© Feech -- all rights reserved
|for Jason Lehrer
The cold arms of my statue, in the line of trees and tall shrubs just off this fairly well-traveled Boston sidewalk, almost begin to warm me. Sure, it's probably my own warmth radiating back at me, but there's no telling for certain-sure what Cristobal can do. I wait in the arms for him, and wonder idly, then fervently, then idly again when he will be back.
I don't know how Cristobal does it, anyway. I don't know how he leaves, and sometimes I wish I could do it. The grey stone bends at the elbows of the seated figure, a figure easily three times my size. The statue and the sidewalk could almost be the same color, separated at the figure's pedestal by a strip of green; it's cold but there's no snow and the grass is failing to die. Either that, or it's dead and failing to brown. The colors smear and shift a little before my eyes compared to the way they appeared before my SCABS, but I can still make them out. I put a lot of thick lines and certain shadows in my work, now, with my chalks. I used to be more subtle, but maybe it's best to be bolder with outdoor art anyway.
My statue is silvered, ornamented with tiny, nearly square chunks in its torso and limbs; the sidewalk here is plain cement. The motes of reflective surface show difference between the identical greys.
It's cold. I think sometimes that the statue is colder than the air around it. I asked Cristobal, once, how it was that he came to this patch of foliage in this specific spot in the city. He answered me about as vaguely as I answer people when they want to know how I choose my blocks of sidewalk for my pictures. You would think I would bring in more money if I had some sort of plan, but I don't. I never did. I just started drawing more and more and staking out my spots each day by instinct, and I was back at it the same way the summer after I got SCABS.
I guess he can move, but he doesn't like it. Most people I know can move, but they can't move like Cristobal. It's hard to say whether I would give up what I have now, cobby and nearsighted as it is, just to be able to do what he does. I could change; who knows what this virus can do. But so far I'm stuck in this rather dumpy body and Cristobal is stuck in his, even though he managed to make himself get here with some sort of walk and force of will.
I sigh. Why doesn't he know I'm here? I asked him that, too, once, and he only shrugged and halfway explained that when he's gone, he's gone. I wish I could do that. I still wonder, though, if he can see me and just doesn't want to do anything about it. I'd like to think he wouldn't leave me sitting here in my own Japanese fox coat, shivering and moping, even if he did have something else in the neighborhood to see.
I thought fur was supposed to be the ultimate in cold-weather garb. I guess it is, in a way, but I still appreciate my jacket and if I were a real raccoon dog, in the wild somewhere, then I doubt that I'd be curled up in the exposed lap of a stone statue. Cristobal's got the right idea. Just be cold, all cold. Then you never need to get warm.
Jasper's is warm. The five of us take up a four-person table, having scooted one more chair over for Regan. He doesn't need a whole chair, I always say, but the only other place to put him would be on someone's lap, which he rebels at, or on the table, which the rest of us balk at. Every night that we're not doing anything else we're here playing poker, but for some reason we have designated Thursday as the "Dogs Playing Poker Night." We had a drink and a sort of meeting, whereat we decided that Monday is too depressing, Friday is too apt to be busy, Saturday sees us in a packed bar too crowded for playing cards, and Wednesday, Tuesday and Sunday were either already full up at night in terms of some members' work, or too close to Monday. We ended on Thursday, and since then we've nearly always met on Thursday, but we come here so often in the evening anyway that it doesn't seem to mean anything but that we have a name. It makes us feel official, somehow, or maybe wanted-- to know that the other guys, and one gal, cared enough about each of us that we all set a night to play poker together.
One of us, the woman, is not a dog, but neither is she a woman any longer. Years back she changed into a red-rose bush. I met her after she moved to my side of the city; she works at home on her computer and she likes me. We've talked enough that she can understand my voice; usually it takes a long time, she said, but with me it was quick-- a couple months-- and I like to stop by her building when I can. She joined our group. Her name is Beth Sara. I usually sit next to her and make sure that she gets a full translation of all the chatting that goes on around the table; the others don't have to write down everything they say for her, that way, and she just keeps the pad right in front of me and writes her responses, which I relay.
