Featured Artist: Alexandrine Ogundimu
Excerpt from The Longest Summer ( forthcoming from Clash in Summer 2023)
The towel twists and squeaks in my teeth as I scream into it, curled on the floor of my bedroom, half naked. The screams go on and on, filling my ears but not escaping out past my lips and into the surrounding air. My abdominal muscles seize up and cramp as I curl even harder. My mind is running through images as thoughts pound in on themselves and I try to direct them elsewhere but it won’t work, they won’t obey me and they build why won’t it stop it’ll stop if I can just wait just wait a bit it will stop.
If I get pinned for the theft I will go to prison they will take me away in cuffs and I will have a criminal record I’ll never work again I’ll be beaten and raped in prison they won’t care no that won’t happen they’ll fine you and give you probation you’ll lose your job and you can’t go home HE won’t let you in and he will berate you and beat you he will make you sit there while he lists your failings you will mention everything you remember my father lays his rifle across the bed and he’ll tell you it never happened never happened never did it never happen did none of it ever happen I can’t remember why can’t I remember you will never leave this city you will die by the river I need a cigarette if I can get a cigarette I will be fine where are my cigarettes unball your fist where are my cigarettes no condition is permanent all will be well no condition is permanent no condition is permanent please I just need a moment if you would please just
Days off are spent alone in my apartment. I was going to live with Henshaw but that fell through when he broke up with his ex. Now I’m stuck in this storage center for young bachelors and the elderly. I watch endless re-runs of How I Met Your Mother and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Netflix because it kind of fools me into thinking I live with friends.
I don’t even bother brushing my teeth, I just put a pan of chicken nuggets and fries in the oven and take a shower, worried that I’ll burn them before I get out but not nearly enough to justify waiting. When I get out the food hasn’t even browned yet, so I light up and pop a Diet Coke and turn on Netflix while endlessly flipping through my Tumblr and Facebook at alternate intervals. There’s nothing new going on, just endless drama and talk about microaggressions, a couple new hashtags, so I load up Documenting Reality and I find a video of an Indian guy absentmindedly grabbing a live wire on top of a train. The screen lights up and there’s an incredibly loud pop as the electricity runs through him in a massive pulse, and he slumps over, probably dead.
My phone rings, unknown number. Not thinking, I pick it up and put it on speaker.
“Hello Mr. Adewale. I’m calling from Solutions International in regards to your account. Your total debt is now in the amount of $12,582 and if we cannot receive payment we will be forced to take other measures.”
I hang it up, and breathe deep for a moment. I pour myself some Evan Williams in a water glass and drop ice cubes in it. I go to the bathroom and crush an Adderall on the counter and snort it with a conveniently placed straw.
When the food is done I smother it in blue cheese dressing and eat it with another Diet Coke, then I smoke another cigarette and open another can, pouring it in a glass with more bourbon. I fire up PornHub and flicked through the categories: Anal, Big Tits, Ebony, Latina, Bi. Then I start trying keywords: “pegging,” “big ass Latina,” “ebony fishnets,” “crossdresser,” “throatfucking.” It isn’t working for me so I plug in my external hard drive and go through my copious picture collection. I find the folder marked “yaoi” and open it.
Yaoi in this context is basically just Japanese gay hentai, or cartoon pornography. People spend a lot of time and effort on this stuff, crafting whole worlds and storylines for their characters to inhabit. Most of it is poorly drawn and not explicit, but through painstaking curation I’ve acquired something like 1,500 single images of sufficient quality for my needs.
The preference for hentai is a carryover from my earlier days of discovering my sexuality. I like androgyny, and the world of anime and manga allows for this in a way the real world, or at least the world of hyper-conventional Abboton, never will. I used to justify it by saying to myself that if I couldn’t tell the gender of the people in the drawing that it wasn’t gay, that I’d just been tricked by a skillful artist. This was, of course, a lie that I still tell myself. Cross dressing and anime are often gateways for American queers to express themselves in various ways, but they can also be used to obfuscate the truth from ourselves.
