Cold weather will do it. So itchy; could take a bit of scratching below the shoulder blade. Elbows, too. I show Jess. Request she suckle them when they're this dry.
She thinks of my dry elbows as being old, like sediment from former lives and former lovers. It's mental, I say. Think of it like the skin of a kiwi fruit. She laughs. No kiwi's this tough, she says. Tough like jerky. Salty, too.
Her tongue makes a noise like a cat.
Then she rubs my head. She uses her palm. Close my eyes and calm my nerves, I can feel us exchanging heat.
Hot as all hell. Heater broken. I call the front desk and say the thing won't shut off; must be high 80s and rising; hard to breathe. The hotel clerk reminds me that I'm paying by the hour. The girl reminds me of this, too.
She reminds me of Jess.
We lie there atop the covers; it's final and we're shimmering sweat. We cross ankles. She's already put back on her underwear, but has yet to strap the bra. She sits up, dangles from the back, puts her hair in a ponytail, and lights a cigarette. I watch as a stray ash, like a dirty snowflake, falls from the tip of her cigarette and lands on her stomach. She brushes with her hand, but the ash goes not away, instead spreading like mud against the perspiration on her skin.
She has a glow about her. She knows she's about to get paid.
I wait awhile after she leaves, until I can stand the heat of this room no longer, then I go. The rush past the front desk is in record time.
The door behind me struggles, closing slowly and aimfully against the eastward wind. The chill on the street slams me like an avalanche. Sweat turns to frost; joints to stone. Hands clench without orders.
I imagine Jess. Her palm on my head. I begin to itch.
You have a nice Christmas face, I said. All I mean is that your face would look good in the snow.
Jess smiled the way she could. Part flush and part blush.
It was the last compliment I recall giving her. She should have warned me. I would have said something more funny.
Postcard from Italy: Beautiful weather and beautiful people. But it smells like a sock drawer.
Also: Lots of waiting. Lots of old Renaissance things. Lots of waiting to see old Renaissance things. Don't mind the wait, she says. Still all new to me.
With love, Jess: By the way, how have you been?
No return address.
Lost. I walk two blocks from the hotel, then two blocks back, then two blocks past. Almost light out. Taxi home. The hooker had taken most of my money. Had to stop the driver a few blocks short. Minimal tip.
Mixed feelings. Shamed, but exhilerated, but also tired. She did look a lot like Jess. Dark hair and the brightest eyes.
The sun is up now, weakly pushing in through the window. The shadow is a grid on my innermost wall. Trapezoidal.
I lie down, begin to fall asleep on what is still my side of the bed. I will dutifully dream of Jess. When I wake, note to self, I need to lotion my elbows.
Calvin Liu is editor of The Glut.