Hector is not really a dog, either, but we made him an honorary one on account of the ears. Come think of it, maybe my status as a raccoon dog-- I call myself "Japanese fox" when I want to sound like I'm something a little special-- but then I wouldn't want to perk the ears of any furriers, either, except I'm probably not all that luxuriant in the coat department-- makes me not as legitimate a dog as Regan and Lars. Regan is the Pomeranian, and Lars is the African hunting dog. Regan is only a couple feet tall standing on his hind feet, Lars is almost as tall as Hector but slim and sort of womanish with patches over his eyes that make him look startled. I always tell him he's supposed to look menacing, one of us with a mask really ought to look menacing, but I just look rounded and cartoonish, Regan is just plain cute (don't tell him that) and Lars has that distant, puzzled expression.
Nobody really calls Hector "Hector" anymore, I guess, not since Christmas a couple years back when Lars started calling him "Elvis." We had called him a "hound dog" for a long length of time and one night at a Jasper's party Lars was sort of blankly listening to the live band and they did "Hound Dog." Lars has a high, real quiet voice and he mentioned quietly something about Elvis, and said we should call Hector "Elvis" for the ears, and nobody listens to Lars but for some reason we did then. I think when Beth Sara joined us it took something like four months before anyone mentioned that Hector is the big rabbit-guy's real name.
Elvis just sits there with his frown like a Klingon off that old show, and his heavy ears with their velvet almost touching the edge of the table. He's the biggest of us, and the deepest voiced. He says we make him nervous, but I doubt it. Anyway, he's been to "Dogs Playing Poker Night" as regularly as the rest of us. The rest of us are mottled and masked, not much to look at, but on one side of me is deep layered limbs of leaves and crimson blossoms, and on the other side is this huge white-furred smooth-coated guy with a bay shading over his forehead and reddish round spots all around the parts you can see above his clothes.
"God, I hate poker," grumbles Elvis. "You all should leave me alone to my table and a drink."
Elvis almost always wins something. We play for snacks. Beth Sara's are always appropriate to adding to her potting soil. I figure that's fair. "Feh. You always win something."
"I hate poker. It's bad for my character."
Regan laughs. It bubbles out of him and makes his face-hairs seem to fizz like foam on a beer. "Cut it out, cut it out. Play."
Elvis grumbles something, and a crowd at another table shouts and shrieks out laughing. There are a lot of brands of beer going around tonight. It's almost hard to keep my brain on the flavor of the actual one that's going over my tongue. I twitch my ear at Regan's laughing, and look at my poker hand. Beth Sara doesn't give me a tap to question me, so I know she knows pretty well what's being said. It may be that she's picking up a little bit of the other voices. She says that Lars is difficult, but Regan has a good, cutting voice that is easy for her to make out. She "hears" through the vibrations of her being when people speak. We don't know why exactly she was so able to pick up on my meanings. She just was. She says I have a knack for keeping my tone clear even when I'm speaking at very different volumes. I don't know. I have kind of a scratchy voice, I believe.
"I have a good hand," I mention. I'm not bluffing. I just mention something randomly every time, so they'll never know whether I'm bluffing or not, and this time what I mentioned randomly happens to be true. It took me forever to figure out that technique; it's the only way I can downplay my own body's scent that comes up with bluffing or a good hand. Poor Lars never wins anything. He's still not too good at the scent-masking. I figure he'll get the hang of it, one of these times.
"I fold," writes Beth Sara on her yellow legal pad in the black vinyl folder.
"That was formal," I tell her. "You could have signaled."
The rose shrugs. This appears as a noncommittal rising and falling of her limbs and a slight rustling of her foliage. I squint at her, something she probably can't see, but either way I guess she's onto me. The others aren't; they assume I'm bluffing.
"He's bluffing," Regan informs Elvis and Lars, who have already decided that anyway. "I'll see your popcorn and raise you a 'Chick-n-Cheez-Choo'."
Elvis raises one heavy, reddish brow. "You have a 'Chick-n-Cheez-Choo'?"
"Not on me."
I translate for Beth Sara during the exchange and ponder what life would be like if my poker hand were different. I make an alternate history based on poker hands, and begin to addle my own mind when I attempt to consider an alternate reality for each possible hand I might have. It doesn't matter, I guess. But who knows. The snacks I win or lose might decide the future of all mankind. Or womankind, or dogkind.
