The multiverse theory is a theory that says there are a billion universes happening at once. This means that in another universe I’m at a lesbian bar snorting lines of fire ants off the antlers of a taxidermied moon-deer, while in another space I am sleeping in a desert under a mosquito net covered with metallic scarab beetles the size of evening bags. Somewhere else, a John hand-feeds me lychee nuts while I bronze beside our infinity pool, and at the same moment, someplace else, I’ve never learned to make sound. There are other stranger universes, harder to understand, universes where there is no you, no he, no she, no it, no I. But I don’t really care about these universes, as I’m here in my bodega, ordering an egg and cheese sandwich from Kazmir, who is my bodega guy.
He begins our ritual. “You,” he says, then asks “the usual?” so I say “Yup.” This morning I’m alone, so Kazmir gives me a batty wink, says you haven’t come in here with a man for a while. He’s soberly observed my nights out and my morning-afters regularly for the past twelve years, possessing a wider scope of my sexual history than anybody else possibly could, myself included. I have the tendency to delete people, while Kazmir prides himself on an excellent memory. When I’m up at night getting beer with the exceptionally tall bongo player I just met in the bathroom line at Bembe, Kazmir is on the night shift grinning at me from behind the perspiring six-pack I’ve just put on the counter, and in the morning, when I come back with a lopsided Jew-fro and my ex-boyfriend, he’s waiting for me at the egg station, spatula in hand.
“Is the hook getting too old and cranky for the fishies to bite?” he asks in his way that’s simultaneously flirtatious and paternal. When it comes to his attempts to stretch his shitty English, I’ve become fluent in translation. Still, I resent being the hook in this confused metaphor. The men are the hooks. I’m the lone trout swimming loops in those unmarked dingy waters, lost in some odd bend along the unpronounceable river, dumbly latching my jaws, time and time again, onto poorly camouflaged bait—whatever wiggles. Worms? That’s not why I bite. What I’m hungry for is the hook itself. The barb.
“I quit,” I say, rolling my eyes. He’s cracking my eggs the way I like them, into a dish, first scraping down the griddle to ward off bacon grease contamination, which is why he is the only bodega man I go to in order to fill this particular need. “Quit again!” he squeals. “You always say you quitting before the next batch is rolling!”
“For real, Kazmir…these ‘men’ are all crazy, like legit insane, I just don’t have the time for it,” I say, though all I have is time. I make lazy air quotes when I say the word ‘men’ to clarify that I’m using the term only because I don’t know what else to call them. I’m unsure if my air quotes translate. Kaz looks like the kind of guy born into a language without quotation marks.
“You NewYorkians, it’s always time time time,” his last resounding time transmutes into one of his abstract stories about how time works differently in his country, a country that is at war. Back in his country, which I’ve come to know through the bodega, every she as old as me has been married for years. By now I’d be living in a home with my husbands’ mother, a tired matron who spends each of her mornings involved with a cabbage head, tenderly peeling off leaf under leaf, stuffing the limp layers into what little dough our family has left to make impoverished breads for supper. Once the pan has been scrubbed clean and the sky has gone black, the wives and the husbands and the husbands’ mothers and the children and a random aunt or uncle lay together on the shared floor under the bowing U of their dilapidated ceiling, each dreaming that they might be able to get through a whole dream without it being interrupted by an air raid. In this country, he says, his country, where Kaz has a family and a son he claims has eyes so alive that they glow like the eyes of a moon-lit jackal, love is the only thing that matters. Back in my country Kaz is doing what he’s supposed to be doing with the butter; it hisses on the griddle.
