True romance can be hard to stomach
I lived in a rooming house in Minneapolis right after I graduated from college. It was dirt cheap, but you had to put up with a lot of craziness. Most of the craziness was annoying but harmless: a strange lady who vacuumed the halls without actually turning on the vacuum, a stoner from Tampa who used up all the hot water with his long showers, a macrobiotic who ran his blender at all hours. ¶ Occasionally, some scary craziness developed. One night, the couple who lived in the room next to me got in a loud argument, and Dee pulled a steak knife on Teddy. The cops came and took Dee downtown. ¶ For the most part, I steered clear of my housemates, but when I saw Teddy in the kitchen the next morning, I decided to ask how he was.
“I don’t like knife play,” he said.
“Unless it’s romantic knife play.”
Teddy was a large man with grapefruit-sized biceps and a mean-looking mouth. Even if I had no idea what he was talking about, I always agreed with it.
“Absolutely,” I nodded. “Me, too.”
I usually didn’t keep any food in the house fridge, because anything you left there got stolen. If I did put anything in there, I made sure to take a bite out of it. Later that day, though, I put a half of a turkey sub in the fridge, and when I went to retrieve it, I noticed an orange Tupperware container sitting beside it. On the lid was a masking-tape label that read “Aphrodisiac.” Instead of grabbing my sandwich, I grabbed the container.
When I got back to my room I called up my girlfriend, Hillary. Hillary and I were supposed to be taking a break from each other and I was under no circumstances allowed to phone her or call her “my girlfriend” anymore, but I continued to do these things on the off chance that she would find them endearing.
“It looks like beets,” I told Hillary. “And it smells like beets. But who writes ‘Aphrodisiac’ on a bunch of beets, right?”
Hillary sighed. “And what dummy writes ‘aphrodisiac’ on a container of aphrodisiac?” she asked.
I continued to call Hillary every night. Mostly it rolled to voice mail, but sometimes she answered. “Maybe you’d want to come over and talk everything over again?” I asked.
There was a long pause and then another long sigh.
“Fine,” she said. “But don’t get any ideas. I’m only coming over because I’ve got a box of your stuff to give back to you.”
Hillary arrived holding a box containing my tennis racket, a few mismatched socks, and a board from a Monopoly game that I’d snapped over my knee after a contentious loss.
By the time Hillary arrived, I had already eaten a bunch of the aphrodisiac. I hoped that I could talk her into eating some, too. I hoped the aphrodisiac would somehow make things right between us and Hillary would rediscover that she loved me and no one else.
“What’s going on with your skin?” she asked.
I looked at myself in the mirror. The skin on my neck had broken out in hives. I lifted up my shirt and saw a bunch of red splotches. My stomach had begun to turn. “Feel my forehead,” I told Hillary. “I feel hot.”
I pulled Hillary’s hand toward my forehead, but she stood up and put on her coat.
“I thought we were going to talk?” I said.
“I’m meeting some people at Lyle’s,” she said. “Maybe another time.”
After Hillary left, I laid down on my bed. I heard the crazy lady out in the hall pushing her vacuum back and forth. Then I heard the blender. Through the wall, I heard Teddy and Dee’s phone ring.
“I miss you, Dee,” I heard Teddy say. “I miss you bad.”
I slid closer to the wall and listened to Teddy tell Dee how sorry he was.
“I don’t care that you almost knifed me,” he said. “I don’t care about all that anymore.”
I heard the tenderness in Teddy’s voice. A new wave of fever washed over my body, and I got up and ran to the bathroom. Everything inside me spilled out.
John Jodzio is the author of the new short-story collection If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home (Replacement Press). He lives in Minneapolis.