I'm glad my paws came out of it with fingers on them. Regan and Lars have limited dexterity. I can't make all that much as a street artist, and of course it's seasonal anyway, but I would have to find something else to do with myself if I couldn't slap on a hat and a jacket and take up my case of chalks and go out. I need my black metal case and a reason to kneel on the sidewalk. It's not so easy to think of other vocations that would make that feel right. At least, when I've tried to think of some, none seem to fit me.
"I hope you weren't planning to have me believe you did have one on you," warns Elvis. "I'd have smelled it."
"Well, sheyah, what kind of a dog do you think I am? I said I don't have it on me. I'm adding it to the pot. I have four; they're back at my pad."
Elvis seems to think that over, then mumbles something about corn snack chips and adds a coupon to the small pile in the middle of the table. Over the table are our hands and paws, making shadows in the white-glimmering rings of condensation, holding large-print cards so we can all have a clue what's going on. Above that hangs the vapor of beer, meeting in the middle like a pie of five different flavors, and then over that are our faces and the light from the conical hanging lamps. Regan's face has a constant, unintentional smirk. I know mine has a sort of soft look to it. The rose focuses a good amount of surface area on the cards she fans out in her thorned limb, and even though Elvis surveys the whole room at once with eyes on the side of his head I always get the distinct impression that he is staring directly, penetratingly, at me. Lars has confided that the lop's face does that to him, too.
I don't have anything else that I want to part with to add to the pot, so I write out a promise to buy the winner (who may be me, anyway, I think) a burger here at Jasper's. It briefly crosses my mind that I could offer a packet or two of the dozen "Valomilk" cups I hid back at my studio apartment, but I dismiss that. You just never know when a convenience store will stop carrying those. And I feel safe eating them: the quality of chocolate is so bad, I don't even get nauseous. Wish I could eat some decent chocolate now and then, but you take what you can get.
"Aw, come on, Tony," Regan pipes, his little wolf-sable brow furrowing tightly. "One of your 'Valomilk's. Come on. You know I can't get 'em where I live."
"One of you is going to die of theobromine poisoning," Lars says as if it doesn't matter.
"Oh--" Regan scoffs and waves his most doglike paw, his left, dismissively. "And you could get hit by a car tonight. Far as I know, I could be dead of ancient age in ten years."
He's right. We all could. Well, all except the rose. Beth Sara could live to be a hundred... On the other hand, there are the SCABS people who turn into things with lifespans of just a few years or so and still live to be middle-aged or older. And some live normal lifespans. So who's to say? I suppose there are those who don't make it to the lifespan of the species they become. It's an odd thing, is SCABS. I came out on what I suppose is the lucky end, but that's looking at it from where I am now. I'm alive, I can see, I can walk, I can draw and play cards. I have a good voice for speaking to roses and have a friend who looks like she'll be around for as long as I will and longer, and another who may be around longer even than Beth Sara. What does it look like from next week, or even tomorrow night? Won't know 'til I get there. It could be bad, very bad. Still, I'm not adding any "Valomilk"s to the pot. No way.
I shake my head.
"Toooony", whines Regan, but I snap at the air in front of me and he raises one side of his lip, then laughs and we go on playing.
Outside is chilly, and dark, at least symbolically, around the edges. I don't know if my frequented parts of Boston are truly dark, anymore. I imagine they were black-dark in years past, before the street lamps went up that show my and Regan's brushy tails in bristly, chilled outline, and gleam off the sea-green middle veins of Beth Sara's leaves. "Are you sure you're not too cold?" I ask her, folding my short arms in front of me and shaking my head to adjust to the outdoor air.
Beth Sara nods, which I can tell by her taking a conveniently visible blossom and bobbing it slowly in front of me. I know she can tell where I am by vibration; the glaring streetlights are all she could see in a scene of light-black-dark grey like this.
I wonder if it's really darker than I think it is, and it's the SCABS that's changed my eyes, not the city that's changed. I suppose that's possible. I know it's changed my eyesight in a lot of ways. I wonder idly whether I would trade my projected human lifespan for Beth Sara's rosebush lifespan, if I couldn't see except in large, black and white print with her photosensors. Probably not. I get an idea of something I can do for her, and plan to myself to do it while the weather is still fine for sidewalk-chalking.
Lars walks ahead and out of sight, the end of his tail trailing loosely, one wave back at us to let us know he's not stalking off in a huff. The only way you can tell the difference is that wave; Lars's huffs aren't very demonstrative.
