“Don’t eat it,” he said. “Don’t eat the pussy.” This from the man who’d shuffled in into the liquor store after me. The counter was walled in plexiglass except for the revolving window at the register, so that he and I were cooped there as though in a terrarium. It was dark out and the store would close in a few minutes. The man was missing his front two teeth, so that I could see an alarming amount of his tongue’s movement as he spoke. He’d told me, “I know two things about life: smoke em when you got em”—I’d traded him two cigarettes, from the pack I just bought, for seventy five cents—“and don’t eat the pussy.” Then he shook a finger at me in a fatherly way.
I was drunk. We were all drunk it seemed. Everyone I knew. We drank until we felt like copies of ourselves, which would vanish, and whatever plans we’d made too, in the morning’s first blue light. I saw the man, and the cashier and the store, which was plastered, ceiling to linoleum, with liquor, beer, cigarette, and cigarillo adverts in bleary swathes of imagery, as through a fogged window polished with your hand. And in the corner near the door, there was a coin-operated candy machine half-full with jellybeans, except where were the children? Where were the mothers who’d dug through their purses and found one last quarter?
“That’s not very gentlemanly,” I managed.
He laughed wildly and slapped my shoulder and raised his head so that I saw into his open mouth—into his gummy-tooth holes. And then, with a terrifying abruptness, he was quiet and bent toward me conspiratorially. “I’ve never known a gentleman. My daddy was a real killer,” he said. “Where’d you come from?” Not from here,” he ventured. “No. Somewhere with pretty girls, huh? Real hygienic girls, huh? Breaks your heart how good they smell.”
I thought about this a moment. “Hygienic. Sure. She was hygienic.”
He squatted down and clasped his thighs and made a deep sniffing noise, as though he could inhale into his gut, and then he straightened up again. “She must have been. Kid, loverboy, I’ll tell you this: these girls aren’t like your girls. These girls taste like sour metal. Are you listening?”
And then it occurred to me that we had left the store together—that we were standing on the street corner.
“I’ve met kids like you, you know. “ He said, “I’ll bet your mamma traded you silver dollars for your baby teeth, didn’t she? I bet she smelled all over just like the palm of her hand. When I lost a tooth, when I put it beneath my pillow, do you know what I found in the morning? I found a tooth. And there was still a bit of blood on it. And it was mine. And I buried it in the yard like a dog.” He laughed madly again, which shook the whole of him and rattled his eyes.
I left him there, laughing and gasping, and hocking loogies into the stormdrain.
Taylor Koekkoek was born and raised in Oregon. He is an MFA candidate at Johns Hopkins University. His stories have appeared in Neon Magazine, Fogged Clarity, and elsewhere.