My favorite picture is this one, an isolated panel from a series called Forbidden Housekeeper. It’s delicately rendered and almost dreamy, where a masculine guy is pounding this boy in a maid costume, heels and garters and all. And he’s drawn as a man, a young and feminine one but still unmistakably a man. It’s this really intimate and domestic scene and you can see the bottom (uke in Japanese yaoi terms) is pretty well hung and his tongue is out, enjoying it, and the top (seme) has his eyes closed. The story is, they’re best friends, who’ve know each other forever, and the maid turned out gay but his friend would only date girls. The maid, he had this crush on the other boy for years, since high school. So one day he dressed up like this, and seduced his friend who secretly wanted to fuck him, and that’s how they got here. And they do this for a whole year (other stuff happens), the maid dressing up like this, until one day he couldn’t take it anymore and they broke up, only to get back together later, and they lived happily ever after, and I hate myself for thinking like this. Because part of me wants someone, let’s say Kyle, to give me permission to be like this. It hurts to know that I’m one indiscretion from being disowned by my homophobic parents and best friends and never being able to fuck a woman again because people in this small town don’t believe in bisexuality. Men can’t be queer in Indiana.
But when I live in New York, I’ll be allowed to fuck anyone who will have me. Man, woman, cis, trans. On some level I know it doesn’t matter to me, and it won’t matter so much when I move.
After I jack off and clean up with a slightly used paper towel I realize I don’t actually have anything to do. Dread sets over me at the grey expanse of void space before me, empty, crystal space-time clouded over.
I get a text from a number I don’t recognize.
Who is this
Wow rude. It’s amory
Amory. The woman from the food court. The girl from the balcony, when we had flowers in our hair.
Oh hey. How’s it going. Howd you get my number
I’ve had your number. We went to college together. I’m bored. Entertain me
I get off at 9. Meet me in the mall parking lot. Or don't.
Somebody is pushy. What makes you think I want to meet you.
I take a nap and wake up and jack off again. In the slightly sticky aftermath it hits me how alone I am, how isolated, and panic rises that quickly gives way to low grade depression and then nothing at all. I’m used to being alone, but it still bothers me. My mother, she still thinks I’m naturally a loner, but the truth is that I’m not. It’s just that connecting with people is difficult.
Amory messaged me again. Because I think you’re pretty cool, and you probably think I am too, and we have nothing better to do. So come meet me. I’ll bring you a soda.
At first I thought it was something wrong with me, but today, laying on the mattress on the floor of my bedroom, alone and tired, I’m starting to get the first inkling that something is wrong with everyone else too and that maybe in that sense I’m not as alone as I thought.
I chain smoke to suppress my thoughts and I’m running out of squares quick, but I don’t want to spend money because it’s the middle of the month.
The mall closes at 9. By 9:15 the parking lot is empty. I sit on the trunk to stretch my legs and enjoy the summer weather, stretching through what feels like forever. The vast flatness ringed with anchor stores feels like forever in the hot night, especially in the stillness of quiet low humidity air.
I am only here out of curiosity, as a way to alleviate my boredom. Kyle’s motives for setting us up are vague at best. Perhaps spite, or emotional masochism. I don’t know what he would gain from bringing us together. I can’t imagine it feels good to have someone you once lusted after be with someone else. But then again, those feelings have cooled, and they were never much of anything to start with. I turn away from the staff access door to stare at the asphalt past my feet. Maybe if I wasn’t such a wimp I would be waiting for Kyle instead.
I leap off the trunk, startled by the tall woman with the ratty hair holding a skateboard under her arm and a large food court cup of soda. Amory laughs, and hands me the cup.
“Boy, what are you so scared of?”
I take the cup from her. “You, actually.”
She nods. “That’s for both of us. You still keep booze in your car?”
I open the trunk and suck down some of the cherry Coke. The bottle of Evan Williams is a quarter full. I pour the rest into the cup and swirl it around, then take a hearty sip. Amory takes the cup from me and pulls on the straw, hard. I sit back on the trunk.
“How do you know all this about me?” I ask. “Did Kyle tell you?”
She sits on the trunk next to me without asking and pulls out a baggie. She snorts three bumps of the white powder inside off of a key and hands it to me. I do the same. “Time travel. I took a giant dose of a blue liquid some alien gave me and wound up back here.”
“I’d believe that.”
“He gave me your number. Said you were smitten. You probably don’t realize this, but Kyle talks about you a lot. Recently, it’s all been bad.”
“Thank you for sharing that. Are you here on his behalf?”
“I just wanted to meet you again. To find out what kind of person you’d become. And when I got this job and saw your mug through the store window, I thought it would be good to know the other mall folk. What are you, anyway? Ethnicity wise.”
I groan and shake my head. It’s an endlessly fielded and always unwelcome question that anyone vaguely ambiguous must deal with on a daily basis.
“Don’t worry,” she says. “You tell me, and I’ll tell you.”
“Half-Nigerian, half white American mutt.”
“Puerto Rican. Light as fuck but I can still speak a little Spanish.”
“My boss thought I was Puerto Rican.”
“You don’t look Puerto Rican.”