Regan bumps up against my knee by accident, then growls at me as if his klutziness was my fault.
"Right," I say, "Like it was my fault. Get your own city, Pipsqueak."
"Hey! My city and my sidewalk, you walking furfarm! I was just kidding around!"
I grab him up by the scruff of the neck, just over his coat-collar, and hold him in front of my face before I'm sure what to do with him. "Yow!" he shrieks, knowing better than to struggle. "Come on, Tony, this is undignified."
I put him down slowly. "I didn't start it."
"You told me to get my own city. Get your own."
I sniff. "That wasn't what started it."
He barges into me, flat-pawed against my hips. Beth Sara, who knows we are in her way and unpredictably active, holds up her yellow legal pad as if to write something in it, but then just holds still. She had been moving herself along the sidewalk on one side of me, with several branches supporting the pot she always wears and several more acting as feet of sorts, but now I notice her limbs must feel chilled because she puts the pot back down on the sidewalk. She can't find her way home without me, at this hour and in this confusing light. She should learn to do it by feel, I think as I kick out lightly at the high-pitched-snarling Regan. Then she wouldn't have to rely on little old me.
"Get off! Damn Pomeranian."
"Make me, Asshole."
I consider grabbing him again, but before I've thought about it I'm down on all fours and making stabs at him with my raccoonish black muzzle. He raises his ruff even further than usual and yips, leaping around me in maddening circles. Finally I get hold of his thigh, something he didn't expect, and he squirms around and bites the tip of my nose.
"Ow!" I let go, and Regan gives me one more nip on the jeans-cuff for good measure, I suppose. "Fine, knock it off."
"Knocking it off." The Pom-morph stands back to his two feet or so of height and brushes his elbows ceremoniously. I rub the end of my nose. I don't like what I'm feeling. I've got to see Cristobal.
"Walk me to my stop, both of you, or I might get mugged." Regan doesn't seem to notice that I'm panting a little strangely. That's fine with me. That's the last thing I need-- anyone else knowing. It's time I told Cristobal, though. For all I know, he's been in my head. I mean, what all can he do when he ghosts out of his body like that?
"Or dognapped," I say, hoping to sound natural. The twitching in my pants is subsiding. I'm glad most of Boston is dark, or at least pretends to be; I'm glad no one can ever be sure of what they're seeing.
"Beth Sara?" I turn to the understandably impatient rose. "All right if we walk Regan to his stop? Are you too cold?"
"Let's, that's fine," she writes on her pad, and we walk, I holding "hands" with her (cautious of the curved thorns); I hope she can't tell that it's almost a balancing measure against my own feelings just a moment ago. What's sad is that I couldn't really care either way about Regan. Cristobal will tell me that I need to admit what I want and go get it, but then he's never been in this situation. Plenty of other situations, sure, but not this situation. Or is that just my excuse for pushing it to the back of my brain all the time? No one would understand because no one is me.
I glance over at Beth Sara, and notice for about the gajillionth time how pretty she is. I've told her so, before. But I know what that means: it means I have nothing to lose by telling her. I wonder whether I keep my comments to myself concerning the guys because they would really be as pissed as I say they would, or because I have something to lose. As if I have anything to offer, really. Any one of them could take my place in the group any time, if I cycled out of death or apathy and someone new cycled in. I don't suppose Beth Sara would get along with them so well or so quickly, but the more time we spend as a group the more she can make out of their individual voices. So much for the "Japanese fox."
I try again to recall just how much of an inkling, if any, there was before I got the Martian Flu. I want to say, none. None at all. I suppose that's not fair. I never really had a reason to be exposed to situations like this before SCABS. It could have come with the territory, or it might not have at all. Fuck. I don't want to drop Regan off anywhere. I don't want to walk with him that long.
We step along briskly enough so that we keep our skins warming our furs from the insides out and I practically run off as soon as Regan is deposited at his stop. Beth Sara is concerned, then. But I explain about the "fight" and she accepts that I may be just mad at him. I shrug. It's a handy excuse. Sometimes a little too handy. I could get used to the "pissed-off" version of life.
I walk Beth Sara all the way up the three flights of stairs and linger at the door, asking whether she might need anything, chatting about the night. She's almost as safe as Cristobal. She's ultimately feminine, despite being two sexes in one, and he's almost no sex at all.
