Fiction
Fiction

I Want to Kiss Myself, Good God

Robert Lopez

 


 

I’m not Tanya’s idea of a handsome man. She hasn’t told me this herself but I’ve heard it from other people, people we have in common, including my Sofia.

 

The people we have in common are horrible because of who they are and where they come from and how they were raised. There are other reasons, too, but these are the most important.

 

I remember the night my Sofia told me I wasn’t Tanya’s idea of a handsome man. Everything about it was awful and I mostly blame God but certainly Tanya and my Sofia shoulder some responsibility, too.

 

Also, Teddy the cripple, who played a part in all of this and who once upon a time was my best friend, if you can believe that.

 

I sometimes think of Teddy and Tanya and my Sofia as an unholy trinity, but I don’t know which is the father, who’s the son or what the unholy ghost.

 

I’m not at all religious, which is why I don’t know who should be what.

 

But this was long ago before all of these horrible people, including my Sofia, told me that I wasn’t Tanya’s idea of a handsome man, though I’m sure nothing’s changed.

 

When I say nothing I mean Tanya’s ideas more than anything else.

 

Otherwise everything in the world has changed and not for the better.

 

Some of these people, the horrible ones, do believe I am, in fact, a handsome man but that is both of no surprise and no consolation.

 

One of these is my Sofia, wherever she may be, all over the crippled world.

 

Even still I wake like most people, in the morning and every day, after a long brutal night and fitful sleep and I stumble into the bathroom and think about the people including Tanya and my Sofia who I know are horrible and my headache pounds and the cold tile shocks and my erection sags and I empty my bladder and think another day and for what purpose and to what end and this is when I open the medicine cabinet and consider swallowing all of the painkillers and sleeping pills but then I look into the mirror and I want to kiss myself, good god.

 

I take in my features all at once, though it is better to concentrate on certain aspects one at a time. Otherwise, the whole of it can be overwhelming.

 

There is the color and shape of my eyes, the perfect brows framing them just so. The forehead that bears only the slightest hints of age and faded scars from a childish bout with chicken pox. The full lips with that charming birthmark edging toward the right corner; the dimpled chin obscured by a salt and pepper beard, neatly trimmed, the line moving from the top of my ears in a perfect L shape to the rim of my mouth.

 

There is a glow.

 

I don’t know what’s wrong with Tanya and her ideas, why she couldn’t see what was always right in front of her, though I’ve spent many a long night trying to figure out what the problem was and how it might’ve been fixed.

 

I try not to think about Teddy because by rights he should be dead by now.

 

It pains me that the horrible people are horrible including my Sofia and including Tanya and I think what can I do. I am a man, after all and I am surrounded on all sides, helpless, and all I can do is keep to myself which I do most of the time because were I to say this out loud for anyone to hear, for anyone to take the wrong way, misinterpret, because that's what horrible people do the world over, in big cities and small towns and quiet villages and hamlets and rural prairie place with all of the grain waving and grandstanding, then what will become of me then.

 

I often think about what will become of me.

 

I think about what will become of my Sofia, too, wherever she may be, who is, or rather was, when I knew her, as anyone might imagine, horrible.

 

I do not think about what will become of Tanya because of her misguided ideas.

 

The few people still left in town have always taken things the wrong way, have always talked about me and my private affairs, what went on between me and my Sofia and Tanya, for instance.

 

This is how these people were raised. You can tell by how they look at you out of the corner of their faces, hissing, snickering. They were taught to behave like this, to take things the wrong way, to talk about other people’s private affairs.

 

People always want to tear down their betters.

 

My Sofia and Tanya are twin sisters or rather were twin sisters because one or both might be dead now. I’m not sure if you remain twins after death.

 

So many people are dead now or might be, including members of my own family.

 

My family did everything they could for me. They never allowed me to work on the farm, for instance. This perhaps wasn’t best in the long run, but they didn’t know better and I do not blame them entirely.

 

My Sofia was always dying.

