ONE, TWO, WHAT
By Lee Klein
I’m blindsided by want. Blitzed by zeal. Speared in the back by craving. I want to throw a touchdown pass. I want to hit a tight end streaking across the end zone. I want to throw it where only the intended receiver can catch it. There are worse things, considering everything you could want. But I only want THREE THINGS. And they’re not that bad. The third thing, actually, is not so good. But the first thing, from any perspective, is very good. The first thing being to throw a touchdown pass during a nationally televised game, preferably one of some importance. It doesn’t have to be the Super Bowl. But I’d prefer to throw a touchdown pass during a must-win situation. The more toward the end of the season the better. But if I had to choose between not throwing a touchdown pass at all and throwing one, say, in the fourth quarter of a preseason game, I’d throw the touchdown pass, no matter when it was. I guess I prefer the drama. The stadium’s bright glare. The roar. The falling to knees. The pointing to heaven. The post-game interview. The locker-room frenzy. The champagne shower. The jumping up and down naked. But there’s not really much of that here. There’s not much drama, not much going on at all. Just three blank spaces I’ve filled with what I want.
All the lights in the bedroom are on. My husband sleeps on his back, purring more than snoring. Glossy catalogues skate the comforter across his lap, heading for the floor with each breath. I’m beside him. I grab a catalogue. I see that he’s given it a good score for an electronics catalogue: 4.7. Holding it along its top and bottom ends, keeping the right margin tight, I lean over, careful not to wake him. I rip the catalogue’s sharp edge across his neck, just above his Adam’s apple. A little lower he’d have a vicious paper cut. It would seem like an accident. It would seem self-inflicted. Of course it would. But he stirs. I push the rest of the catalogues on his lap to the floor. I imagine this sounds like a squadron of geese taking off from some remote lake in his brain. He’s startled awake, then settles back to sleep. I wait for his breathing to steady. I wait for the geese to land.
My husband, the man beside me now asleep, collects catalogues, or rather, he accumulates them. Towers are stacked in the corner of the bedroom, ready for evaluation. Every night it’s the same: he carries a foot-tall stack of catalogues to bed, gets under the covers, flips the pages. Once he marks a cover with a score, he discards all but the best. No one ever appointed him, but he considers himself the official arbiter of catalogue quality. Perhaps this is why he never buys anything. He just flips. Buying would compromise impartiality. You have to admire that. But this bed-bound activity is not an admirable thing, this muttering to himself about favorite J.Crew seasons. I’m sure a dead man desiring a few moments of life would enjoy giving a commendable score, maybe an 8.3, to a tastefully rendered bed-linen catalogue. Only a life-loving cadaver would savor a few moments rating catalogues as though they were the routines of gymnasts, figure skaters, synchronized swimmers, whatever. But anyone who did anything of merit in their past life, anything at all, would probably commit suicide before making it through a dozen catalogues. After an hour, the lucky one reanimating my husband’s body would be stuffing catalogues down its throat, the first corpse ever to choke itself to death.
I get under the covers. I cuddle up. I tuck my face deep into my sleeping husband’s flannel-clad armpit. It smells faintly of fabric softener, accepts my nestling without waking the rest of him. I place a knee over his thigh to feel him closer. It’s remarkable how warm he is. I realize it might seem contradictory that I get in bed and cuddle with the same man I say I want dead. I do it because I do it. Because I know him better than anyone I know. I also do it because I have a thing for his armpits.
No one else’s armpits come close, not in texture, not in taste.
No one else’s armpits do I want to eat out to the point of orgasm.
That’s the second thing I want: to eat out his armpits until he comes.
Very quietly, I say into his flannel pajama top, “Honey, I want to throw a touchdown pass.” If he could hear me, if he were awake, he’d yawn, look at me, slowly press an open catalogue facedown across his lap. A touchdown pass? he’d say, bracketing the phrase between the index and middle fingers of both hands. Is that like “hitting a home run”? I’m too tired “to throw a touchdown pass.” Just by raising these fingers, he transforms simple phrases into euphemisms. Besides the catalogue thing, the fact that he bookends his speech with quotation-mark–making talons is another reason I’d like him dead.
It’s about complexifying, if that’s a word. Making simple things more complicated with an insanely simple action. He makes a simple phrase ¾ “to throw a touchdown pass”¾several times more complicated, simply by raising those little fingers, like they’re the teeth of some venomous rodent, a hybrid of cobra and badger. What’s worse is that he doesn’t just let his fingers hang in air, he accompanies them with a bobble-headed smirk. The bobbling of his head is matched in his hands, and embers of meaning are fanned as he slaps his quote-unquote talons against his palms. This simultaneous head-bobbling/palm-slapping makes him look like an idiot imitating another idiot’s idiotic attempts at snapping. It’s a gesture that really pisses me off. It’s especially off-pissing coming from the one man I truly need right now.