I stifle an urge to tap out some song's rhythm on the opposite arm of the one I sit curled in. I place my fingers on it, between my hoisted, shod feet, but I think the tune in my head and don't do it. It doesn't seem right to tap rhythms on someone's skin when they're not there. Damnit, though, he could hurry his ethereal ass back here. I'm cold. I think the "Valomilk" in my jacket pocket is freezing. That's one thing about my statue, and Cristobal himself. I only have to share what I want to. There's not much point in being polite about food to a chunk of stone.
Something Lars did once made me wonder, and then it got to be sort of a dangerous mental habit to wonder about anyone I came into contact with. I say dangerous because it makes me dwell on it more, and I probably behave differently around people and attribute things to them based on my own hopeful assumptions-- which wouldn't be bad except that at the same time that I'm hopeful, I'm also mortally offended. How dare they tempt me! How dare they be normal, nice people and then do that one thing, say that one thing. It makes me wonder how obvious I am, all over again.
Truth be known, my brain sneaks into the fretting pattern, that's probably why I have to fight it back around Regan so much. Of the men, he's one I would vote "Most Likely to be Straight". Safest of the safe. He probably doesn't notice my reactions at all. But that doesn't stop me from worrying.
It's sunny, almost warm, but not the kind of warm that could fool you about the season if you were plunked down in it from some other time of year. Beth Sara should be out on her balcony in about fifteen minutes, and about then I should be done. I feel sort of performance-nervous, worrying that she'll show before I'm ready for her, worried that she won't think it's anything special. I had to buy some special equipment for this; I don't usually work in black and white. I just wanted to show her what she looks like, at least as best I can do it on the pavement in front of her home.
There she is. I can hear the somewhat flimsy sliding window-door pushed aside, and she points the whole front half of her foliage down at the sidewalk, looking for me as usual at this time (for lunch on a Tuesday). Damn, I'm almost done, but I-- I don't know why I'm worrying, no one but me would know whether I'm done or not. But there she is, and this is it. I scrape out a few more lines, but really I'm just toying with a finished product. I squint up and wave. She can see my shape against the grey, and waves back. She is still for a long time, surface area focused, and I know she is seeing and thinking. I have some sort of sense, at times like this, as to just how long I want the audience to be looking before they say something. Not long enough means it's nice, but not great, and too long means that they're trying to work up anything complimentary to say at all. Beth Sara gazes, rose-fashion, for a long time, but my internal warning signals have not yet gone off before she wraps several limbs around the balcony rail and lowers herself in my direction.
"Use the fire escape, for crying out loud, if you're coming down that way at all!"
Beth Sara does one of her shrugs, writes something on her legal pad, and hangs down as far as she can reach before tossing it carefully to me. I fumble it, of course, and have to make a show of shaking my head and muttering at my own clumsiness while slowly picking it up and smoothing the sheets. She has written: "I will be ten minutes late for lunch-- I have to spend that long looking at your drawing."
I blush under my fur, and shuffle around trying to think of what to say. Beth Sara rearranges herself on the balcony and takes up her looking stance. It's probably pretty good to look at from up there, I admit to myself. I sit down on the cool sidewalk and wait. I feel ashamed, yet I'm glowing at the same time. I'm not sure why. I just wanted to do something for her.
(You never do anything for Cris), a voice in my head says, but I quash it. I begin picking at the inevitable chalk traces in my fur, so I can't hear myself thinking.
After Beth Sara is done looking, she comes down the stairs and we link up and stroll to a nice lunch place. It's one of the last few nice days for feeding the ducks, so we go to the place where we can buy feed in a red hopper over one of the bridges. A few people stop by the drawing of the huge, black-and-white rose before I leave, and admire it lavishly and tell me I would have had more of an audience over on such-and-so street. I nod, and wrinkle my lips up and thank them, but explain that it's for a friend. They look at me like I'm a little crazy. I get that even when I have money in my tin. It's worse when someone with such a vocation purposely avoids the passerby. Ah well, the ducks look at us strangely too. Everyone's a critic, one way or another.
Cristobal's arm moves under me, and I almost startle before I remember that that's what I was waiting for in the first place. "Gah! You're back. You could have said something."