I don’t say anything, what is there to say, really, so Kazmir turns his back to me, tending to my eggs. There is a sadness in Kazmirs back, I start to feel, it is a back that really misses its son. I turn away to grab a coconut water for later. But also, more genuinely, I turn around to avoid the strangeness of the back, the glaring square of sadness above the knot in his apron string. Good coconut waters are outrageously expensive and it’s well in my knowledge that the young Thai coconuts have been harvested by monkey slaves, kidnapped from their parents at birth they spend their shortened lives chained to trees, consistently whipped into clearing entire plantations of coconut groves–but I’ll be needing the electrolytes once the hangover kicks in. Just as I’m reaching for the chrome fridge handle there it is: the reflection of my dead ex-boyfriend in the glass refrigerator door that’s imprisoning the rows of Snapple bottles.
Two choices. Leave without my sandwich or turn around and face that skin who, based on the reflection in front of me, is close, still canvassed around a version of the moving body that it has spent a lifetime stretching around the grooves of. The John. I turn around to face the skin, but once my eyes greet the flesh I have no choice other than to confront the warm, breathing body of John. “You’re supposed to be dead,” I say. John laughs because we know he isn’t dead. John laughs uncomfortably; we’re both well aware that I prefer to pretend that he no longer runs a body capable of strolling in and out of bodegas. When John and I broke up for the last time I made us make a pact, as long as we’re offline we’re dead to each other. “Too bad the bodega isn’t virtual,” I say to John who looks back at me with a bewildered–no, a humiliated look on his face. The face shows and knows that its body belongs across the river where John has a village of his own, his own bodega, where his own bodega guy, Muhammed, makes him greasier sandwiches.
“You!” The captured face, brown eyes, say you. His you falls somewhere on the spectrum between nostalgic longing and eternal frustration. “How are you?”
“Hungry.” I say it fast, realizing that nostalgic longing and eternal frustration aren’t exactly that far apart from one another. “You?” I ask.
“Same,” he says. The ‘m’ especially hoists itself in that nook of sound memory, that tight ball of bone between my jaw and my ear resonates with his ‘m’. He used to lullaby me to sleep with a song he had written for me, and that second verse was nothing but long rows of m’s, only humming. Now, there is a beautiful moment of silence that holds in it the potential for this conversation to be over, before John does what he always does and impulsively sabotages it.
He starts telling me how his mom “mentioned me the other day,” because once upon a time I went apple picking with his family and the photo of us all smiling together in front of a Cortland tree is on his parent’s refrigerator. From what I remember of the picture, I’m wearing a pink striped tee shirt holding the fat hand of a man-child I loved once.
“That trip was awful,” I say to the stranger in his familiar skin who still seems irritably unfazed by me. “It was nice,” he says, like we’re not even from the same universe. Something vibrates. He whips it out, looks into his phone.
It was a two-and-a-half-hour car ride to the orchard. John, his sister and I all crammed in the backseat of his dad’s sports car with their two poorly trained slobbering cockapoo-doodles. The clawed Oodles pawed at our bare legs, drooling in our laps, while in the front seat his parents squawked about theoretical wrong turns that they blamed one another for taking in the future. Once there, the dogs got left in the hot car. The family decided that, instead of walking we take the tractor ride across the orchard. I boarded the plank with the fat and the lazy, jealously watching from in between the red metal bars of the cargo cage as the young and limber frolicked through the orchard, biblically holding hands, giggling through the grassy aisles under the canopies of bowed branches, heavy with ripe fruit.
Our crowd of fleshy bodies off-loaded, families peeled off, each unit claiming a nearby tree, just as we did. I wish I could describe our tree as being something; small, sulking and unimpressive maybe; large sprawling and littered with strange yellow birds, perhaps, but the tree we chose was none of those things. It was indistinguishable from the others in the orchard, cast in a glaringly average amount of light, bearing a reasonable amount of decent enough fruit. No one wanted to pick apples. No one liked apples. “It doesn’t make sense to pick the apples and pay for them if we’re not gunna eat them,” advised his father, forever the wise businessman, while his sister fixed her hair in her phone. I’ve gone paleo so I can’t eat fruit anyway,” John voiced proudly for the fifth time since breakfast, prancing around the field in his new Nikes like a chubby old goat that thought it was a kid. Beside our insignificant tree, we assembled into the stock photo for family fun, made the moment we had journeyed there to make for the refrigerator.
