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Bottomless by Jack Murnighan


First, the hands. Like he had an extra knuckle on each finger or something — craggy, always gesturing, almost palsied looking. We all look at a man’s hands — nails, fingers, calluses, hair — but with Evander I would watch his hands, study them the way you do when you’re trying to figure out a magician’s trick, to catch the handkerchief coming out his sleeve. If it’s true that a man’s hands tell you about his dick, then Evander McIntyre, the most promising Kantian scholar at SUNY-B and afternoon mainstay of the back left table of my station, might be toting around something special in his khakis. I’m not really a dick girl and hands don’t always mean anything, but Evander McIntyre had caught my eye, and I was going to find out.

My plan was simple, the same one I used with the guys I’d picked up before: keep him talking. I knew with Evander that that wouldn’t be tough; I also knew that he always picked the same table not because he had OCD, but because it’s in my station, and I always pretended to listen.

“Whatchya reading?”


“Whatchya re-reading?”

The second Critique.

“What’s it about?”

Duty. The fact that duty is the operating — no, excuse me, should be the operating principle of human existence. In the same sense that . . .

Hands. Gestures. Like he was manning a loom. I still heard his words spilling forth, and forth and forth, but I was already lost in the hands. Sort of long nails. A bit too squared off and kind of mucky. But not too much hair, and no calluses to speak of.

Every boy contains a marvel — that’s what I used to tell myself. My friend Becky started dating the really skinny guy who came in here and all the other waitresses laughed at her; then she told them how much he likes to go down on her and how he bought her a window box and planted a bunch of flowers in there, and now they’re all jealous. Evander wasn’t appreciated by the rest of the waitstaff either. It’s true, he could be difficult — I tried to explain to them, philosophers always are. They didn’t like the fact that he never changed his shirt, they didn’t like that he put five sugars in every cup of coffee and they didn’t like how thick his books were. But I was positive that Evander had a romantic locked up inside of him. I’d seen him hand-writing letters on pale blue stationery, making his itsy-bitsy characters with a beat-up fountain pen. I’d catch him mouthing the words to “Girl from Ipanema” in Portuguese every time it played on our house tape. One time I saw him read and reread the same two pages all afternoon. He’d turn the page, stop, write something in his notebook then turn back again. All day. Another time I saw him actually get mad at his book. He was talking to it; I couldn’t believe it. But what’s best is that he was always checking me out, trying to be so subtle that I didn’t notice. But I did. And like I told the other girls when I was trying to defend him, he never left less than twenty percent and always stacked his dishes. More than any man I’d ever met, he let me know that he liked me without ever telling me so. Without asking for my number or calling me sweetheart or winking or staring or buying me something. He just liked me; I knew it. I started trying to catch his eye when he was reading. When I did, I’d smile at him and normally he’d hide back in his book. But I still loved watching him, how he’d read, then think, lick his thumb, turn the page and crease it down with his middle finger like he was stroking something delicate and alive.

“Wasn’t it Plato who said that humans were divided in two and we’re not complete until we find our other half?”

He was adapting Parmenides’ notion of the . . .

“Do you think you could tell someone was your other half just by looking at them?”

Excuse me?

I had been on a lot of dates before. There are the guys who think that if they’re driving a new Saturn or if their shirts still have the checkerboard creases on them from being brand new that you’re going to sleep with them. And sometimes I make mistakes. Like one time in high school, we were all at the quarry and there was this guy named Rick who was really tan because he never went in the water and would just sit sunning on the rocks. He always brought a joint that he carried in the key pocket of his swimsuit, and one day we were all getting high and I had just gotten out of the water and put my clothes over my bathing suit so my shirt was sticking and I had big wet marks around my boobs, and he said, Come on, I wanna show you something. So we walked over to where his car was parked and started kissing and after a minute he put both his hands around the backs of my thighs and lifted me up on the hood of his Mustang. And pretty soon he was sliding a finger up the leg of my shorts and past my wet bikini and then in me, just in me deep and hard like that’s how it’s supposed to go, and he just pushed and pushed, then whispered in my ear, Do you wanna? And I didn’t know, I did, just not that way, and I said, “Do you have something?” and he said, Yeah, and then undid my shorts and pulled them down, suit and all, and spread my legs out wide on the hot car hood, then stopped, looked at my pussy and said, I knew I could. Then he turned around, laughing, and walked back to the quarry.

Every time it’s new, every time it’s different. The maybe-this-time and the totally fucked, the almost right and the dead center. A girl I know told me she knew the name of her husband before she ever met him. It’s true, and they’re together even now. When I would talk about Evander, my friends thought I had some kind of affliction, but they’re just afraid of liking anybody too much. I told them, Evander, he hopes. He struggles just to get by. Not with money; he has a hard time just being. One day he told me that he felt like he was up to his neck in sludge. The world was passing by below him and he was looking out, thinking about what could be but wasn’t. He said he felt all alone, he was looking around and around but no one was looking back. I don’t usually say anything when he says stuff like that, but even then I knew he was wrong. I was looking back.