"Sorry." The voice grates out of the mouthless throat area of this person-shaped stone, like the deepest sound stones could make if they rubbed against one another. Sometimes there are tones in it that remind me of my chalk on the sidewalk, just edge-whispering-tones. "I was resettling in. You know how that goes."
"I do not know how that goes," I snap, patience dissipating with the heat from my body. I've been waiting enough. "Damnit, Cris. You're the one who goes gallivanting all over the neighborhood bodyless like that and I don't even know how you do it."
"I tried to teach you." There may or may not be a note of apology in that.
"Well I guess I'm just stupid. Point being, I don't know what it's like. I have no idea. I just figure it must be better than sticking in the same old mortal lump of a self all the time."
Cristobal stretches one arm, as if he needs to for comfort, only I know it's his version of a sigh. "You want this body, I suppose."
I don't know what to say to that. I wonder if it would make any difference. It could all be in my mind, and would that change if I lived in a different body? Against my will, before I have time to think about it, the sensation of tears pressing against the insides of my eyelids leaves me hunkered tightly down in the crook of his arm and breathing in little huffs that he is just going to know are something like crying.
Cristobal doesn't say anything, though. The wind finds its way into my ear and, grateful for the distraction, I shake in irritation and the threatening tears are gone. I wonder where they go when I don't use them. Cris doesn't have any, of course. Logically, I suppose, I never made any, but their threat made them real, and somehow they must have gone somewhere. This puts me back on thoughts of death, and Cristobal ghosting around Boston, and again I have to keep from crying.
"You're cold." Accusing someone else can be a safe way to avert emotional suspicion. I know I'm doing it and I do it anyway.
He replies mildly. "The weather is cold."
"Feh. You're always cold. That's all there is to you."
Pause. "I'm hurt, Tony. You know that's not true."
I grumble to make it sound like I'm replying, but really there are no words. I hide this fact by muffling my voice into the stone groove of his bare, always bare chest.
"It gets hot and I get hot, and then you complain about that."
"That's true," I concede reluctantly.
He does something he has never done before-- he raises the hand opposite my face and cups his palm over my forehead, as if smoothing away a cowlick of fur or maybe checking for fever. "What's wrong."
"Well, everything. I guess you know that. You're Mister All-Knowing."
"I am not. It's just a little release from sitting. It's hard for me to move this hunk of rock by myself, for any length of time, anyway. Be nice, Tony. Tell me what's wrong. I've tried to see in your head, but you have to tell me."
"Well I'm glad there's one place you can't get. How do you do that?"
"There are lots of places I can't get. I have to be in the frame of mind where I'm sort of lost and wandering anyway. How long have you waited here?"
I consider ranting at him about the chill and the wait, but it doesn't seem worth it. I brush his chest idly with a paw. "Doesn't matter."
He nods. "I tend to come back sometime."
We wait for some time. Footsteps go past on the sidewalk, but I don't look at the source; I only catch a glimpse of edges of long coats. They remind me of Lars' tail. Suddenly I stiffen, and for one eternal moment I am dead certain that there is nothing I can ever say to Cristobal. It is always and forever impossible for me to be honest. I can shove it to the back of my head and it will be gone forever. It's easy, for that moment, forever easy, I am in the process of locking it down, but then he prompts, "So."
No, I don't want to. I'm just-- "So," he repeats. "So. Talk to me."
Oh, great. Now he'll know for sure that it's something private, something dark, because I paused. I think I just lost all control of the situation here. My mind can't decide between feeling trapped in the statue's indestructible lap or feeling held and comforted.
"Mm-hm." Cristobal has all the time in the world. For some reason, it frightens me. I could be old and dead before he ever sees any wear and tear, but what does that mean if he turns out to be more fragile than we think he is? What would I do if he left me? If Beth Sara died in a frost, or if Cristobal cracked down the middle in the same frost? Could he use his power, even if it is just a little power, to find another body or live in the pieces? Oh God, for some reason just that one single imagining of his statue breaking down the middle scares me more fully than any fear I have for myself or Beth Sara. I don't want to say anything. I wonder if holding perfectly still will stop the damage from happening.
"Cristobal, I don't think I really want to talk to you, because if I do I am going to-- oh, you know, get into an argument with you and then--"
"I don't mind if you cry."