In the end, they all got donuts and ate them in the car. Even John-gone-paleo was eating donuts, three, in fact, his crumby arms guarding the cakey O’s from the tongues of the uncontrollable cockoodles. When a cockoodle is trapped in a car with people eating donuts their eyes go real buggy, and the four eyes in the backseat looked like I felt, like they were under so much pressure they were about to bleed.
Back in the present, behind a glass door, a row of peach diet Snapples are sweating.
“She was saying we looked so happy,” the voice of the same boy from the backseat says to me now in the bodega, though he’s hardly the same as the boy in the backseat, he’s more like an expired idea.
“Oh John!” Kazmir says, as he Ping-pongs his head back and forth between John and my body, emphasizing how bizarre it is to see us standing here next to one another, as if neither of us has already felt the strangeness. Kaz holds my hot sandwich hostage in his hands.
Kazmir, I remember, knows in excruciating detail why John and I aren’t talking anymore, somewhat embarrassing. John and I may have had a loud fight next to the chip aisle on more than one occasion, where some words were screamed about the women. There may have been a night in December when I threw John’s phone on the bodega floor, stomped on it with my lace-up boots and then grabbed a container of liquid detergent and emptied the slow falling slime onto the device while screaming Satanic saggy-balled mama’s boy small turtle-mouthed craigslist panty licking bitch. Or something to that effect. I feel the same urgency now, I realize—the urgency to obey the exit sign. Kaz throws John a smile, says to him “It’s you!” Kazmir’s you is the best kind, it’s clean and genuine with no hint of frustration or longing.
The two of them jump into a fast-paced conversation about this first-person shooter game they both play. I make horrified laser beam eyes at Kazmir, communicating that I don’t appreciate his friendly enthusiasm towards John. Kazmir is on my team and even if they both spend their free time shooting civilians on the same platform, I am the real-world thing they have in common, literally their fucking origin is: me. Plus, this is my neighborhood. I do not play or care about their stupid game, and I am a decent enough person to deserve loyalty from somewhere, at the very least from my bodega guy. Isn’t he the one who thinks that the only thing that should matter in a country is love? And please, for love itself, my egg and cheese.
They are yapping away about command combinations, unlisted codes that enable certain weapon boosts, until it finally looks like Kazmir is about to pause and do what is right and hand me my sandwich. “But that button combo never works for me, even when I hold the trigger … are you sure you don’t have to XXABY?” John familiarly whines, and Kaz is so enchanted by his whine that he forgets to do what is right and instead puts my egg and cheese on the counter top, resting his latexed paw on it like a guard. Kaz confirms that the code only works after you’ve stepped on the little green box in the hallway that transports you to the bazaar.
“Yeah, cool, yeah, I think …yeah, cool! …cool, yeah!” John says like he’s starting to get it, though I suspect only loosely. He isn’t the kind of guy who likes to admit when he doesn’t understand.
From what I can gather about this universe I am excluded from, here’s how it works: a CGI boot steps on the box and, for a limited time only, one’s avatar gets highlighted by something they call ‘the green glow.’ A novice doesn’t think twice about his glow, for the average player it just looks glowy and they think “huh?” A player adapts to the green aura, instead focusing on the immediate pressure to shoot at incoming bodies. When one has the green glow they’re actually operating in an alternate level, chasing bad guys through an identical landscape, shooting bullets down the hallways of a same-seeming world that’s actually a duplicate. If the glow wears off before you’ve successfully thumbed the combination, well then you’ve blown it. Time is up. Kaz thinks that John tends to blow it when he gets the glow which is, knowing John, quite likely. At random, other misunderstood totems will appear, yes, there are new empty levels waiting to get unlocked, infinite codes and possibilities that lead to total domination, but this new special level which is the level that the two of them are still fucking talking about is the best new level either of them has gotten to as of yet, and compared to the older-new levels they’ve made it to before it is a much bigger accomplishment for a variety of mundane reasons which from what I can tell are: 1) the scenery 2) weapon power boosters 3) moments of temporary night vision.
