Halle Hill’s work, “The Truth About Gators,” was selected as one of this year’s first place winners for The Crystal Wilkinson Creative Writing Prize.
I mean well, but I’m desperate. I took my emergency Valium thirty minutes ago and now my brain is dripping. The room is getting hot and I remember why Rabbi Kadens told me earlier not to mix diazepam and red wine. I sway everywhere, spreading. My chest feels like it’s dry drowning and I want attention.
Some random is dancing with me and there’s a circle that forms where white people are trying to prove they have rhythm. I go in the middle hopping, hoping he’s watching me. My friends don’t love it when I get like this.
I am dancing on the edge of buffoonery in my maternity leggings (not pregnant, just huge) and brass, ethnic, tassel earrings I hope distract from the sliver of jiggling brown fat under my jaw. I need something to steady me when I look up and find him. My gift, nothing special. Yes, I think, this boy; with knocked knees and a bird-beak chin seems available. And I want someone who’s available.
During our therapy sessions, Rabbi Kadens tells me I am not available. He says I’m like a root canal, we got to find the rot. We meet three days a week at the Jewish community center where my mandated counseling is on a sliding scale and people ask me if I am lost. I am on a journey ever since I gently stabbed Mr. Jimmy at the barbeque earlier last month. See, his baby toe kept hanging out the front side of his gator sandals, the nail buttery and curved under like an old orange peel. And I sat there staring at him in my misery and remembered all the times he found me after church in the parlor growing up. And the times in the vestibule after service. And I guess the times in the women’s bathroom on the 3rd floor too.
Every Sunday at Brunswick Eternal Harvest Pentecostal was the same. I liked to look at his feet while he switched over to me and my mother.
“Terry, you are looking divine, so fine today.”
“Oh Jimmy!” she’d sigh as they hugged in a saintly way, her arms making an A frame above his bald, dark head, then settling on his shoulders. Her chest always grazed his thin Faded Glory dress shirt, her nipples hard, alert. Then she’d pinch my side fat and scoot me to him for a hug.
“Come here, baby girl,” he’d always say, smelling like Drakkar Noir. And I’d stand there stiff as a board, my eyes in a soft-raged-glare, my body all too familiar with his puncture. Mr. Jimmy always hugged me too long, his mouth smelling like mothballs above me, his crotch resting like a mound of wet cotton balls against the whole of me.
On the day of the cookout, he was really irking me. At twenty-three years old, I thought I was grown enough to let it go, it only happened twelve times. And besides, my anger with him was stunting me from my blessing, but Jimmy still irked me. He was a ghost slip on my body.
He scratched the silver naps at the back of his head with his pointer fingernail, then touched the steak he was flipping. We had gone all out: NY Strips we got two for one at the Food Lion. Jimmy said he’d fix ‘em right for us. When I first saw the dandruff flakes, I was sure he’d wash his hands, sure he’d scrape the gunk out somehow. The white, cottage cheese looking shit sat thick on the underside of his long, rounded nail.
But he didn’t scrape. He flipped the meat then licked his lips at me.
So, I lost it. Clawed an ice pick from an Igloo cooler and made a few indentions on him. I don’t remember much else after. But now I see Rabbi Kadens.
“The health department is two doors down,” a woman tells me at the community center one door over from the Synagogue. I stare at her and the edges of her lace front wig, and I wonder if she buys her hair from the Asian store on Magnolia, like me.
“I’m here for therapy.”
I need her to know I am responsible, as this was my only sensible option. I keep myself accountable. Either seven sessions or the hospital. She blinks twice. I ask if she knows where Rabbi Kadens’ office is. I ask the white way. I ask, changing my voice to upper middle class. NPR vocal fry: brighter A’s, shorter vowels, tightness on the t’s. I try to show that I am in college and can count. She gives a no-teeth smile and points behind her. I smile with all my teeth and gums, see I have them all, and walk quickly. I worry I smell like cocoa butter.
In today’s session, I am learning about my attachment style. Last week, Rabbi Kadens told me I have an anxious style that makes me act in a compulsive manner. I made the mistake of telling Rabbi Kaden’s my dad was a minister before he died. Now all his breakthrough analogies are from the Old Testament.
“Now Nicki, I’ve been thinking and I think I’ve got you pegged.” He rests his fingers on his bologna lips, sits back and crosses his leg.
“You’re like King David, you know about him? Remember him and Bathsheba?”
“You have delayed reactions then you melt!” Rabbi Kaden’s laughs at this.
“My Lord, I’ve got a David in my office! Help us Lord. Ahh!”
He guffaws and reaches out to grab my hand, but settles on my bare thigh. I laugh back, my hand flopping on top of his like a dead bass. Our eyes meet until I check the clock; we have twenty minutes left. I look at the cold sub sandwich on his desk. The deli meat is sweating and I smell the mayonnaise turn. My stomach growls while he wraps up, checks in with me, checks to see how my anxiety is going.
“And remember the Valium can be habit forming. Half a pill, if ever. And no alcohol with that. Only ever in emergencies. Only if you really need to leave the present moment.”
His voice trails while I check the dirt under my nails. I think about the chicken salad I left out earlier, and the Barefoot wine cooler uncorked on the balcony. It’s summer and the gnats are laying eggs in the neck of the bottle by now. I think about swallowing it anyway. And then I think of the Rabbi’s hand on me, dry and heavy and confident, not basement damp like I hoped it would be. I think of his feet too, if I can imagine them correctly. I’ve never seen them bare, maybe I’d suck the toes. Then I start to wonder if Jewish men wear gators. I wonder if Rabbi Kadens’ baby toenail curls under too.