“How can I look Puerto Rican? There’s more than one color of Latinos in this world.”
She offers me her cigarette, and I accept. “I don’t know, man. You just don’t look like it.” She laughs again. It’s hoarse but warmly smooth. She’s obviously been smoking for a while now.
“I’m not, so that makes sense. I’m not smitten by the way. Back a minute ago, when you said I was smitten. I’m not. In fact he’s been saying you liked me.”
“It’s kind of shocking really. Considering what’s between you two.”
“There’s nothing between us. He works for me.”
She smiles and turns her head toward me in a mocking way. “You realize I don’t judge, right? You and my buddy messing around doesn’t bother me. I’ve slept with plenty of girls.”
“You know they thought I was gay at Redacted? I always get that. I don’t know why.”
She laughs. “You don’t see it? It’s obvious to me.”
“I’m not, you know.”
“No. Don’t pull that, and don’t say it was just a phase or whatever. You can lie to the world, but you can’t lie to me.”
It’s uncomfortable to have someone address it right to my face. Sometimes it feels, not like I’m leaving my body and watching myself and others, but that I’m living as a third party. It isn’t because I’m depressed or bored, although I probably am, but I’m just curious because I don’t understand why people spend time around each other. There are forces at play here no one understands, forces that render calculated action meaningless. To me, other people exist mostly as equations to be solved or else data to be quantified, items for my entertainment or tools for my success. I worry they are wet molds for me to press myself into.
Amory hops on the skateboard and zooms away, not too quickly. It’s quieter than I expect. Everything feels a little muted. I like her. She’s easy to talk to, like I’ve known her for years. To me it’s like she has always been there, and I couldn’t see her until now.
She slides by me, stops. “If you’re bored, you can go.” It’s clear that she’s teasing. She kicks the ground, takes off again.
“Is Amory your real name?” I call after her.
She laughs again. The use of nicknames and mononyms is a symptom of boredom. It is unstimulating to endlessly perform the same characters over and over, and so we make new ones. Or sometimes, new ones are given to us, as if we are on stage for an invisible and ever-present audience.
She slides by me, again. “Why are you moving to New York?”
“Hey,” I say. She stops. I reach towards her and she lets me give her a kiss on the mouth.
“What’s your favorite place in this city?” I ask.
She takes me to the largest bend in the river. The Ohio is the color of mud, and the whole reason Abboton even exists. Sometimes it’s a bitter green and occasionally it’s an indescribable murk, especially when it hasn’t rained, but usually it’s just the same dank, stagnant-smelling chocolate milk. But now, in the peace of the night, it is dark and still and vast. A coal barge floats by, blaring its horn.
“I won’t be here long,” she says. “I will leave as soon as I can. There’s no way to pay off the bills folding shirts at a PacSun.”
“Agreed,” I say. We sit on a bench on the promenade, passing the whiskey bottle back and forth.
“My pops, he won’t forgive me for getting a liberal arts degree. But that’s what it is.”
“I don’t think my father understands what liberal arts is. He seems to think I’ll be a journalist or a lawyer at some indiscriminate point.”
She shakes her head. “You’d be a terrible lawyer. You’re a shitty liar.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Don’t. The ability to lie, cheat, and steal is vital to survival when you’re a downwardly mobile cake-eater or a fucking retail manager.”
Kyle’s the one that started calling me cake-eater. At first I was offended, thinking it was homophobic. But he explained it to me. It meant that I was too good to eat bread like the rest of them, and instead I was fed cake as a baby. Actually, I hate sweets.
“I think Kyle is stealing from my store,” I say, without thinking.
“Then he’s learned more than you have.”
“You aren’t worried that your best friend might be in serious trouble?”
“I’m worried that his ex-boyfriend might be setting him up.”
“We made out once. Don’t make a big deal about it. And anyway, won’t he be mad that you’re hanging out with his ex-boyfriend?”
She smiles at me, and leans in, too close. “Where do you want to go now?”
“We could go to the park. Or we could go back to my place.”
“Well, either way. I’m not going to fuck you. Not right now, anyway.” She comes even closer. “Because you’ll be gone soon. Actually, the fact that you’ll be gone soon might be your most attractive feature.”
Alexandrine Ogundimu is a Nigerian-American transgender writer from Indiana. She is the author of the novellas Desperate, Agitation, and Zeke. Her fiction can be found in Five:2:One, Flapperhouse, Maudlin House, Exposition Review, X-R-A-Y, and elsewhere. She received an MFA in Fiction at New York University and is pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She runs the online literary magazine FILTH at filthlitmag.com and can be found on Twitter @cross_radical.