I eyeball my sandwich knowing that once it is in my hands I will be emancipated. I think towards the future, how good it will feel to be released from this, free, outside, inhaling the exhaust of 14th street, dodging the underpaid bicycle delivery guys who illegally circumnavigate traffic laws while they artfully avoid spilling oily lo mein from their nylon sacks. Kazmir looks back-and-forth between John and me watching us like we’re live television, with the slightest potential to be somewhat entertaining when it happens. Kaz hands me the sandwich. I cradle the paper bundle in my hands, like it’s a warm precious baby that hasn’t been aborted. It smells like salt pepper and butter. Kazmir is giving me one of his looks, that annoyingly familiar look of I-know- something-you-don’t-know when I see my other dead ex-boyfriend’s reflection in the glass refrigerator door that imprisons the Sprite. My chipped manicure clings to the dying warmth of my freedom. Once again, the skin. The body. The face. The “man.” The overhead fluorescents click like they sometimes do, the yellow greening.
This is not a grocery store, it’s just the bodega and because of this unfortunate glitch in the scenery my two dead ex-boyfriends think it’s okay to walk right up to each other. “G— god,” I say it quietly but with my whole voice. The men don’t even notice the light, but I am not a man and I know this light, its rules, its thick green glue, binding my feet to the linoleum.
“Nice to meet you,” John says to John genuinely. I can’t believe John said hi to John before he said hi to me except that I can believe it because if there is one thing I’ve observed about reality it’s that reality gets off on being unbelievable. Plus, if there is anything I’ve learned from history, it’s that being done with me is a real thing that people love to bond over. “Nice to meet you too,” John says right back to the John I loved first. It isn’t only their names, or the looks of amusement on the Johns faces. They look the same as one another, something I’ve intentionally never thought about. Through the greenish light the stunned John’s see their own uncanny resemblance, each face wears a look of awe in seeing itself so clearly plastered on the skull of another John. I fantasize exit strategies. I envision the many worlds that don’t make space for the people who I am done with, alternate landscapes complete with mazes of gigantic yellow water slides, margaritas, a population completely comprised of beautiful strangers. I’ll pay Kaz next time, I think. I’ll army crawl along the ledge of wintergreen packets.
Each John studies a John with the intensity of a child in a mirror, trying to memorize its own face. John’s forehead is slightly broader, I think, whereas John’s eyes are a teensy bit closer together, but I can’t tell if this minute distinction is accurate or if it’s just illusory lighting. “Wow,” John says, looking right into Johns eyes, the same eyes that once told me he would till death do us part if I adopted this puppy we’d seen eating scraps of shredded paper in a 10 storefront window on Sixth avenue. “I’ve heard rumors that she has a type but I never thought—wow.”
“Wow is— wow,” John responds. They each hold the shapes of their mouths a little too long after they make the w shape, like a turned off fountain of twin statues blowing invisible whistles, stunned demonic cherubs.
“I hear somebody’s got an art show in November,” John says. I feel like a doll, a body of parts waiting to be moved by a girl. I am the girl, I say to myself, this is my body, but it will not let itself be moved by me. I shake my head as if this is something that happened yesterday and I’m reviewing todays disaster with Kazmir after the fact, once the bodega has become a safe space again, once the natural florescence, if you can call it natural, has returned. Tomorrow the sandwich I’m about to eat will only be as relevant as every other sandwich I’ve consumed in my past; my hunger will be fresh; I will only have new fried eggs to look forward to. Tomorrow, I will appreciate eggs on a whole new level.
