Photography by Eleanor Leonne Bennett
Artwork by Jake Troyli
Artwork by Alex Nodopaka
The last couple of weeks, every time Josh came over to sleep with her, he smoked a joint before coming to bed. He said it relaxed him, made him mellow, got him horny.
Emily could tell him he had it all wrong, but he wouldn’t believe her.
Actually, the pot made him edgy, paranoid, and insomniac. It kept his dick from getting as hard as it usually got. It made it more difficult for him to come even as it made him more desperate to do so.
His hands would roam over her in a greedy, grabbing way, never seeming to come upon what they were searching for. Eventually, he would give up and throw himself back on the pillows. He would hold her tightly around the shoulders, pulling her close to his sweaty overheated body, her own arm bent between them like a broken wing.
He would start talking too loudly, interrupting himself every so often for more water, which he gulped from a glass always ready on the night table. Every so often he’d jump up to go to the bathroom and refill it. He kept asking her if she were thirsty.
She always said, “no thank you," as politely as possible. No matter how many times he asked and how many times she refused he didn’t seem to believe it.
Why would she lie?
When Emily was just a kid it used to scare her when the adults started drinking. It was like her childhood became her own personal Twilight Zone episode. Aunts and uncles she’d known all her life, who were as safe and familiar to her as her own parents, suddenly became strangers. Taking off their masks in the basement where the cold cut platters were laid out, they became animal-headed beasts from the Egyptian mythology she was learning in school.
After one of these parties their mom explained to Emily and her sister that their father had really gotten himself looped the night before. She was explaining: they’d seen her help him, stumbling and incoherent, up the stairs to the bedroom; he wasn’t at the breakfast table with the rest of them; they could still hear him snoring upstairs, even though it was nearly noon.
Eventually he got up, sometime just before sundown. Unshaven, bleary-eyed, and uncommunicative, he staggered directly to the easy chair in front of the television with a beer in his hand.
They already knew why. “Looped. Daddy really got looped last night.”
The word had a harmless, whimsical, innocuous ring to it. Nothing bad or scary could be looped. Emily thought of her favorite cereal, Fruit Loops—colorful, festive, crunchy. Overly sweet.
There’s nothing worse than being straight when the whole world is high; it’s even worse than the opposite.
Josh holds the shriveled end of a joint to her lips, exhales, and asks, “Wanna poke?”
Emily shakes her head, says “no thanks,” or she takes a quick little half-puff, just to be sociable, the way you kiss a stranger on the cheek at a party. She’s tried it many times but gets little out of it. For one thing, she can’t inhale. An old boyfriend, Sven the Reagan Republican, used to scoff at Bill Clinton, but to Emily his story seemed perfectly plausible. When she tries to suck the fumes into her lungs it sets off a wild coughing jag until tears and snot are streaming down her face. At first it’s funny, and then it’s not.
She remembers her friends back at school forever snatching joints back from her and complaining. “You’re wasting it!”
The worst part is when he starts asking her if anything is the matter. His voice takes on a brittle guilty edge. In the dark room, in the quiet, there doesn’t seem any way to say, “nothing is wrong,” that doesn’t sound exactly like something is wrong.
She finds herself lying perfectly still, so still she can hear the candles guttering in their little red bowls, doubled in the mirror on the chest of drawers. This certainly doesn’t help her seem natural, but any move she might make invariably opens her to the risk of misinterpretation.
“Are you tired?” he asks suspiciously.
“No, no not at all.”
“I thought you were falling asleep.”
“I’m not falling asleep.”
“You’re not saying anything.”
“I was just relaxed.”
She can feel him watching her in the dark, looking for a sign. A sign of what? She tries to keep herself completely blank.
She never knows whether to reach down and start stroking him when he gets like this. If he doesn’t respond then he grows even more agitated, more frustrated. She eventually, diplomatically, moves her hand onto his thigh. She shifts slightly, indifferently. Something of her might make contact with his crotch. By chance. She waits for a stirring.
“Should I just put the candles out then?” he asks, petulantly. If she says “yes” he’ll take it to mean that there’d be no sex after all.
What can she say? She never knows the right answer, and so she says: “They’re pretty. If you want, you can blow them out. I’d just as soon leave them on. They aren’t bothering me, though, if that’s what you mean.”
Her sudden, unexpected loquaciousness takes him by surprise. He takes some time to unravel her largely meaningless jumble of words.