"You don't?" It's said before I realize it's even reached my mouth. I shift uncomfortably in his bent arm.
I hesitate, but it's too late now for the thoughts to sink into that eternity that I was sure was so safe, just a minute ago. Damn eternity anyway. It's as fleeting as my chalk pictures. Damn.
I can't make myself talk, where before I was spouting things without thinking about them. Eventually I reach up to his "mouth", the false lips and shadowing that don't lead into anything real except stone. It's quite cold, and I press my palm onto it and hold it there. He talks around me, using only his throat area.
"What are you doing?"
"Warming you up."
He nods, not too abruptly. I don't understand him. He doesn't seem to question much of anything, not like I do.
It's quiet here. There aren't many birds in the area today, not many people. I wonder what the plants are thinking, and how long it will be before the sidewalk will have to be torn up and replaced. I try to wonder how Beth Sara is doing, but the wondering isn't coming. I gauge the warmth of Cristobal's stone under my raccoon-dog hand.
"Sh." I was going to say more, but I only finish one syllable. I'm good at procrastinating.
Cristobal is quiet and still, knowing me as he does. I shift again, moving over a little on his leg, and he changes its shape just slightly, attempting to accommodate me. I thank him silently. I wonder about asking if he got that message, telepathically, but I don't decide to go through with it.
Instead I say: "Cristobal, were you man, woman, other?"
"Other." He chuckles with that, so I know it's not true.
"Does it matter?"
I think about that. "No. I guess not. But you're male now."
"If you can call it that."
I nod. His face in the section covered by my hand is getting warmer. I feel that the air in the street is getting colder, but that could be because of my inaction.
"What." I cringe. He's getting close.
"Maybe... I won't ask."
I sigh heavily. "You might as well."
"It's just, I was toying with the notion, bizarre as it may be, of asking you why your hand is warming up my 'mouth'."
"'S your right to ask."
"I know. So I'm asking."
I shrink down further into his lap. "I suppose I was thinking of kissing you."
"If you're lonely, it's not me you want. You're right, it's too damn cold out here. And hot in the summer. You're not being practical."
"You're right, I'm not." I hitch myself up on his grey stone leg, take away my hand and kiss him in a way I never thought I'd kiss anybody. I think it over even while I'm doing so. It's not half bad. It feels rather nice, actually. I lean onto his chest, half-standing, and break off the kiss and stare at nothing, off down the street.
"Who says you have to be practical, I guess. I just thought I would point that out, being as you're always complaining about the temperature."
"Yeah." I inwardly compare the taste of Cristobal to the taste of accidentally ingested chalk, and Cristobal comes out on top. "Sorry about that."
"You're not okay. You have something to talk about."
"I'll get to it."
"It has to do with the kiss, I'm guessing."
I shrug. "Most likely."
"You will notice that I did not protest concerning said kiss."
I nod, mock-absently. "I'll notice."
"Just clarifying that."
It occurs to me that I come here as often as I can, almost every day, and almost every day Cristobal holds me. It seems like it should feel strange, but it doesn't. It's not near the frightening effect of warm men in bars. Maybe it means something, maybe it doesn't. The more I think about it, the more I think it does. I just didn't notice because the only way to get close and talk to him the way I like to is to be held. I'm so good at not seeing, I can do things in front of my own nose without realizing.
"Have a 'Valomilk'?"
"Bah. No. If I could eat those, I could eat far better chocolate."
"Count yourself lucky." I peel off the cold wrapper and start chewing on the frozen, chipping milk chocolate and so-called marshmallow.
Cristobal hugs me a little closer as if it might make a difference against the air, and I guess it does, a little, when my body heats up to regulate the surface of the stone. I don't know whether I detect a note of impishness in the stone voice when he says, "Oh, I do." I peer up at the light grey face, and he may have changed his stone lips to a wider smile; it's hard to say from where I sit.
"Problem?" asks Cristobal.
The candy in combination with my fur makes it difficult to talk and eat at the same time, so I just shake my head. The air gets colder, and then, inexplicably, it seems to get warmer. I know this effect. Now, if I get up, the air on the sidewalk will seem unbearably chilled.
"You can just stay with me, then," Cris mentions. I realize, without much surprise, that he must be unwittingly reading my thoughts.
I nod to him. Sounds good to me.
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