Imagine if I licked your entire body. I said.
Emily, don’t. Said Steve. I’m working.
I did not want to lick his body, I wanted to be in love. I thought about the different parts of his body and what they would be like to lick. I thought about my tongue in his armpit or on his big toe with its 5 coarse, black hairs standing out against the pale of his foot skin that never sees the sun because exposed toe shoes are for children, Emily. I decided these areas of him repulsed me. I wondered if it was normal for me to be repulsed by them. Maybe licking someone’s armpit and not being grossed out meant that you really loved them. Steve was typing which meant I could watch his hands move, which I liked. His hands were large and soft from an expensive cream he used which I sometimes also used without asking or explicitly not asking. This is all to say that he was very well groomed, it’s not like I would be licking an unwashed armpit, for instance.
Would you lick my armpit? I asked, even though I knew he got annoyed when I talked while he was working.
Could you not? That’s not even a sensible question.
I sort of wanted to leave, then, even though I mostly agreed that the question wasn’t sensible. Instead I scrolled through my phone while actually looking around the room to think about all the things I hated in it, until Steve clicked his laptop shut. Right, another day done. He said. He sounded even older than he was when he said things like that.
What would you like for dinner?
We could order something, it’s pretty late. I imagined the grease from a burger glistening. I imagined salt from fries glittering across my fingers.
No, no, I’m sure I can find something.
I’m pretty sure Steve frowned upon ordering out. He’s never exactly told me this but I have noticed that he never gets takeaway. Sometimes I feel an urge to get something delivered and act like I’ve cooked it, slaved away at it for hours, especially for him. I will never actually do this, though I enjoy thinking about it.
* * * *
We made carbonara. While the water boiled I watched his reflection in the darkness of the window and admired his beauty. I was jealous of his eyelashes, his cheekbones, his skin that was prone to neither oiliness nor dryness. He touched my back and it thrilled me. I leaned in to him. We had plated the food. We left it on the bench steaming. We fucked on the couch. How do you want it? His voice sounded like it was coming from a much deeper space within him. I felt his hands light upon my body and wished I felt them more, I was sick of feeling like I was disappearing. Put your hands around my neck. I said. Really? He asked. Just do it. His hands felt hotter and heavier the longer they were on me. I imagined him squeezing tighter. I looked into his eyes then changed my mind and focused my eyes on his cheeks. Die, I thought as I came. When he shuddered above me I noticed the outline of the couch button, red on his thigh.
* * * *
The carbonara was cold and felt like glue. Steve groaned with pleasure at it. I thought I’m 22, what am I doing here. I had had this thought so much it was no longer a question, just a mantra of sorts. I imagined my best friend telling me that just because something looks like what you want, it doesn’t mean it is what you want. I did not have a best friend. I sat at the table until Steve was finished.
We can watch that movie you’ve been going on about.
I’ve got to go home. I told him.
You know I don’t like sleeping alone, Em.
I shrugged. I picked up my things and also slipped Steve’s hand cream into my bag. The jar was the perfect weight, it was so beautiful it made everything else in my bag look beautiful too.
* * * *
When I arrived at my apartment it felt small and like I didn’t hate anything in it. I needed to vacuum but I kept putting it off for one more day, every day. A few months ago I had downloaded a dating app just to see if anyone would match with me. For my description I wrote that I liked takeaway and movies. It took me 30 minutes to come up with that. There was one girl on there that I had been messaging. I told her right away that I didn’t actually like girls like that, I was just lonely. She was funny. Her name was Laura and she lived within 1km of me. She had curly hair like I’d always wanted. I brushed some old crumbs off my couch/bed and sent her a message.
I tried to do something different with my boyfriend, like you said.
Good girl, did it work?
Do you want to come over and watch a movie?
* * * *
I picked at some fluff on my cardigan and hoped Laura wasn’t actually an old, pervy man. When my doorbell rang I wondered if I needed to puke. I hadn’t ever had a friend over, all my friends were not actually my friends but Steve’s friends. They made jokes about me being still in university as if it were comparable to kindergarten and I pretended they were witty like ha ha yeah silly me being my age instead of yours. Laura’s hair looked even better in real life. Laura had bought a gigantic pack of popcorn with her. You’re fucking cute. She said. I felt happy and not weird. I have wine. I offered. The movie wasn’t that great. It took itself too seriously but that meant we got to giggle over it which made it enjoyable anyway. We quoted the worst bits of it back to each other, adjusted the lines slightly. I couldn’t possibly live without a man, said Laura. As I laughed I spilled some wine on the carpet, I rubbed it in with my big toe. I love you. Said the man on screen. I felt a dumb tear roll down my face so I lifted my hand to it like I was itching my cheek. I needed something to say to distract me from whatever was happening to me. Have you ever licked anyone? I asked Laura.
Sure I have, it’s basically all I do. Hey are you crying?
Sorry. I said. I felt sure she would go home and I wouldn’t have any friends again.
Laura paused the movie.
You can leave if you want.
Laura leaned forward and licked up the trail of my gross tears starting from my jaw right up to under my eye.
I don’t need to leave.
I touched my face where she had licked me. Laura unpaused the movie and let her knee bump against mine like a drumbeat, like we were in a marching band that was going to walk all over the world. I thought about all the times I had imagined hanging out with some one cool who actually gave a shit about me.
When she left I gave her Steve’s hand cream.
Kelsey Ipsen lives in France with her husband and half-wild cat. She can be found working on her first novel or at cargocollective.com/kelseyipsen. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions, and some of her other stories have been published in or are forthcoming from wigleaf, PANK, Hobart, and jmww.