Black Dandy introduces you to yet another wave of international authors who invite us to join them on their unusual journeys.
We’ve assembled writers who dwell in the sublime space between magic realism, surrealism, and the otherwise strange.
Read one of this issue’s fine stories below.
by Terence Lane
The separation was cursory at best and there are vestiges. The bathroom cabinet’s a fright with cosmetics—snap cases, balms, moisturizer—emblazoned with punchy little empowerments: “Less ouchy, more comfy!” and “You deserve the best!” An unopened box of Sport panty liners: “We got you covered!” You pull back the shower curtain and cringe at the huge bottles of Paul Mitchell shampoo and conditioner, the exfoliating scrub, a filmy shower cap, the goddamn loofah. A Schick razor dangles like a piece of hard candy from the shower caddy, and it might as well have been a Jolly Rancher because she much preferred your Gillette Mach 3. You spend a good ten minutes with the loofah and a bottle of Fantastik going to work on a sludge mat of makeup stretching down toward the drain. “My war paint,” she used to say, leaning into the mirror before a night out, her crystalline eyes turned toward you as she applied thick runners to the bones of her cheeks and spread it outwards. The loofah develops a thick, smooth coating. You can’t tell if you’re cleaning or if the hot water is only spreading it around. You toss the loofah and towel off your hands. Time will take care of the rest.
A couple of weeks go by and you start losing weight. It comes off your face and hands first and then your thighs. You start to notice some contouring at the base of your abs. You shed the “boyfriend ten” pretty fast. No big meals to prepare anymore. No more “Two for $5” pints of dulce de leche ice cream. No pasta suppers with garlic bread and that glossy green canister of insipid Parmesan. No burgers with romaine salad drowned in Newman’s Own poppy seed dressing, the one she simply had to have, and that grew on you, until you had to have it, too. There’s no more enormous huffing whale sex, all that relationship fat squashed against each other, belly’s swollen with ice cream and bargain wine and ice water. “I’m so good for you, baby,” she’d moan in your ear. “I’m the golden ticket.”
She’s probably noticing similar changes, bitterness slimming her back down into her party pants with the flashy metal rivets around the ass pockets, getting reacquainted with kamikaze shots, leering bargoyles, and that chronically single girlfriend who despised you all along.
You think you’re doing okay, went to Home Depot and bought a row of spiny succulents to put in the window to liven the place up. Maxim said that girls like it when guys have plants in their apartment because it shows they know how to take care of something. You strolled into Depot with images of spilling greenery and big clay pots, but ended up with these hard little cactuses because you thought they looked badass, but now you start to wonder if girls will think they’re badass, too, or if girls will think they’re actually kind of mean and dried-out, that, when you got right down to it, succulents really didn’t require any care or consideration at all and could probably survive in a landfill for months on the humidity alone.
You say you’re doing all right, but that’s not all together accurate, is it? Something’s been bugging you. Her hair. Frankly, it’s everywhere, and how you were never so keenly aware of it before astounds you, because it must have been at critical mass. You suppose she distracted you from it, but now it’s like “Check me out, I’m the golden ticket.” The first time it caught your attention, that’s when it took over and turned into all you saw. There seems to be no cleaning it up and it’s starting to damn you.
Last week you brought a girl home, a blonde college girl, the polar opposite of what you had before. How you pulled it off you can’t really recall, some conversation about fracking and similar ideas. You loved the way she said it. It didn’t sound at all like fracking.
Her name was Harbor and she had these cheerful little ski jump breasts and seemed to find you interesting. Way too hot, you kept saying to yourself. Please calm down, sir.
“Bathroom’s here?” she asked.
“Yeahhup,” you said. The hell did you say? You had a few whiskey Cokes but come on, sir, pull yourself together.
You stood outside the door listening to her pee, just the fiercest, healthiest pee you could ask for. Like the Saaa of a stir-fry. The sound of inspiration. And you were ready. By God, you were so good to go.
When the toilet flushed you sprinted out into the living room and did a flying leap onto the couch, lacing your fingers together behind your head. You splayed your legs slightly in a down-for-whatever position, a DFW.
She appeared around the corner, hand outstretched with something pinched between the fingers.
“Come over here,” you said, patting the couch.
“I found this,” she said.
“What?” you chuckled, so horny the taste in your mouth was changing. “I don’t see anything.”