Club Rumorz smells like baby powder and my inner thighs. Under the lights, his fat smile tells me he’s what I need. I feel an innocence radiating, like he cares about doing right by people. This makes me aggressive. I look at him with his spacey, dope glare while he tells me he goes to school in Colorado. He moves his hands up my stomach, feeling my tits. I worry he feels the sweat through my girdle and from his body odor, I can smell that he does, in fact, go to school in Colorado. He dances behind me in his white socks, I don’t think he’s partial to showers, and I can’t tell what I wanna do with him. This inch of attention haunts me.
He is lanky, every part of his body extends beyond normal. His neck is dignified, stretching tall with an Adam’s apple that juts out like half a Cutie tangerine. It’s smooth, like the porcelain in my bathtub. His jeans have a snag in the crotch that opens to a tiny hole where I see the plaid of his underwear and a lump of hairless testicle. It catches my eye, shining like a fishing lure. The more I tell myself not to look the more I fucking look.
He is eager and off beat, which sends me spiraling in poetics. I think he feels limited in his own body. He moves in a clumsy grace with eel-like arms, smiling down at me in full, pierced with dimples. He can’t dance. And you fuck how you dance. I’m enamored. Pieces of oiled hair flop into his doe eyes. It smells like month old bed sheets. I want to place my nose in his crown, in a pool of sebum, and inhale it, deeply. I want to rub a portion of that right into my crow’s feet. I want to move a strand back for him, placing it behind his cowish, baby boy ears.
Purple lights shine around him as we dance and dance and dance, making him look a frumpy kind of holy. He is tall, taller than six feet at best guess. He wears high waters—tube socks compensate for exposed, bare ankles. His white socks look taupe and he smells like cheese.
“What’s your name?” I beam.
“What’s YOUR name?”
“You’ve got a great ass!”
He spins me around, spanks me a little.
I gulp down more of my Shiraz and feel that buzzed heat wave making me wanna tell my truth! Rabbi Kadens says I should do that more. My poise slips when I put my arms around him, I don’t mean to, but I pull on his neck too long. His eyes are moony with cringe when I spill wine down his back. Whitney Houston comes on and I try to lock eyes with him to share a moment. I offer him some of my drink but he doesn’t take it, he says he doesn’t want to take my wine from me. I gawk at him for this, mouth open, like the gesture is that gracious, and he picks at his thumbs and looks away from me. He’s nervous.
I want him to be nervous. Really, I’m making him uncomfortable. He starts to soak with sweat. It starts as a glisten, making his body gloss under the LEDs. But now the sweat is taking on a drenching effect. It pours through his hair and down his neck making him look like a newborn calf. A couple drops splash on my face when he lifts his arms and screams,
“WOOH I love this song!”
I try to lick them off of him when he says pulls his head back from me, says he needs some water. I watch his shoulders square as he goes to the bar. In my mind, he’s pulling me into the bathroom, ripping my control top leggings down, licking at the pink of me. But he’s not looking at me. He won’t look at me. And now he’s dancing with some other girl with a belly button ring, golden retriever lowlights, a flat stomach. I lose sight of him altogether. They turn the black lights on and everybody glows. I keep searching for him, trying to smell him in the air.
I came to Rumorz with some friends, but I’ve forgotten about them already. I’m pacing the floor when J pulls me aside and tells me it’s time to go cause, apparently, I’m clowning myself.
“Nicki, girl, this doesn’t look good on you,” she says, as she pulls me back by the waist. I roll my neck at her with my arms crossed and slur to her something about how Mr. Jimmy didn’t expect me to cut his Black, dusty ass.
“Huh? Who’s Jimmy?” she wipes runny lipstick off my chin.
I’m too deflated to protest so we say goodbye. I finally find him, and I wave from across the room, smiling ear to ear like the idiot I am. He looks through me, but I tell myself he couldn’t handle the passion. Cause we had a cosmic connection. Star crossed. We had a cosmic connection. I’m sure of it.
In the Uber, I pick my skin around my thumbs and suck out the little pools as I let the coastal Georgia wind whip my face. I look out the window searching for a glimmer, only to be let down by a flat night. It’s cloudy, no full moon, no one thousand glittering stars. Just a rushing that’s wet on my face, too dark to see.
I look off towards the port and wave to the shipping boats, pointing to each of them as if I know them by name. I make sure they feel seen and heard. I tell myself I’m a good person. The wind is making my eyes water, and my kohl liner gives me coon circles. I wipe off the black smut and suck it off my fingers.
I don’t wanna feel so down anymore, so I beg the driver for a hit off her vape and imagine my lungs combusting. It tastes how Mr. Jimmy smells. I feel his fingernails. I feel his hands around my throat. I feel his palm pushing my head down. I see myself on my knees.
I start laughing. I yank my head around and I tell a big story about the random to my friends in the back seat, fishing for some approval. And then he went down on me in the bathroom! They laugh with (at) me, egging me on, and I feel better. J pats my shoulder.
The Eagles are playing on the 91.9 The Soft Rock Choice of Chatham County and I think of the sandwich on Rabbi Kadens’ desk. It’s probably been out too long. Then I get to ripping through my pockets for his number. I pull the white, inside parts all the way out. I’m swooning. So, I search for something I don’t have. I’m floating on stale hope, day dreaming, even though I know.
Mr. Jimmy will still be at the service on Sunday. Most of the men I know wear gators, and I’m a wishing fool: I’ll never see that random again.
But I try. I stick my head back out the window and send him a message, I reach through the void. And I think he got it, cause I closed my eyes when I wished.
Halle Hill is a writer from East Tennessee. She is a graduate of Maryville College and the M.F.A. program in writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Joyland, Hobart, and the Oxford American magazine. Hill’s debut story collection GOOD WOMEN will publish with Hub City Press, fall ‘22. You can find her on Instagram at @hallewrites.