Sometimes he’ll start talking again, asking her silly questions with a sexually aggressive subtext. He makes her repeat certain dirty phrases or ridiculous things that he finds inexplicably hilarious. He makes her answer questions like, “Which do you think is funnier, a duck wearing a stovepipe hat or a duck wearing a coonskin cap?” He laughs to himself. He stares at the ceiling, talking randomly about the shadows thrown by the fan mounted over the bed or suggests that they should visit the planetarium. He’ll start recalling, in detail, a thoroughly mundane episode from some television show he watched back when he was a kid.
Emily has nothing against drugs or alcohol or getting high. Whatever gets you through this world—LSD or Roman Catholicism—she thought, was perfectly valid. No cure for death, that’s her position. The only crime she can see is when the supposed cure inflamed desire beyond reasonable expectation of satisfaction, rendering you incapable of achieving even normal contentment. She resented this, especially when she was being used as the instrument for achieving pleasure.
The pot eventually starts to wear off, and Josh’s cock revives itself against her strategically placed bare thigh. She slips her hand down lazily, purposefully: if she isn’t fast enough, he guides it there himself. Soon she’s crouched between his legs. It’s in her mouth.
He’ll be rougher her with her than usual, ordering her to rub his balls. He’ll make her stop and tell him how much she wants it, to suck his cock. He’ll push her head down until her lips touch his belly. “Take it all,” he’ll warn.
She already has. She has taken all she can take. His crinkly pubic hairs are tickling the insides of her nostrils. Doesn’t he realize it? Can’t he feel it?
“I can’t feel you,” he complains.
She feels a flare of anger. She feels like stopping, taking him out of her mouth, looking up from between his forked legs and saying, “Of course you can’t feel me. It’s the pot, stupid. Don’t you realize that? The only way you could feel anything is if I used my teeth!”
But she says nothing, just tightens her lips carefully around the base of the shaft, and does what she can. She moans a lot. She knows he doesn’t really mean it. He is ordinarily a very gentle, very sweet, very considerate man. It’s the pot talking. It makes him want, not sex, but something more that he doesn’t even know.
When he finally comes, she forgets everything.
She would like to say that her father stumbled, looped, into her room by mistake one night. She would like to say that he didn’t do anything. He just collapsed, snoring, at the foot of her bed. That it was comic, if weirdly surreal, like the toucan pictured on the Fruit Loops box.
She would like to say these things but she can’t. She can’t because she honestly isn’t sure what she remembers and what she only thinks she remembers. Sublimation? Imagination?
The problem admits of no easy solution.
Actually the problem admits of no solution. Period.
You might say that being sexually abused as a child is about the worst thing that could happen to you, but you might argue with equal force that as undeniably bad as being sexually abused as a child is, not even remembering if you were sexually abused as a child is even worse.
They say that long-term pot use leads to memory loss. What’s her excuse?
“I’m sorry baby,” he’ll say in the morning, over eggs and coffee. “I guess I was a little paranoid in bed last night.”
This would be the time to agree that maybe pot isn’t the great idea he thinks it is. Instead she shrugs.
“Just a little, I guess.”
“I was a little rough, too, I’m afraid.”
He frowns. “Not it’s not okay. I’m sorry. I got a little carried away. That was some strong weed. I’ll have to go a little easier on it next time.”
He is wearing the face with she is familiar. The face she loves: his Josh mask. The night before? Maybe she doesn’t remember it correctly. Maybe she got a contact high. That can happen. A lot can happen. She decides to forget what she saw last night, if she even saw it at all. Can you do that? Can you decide not to remember?
Yes. Just watch her.
“Would you like some Fruit Loops,” she asks, apropos of nothing—apropos of nothing being an expression she is particularly fond of.
“Fruit Loops?” He looked at her over a forked mound of bright yellow scramble.
“Yeah, toasted fruits of O, or something like that. Remember them?”
“We don’t have Fruit Loops, do we?”
Josh quirks an eyebrow, looking bemused. It’s his Vince Vaughn look. Women—and Emily is no exception—generally find it charming. He was unaware that he did it until she pointed it out, and then they joked about it. Now it’s hard to tell if he was unaware of doing it or not.
“What have you been smoking?” he asks. “I want some of that.”
“Remember what Toucan Sam says.” What did he say? Emily doesn’t remember. She doesn’t think she’ll bother to look it up, either.