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Fiction #32
(published March 22, 2001)
What I Am Telling You When I Tell You of Love
by the Giant Squid

These were the minutes that made up a life. Apply the lip gloss, polish the teeth, rake the hair, fluff the eyelashes. Prepare. Like a prostitute in a movie of Victorian England: prick your finger for a dab of color on the cheek, across the lips. Smear.

He drives a blue sedan. Mid-sized. He's a tasseled shoe male. His name is Ron. Like the president. Exactly like the president.

"Vera? You ready?" He holds out severed plant genitals.

Vera clicks around upstairs. She peeks over the banister. He has let himself into the vestibule. It is their third date. He can do things like that. Let himself in without knocking. Call up the stairs.

Vera pauses, rests quietly in the shadows.

Ron smells his own bouquet of harvested flowers. He looks at himself through the stems of the flowers in a mirror over a marble top table. He lowers the flowers and smiles, examining his teeth: They are also well polished. Incisors. He sets the bouquet down across the top of the table and leans in to inspect his teeth. He curls his nose up and inspects his nostrils. Then he stops short.

"Vera?" He calls out without quite looking away from the mirror, the eyes only slightly turning, deferentially, to the stairs.

Vera steps away from the banister, slides quickly into her room and calls from behind the door half pulled closed:

"Almost ready. Be right down."

She slides a shawl around her shoulders and slinks, shoes in one hand, back to the banister.

Ron peers at himself in the mirror. He has moved on to his eyelids. He pulls one down, then the other, examining the pink, the white. He plucks an eyelash with a quick, careless yank and flicks the hair onto the floor. Satisfied he stands up straight, brushes his lapels down and picks the bouquet back up.

Vera makes a show of bustling at the top of the stairs. She bustles with her hair, the hem of her dress, her shoes as she slides them onto her slender feet, a whirl of practiced impatience. The whole act appears naturally, slightly offstage as she steps to the top of the stairs so that she can smile down on Ron, his flowers, his clean suit, his face and his teeth.

"Ron!" Vera squeals an affected squeal as she slinks down the staircase to gather the flowers up in a delicate embrace. "They look delicious. Let's get them in some water."

She cuddles the bouquet as she leads Ron off to the kitchen where she locates a vase. The vase fills slowly as Ron fondles her with his eyes.

"You look . . . magnificent," he breathes, eyeing her hips and waist.

"These flowers are marvelous, Ron." After dunking the stems into the water, Vera flips them over and dips the petals and the leaves and the spiny thorns deep into the water. She swirls them around and then pulls them back up.

A rose comes free in her hand and she snips the bud off cleanly in her mouth, her teeth clicking quickly as she beheads the stem.

"There is nothing quite so sweet as a rose," Vera smiles. "Would you like a chrysanthemum?"

Ron smiles and pushes a handful of mum petals into his mouth, a pink feast.

In the car, Ron drones on and on about how Arnold, the Human Resources Executive, secretly cheated at golf over the weekend. Upon finishing his anecdote he runs his hand across Vera's knee.

They talk about work. They talk about cases and clients for Vera, and about accounts and clients for Ron. Ron tells Vera how beautiful she looks, interrupting her description of the soft, drooping twist the judge's face executed when she successfully countered his half-uttered injunction with a well-researched brief, from the annals of the Warren court, which no one had ever heard of.

She stops mid-sentence, still visualizing the judge's gaunt, confused expression. His eyes, his lips, all O's.

"What?" she queries, turning to look at Ron as they arrive at the door of the restaurant. A valet attendant holds the door open for her. Ron is casually handing his keys to another valet.

"What 'what'?" Ron smiles at her. "You look amazing tonight.""Do you have anything else to say to me tonight?"

He smiles and frowns and they exit the vehicle and enter the restaurant. The sedan slides away.

They scan their respective menus tensely, quietly, turning slightly away from each other.

Vera sips at her water and feels bad.

Ron runs his hand through his hair again and again and again. Finally he can no longer help himself: he picks up a spoon, just slightly lifting it from the table up onto its edge, and checks to be sure his cilia-plumage is appropriately arrayed.

"Oh, cut it out," Vera hisses, snatching the spoon away.

"What is wrong?" He leans forward and whispers with his teeth clenched.

"Your head-hair looks fine. Do not primp and play with it further."

"I was neither—"

"Let us just forget it." Vera smiles, bares her teeth, shakes her shoulders slightly as though throwing off a light laugh. "Let us start over."

Ron sits up straight, nods slightly, brushes his lapels, smoothes his hairs. "Fine," he says, "How are you this evening?"

"Lovely. Thank you for the flowers."

"You are welcome. You look lovely."

"Shut up."

Ron is stunned, as is Vera.

A couple on the far side of the restaurant inspect a tank of lobsters that the waiter has rolled out for them.

"Do you even know what I do for a living?" says Vera.

