By Rod Moody-Corbett
Sitting next to her at the reading last night, suffering the first few lines of L’s agonizing, if agonizingly well-modulated, “Hippopotami,” a syntactically asinine mesostic, after the manner of a very poor man’s e.e. cummings, and feigning a look of intense solicitude—that is to say, my listening face: a sort of wry, pinched number, an irony of entrenched eyebrows and furtive smirks—it occurred to me, and not, I’m afraid, for the first time, that what I really wanted, what the moment, in fact, seemed suddenly to demand of me, was to insert the heel of her left earlobe, I mean the entire pale pink lobule—which was also, I noted, along the helix, just below the rim, vaguely hirsute, or notched, you could say, with faint blonde hair—into my mouth, not, of course, in a particularly rough or biting way, but in a rather gentle, clandestine—me, personally, I might go so far as to say, romantic—way, not quite a kiss, mind, but what might amount to more of a placid lipful stamp—as when, for instance, two young lovers, and let us, for argument’s sake, call them X and Y, embark (for a whole slew of socio-scholastic reasons, none of which, since they don’t exist, are especially germane to this example) on a good old-fashioned epistolary romance, which correspondence proceeds quite voluminously, as you might expect, at first, until one day, Y, not having anything in particular, or particularly remarkable, to communicate to X, nothing, that is, beyond a certain simple desire to impress her devotions upon the slightly insatiable insecurities of X, decides to purchase a package of smooth, graph-ruled paper, along the edge of each of whose carefully folded creases she posits, by way of various fruity glosses, the quick brittle scar of her lips, such that X, upon weekly receipt of same, might endeavour—for such, Y knows, is the predictably superstitious character of X’s (at times) suffocating need to demonstrate, at all hours, Y often worries, love—to rest his own lips on the cards, so that, in effect, they are both sealing each other up over great distances, and, sitting next to her in the third row, spine cramped up low on the mould of my chair, which abutted a double-hung casement window, upon the recessed groove of whose (easternmost) jamb some anonymous wag had furrowed the white, tumid fringe of a cock, listening to L’s absolutely useless poem, the slow (almost grotesquely gradual) nuzzling of assonants, I continued to think about X and Y, with my sympathies tending finally toward the emotional exhaustion of the latter party, while all the while another part of my mind, the polluted part, you could say, remained absolutely fixed on that ear, so that I began to wonder, to really wonder about what might happen to me, to us, to—for such is the nature of our place in history—everyone at this godforsaken reading (really, I’m not even kidding, one of the worst I’ve ever had the misfortune of enduring), were I to suddenly, lovingly, and not discreetly, put her ear in my mouth, to goad that pappus-like fuzz with my tongue, and—as I sat there contemplating, well, not only her reaction, but, as I say, the collective reaction (my attention now and then shifting to the window, beyond whose leaded panes I discerned, beneath a clot of tossing oaks, the light wheezy snick of lawnmowers), the probable blast radius of my kiss—I actually felt myself, not physically, of course, but the self inside myself, begin to lean, inwardly, toward her, until, sensing that there was something untoward or reproachful in this ear, something which I had not accounted for, the intensity of my gaze slowly started to dilate away from the ear—taking in, as if for the first time, the colour of her eyes (hazel), but also, and perhaps more importantly, her lateral canthus (where a thin, purple-mauve spoke of blood leapt—or seemed to leap, balk and lunge—across the white)—it dawned on me that her listening face was very different than mine, that she, so far as I could tell, was actually listening—which, of course, might just as easily have meant that she wasn’t listening at all, that, in fact, her veneer was simply that much more persuasive than mine—and I realized that I could not, could never, really, in good conscience, disrupt the sanctity of her attention, or feigned attention, for were I to intrude upon this careful order, to, as a far better poet than L once said, force the moment to its crisis, she might scream or run or, what’s worse, what’s definitely worse, simply do nothing, remain fast in her seat—legs crossed, elbow on knee, blood-drained palm buttressed to cheek—listening to L, every so often loosing a sharp, snotless laugh, as the nature of my kiss, the absolute value of my lipful nibbling (x), rose, grew steadily more devouring in proportion to her staggering disinterest (y), my teeth now suddenly involved, chattering, chewing, the whole of my face slumped over her ear like some kind of nipple-pronged moppet, grubbing, seeking ingress, seeking—okay, maybe not ingress—but to permanently ingratiate myself upon her stubborn oblivion, as L droned on, low and bland—occasionally tweezing at a sag of neck wattle, pouched (somewhat roosterly) beneath his chin—holding me, holding all of us, the entire doomed cenacle, in a punitive trance, totally unconscious to my suffering, to the intimate horror of his own poetry, if that’s what it was, in conjunction with this unrequited ear, until such a time as he saw fit to release me, which, though I thought it frankly impossible for a while, he eventually did do—firming his eyes into flinty little slits as his voice drawled scant and he stepped from the lectern, leaning, not bowing, but close, his hands gently clasped behind his back as if in grudging appraisal of some bucolic scene, cows, I thought, lots of cows—discharging us all from our warm orange seats, that we might grab up our jackets and sweaters, and shuffle and bump through aisles stilted with phones, wending our way to the refreshment table at the back of the auditorium, there to slake our antipathy with damp ham and sour chardonnay, my trance broken, totally broken, as relaxing a thumb on the small of her back, she smiled, a coercive, unequivocal smile, reverberant and nude, and told me, just a minute, that she wanted to extend her congratulations, her hellos and goodbyes—to relay her compliments directly to L, whose gaze, smiling also, she’d caught or inveigled—which was fine, I said, completely fine, I said, absenting myself from the proceedings, proceeding instead (wine and ham in tow) to the now empty lectern, near a window, where, resigned to my writhing, I swept a finger over the sill’s blotchy grey ledge, and waited, and waited, while outside, the swift, nimble mewl of dueling lawnmowers, a strident, muezzin-like song, accumulated, religious and guttural, in my head.
Rod Moody-Corbett holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Calgary. His work has appeared in a number of Canadian journals, and in 2013 he was named a finalist for the CBC Canada Writes Short Story Prize. His work was recently featured in Coming Attractions 16.