“I saw somebody’s got an art show in November,” John says again. The somebody he’s referring to is the person in my body, the somebody is me. I nod yes, even though it’s just a group show, technically not confirmed as of yet. He puts his hand on my shoulder lightly, trying to exude warmth, like a child on the spectrum who’s been trained to connect. I think of the upcoming show, it’s a relief to think to a time other than the time that is now here, any place other than this place, to the abandoned battlefield on my apartment floor where piles of unfinished drawings collect dust. I’ll be showing some of my crude-looking character landscapes, done in pencil and crayons—cerulean stick-figures commuting on a lazy horizon line, apricot ladies in strappy platforms walking their cobalt husbands on leashes down Madison avenues, a single sepia figure vomiting on the train tracks below Canal. I have twenty different mulberry women pushing black strollers into crowded grocery stores at rush hour, a self-portrait of a circle crying pee out her window onto the roof of a taxi. Many of the figures are linked to thought bubbles that are empty, looming crowds pregnant with potential, turning my little guys into sadder versions of themselves, like they’re just haphazard blueprints for a cartoon still waiting for its writer. Like me now, versions of little characters trapped in iterations of pause. What the hell am I going to wear to this opening anyway? The pink suede pumps that chafe the heels? The Dries Van Noten pointy-toed patent thigh highs that leave me knockkneed the morning after? I should pick up some condoms, just in case. I know I should finish the work before I fixate on the look. The work is what should matter, though shoes linger in the front of my mind, tempting my feet with possibility. By the time I allow myself to reenter my bodega, I see that time hasn’t actually stopped and I’ve missed the conversation. Kazmir and my two ex-John’s probably imagine that I’ve been staring blankly at the tower of toilet paper stashed above the racks of Lysol wipes. Or, as it appears, none of them are at all preoccupied with my ambient toilet paper focus, conversation is moving quite nicely without me.
Luckily, this John has also started to play the same computer game that John and Kaz have been talking about.
“Aren’t you just in love with it?!” John asks, excited to be together with a group of men who all play the same game alone. John goes on to explain how, the guns, at first, made him uncomfortable, but now he’s so into the game, it’s even better than something called “spank bang.” Everybody but me seems to be familiar with the spank bang. Can’t say I’m surprised to hear that John’s come around to the guns. This makes sense for his personality. He’s one of those guys who posts feminist anti-violence free-gender blah blah jargon on his feed, lately a slew of articles about female body positivity. Which do make me wonder, now that I’m here in this stuck body, if you’re no longer positive you have a body does that mean you’re not body positive? Anyway, as someone who knows him intimately, I know that the only reason he’s so vocal about “women’s rights” is because all he secretly wants is to be able to choke the hell out of one. This was one of my favorite things about fucking John, the reason John and I were good together. He was a real hook. The real deal. Once upon a time, I selected John because he was the kind of guy who cried when a dog got shot in a movie (a wiggly thing), but since then, I’ve viewed his computer history (barb).
The three of them moronically start humming what I assume must be its theme song, which has an appropriately intense melody, a cross between Star Wars and the first movement of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Talk about a song that makes you want to kill yourself, I try to ESP this message to Kaz, who’s smiling at me creepily through his humming. Kaz doesn’t get the memo or miss a note. Songs like this were literally written to go on forever until you die. It goes on so long my legs get somehow even heavier. I wonder if I should squat to wait it out, but decide against it.
We were just talking about that glow…do you know about it?” John asks John, who doesn’t but says he’s been having some curious thoughts every time he gets green and then transports to the bazaar. His “curious thoughts” are teenage in complexity, mostly comprised of um’s. So, tedious, he leaves me with no choice. I squat down, and when I do Um John barely looks at me, says in his pitying voice, “What are you waiting for?” nodding at my sandwich baby, now cold in my hands. “She’ll never stop squatting in public,” John says to John and they both laugh like a pair of tight-ham-stringed lunatics.
