through the door into the stairwell. She locked the door behind them.
“What about the floors above us?” Jordan asked.
“Pretend this is the only one,” said Prescott, just before bringing her lips to his.
It hadn’t been foremost in his mind up until then, but as soon as he tasted the lemon on her tongue, Jordan realized it had been two years since anyone had kissed him. Despite what he’d convinced himself of in the interim, it wasn’t overrated after all.
Prescott grabbed a handful of his sports coat and began lifting it off his shoulders. He panicked and put his right hand on her chest to stop her. She looked sullen, like a cat that had been caught clawing the curtains.
“No, it’s fine,” Jordan said. “I just wanted to …”
“Don’t ruin this,” said Prescott. She grabbed his belt and dropped to her knees.
With her other two arms Prescott reached inside her handbag and pulled out a bright pink condom. She tore the package open with her teeth, then placed the condom in between her lips. After unzipping Jordan’s pants, she took him into her mouth, slowly unrolling the condom over him with her tongue.
“Still want to kiss me?” she smirked up at him.
“I would never not want to kiss you,” Jordan replied, with an earnestness that did not match her mood.
Prescott got back on her feet. She grabbed his face with both of her hands and ran her right thumb over his bottom lip, while her extra hand reached around and slowly teased the inside rim on the back of his underwear. His breath caught when he felt one of her fingers slip inside him.
Guilt and self-loathing tickled at the base of his chest. He tried to swat them away. Can’t we have any fun in this life? Isn’t that the point of it all?
Prescott pushed him down on the concrete stairs, disencumbered her legs from her rainbow-striped panties, straddled him and softly bit her lip while she guided him inside her.
Jordan looked into Prescott’s eyes. Prescott looked into Jordan’s. Jordan’s eyes said, “Our souls are touching now.” Prescott’s eyes said, “My soul is elsewhere and inscrutable.”
Her hips rolled over him like waves breaking on a shore at midnight. She grabbed onto the metal stair rail for leverage. Jordan could feel the sharp concrete of the stair’s edge working against his spine, just below his artificial limb. He found it difficult to complain.
Prescott placed her left hand on top of his as he held her tight against her hips. Her skin felt soft and warm and alive.
She asked him to hold her tighter, so he did. He asked her to slow down, and for a moment, she did. They eventually collapsed into themselves, both sliding slowly down the stairs together while taking large breaths from each other’s shoulders.
Maybe he’d been looking at it wrong, he decided. Maybe he just didn’t know what it felt like to be happy. Maybe he’d been happy all long and didn’t have anything else to compare it to, so it felt like sadness instead. It was an issue of semantics. If he could name this terrible fog stretching over his heart happiness, he wouldn’t need to look for it anymore. He could finally rest within himself.
“Are you okay?” Prescott finally asked.
“Sure. I suppose so,” Jordan said, then added, “Not really. Are you okay?”
Prescott rubbed both her eyes with her palms, “What does ‘okay’ mean anyway?”
“Yeah. Totally.” Jordan shifted his weight beneath her. They remained silent for a moment.
He should just tell her he loved her already, this strange precious creature. It might make him feel good, even if it weren’t quite true in the truest sense.
“Hey, Prescott. I kind of—”
“You know I’m not actually gonna die, right?” said Prescott, cutting him off.
“What? You aren’t?” Jordan lifted his head up against the wall.
“Nope. I’m never going to die. I’m going to live forever.” Prescott ran her hand through Jordan’s hair.
“How you gonna manage that?” he asked, nearly breathless.
“Close your eyes and I’ll show you.”
Prescott reached over and sucked on the index finger from Jordan’s extra hand while she dismounted him. He imagined he could feel the warmth of her mouth around his cold prosthesis.