You stand at the sink again, scrubbing again, the basin filled three-quarters with warm soapy water, your panties bobbing in the suds, your white knuckles squeeze whiter, twist the crotch, pumice stone across the folds back and forth a washboard rhythm, whistle while you work, hah, fuck those dwarves, you wonder if they’d have man-sized cocks. Would they come to your belly or lower and if they stood close would their beards tickle.
Untwist those pink briefs, bubbles pip, you’ve rubbed the crotch right out, big motheaten holes, your favorite pair, the ones you wore when you met the man from the train. You’d both gotten off at the downtown stop. You were headed for the art supply.
You were searching for this particular brand of gesso, the kind with a texture almost like cream, like spreadable cheese, how you loved to lay it on in slow strokes, even when you weren’t painting, even when you couldn’t think of a single thing to paint, even when you hated the idea of leaving a mark for anyone to find.
There were scent dogs in the central square. Police dogs, German shepherds, a dog only a Nazi could love, you couldn’t bear their unbroken professional attention, their pricked ears. You hurried from the train and turned an ankle stepping onto the platform, you nearly fell but for a pair of suede gloves that caught you by the elbow and steadied you, the hands were square and warm with long fingers, and leading from them were the arms and face of a man about your age, beardless and handsome, thick-browed, with a serious expression on his face. He wore a long wool overcoat and expensive shoes, he was obviously a successful man, but a man who had not lost touch with those in need, with the frail and unfortunate, with you. He invited you for coffee. You accepted.
Now your scrubbing slows, you gaze with a pensive expression through the casement window through shifting locust leaves through the window of the house across the street where another identical woman is gazing back.
Coffee became lunch became a walk in the park became an afternoon cocktail and apertifs, then a museum where he kissed you before a display case of African masks, then more drinks and back to the park where you crawled with him into a wooden lean-to in the children’s enclosure, deserted now the sun sets so much earlier, where he unbuttoned his overcoat and hiked your dress above your thighs and sat you on his lap. His hand across your mouth, a vapor of vodka seeping from his mouth to yours. The pink briefs, crumpled, muddied, splattered with fluids, you stuffed in his mouth. You were afraid he’d be heard. That made it fun. His eyes popped when his breath ran out. You spotted another police dog on your way out of the park. You thought it followed you with its snout. The pink briefs were a dead giveaway, the kind of thing detectives give to a dog to track down a killer, and you never learned the man’s name, so how could you plead guilty.
Your panties are not getting any cleaner, none of them are, you’ve ruined every pair with your bodily emissions. Online, videos explain how to mix a simple solution of white vinegar and baking soda or hydrogen peroxide and detergent or salt and seltzer or lemon, rice vinegar and egg whites. You try them all and sip the last solution. It tastes like lemonade that’s turned in the sun. Needs booze. You are not in the habit of sleeping with strangers from public transit in public parks, but you’ve been stuck on this painting so long you thought a change of routine might shake it loose like a steel ball in a maze, you have simply not given the time and attention required to work out the solution yourself, sometimes painting is like this, you must give up control, give it up to the fates or the muse or the Great Goddess or the color yellow, and it’s the same, you realize, with cleaning, with household tasks, with homemaking. A home becomes a home when you submit.
Your male companion will not understand. He believes deference to your household management is sufficient, is doing his duty in the house, being an equal partner. He is so conscious of the labor he produces, he wants you to know he’s conscious of it, he bangs around in the kitchen dropping things, shouting questions he could easily answer himself, leaving a mess in the spice cabinet. Well he’s been deleting texts. He’s hidden the conversation you know you saw, the day you opened his laptop looking for trouble. You scrub and scrub. The underthings slip through your fingers and leave a film of rainbows on the surface.
The police dogs return. They march back and forth across the street with their handlers in their tall black boots. Don’t they know they look like Nazis when they wear them? They’ll say it’s for protection. What kind of police is afraid of his own dog’s bite? One who knows he’s a criminal. There’s a sniffing at your front door, shockingly loud and insistent. You don’t know what it is they’re sniffing for but it had better not be your panties. If it is your panties, what smells they hold ought to be overpowered by soap tang and the sage burning quietly in a blue dish beside you. The color of the water is difficult to name, and your thoughts are drowned by a cat’s yowl, the faint song of a child.
One of the policemen throws a toy for his dog and she bounds to catch it. The policeman is black. His dog’s jaws clench like a bear trap. You hear the squeak through double panes of glass. Eventually they leave. Your fingers are white and wrinkled, the skin so saturated you can look through to the inner dermis and maybe nerve endings and veins, your fingernails softened and chewable under a coat of black shellac. You plunge your hand into the water to the drain cover but it’s missing and you feel the open drain, its throat silent and ageless. There must be a clog far down, a mass of fat and hair and clotted blood, the thing you know waits at the toilet’s U-bend and underneath the tub and whose existence you deny with bottle after bottle of Drano, noxious stuff that burns your eyes, that’s how you know it’s working, your male companion makes you do it, he says it’s your hair after all, though he’s not exactly baby-smooth or bloodless either.
The water’s growing cold, you’d really like to use the sink for other tasks now, but when you look in the bottom cabinet there’s no red bottle, only the various stain removal solutions whose presence in the water may have something to do with the stoppage. You’ll have to snake it. The apparatus is long and made from cast black plastic. What other products are made at the same factory? Dildos. You keep yours in a drawer in your studio. It’s where you’re bored most often, and nobody comes to bother you there, not your male companion or any police dogs, yet.
The really unfortunate thing, the truth from which there is no escaping, is that you leave a mark wherever you go, a woman’s presence is undeniable, there’s so much evidence to support your passage through the world in the eyes of the men who watch you, in the long hairs that fall from your scalp and protect each other in strange drains, the stains upon your clothing and their sheets. When your male companion tells you there is nothing to worry about you will search and search but eventually you’ll have to agree that he’s right, there is nothing and possibly never was. How does he shape the truth like this? How do men pass passively in your home, not touching the walls? You would like to study their breath. This in many ways is the most concrete thing about them: the heavy, slow sleep of your male companion when your head is cushioned on his chest, the frantic sex panting of the man from the train, his wheezing, one too-late gasp then silence. You wore gloves that day, so did he, it was February and the ground still unthawed, and you had scoured the area for any hairs, any threads from your clothing, finding none but knowing still that you had left some indelible impression on the still-cooling flesh. The condom you unrolled—it was easy, he was still hard and hardening further along with the rest of him—wrapped in Kleenex and deposited into your purse. When you were satisfied he had finished breathing, you removed the pink briefs from his mouth and fed them to your purse.
You’re rummaging the sink now, reaching the snake into the unseen maw. Your fingertips dread contact but none comes. The water remains unbudged, and you draw the snake up clean. Above the sink you keep trinkets on the windowsill: interesting rocks, an oyster shell, a small yellow vase with a spring of dry rosemary. Your male companion knocks them into the sink. One of the stones has lost luster from the scum. You would like to paint this, the peculiar color coming through the scum, dim, quite undetectable, a soft moss green speckled white, speckled grey, like the egg of a seabird. You’d like to think this is the color of your inside, underneath the blood and guts and other staining agents. Pure flesh. Do you want to know how you did it? Consciously. You put your poison on him. The color of your true self, finally registered. Malocchio. Evil eye. You never did find that gesso. Two errands: Drano and the art supply. When will the next train leave? And who will be on it?