The first time she speaks to you, you are on the toilet. You are both at a party, and she is waiting for a polite time to go home. Underneath the stall, you see her reach into her sock and pull out a wrinkled joint. How much longer, she says, a curl of smoke hanging above her stall like a question mark. Twenty-three minutes, you say, like you’re tired of parties. Like you get invited to enough parties to be tired of them, and are not in fact, holed up in the stall to cry.
You will leave the party together and quickly engage in the sort of casual, mucoid intimacy particular to women. You will talk about all of the things that come out of your bodies. The phlegm and the toejam and the dark knots of blood. And it will be nothing. It will be like nice to meet you, like how do you do. You’ve done this before. Met a woman like you never, ever meet a man, that is, with your mouth all the way open, begging her to take your teeth.
She is black and moony, and her boyfriend looks a lot like yours. There are white women on tv who love each other. They come in twos and fours and they all have boyfriends too. The boyfriends are all incidental, a procession of haircuts that pale against the metropolitan fog. They last for approximately twenty-one minutes, and then the women link hands over champagne and orange juice. Woman #4 says, don’t tell anyone where we buried the body. Woman #2 says, okay but what about my shoes. Woman #1 keeps her silence. She knows the entire world is built around her. She stares dreamily into the distance with the irregular posture of a self-conscious focal point, does not hear Woman #3, who says, we should just get rid of them all.
When you do the online tests, you are always Woman #3. The one who is most stable and least fun, whose dialogue is arch and spare and merely functions as the underlying rhythm for the rest of the cast. So when she takes off her clothes in front of you, you are primed to play your role. Primed to be loose and unimpressed, even when she sits next to you and thumbs the buttons on your coat.
What’s happening is you are circling a question. You are playing Call of Duty from different parts of town, slipping off your bras, and crouching to reload your guns. She used to be a medic, but now she is a bombardier, swearing at children through her headset as bunker busters ripple through an enemy camp. You take a bullet, respawn, and pick her up in your jeep. She cradles C4 against her chest and asks you the question, her avatar’s eyes pink with dust and smoke. She says, what is the terrible and irreversible thing? The terrible and irreversible thing being the red meat of female friendship, where you reveal a central act of violence and the ensuing mutiny of your mind. But you are selfish. You are black, and everyone already thinks suffering is the best thing you can do. Instead of answering the question, you drive the jeep over a landmine, and on the way out, a twelve year old from Brussels calls you both a couple of cunts.
You go grocery shopping together and fill the cart with icecream and cake. You eat the cake with your hands, pull up your shirts and let your bellies distend. You call her a whore just to see how it feels. And when she smiles, you do it again.
But there is no mechanism inside you that tells you when to stop. And she doesn’t want you to. She goads you along, offers her throat. She draws you into the bathroom after a concert and rephrases the question, excited by your ugliness and certain of its source. She grins in the nicotine light and sets down her beer. She says, how much longer, and backs you into the stall. And before you get home, you buy a single tomato. You stand over the sink and eat it in the dark. You turn on the lights in a panic, your hand laced with the juice of an imposter fruit.
© Raven Leilani
[This piece was selected by John Haggerty. Read Raven’s interview]