 

I would feed my Sofia painkillers and sleeping pills because I wanted to help. I always had good intentions when it came to my Sofia. I didn’t enjoy seeing her suffer like that, though some claim otherwise. Some claim that I only got involved with my Sofia so I could get close to Tanya. Others that I was trying my best to kill my Sofia, keep her sickly, weak. This is yet another example of how horrible people are horrible, that they can even imagine this sort of thing, which is a particularly craven way of looking at the vicissitudes of love.

 

I don’t know what that means exactly but it looks right to me.

 

When I say some claim what they claimed about me and my Sofia in regards to Tanya, I’m talking about Teddy the cripple, my best friend, most of all. Teddy would claim this all the time, both to my face and to everyone we knew in common.

 

Everyone recognized the peculiar perfection of my face, the way I carried myself, some said like a king or Jesus.

 

There was always scuttlebutt, hearsay, innuendo.

 

I was famous.

 

I would see her next to me in the mirror, my Sofia, in the morning, looking the way she looked, and I’d open the medicine cabinet and pull however many pills from the pillboxes and say take these.

 

She would choke them down all at once, look up at me and say so now what.

 

I never had an answer for her, but we would go back to bed and take advantage of each other for the rest of the day.

 

These were glorious times.

 

I never once thought of Tanya while in the middle of my Sofia.

 

Teddy was crippled anew every few years but it started with what his parents did to him as a boy. They would have him work all day on the farm even though he wasn’t strong enough to do it. Teddy was born with scoliosis and a club foot and had no more business out there in the field than me or my Sofia.

 

When Teddy was finished in the fields he would come in and they’d feed him some stew if they weren’t in the middle of themselves. Teddy said he’d come into the house sometimes and catch his parents tangled up in the living room. Sometimes they would ask him to take pictures. He never showed me the pictures, but I saw them one time over at his place. They were next to his bed, hidden behind a stack of books and papers.

 

I think maybe Teddy was in the fields while I was in his room looking at the pictures, doing whatever he had to do out there.

 

Maybe you can’t blame Teddy entirely for what happened with my Sofia.

 

So much of my time is spent trying to assign blame to those that deserve it most.

 

For instance, my Sofia. I haven’t seen her in years. I don’t know where in the world she might be hiding herself.

 

My Sofia used to hide from me all the time. I would come out of class and look for her in the hallways, in the playground, on the streets, in the meadow. She was always nowhere.

 

Now I think she was with Teddy half the time. They were probably getting tangled up with Teddy’s parents in the living room, everyone taking pictures of everyone else. I didn’t think this back then, but I do think it now.

 

Tanya, though, was never nowhere. Tanya was always exactly where you could easily find her. Out there in the middle of everything, prancing around in the sun dresses she always wore, regardless of the season.

 

When I look into the mirror and want to kiss myself, I want to do so for many reasons. Not the least of which is who wouldn’t except for Tanya and goddammit if only God knows why sometimes.

 

Tanya and my Sofia were identical twins who didn’t look like each other.

 

Teddy thought my Sofia was prettier than Tanya, which tells you all you need to know about Teddy.

 

I would always refer to Sofia as my Sofia and never once said that about Tanya. I would say things like my Sofia is spending a month at the sanitarium or I would say no one can dance a tarantella like my Sofia.

 

What I would say about Tanya was did you see Tanya in that sundress this morning.

 

I would say this to my school chums, particularly Teddy, who was my best friend even though he was as horrible as the rest of them and a cripple to boot.

 

Teddy would make some comment about Sofia’s figure, he would call her voluptuous or an hourglass. He would tell me what he would like to do to her and how often. I would tell him to calm himself down, that he would only be disappointed, that hourglasses break and then it’s sand in your shoe.

 

Every morning when I wake is a disappointment. I look around the room and everything is the same. My Sofia is nowhere next to me in bed and she isn’t hiding in the bathroom. Years ago I would wake up to find my Sofia in the bathroom with the door locked. I never knew what it was she did in there and I never asked.

 

There is a table next to my bed where I keep a clock and various necessities. I will not list the necessities because I am often ridiculed for having them, for thinking them necessary.

 

My Sofia was merciless in this regard.