It’s like everything is backwards, or everything is upside down. Sometimes the worst sex is the best sex and the best is the worst. I don’t care what anyone says, if the man is too smooth then I can’t really get comfortable. He does everything right and I just think about all the things I must be doing wrong. But then when the guy’s doing something that’s not really working for me, sometimes I can tell how much it’s turning him on, and then it starts turning me on.

Being with Evander the first time was like being with a virgin, all elbows in the eye and me having to help him get it in. He kept apologizing over and over, which made me think that whatever I did I couldn’t possibly be as clumsy or as awkward as he was.

I suppose I should say how it all happened so it doesn’t sound like I just did him in the walk-in during my coffee break. After we talked for awhile about Plato, I told him that since I had officially been his server for a cup of coffee with an average of four refills (our cups are unbottomed, as he liked to say) every afternoon for upwards of two hundred consecutive days, that we had crossed the landmark one-thousand-cup mark and that meant that, by all the universal laws of karma and probably Kantian duty too, he had to buy me two shots of bourbon (preferably George Dickel) with a Corona on the side, preferably at Woody’s, preferably that evening.

He doesn’t drive, so I picked him up in my Brat. He was still wearing The Shirt, but I figured that’s probably better because at least he’d be comfortable. I had done what there is of my nails and was wearing my favorite Levi’s and a baby-T that said LUVABLE in little letters — underline the femme in feminism. It looked like he might have changed his pants. And his nails looked clean. Sort of.

He was waiting on the landing of his building when I pulled up. I leaned over and unlocked his door, and he got in and didn’t kiss me hello or anything, just put out one of those hands and said, Thank you for having driven. I took his hand and gave him a peck on the cheek, then pulled back and smiled and put the car in gear. He shifted himself around in his seat and, even though I was mostly keeping my eyes on the road, I think I saw what looked like early evidence.

They say you have to love yourself if you want to be able to love somebody else. I don’t know about that. I think that maybe you just have to be able to find the magic in the completely normal things they do and you do when you’re with them. Or maybe that’s just backwards, that love is the thing that turns all the faults into charms, the quirky details into little hooks to hang your affection on. We had pulled up into the parking lot of Woody’s and I turned the key and was about to open my door and he said, Hold on, and jumped out his door and raced around the front of the car and opened my door for me. Smiling, but shy as could be. It must be like that to look at your toddler when it does something new. If it’s the first time, it’s special — special and meaningful and all a-glitter with the diamond powder of life. He was opening the door, and there I was thinking that the world is only going to happen once and everything that happens is only going to happen once and time just carries on and everything changes and everything goes away, never to come back. One time for him to open the door, one time for me to get out, one time for him to take my hand with his and lead me into the bar. I know you’re not supposed to know, but I knew. This is the time, this is now, I am a woman who’s held by the hand and at the front end of love and going to wake up in the morning next to this man.

It took me a long time to get Evander to take off my pants. When he finally did, he was lying on top of me and I took his hands, one at a time, and slid them under my ass and said, “Squeeze.” And he fanned his fingers out and he squeezed. He squeezed and squeezed. The same feminism that tells me that men should like my boobs tells me that it’s okay to like feeling weightless in the arms of a man. He gripped me, and I lifted my hips off the bed till he was supporting everything. And that’s when I helped him fish it out, when I curled both my legs around him and reached under with my left hand and took him in my fingers. He rose in my touch, and though I was kind of dry, I like that feeling of it pushing its way in, of working it in tight and letting myself get wet around it. The stiffness makes me feel virginal, a lot more virginal than I’m likely to be again.

He clearly had no idea what manner of thing dangled between his legs; he poked and prodded with it like he had borrowed it from somebody else. A cock can be a beautiful thing, and his was beautiful, from the ridge running down the front to the rosy pink of its head to the threading of its big veins down the shaft. His hands were still on my ass and his cheek was flat and hot on my shoulder and he pumped and shook and I kept my ass lifted to keep him pressed against the back.

And then, almost before I knew it, things slowed down and I felt his lips behind my ear, and I looked up at the ceiling and knew that I had had sex with my Evander. It didn’t last too long and I didn’t come, but I knew he was mine, and I knew I’d come later thinking about it.

Jack Murnighan‘s stories appeared in the Best American Erotica editions of 1999, 2000 and 2001. His weekly column for Nerve, Jack’s Naughty Bits, was collected and released as two books. He was the editor-in-chief of Nerve from 1999 to 2001, before retiring to write full time and take seriously the quest for love.

Jack Murnighan and