Much better off at this new level, I resort myself to silence as they refocus on their shared world, a world that matters more than any world I could ever be in. “It seems pretty clear that something is happening BTS,” John says to John, who nods rigorously in agreement. “What is BTS?” asks Kaz, and a John explains to him that it means, um, behind the scenes. “There are these commands that …”“I only figured it out because …”“Are you sure that’s the right combination?”“WAIT! I made it there once!” my old best friend says with a particular assuredness that gives me no choice other than to remember him as someone I once really knew. We are all so quiet, it’s as if the bodega has been swept under by a damp magic, the buzz of the fluorescents tremble the glass refrigerator doors. “Whaaaa—what happened?” John asks, and a miraculously um-less John starts to speak clearly and slowly, like this is a story he’s telling from the future, as if he is a grandfather, aged out of the mortal responsibility to be respectful of everyone else’s time. The griddles gone dry and smells like the smell of something unburnable burning, like iron, maybe steel. “When you manipulate that green … I guess you’re calling it the glow …things don’t reverse they …they … ” The bodega light flickers. I rest my elbows on the ledges of my knees and hold the sandwich in both hands like it’s some kind of offering. I look down at my feet.
“That’s so beautiful, incredible.” John says to John and John nods and I wonder what has just happened here? I silently shame myself for dropping out of such an important scene. The three of them are looking at one another in a way that suggests they all know something I don’t. I’m worried that the thing they all know so much about, this thing they all seem to understand that I can’t, is something other than the game, something other than the glow, like maybe it’s me. Even though this is my bodega, my breakfast, and Kaz is mine, the bodega seems pregnant with the belief that I’m the one who’s not supposed to be here.
Kazmir looks fully engaged inside his apron, triangulating his eyes between our three bodies in the space unfazed by my squatting. “Oh John!” Kazmir says solemnly, “You have really given me something to think about. It is like what it says in the great book, the believer is like a mirror to other believers.”
They are all so quiet it’s like they’re praying, before Kaz breaks the sacrament with one of his winks. “The Usuals?” Kaz asks the two John’s who both nod hungry yesses. When Kaz says “the usuals,” a painful heat erupts in my belly, like that time I accidentally drank turpentine in Mexico.
The burn of betrayal that accompanies the word usual as it comes out of Kaz’s mouth wipes their green glowing world away, and I am overcome with a certain feeling that I hate but don’t have a name for. I remember a time I thought I’d forgotten, when my father came to my art open house in elementary school and had picked up a drawing of the ocean that a boy with my same initials had drawn with crayons, and (thinking it was mine), began praising me about how good my work was getting, what an amazing improvement this seascape was compared to what he’d seen in my earlier drawings. The ocean had these dumb smiling swans around it. It was blue and the swans were yellow in the immature sunlight. After that open house, I’d gone home and looked at my art. It was probably just for a minute but I was seven so give me a break. I looked at my art for a long, long time. Mine had been an illustration of the car crash that my dad and I had shared only a few weeks before; broken glass sprinkled around a roadkill raccoon, the emerald green car plunged into a brick wall as the horizon line framed an approaching ambulance. In reality, the crash had been fantastic, there was a dramatic swerve and there was snow that swirled up on the windshield as we pushed through it and the moment after we’d both snapped back into consciousness after slamming into the brick wall I’d looked up at him and his expression mirrored mine with a dumbfounded beauty that can only be attributed to unspoken feelings of great relief when you mutually rediscover that you are both still alive. We were equally present in that moment, checking that the other’s limbs were intact before knowing if our own bones were still in place, energized by the shards of glass that stuck to our necks and our parkas, our silhouettes reflecting light as we burst out through the car doors and wobbled out into the clean, bright dust of the snow. When I looked at the drawing afterwards, it was clear that this piece was unmistakably mine. It was my story, our story, or so I thought. One could observe my prehensile grip in the shaky lines of Crayola, and the entire color palette clashed with itself in a way that few children ever perceive as being a good-looking combination. He wanted me to be the kind of kid, like blimpy Leon Delver, who painted happy swans on top of oceans where they don’t even live. In a group of unexceptional children my dad could, and would still choose the wrong child. I decided then that I wasn’t intended to be his. It dawned on me that all predetermined familial assignments and the loyalties that came along with them had been arranged at random. I might have not known how to say it in the way I’ve just said it but I felt it completely, in the way someone can only feel something completely when they can’t access the language to talk about it yet.