 

There are the humidifiers which keep me breathing through the night. The doctors told me were I not to run the humidifiers I would end up dead.

 

This was also true of my Sofia, who always had a terrible time breathing. There was something wrong with her lungs, throat, and nose. Actually, there wasn’t a single part of her body that wasn’t part of the problem.

 

There’s a chance my Sofia is dead, though I perish the thought and god should forbid it. She wasn’t a well woman when I knew her and I doubt she’s improved. People almost never get better, especially the horrible ones. If such is the case, if my Sofia is indeed dead, then I can see myself not filling the humidifiers up with water anytime soon.

 

My family always made sure my humidifiers were filled with water. They made sure I was propped up under enough pillows to allow for easy breathing. Those people loved me dearly and it’s a shame what happened to them.

 

I would lie awake at night and listen to my Sofia struggle for breath. Sometimes she would ask me to do her in with a pillow. She would tell me she couldn’t take it anymore, that her whole body was killing her.

 

My Sofia’s body was a marvel on the outside. I would tell her to think of her body as something I could enjoy, something intended for me, something that she had to put up with for a greater good.

 

Part of the greater good turned out to be Teddy. I never caught them in the middle of each other, but I know what I know.

 

I only once tried to make love to Tanya.

 

There was nothing about Teddy that should make anyone want to run away with him. He never once stumbled into his bathroom, looked into the mirror and wanted to kiss himself. I can promise anyone this much.

 

I never watched Teddy do his work in the field. If I was at his place during the day I was either spying on his parents tangled up in the living room or looking through the pictures next to his bed.

 

My Sofia and Tanya and Teddy and I all grew up together which only means that for a while there we attended the same schools, spent a certain amount of time and anguish together in close proximity. 

 

When I look out the window I see no one almost all the time. Once in a while I imagine someone coming up the walk. Usually it is my Sofia, under a parasol, aiming to take advantage of me.

 

The school was populated with the kinds of horrible people you find all over.

 

The pills in the medicine cabinet are painkillers and sleeping pills. This is because I am in a great deal of pain and can’t sleep, very like my Sofia, if she is still alive.

 

I remember being out there after school waiting for my Sofia. I wanted to walk her home, see her to the door. Otherwise, the neighborhood kids, my school chums, would chase her down and do unspeakable things to her. I heard them planning to do this during lunch.

 

Teddy was the worst of these hooligans, the ringleader.

 

I would see them hiding in the bushes as we walked past, hoping to catch her alone, take advantage of her poor peripheral vision, spring an ambush on her. 

 

Because we are talking about truly horrible people here, like my school chums, we have to make ourselves clear. Truly horrible people aren't horrible because they take things the wrong way, but it doesn’t help matters, but what would I have to gain, in the end, after all is said and unsaid, done and undone, what's in it for me, pointing all of this out, going on the record as it were, making myself clear, understood, being as I am here, alone and surrounded.

 

Everyone always took what I said about Tanya the wrong way.

 

My Sofia surrounds me all the time even though she is not here anymore. She always takes things the wrong way or used to take things the wrong way back when she was around to take anything at all.

 

My Sofia, I do not know where you are, but I pray for your ambushed soul.

 

Whether you are dead or alive, Sofia, I do this for you regardless.

 

In that moment, as I’m about to open the medicine cabinet and swallow all of the painkillers and sleeping pills, I think of my Sofia and Tanya who might someday see me on the boulevard, who might someday return and who’d want to touch the hem of my garment, tuck a tassel of hair behind my ear, who’d want to kiss me on the mouth as well, good god.

 

I think of the mother who nursed me, the father who schooled me, the brothers and sisters who bathed and dressed me. These were only sometimes horrible.

 

I think most of them are dead now.

 

So many people are either dead or gone. What I mean is they either died or they left when everyone else starting dying off.

 

The night I tried to make love to Tanya started with a light supper prepared by my Sofia. She made a traditional dish that all of us enjoyed, that took hours to prepare. When I say all of us I mean my Sofia, Tanya, and me. Teddy wasn’t invited.

