Once, he had lived in this apartment, once his room and my room were only separated by a bathroom. Once, I dreamed of slipping violently through white painted sheetrock and tile and exposed brick, crushing it, striking it down, blow by blow. I dreamed of growing suddenly huge and swelling up like a balloon, trampling through all of the rocks and debris, and I would arrive, ten feet over, in your room, the shower curtain dragging behind me, its rings somehow caught in my hair, urban apartment seaweed detritus. You would be at your desk, with your back to me. You would be on eBay looking to buy a truck, or tunneling into obscure online forums to discuss car parts. You would swivel around on your stool, some old squeaky thing with a small worn leather seat. Hey you would say, as if we were running into each other on the street somewhere, like that one summer I ran into you in Red Hook, and we made a lot of small talk, as if small talk were a code we were making for ourselves right then and there, exactly for this occasion, this occasion when we had receded from each other’s lives because the night before Sandy hit, the intensity of the prospect of the two of us as an entity was too much to bear.
But now, years later, I was showing up in your room, not in the doorway, but in a jagged gape in the wall I had cleared, so I could get to you. After you said hey, you put aside your eBay search, and regarded me as if you could read my expression, and posture, and clothing, like they were sentences, sentences constituting paragraphs of a letter I had written to you.
I feel like a balloon, I told you. I’ve become huge, something has inflated me, out of proportion, and I think it was in order to get to you. You told me that one of your favorite stories was called “The Balloon,” and it was all about this balloon that appeared one night in the middle of Manhattan, and what different people think about and do on or with the balloon. And how people come to terms with it, in the middle of their city lives, and the language that is used to describe it, or circumscribe it, and but the best thing about the story, was the last paragraph, because what it told you, was that it was actually another type of story, it was actually incredibly romantic because in the end it was about losing someone, in the end it had a tenderness, suddenly it pressed you up against a ‘you,’ the story was being told to a ‘you,’ who had left, abandoned the first person narrator and had now returned, and the balloon for all its explicit mystery, was actually a manifestation of an implicit mystery, that was infinitely more mysterious because it was about, you know. That’s what you said then. It was about ‘you know.’ You could not say the word, or did not want to. I knew the short story well, and you were talking about love. It was about love. And longing, and heartbreak. I wanted you to say at least one of those words. Say it, I said, I pleaded, because from such a great inflated balloon height, I could plead without feeling small. You shook your head. I cannot, you said. You swiveled back around to reach for a jar of yogurt that was sitting on your desk. You resumed eating the yogurt, and for a moment all I could do was make deliberate observations about the yogurt, like that it was all white, and that there didn’t appear to be any fruit blended in, or even at the bottom. Your spoon clinked delicately against the inside of the glass. I said get me down. This balloon-me is no good, not anymore.
You shook your head ruefully at me. I have used this word many times to describe, in my head, the way you look when we accidentally encounter each other. Every summer, for many years, we would suddenly run into each other, somewhere strange and unexpected. This shaking your head ruefully at me is a look that made me happy, because it made me feel that you felt it too, that we were stuck to each other, even if only in a parallel world, even if only in an encoded universe, that we were past the point of no return, and that we both wouldn’t want it any other way.
I am not saying that I don’t know better. Someone died recently, and my mother said nothing lasts forever. She said if it wasn’t going to be now, it would be later. I nodded silently into the phone. I felt like this was some sort of Buddhist test, or it was a Chinese thing, to be unflinching about death, to talk about how the only certainties in life were being born, suffering, and dying. I told my mother that the American saying was Benjamin Franklin, who said that the only certainties were death and taxes. My mother scoffed. What I’m saying is that I do know better. Every moment you make a decision, or many decisions even, to continue on in a relationship. A relationship is work, all of it is continued, constant effort. You are never stuck to someone, or past any point of no return. There is always an out. I had loved someone once, we had loved each other, for years, and he had left without a word.
Is this what you stormed through my wall for? he asked. To tell me you had that before once? Never again, amirite? No, I said, you already knew that. I came because I ballooned, and now you’re just sitting there eating your fucking yogurt, and unable to say the word love, even though it’s completely removed from us in this context. He deliberately, very calmly, spooned some more yogurt. The yogurt was a precariously viscous pile with a slight wobble on his spoon. I stared at the dollop as it shivered there, midair, on his spoon. I rushed forward and grabbed his hand holding the spoon, and pushed the spoonful into his face. Fuck, he said as his chair rolled back. I immediately felt better, and more normal sized. He had yogurt glopped on his nose and eyelashes and forehead, and it was glooping down, some of it dripping, and some of it glooping down more slowly. He sat on his stool, his mouth still slightly open from surprise, and then he grinned at me and licked some of the yogurt from the side of his mouth. The spoon had ended up in my hand, and I laid it carefully on his desk, and then I pushed him back a little more, until his back was up against the desk, and then I straddled him. The scene had taken a turn for the pornographic, what was all this yogurt on his face but some sort of evocation of cum, after all, and who would be surprised that my mind dropped into my vagina at this moment? But the stool squeaked unsteadily and his hands already having slipped around me to each grip a handful of ass cheek, he stood up and lifted me up with him. I wrapped my legs around him, and licked the yogurt off his eyelid. It was plain, full fat. I wanted to say hey, that’s the kind I get too, but decided against it. This was no time for romance. This was time for Streptococcus thermophiles. Once, long ago, in a previous life, in West Hollywood, I had had some sort of vaginal infection, a whole series of annoyances and pain and discharge and creams inserted, and my boyfriend at the time had started complaining about the effect this had on our sex life, and though his reaction disgusted me I still stayed with him for two more years after that. At one point, the gynecologist had prescribed probiotics, which she promised me would help balance out my flora and fauna. Apparently my vagina was a forest ecosystem, full of plant life and animals, and I was to add some living microorganisms into the mix to concoct a big party in my crotch. I think this is why even as he deposited us both on the hardwood floor of his room, I continued lapping at the yogurt, lapping up that milk and bacteria. I suspected that the more turned on I got, the more yogurt there would be for me. He lay on the ground now, on his back, and I hovered over him like an animal crouched over another animal, in a mode of nurturing and care, or of predatory intent, I suddenly wasn’t sure. My pussy was pulsating, a caged creature grown too large for its enclosure, seething to get out. Sink its teeth into something. I swayed, the inside of my mouth tasted slightly sour and frictiony. I wiped the rest of the yogurt off his face and then brought the yogurt-coated heel of my hand against my swollen pussy.
I had come down from balloon size, but here I seemed to still have some balloon left. As lightly as I could, I touched the yogurt to my outer labia shy and full, while he lay there, still, his hand now pulling his cock out, now spreading precum around and around and glossy on the tip. He watched me. There was no more yogurt on his face, now there was yogurt galore creaming at my crotch. He touched it too, the yogurt. I tried to remember what we had been talking about, I had been mad about something, there was something I had wanted to say about love. But the yogurt was driving me mad, my vagina was salivating for Lactobacillus acidophilus. It had no need for conventional yogurt pairings, like fruit, or granola, or honey. Its ability to sustain pleasure rested solely on the yogurt. Mouthful, mouthful. I finally crawled forward and positioned my vagina over his penis. I could taste it in my mouth. I wriggled around, and put the tip of his cock right there. Yogurt, I breathed, and the word now had lost its logic. Yogurt yogurt, and I pressed myself down on him, his penis pushing up into me thick and slick. Yogurt, he said, and for a gleaming moment, I swore he was talking about love.