My father, the last man I truly needed, was a straight-talker. He shaded his words keeping both hands in his lap. He never arched his fingers into talons because they’d been stuck like that with arthritis. And even if they weren’t that way, he was more the type to punctuate talk with fists. If I told my father I wanted to throw a touchdown pass, the first thing he’d do, he’d be on the horn to everyone he knows, mobilizing a network of big shots, guys who pulled the strings of get-things-done masculinity, with smooth hands in deerskin gloves. Within a week I’d be the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, rolling to my right, hitting an open receiver for the score. But if my husband were to hear me when I tell his armpit what I want to do, he’d give me that two-handed, four-fingered “touchdown pass,” as though it were something we could do together, to which I’d respond, “I want to throw a touchdown pass.” I would exaggerate the “I,” making it sound like the mid-air screech of a ninja taking out a no-good battalion of gangbanging toughs, who, in this case, had hidden Trojan-horse-like in the empty hull of my husband, he who evaluates catalogues under the covers in bed, in pajamas I mail-ordered from one of his favorites.
“I want to throw a football into the arms of a receiver open in the end zone,” I say, slowly, into his armpit, letting him know I mean business.
What’s that supposed to mean? he’d ask if he heard.
If he heard, he wouldn’t understand. I wouldn’t understand either, actually, if I were him. Some things are not so easily understood. Not even by my always-understanding husband. Not even when he accompanies his understanding with a meta-level of understanding, expressed by talons tearing the air. Actually, I know exactly what the talons mean. No matter what he intends them to say, they always seem to say the same thing. That he’s a stupid fucking white boy. I guess I shouldn’t call him that, since, to some extent, I’m the girl equivalent, but all the same. If my husband were someone who could say something real simple like yeah, extending this simple affirmative’s syllable count from one to five, I wouldn’t even care about the three things I want. If he could make ginger ale sound sexy, maybe I would have even fewer demands than three. But the way it is, my husband could say suck and stroke your peach to a succulent, salacious mess and it’d sound like we provide dust to all those interested in comparing fiscal portfolio management and month-old danishes in an ashtray of actuarial reflux and combustible detritus, etc etc, blah blah blah, fuck. But I assure you that things would be different if he could make halogen lamp sound like it involved my ass coming into contact with things that shouldn’t be anywhere near it.
Even if my husband could make me come simply by saying Styrofoam, we’d inevitably run into problems. I realize this. We’d need other things to rely on. At least one more thing to fall back on. For each of my three demands we’d need to rely on as many complementary stabilities. We’d need something besides his sexy voice, something other than his armpit, which, in the absence of a sexy voice, has been the only thing keeping us together: no small feat, considering the catalogue and the talons and his monotonic way of talking. The monotone, despite being relatively benign, probably has something to do with the third thing I want.
The first being the touchdown pass.
The second being the eating out my husband’s armpit to the point of orgasm.
The third being his accidental death.
As long as death comes to him, it’s fine by me, no matter how, as long as it comes. Preferably it’d be caused by his catalogue ranking. A severe paper cut. Anything. I realize if he were to suffer death by paper cut, however, there’d be no way I’d achieve my second goal, the eating out of his armpit to the point of orgasm (his). Just as the third goal (accidental death) precludes the second (armpit orgasm), I imagine if he were dead (by paper cut), and if I couldn’t get him to come (by sucking on his armpit), then there’d be no way I’d ever throw a touchdown pass, most importantly, since it was he who put the thought in my mind long ago.
It was long ago.
When we were first married, my husband often said he would do anything for me, anything at all. Watching Sportscenter’s best-of-year highlights, those spectacular plays, one after the other, quarterbacks completing long passes to sprinting receivers, bridging the distance with a spiraling ball. He said he wanted to make it so, one day, I too would drop back and hit an open receiver for the touchdown. It didn’t make much sense. And it didn’t have to make much sense. At the time, that’s what we were about. Not quite making sense was probably a reaction to a lot of insensible things that were happening to us, to our friends, to everything. Regardless of the sense we made back then, throwing a touchdown pass seemed like something exceedingly improbable, and therefore, exactly what we wanted do.
But that was long ago, back when we were happily applying ourselves to one another, when we’d watch football, see beauty in something I know he no longer has the capacity to see, being that he is either at work or in bed, doing the thing he does with the catalogues. And perhaps because he no longer implies that he can make the impossible probable, we’ve drifted apart, only interacting when I press my mouth to his armpit.
It’s sad, trying to make someone remember that he once believed in what can’t be done. Sometimes I hope that all this armpit sucking ¾ the only thing I rely on right now ¾ will make his voice sexier, and when it does, I will no longer want him dead. I’ll only want two things. And what I want and what I rely on will come together to form a third stability. Something like a hovering disc of air that will take us anywhere, wherever, whenever. We’ll just step on and take off.
Lee Klein’s edible armpits are always open for healthy eating.