"You are a lawyer. So what?"

"Exactly. 'So what.'" She leans back in her chair and crosses her arms across her two ample breasts.

"You know, Jane said you were difficult." Vera raises her eyebrows at this. Ron leans back himself and pulls up his belt. He takes a sip of water. "I thought, maybe, you had not met the appropriate guy. That you were holding out for someone genetically superior to the males at your law firm. Maybe you just needed handling in the right manner."

"The right 'handling'?"

"Yes. Handling. A tender touch and iron grasp, like the caress of the deepest trenches."

"'Tender'? 'Iron'?"

"Quit repeating me back to me with that damn look upon your face."Vera shakes her head and finds that she has been wadding napkins up in her fists.

The waiter asks if they need any drinks. They have wine brought out.

Vera sips at her wine, then starts to drink it down in great gulps.

She wipes her chin with a wad of napkins and Ron rolls his eyes. Females, he thinks.

"Jane said I was difficult?" she asks.

"Let's just order our food and forget I said anything, all right?" He makes a great show of reading the menu.

"I desire lobster. You desire lobster. It is why we came here. So, now, tell me: What did Jane say about me?"

He rolls his eyes a second time, increasing the range of his peripheral vision with every sweep.

Couples all around them crack and snap the chitin of their lobsters' shells.

"She said you were lonely." He shrugs.


He scowls.

"Cease your echoing!"

"Fine. Fine. Lonely? Fine, I am done. And anyway, she said you had been dumped three times in a row so I should take it easy upon you."


"Ha!" She pointed her finger at Ron. "See! It is not so easy to not do that, is it?"

"I was not dumped three times. Really." He sucked down his wine and poured another glass.

A lock of hair at the edge of his forehead curls up out of the stiff, slick mass. His scalp has begun to sweat and that lone lock of hair sways in the ventilated air of the restaurant, a rebel alone against all of the gel, styling aids and Ron's keen efforts.

"Two of the times were completely mutual." He says finally, starting in on his third glass of grapes and bacteria excreta. He breaks open a packet of crackers and begins to nibble, holding each in his clever hands. "Jane said that you were looking for a mate and didn't know it."

"I am not looking for a mate." Vera presses her palms down against the table.

"Whatever." He turns to his side and watches as a party of five men in suits stab into the side of a cow, the beast swaying back and forth, lowing, as blood streams down its flanks.

Vera brushes her hair back and watches Ron's eyes as he fixates on the cattle call, moaning. The businessmen cheer as the cow starts to list to one side. Blood sluices along the restaurant floor.

She slides her hand across the table and rests it upon Ron's."I am not saying that you are not worthy of being my mate . . . I . . ."

He looks at her.

"I am just saying that Jane is wrong when she says I am looking for a mate."

"But why did you say yes to me when I asked you out in the first place? This is our third date, Vera." His eyes are brown and imperfect and over-large and his cheeks suddenly seem extra soft. Or is Vera projecting these images? She cannot be sure. There is something in the tone of his voice, in the manner that his shoulders have begun to droop, in the curve of his neck as his head drifts to the left like a dying cow.

Finally. "As a favor to Jane," she says quietly.

"Great." He picks up the bottle and slurps down the last of the wine.

"I do not know what Jane was thinking, frankly." Vera nibbles at the orchid petals from the centerpiece.

"Yeah. What was she thinking?"

"We have nothing in common, you and I." Vera nods between them with her eyes wide.

The cow comes crashing down and the businessmen start an impromptu dance around their kill.

"Man," Ron slides down in his chair slightly, becoming a young boy, "I hate Jane Whistler."

Vera nods emphatically as she chews on the petals of the orchid.

"Me too," she agrees absently, looking away as she mouths the words.

Then they both pause. Ron sits up and Vera sets the rest of the orchid down. They look at each other and begin to laugh. Ron reaches over and takes Vera's hand and they laugh and laugh and laugh, baring their teeth and exhaling.

Finally, Vera stops and rubs Ron's hand. "Do you still want to get dinner?"


They have the waiter push the tank over and they each inspect the piled mass of lobsters. Then casually, with quick movements, they each dart a hunting arm deep into the water and pull out hefty lobsters, compressing the ganglia behind each pedipalp, thus rendering the crustaceans docile and impotent. Vera grabs the claws and yanks each back, splitting the lobster up the belly, letting the sluice of fluid to run down the belly and out the mandibles where she collects the sweet nectar in her gaping maw. Ron, gleeful with relief, tears the tail off of his lobster as the antennae continue to waver, and sucks the thoracic musculature from out the beast.

Spattered in lobster blood and spilled butter, they raise their glasses into the air and touch them rim to rim.

"I hate Jane Whistler." Vera sighs whistfully.

"Me too," Ron agrees. "Me too."

The Squid Talks About "What I Am Telling You When I Tell You of Love"

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