“It’s hair,” she said. “Girl hair.”
“So you bring a lot of girls over here?”
“Shit, that’s my ex’s hair.”
She looked at it. “Didn’t you say you broke up like what, two months ago?”
“And you don’t clean?”
“I clean,” you insisted, sitting up. “Harbor, I clean all the time, but the hair is like, impossible. You must know. It gets everywhere. One day it’s gone and the next it’s back. It doesn’t quit.”
She flicked it out of her hand. “It’s whatever. I’m going to go.”
You pushed off the couch and followed her to the door.
She stepped into her flats, slung the gold chain of her purse over her shoulder. “I’ll see you around,” she said.
“Don’t,” you whimpered, unaware that were leaning against the door.
“Let me go,” she screamed, sending you stumbling back on your heels. She slammed out the door. You opened it. She was already halfway across the street, a fast silhouette cutting through the lamplight and disappearing into a bank of shadow. The patter of her flats faded and faded to nothing, consumed by the symphony of the insects and the ratcheting Saaa of the sprinklers.
One morning, after half a pot of strong smoky coffee, the caffeine flying inside you like a flag, you get the urge to vacuum. Ten minutes in and the roller brush of the Eureka Airspeed locks up, driving the handle painfully into your floating ribs. A fried wire smell touches your nose. You pull the plug, rubbing your side, and flip it over. What you see speeds your pulse. A fat tether of hair has twisted around the roller like a maypole, freezing the action. You go to the kitchen, returning with a paring knife freshly sharpened by the sharpener who rides around on his bike ringing a bell. The hair is cinched down so tightly on the roller that the tip of the knife only slips under a couple of centimeters. You remove it and saw down on the cord itself. The feel of it is tendony. Nervy. As tough as horse hair, you think. The blade makes slow, grainy progress. Split hairs pop back as the knife works deeper. You hear them tick, tick, tick. Your face is close to the action. Close enough for you to get a whiff of the hair, that floral, purplish smell of the Paul Mitchell conditioner. It cuts through the heady funk of dirt. Of time. Half a year later, it’s the smell of Kimberly. Smothered. Filthy. Still kind of perfumed. Still kind of alive.
You work on it for fifteen minutes. Twenty. It comes out in small, hard-fought tufts. There’s a sense of humor in the atmosphere, a keen of hilarity aimed at you like a pointed finger. It’s her. She’s here taking up your morning, implacable, like some dark joke, the punch line being she never really left. Here she is hunkered down snug and nice like an old constrictor snake with that nice constrictor smile. Face it, she made the place what it was with her feminine touches, the hanging plants, the wall accents, the “runner,” a thing you’d never even heard of. You couldn’t even buy a real plant without her. But not to worry, she left plenty of herself behind, didn’t she?
You think you’ve begun to clean? You have not begun a damn thing. Don’t you know hair’s different? It’s not like dirt. It’s so much more. A woman’s hair is a luxury, and not merely for its softness and bounce, but for its volume. The wealth of it, a true decadence. It grows and falls out just to make room for more. It doesn’t really go anywhere, just gathers and lies. In death, a woman’s scalp throws hair like crazy and sometimes cocoons the head. You remember the Amber Dupree story, the girl who was killed and buried by a monster out in California. When the guy killed a second girl in Poway, he was apprehended hours later at a Mexican restaurant licking taco sauce off his fingers. In time, he divulged the location of Amber Dupree. When authorities arrived at the scene, they didn’t even have to break ground to find her. A slice of the girl’s hair tapered out of the grass. It had pink streaks.
The hair ticks and pops, dulling the sharpener’s fresh edgework. “Freaking hair,” you mutter to yourself, annoyed, certainly, but maybe even a little…creeped out? Clots of it build up beside you on the level loop carpet. You think about the bathroom walls, about the dark scrawls stuck there by static. That horrible cursive. Those manic squiggles. You took a bath towel to the walls and wiped it around, squeezing in as much as you could, but mostly dispersing strands to the floor to be strewn by drafts and feet throughout the apartment. You remember those showers in the days after her departure, and one in particular when you steered a hand around the back door, pausing in disbelief, and coming back with a sudsy length as long as your arm. You recall the mornings you awoke to find more snarled around your genitals, the muted snap as you pulled it free. It got in your ass. It tied up your cock. For the love of God, what next?
