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by Keith Banner  

I met Lex at the trash dumpster in my trailer park. He said he was just visiting. I was dumping my garbage, and he went through what I had just dumped with tattered latex gloves on his hands. At first, I wondered if I should call the police.


He was tall and had a shaved head and a black goatee that looked dyed into his skin. His smile was delicate though, and he was wearing a dark blue uniform, possibly from past stints as a night watchman or janitor.


“Why did you throw this away?” Lex asked, holding up a half-empty bottle of Aqua Velva aftershave. It was shiny green.


“Irritates my skin,” I said.


“Do you have running water?” he asked me, pocketing the bottle of aftershave, then taking off his gloves with his teeth.


“Yes I do.”


“May I take a shower in your trailer, kind sir?” He laughed, like he really loved playing with words. He scratched at his goatee.


I was an old man, sixty-eight, a widower. I looked at him standing in the last of the August sunset, uniformed and shaved-headed. Lex’s eyes were what made me go ahead and invite him back to my place. And the smile. Also his arms, which were muscular, a little out of proportion, like Popeye’s. There had been a few of these types in my life. Nameless in different places along the way. Before my eyes started going, I drove a semi. Upper arms thick as slabs of meat hanging in a butcher shop, and the faces in rest areas or far-off state parks, faces as anonymous as what’s left in your dreams when you wake up and go back to your actual life with a wife and two kids, a boy and a girl.


“My name is Lex,” he said that evening, squinting those eyes.


We shook hands. He gripped my hand tight. He possibly knew what I was right then. Maybe loneliness does something to your skin, or to your grip.


Without saying another thing, Lex followed me on back to my trailer. It was near the front, and I

don’t know if anyone saw us. I kept looking around. Lex’s feet made no sound on the gravel lot, like he was used to sneaking around. My trailer was newish, a double-wide which I was thinking
about giving to my granddaughter and her fiancé if they wanted it. I was going to move into one of those assisted-living places soon.


Lex stepped into my trailer and walked around. The walls were dark with fake wood paneling. My lounger sat real close to my big-screen TV. I still had the couch from the basement of our old house.


“Turn on the TV,” Lex whispered.


I did.


I sat down, and Lex undid his uniform shirt and revealed a chest that was smooth and white. He took the glass bottle of aftershave from his pocket, looked at it like it was a big green jewel. The light in the room was like a freezer with one bulb shining. On TV was a news program about wasteful government spending.


Lex took off his pants. He wore olive-colored boxer shorts, and I felt my mouth fill with spit, and my heart began to squirm as if it just got shot up with a chemical that does that. I took pills. Nitroglycerin, some other kinds. Lex stood in the middle of the room, looking right at me.


“My dad used to wear this,” he said, unscrewing the top of the aftershave bottle with his mouth. He took a deep whiff, and his face went so serious it made my heart stop squirming, although I still felt little sparks of pain. I stared at Lex’s chest and swallowed. Even with my blurry eyesight, I could see what I wanted, and in fact the blur was a nice way to get through being here with him.


“What’s your name, sir?” Lex asked, screwing the aftershave’s lid back on.


“Roy,” I said.


“That was my dad’s name, believe it or not,” Lex continued whispering in a wise, kind way. “Do you have sugar diabetes, Roy?”


“I don’t know,” I said, still taking him in. “I had open heart surgery ten months back though.”


“Open heart surgery,” said Lex, and he came over to me, got into my face. He was sad and

sympathetic in a quiet way. Up close, the blur got more defined, and I could make out the thick
darkness of his eyebrows, the tunnels that were his nostrils. He was big as a planet right then. My hands shook on the arms of the chair. I froze up, trapped. My heart started feeling worse.


“Roy,” Lex said. He kissed my forehead, then leaned away from me, arcing his chest and stomach as if he were about to do a backward cartwheel. Then he snapped back into standing straight.


“Shower this way?” He pointed back behind him.


“Yes,” I said.


Soon as I heard the water go on, I walked back there. The door was half open, and he said, “Well come on in, Roy.”


I sat down on the commode. He pulled the shower curtain back, the water still running. Despite everything, I got a little worried about water dripping onto the floor. But then I allowed myself to take all of him in.


Soap dripped off his shoulders. He was holding his thing in his left hand like it was a hose he was trying to get to come on. He was squeezing it, white lather sliding down his chest and in through the hair down there. Lex did not say one word — which I appreciated. I felt my own feeling come out of boxes inside me. Sparkly ghosts spun up out of my stomach, getting heavy up through my heart and esophagus. I felt electrocuted inside. I was very hard down there, and I unzipped carefully. I started in on myself, staring at Lex.


For a second or two, I felt myself dying right there on the commode, dying in a different way. Dying and coming back with the steam of the shower, the smell of an anonymous man using my soap. My heart sped up past itself. I gripped my own thing like it was a rope I would never let go of.


Lex opened his eyes, “You like me, Roy?” He kept squeezing his thing. “You like me?”


“Yeah,” I said, jerking at myself.


“You like me, Roy?” he started saying over and over.


I didn’t know if I would ever finish. The steam got thicker. Lex was doing it faster and faster to
himself. Then his face shook until it was not a face but a kind of glow. He stopped, the stuff

shooting out of his thing. My heart reached up into my throat, pounding up into my brain. Finally, I shot out what I had. It wasn’t that much, but the power of it coming out reached into my arms through my fingers.


“Roy likes me,” Lex whispered.

I kind of crawled away and got into my bed. I was so tired. I heard the water cut off. I heard him in there looking for shaving stuff. It was dark, the sun finally had set, and the trailer park
had those nighttime noises of cars scraping over speed-bumps, kids laughing, about to do something mean.


My eyes were so heavy, and my body had knotted up and then unknotted, twisting out of itself. I couldn’t really breathe too good.


Before Lex came into the bedroom, I smelled him. He had doused himself in Aqua Velva, that menthol vapor filling up the room. A green smell, like medicine. I think my breathing stopped altogether right then.


“Roy?” he asked me. I looked up at him. He was staring down at me. He had shaved his face clean and smooth. Without the goatee, he looked like a little kid with something important to do. “Roy, I like you a lot.”


I nodded.


“You ready?” he asked me.


I wanted to say, Ready for what? But then I knew. His mouth opened wide as a door. I knew. There was something beautiful in being this close to that, in my own bed. It was a kind of kiss, a kiss for a man with nothing left to kiss. Nothing at all.

For more Keith Banner, read:

Traveling, Remaining Still
The Wedding of Tom to Tom
Fruitcake’s First Official Murder Poem

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