 

While my Sofia was clearing the table I said something to Tanya about her eyes. Tanya liked it when people talked about her eyes. I compared her eyes to something beautiful, like a red-tailed hawk or the trumpet of Archangel Gabriel. She told me to go on so I said something about her legs, said they were like the delicate trunk of a shapely willow tree. This is when I put my arm around her and kissed her neck and slipped my hand inside her dress. I think she moaned and told me to stop it. I asked her what was wrong with her. I asked her what can we do and this is when she stuck me with a butter knife. She made a big production of calling out my name and saying how could you.

 

My Sofia was in the kitchen doing the dishes and dancing a tarantella. She always danced a tarantella when she did the dishes. After she heard what Tanya said she came running in from the kitchen and asked how could I over and over.

 

By this time Tanya was storming out the front door and slamming it behind her. The way she looked in that sundress, it was always a pleasure to watch her storm out a door.

 

I think I told my Sofia it was a misunderstanding and that I didn’t mean it, that there was nothing to it, that I got too much sun and then I think I said something about Teddy the cripple. This is when she told me to get out, that I wasn’t Tanya’s idea of a handsome man, that she never wanted to see me again.

 

My Sofia had said this to me before, that she never wanted to see me again.

 

Still, this was the last time I saw any of those people.

 

Like most I am human and do all of the human things. I shave and shower and feed myself regularly, every day, if I can manage it. I sometimes like to slip my hand into the dresses of good looking women. This does not make me horrible. I also look out of windows and blink my eyes. I wait for people to come back, for someone to walk up the walk, under a parasol. I hold doors open for people. I say please and thank you.

 

I look out the window and see people coming to and fro or I imagine this. None of them are my Sofia or Tanya. Not even Teddy the cripple limps by in my imagination.

 

I think about addressing the ones I do see from my window, announcing to them that they are horrible people, saying that they should’ve moved away or died like everyone else, like my Sofia or Tanya, that they should stop talking about what happened, that I shouldn’t be the subject of gossip and insinuations, but what will become of me then, how will I be remembered the world over, my good name ruined, besmirched, and for what purpose and to what end. I think about my legacy and those few that surround me here. I see my reflection in the window and yes, I want to kiss myself.

 

My Sofia would kiss me square on the mouth at a moment’s notice if given even half a chance, if she were even half alive and had half a heart left inside her.

 

Let me make myself clear. The streets are almost always empty. I look out the window and I blink my eyes. I see nothing, no one, almost always. These days the silence coming from outside is disquieting, which is funny, now that I think of it, how silence can be disquieting. Once in a great long while I’ll see someone or imagine such. Most of the time it’s my Sofia or Tanya. When you don’t see anyone for a long while your mind can play tricks. I guess this has gone on for a while now, not seeing anyone out the window and my mind playing tricks. It’s hard to know how long. I didn’t mark the date when everyone left, but when I look in the mirror I see new wrinkles and a cluster of gray hairs.

 

When everyone that didn’t die comes back I’m sure they will have trouble recognizing me, what with the wrinkles and gray hair.

 

The one who won’t have any trouble recognizing me is my Sofia. My Sofia would know me anywhere, I’m almost sure. At night we would sometimes sit on a sofa together. I would watch something on television and she would watch me watch the television. When I asked her why she said it was because I was fascinated. I asked her if she meant fascinating and she said no.

 

We were happy then.

 

So she would know how the hair drapes across my face, obscuring half of it.

 

I remember the night before she ran away with Teddy. This was the same night I tried to make love to Tanya at the dinner table.

 

All of us talked about what was happening, what life was like then, how everything had changed, how so many of us were dying.

 

None of us could come up with a workable theory.

 

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Robert Lopez is the author of two novels, Part of the World and Kamby Bolongo Mean Riverand a story collection, Asunder. His fiction has appeared in dozens of journals and magazines, including; Bomb, The Threepenny Review, The Barcelona Review, Alaska Quarterly Review,The Norton Anthology of Sudden Fiction, and Latino. He teaches fiction writing at The New School, Pratt Institute, Columbia University, and The Solstice MFA Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College and is a 2010 Fellow in Fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

 

This story was originally published in Issue 13 of The Literarian