“I haven’t seen you around in a bit.” Kaz says to John while he toasts their two rolls, before he asks “How’s Nancy?” Nancy? I unscrew the top of my coconut water and take a swig, channeling the powers of the orphaned monkey slaves. I absorb their abandonment, their anger, and in just a few gulps my primate parts have been snapped back into the bones of my body. Electrolytes. The bodega clicks, the greenish light drops out, is replaced by the usual urinary yellow. Using what exists of my core, I rise from my squat.
“WHO IS NANCY?” says my voice. I guess, she’s back and it sounds like she’s horrified and really not appreciating that a story where I am supposed to be the center has not only given itself permission to revive and unite our supposed to be dead ex-dudes, but is now casually introducing a character that I don’t and shouldn’t need to know about, worst of all this character is a woman who’s been with John enough times to have a name. “What is this?” she says again out loud. “Is breakfast some kind of joke?” Even if she has to have a name why does Kazmir have to know it and even if he does know it why does he have to say it so enthusiastically? He is on my team.
I scroll through my girlodex for shadows of Nancys from social media. I’m having trouble deciding if Nancy works in PR for Banana Republic or if she is a pube-less stripper at that crusty Bushwick strip club where all the girls have armpit hair and MA’s in gender studies. Kaz knows he shouldn’t have said Nancy as soon as he says the name, and not so smoothly transitions to weather, the most boring subject of all eternity, and while the three of them are happily debating tomorrow’s forecast, I ponder the possibilities of Nancy. Whether she is wearing a polo or reclaimed pasties, I’m sure she is younger than I am. Looking down at the breakfast bundle in my hands, I think about how unlikely it is that Nancy would eat something like this roll. She couldn’t do gluten, even on vacation, not with a body like that.
“This is entirely strange,” the undead say to each other. “Do you live near here? Is this your bodega?” says the John who once kissed my forehead and sang me to sleep asks the John who once made me a mobile of dangling action figures which he hung over my bed to protect me. I get a churning hit of nausea, or is that tenderness? The John’s talk about how neither of them live nearby, they still both live off the G, which I assume means that they are either stalkers or fucking Nancies that live in my neighborhood. It isn’t a coincidence that the John who once secretly filmed me sucking him off and the John who once stole my change jar to get a pack of Newports both lived off of the most inconvenient, unreliable train; that’s symbolic synchronicity. He promised he deleted the video, through boyish tears, but who knows what still exists on the hard drive. He smoked the whole pack and didn’t save me one cigarette. In my world, sometimes the fate of your own mouth gets taken out of your own hands. The John who loves his mother tells the John who has no mother that it’s so nice to finally meet him and touches his arm affectionately. They exchange screen names and agree to be in touch about the glow. I imagine them reuniting on another platform, touching guns.
“G—god,” I say to no one in particular. “God,” I say again, but this time, I’m thinking about anything but hard drives, anything but the Johns, I’m thinking about the G train. How the G always stops in the middle of the tracks. Kazmir flips green bell peppers for their usuals.
The vegetable reminds me that they both have bad taste in breakfast. I know that all the men at my bodega know exactly how I feel about green peppers, and I know that at least one of them will get gassy from the peppers within the hour, but looking back and forth between them, I don’t care to remember which one has the more sensitive digestion.