“I know you don’t always think about me when we’re doing it.”
That kind of thing would often pop out of her mouth after you were done, still kind of giddy and winded.
“What do you mean?” you said, managing a laugh while something icy formed in your stomach.
“Cynthia,” she chuckled. “You think about her.”
The second laugh sort of died midair as the icy thing sprung up your chest.
Her eyes smoldered, not with anger, but with the crooked joy of being right. Cynthia worked in the cubicle next to Kimberly. Her hair wasn’t dark like Kimberly’s but light as creamed coffee and she loved pencil skirts that dipped in under the bulb of her ass. She was also the proud owner of two Northern Italian breasts that just railed against the incarceration of her fitted shirts. She really had no right to be working in such a drab environment, and that she did only increased her appeal, her mystery, and Kimberly knew all of that already. She knew.
“Cynthia?” you said, acting like you couldn’t place the name.
She didn’t even bother calling you out on your stupid mouth, just cut right to the chase: “Put a ring on my finger and you can have her, how about that? You can even have her a few times. I cover for her all the time when she’s hungover and late with her bullshit. She’ll do anything I say.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” you said. “Kim, that’s crazy.” But all you wanted was to hear more.
“Anything you want she’ll do. You can tie her up. Use my little whip and the candle wax. I know how she is. She tells me things.”
“That’s enough, Kimberly.”
She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. “I don’t want to pressure you,” she said in a dreary voice. “We just can’t stay like this forever, can we? I want to be an honest woman. Make me an honest woman. Please.”
“We’ll talk about this later.”
“LATER WHEN?” she screamed. “LATER WHEN?”
The guy who services the vacuum, Eudell, couldn’t believe the shape it was in. “Only time I ever seen a vac that jazzed up was when I cleaned out the place of a lady who kept a house full of dogs. Didn’t know there was a limit to how many dogs you could have but apparently there is and the neighbors ratted her out. Thirty-three dogs, dude. All different breeds. When the cops took her out she was naked, hair hanging in her face. Big tall lady. Kind of makes you wonder what she was doing in there with all of them dogs, don’t it?” he said, his mouth spreading open in a livery smile.
“A lot of frisbee?” you suggest.
He laughs too hard and spittle catches in your eyelashes. “Dude, that’s a good one. All of them frisbees. I’m gonna have to remember that one. Anyways, you’re good to go, brother.”
“I really appreciate it,” you say, pumping his hand and turning to leave.
“Did you get to finish?” Eudell asks.
“The vacuuming. Did you get it all up at least?”
You see the black chicken scratch in the bathroom. The dancing signatures way up by the ceiling. A hank pulled out of the couch. There’s a whole carpet in the living room you feel in your bones will never ever fully relinquish the entirety of Kimberly. Not even if it was ripped up and put down new.
“I’m not sure,” you confess. “Hair’s different.”
“You can say that again. I never did get that dog lady’s place done. Kind of got to me. Way I was raised was you start something, you finish it.”
“That’s not your fault. I’m sure it was beyond beyond.”
“I know it’s not my fault,” he said pointedly. “Some kids went in there with a gas can and a pack of matches. Burned it down just to watch the flames dance.”
“Hey, well at least it got done,” you say, smiling vaguely.
“It got done,” he nods, moving back into his shop, “but it ain’t never got done by me.”
She loved different. Your two loves could not align. Yours was a hesitant love. Kimberly’s was a charging bull with its horns down. The housing got blown off Kimberly’s love somewhere along the way and that sucker spewed voltage everywhere in wild tentacles that curled and reached like the strangest hair. One time she slapped you across the face when you were sleeping. She wanted your full attention when she said, “I love you.”
Now you’ve got all the time and space to reflect, and what you’ve been obsessing over is a single thought: Does love like Kimberly’s just pick up and leave when a person does? You’re pretty sure the answer to that is no. Jig’s over. All you have to do is look around.
It sabotaged you. Broke your vacuum for attention. Depends from the shower rod as you foam up your body, longing for it. It crops up in all the places you’re sure to notice, like the fruit basket, your underwear drawer, the toothbrush holster. It whorls madly around the couch. Love doesn’t ever stop but takes on a different form. It keeps on keeping on. Voluminous. Fine. And maybe just a tiny bit unwelcome.