I read this piece last night at Zocalo Spits, a reading series and open-mic hosted by the talented Lisbeth Coiman. The event takes place every second Saturday at Zocalo Coffeehouse in San Leandro. Zocalo is my favorite place to write and grade, so this reading series is very convenient for me! I love this event, which is usually a bit small and intimate, with a lot of experienced writers and always some sweet newbies who’ve never in front of anyone. This piece is a bit R-rated in case you’re not into that kind of thing.
Enamel and Calcium
Geoff was leaning against a brick wall, his dick in a guy’s mouth, when he first understood the Taoist concept of emptiness.
He’d been carrying a tea-stained copy of the Tao Te Ching around with him since college, meditating on it, like it was going to bring him some kind of peace. Peace in Taoism was all about getting past the dual nature of things, transcending judgments of goodness and badness. It seemed so cool on the page, but in real life he couldn’t quite get there. A couple times he felt close. Then he’d hear something horrible. A friend-of-a-friend robbed, beat up in the street. Or something on the news. Someone had left poisoned meatballs to kill people’s dogs. The owner, a chubby man in a pink t-shirt, crying.
The guy kneeling in front of him—they were in the alley behind the Stud—was named Cody, Geoff was pretty sure, one of those names like Cody or Cory or Connor. The guy he was thinking about was named Tony. Actually Carlos Antonio, but Geoff called him Tony. Geoff’s dick hadn’t been in Tony’s mouth for over six weeks, and it probably wouldn’t ever be again. But Geoff couldn’t stop thinking about him. He thought about him every time he saw someone’s strong brown shoulder under a tank top, every time he saw a tattooed guy riding a skateboard. Every time he saw two guys walking down the street holding hands. They all made him think of Tony, his dark eyes and mean smile, and he hated all of them.
Cody or whoever’s teeth scraped against Geoff’s dick.
“Sawwy,” he said.
That made Geoff think of Tony, too. The tooth-scrape was Tony’s signature move. Just when Geoff’s dick was growing to its fullest, stiffest, readiest to burst, Tony would drag the edge of one razor tooth down the side. The burst of pain would piss Geoff off at the same time it drove him over the edge, into a frantic, angry explosion of an orgasm.
Geoff looked at the overflowing dumpster. Each plump garbage bag was capped with a perfect crescent of light, reflected from the streetlamp at the end of the alley. Cody’s teeth, he thought. Tony’s teeth. So different to him, yet made of the same stuff, tooth stuff, enamel and calcium and whatever teeth were made of. Did it matter whether the calcium scraping along the bottom of his penis was called Cody or Connor or Carlos Antonio? It didn’t, no more than it mattered that the bricks supporting him were the wall of the Stud and not the Lone Star.
We mold clay into a pot, but it is its emptiness that makes it useful.
For one moment, he could feel it, know the meaning of it. That the universe was impartial. That it didn’t take sides on our heartbreaks and losses, our grief. All it did was provide substance and absence, matter and void. Everything else was a product of our own minds, a game we played with ourselves.
“What’s wrong?” Cody stood up in front of him, wiping his soft, pink lips with the back of his hand, dusting his knees.
Geoff felt an urge to grab his hand, to tell him something. We’re not really people, he wanted to say. We’re just—matter.
He wanted to say, The matter that is currently your teeth, my dick will exist long after we are dead. It doesn’t belong to us. Not our bodies or our boyfriends or our pain or our fleeting moments of understanding.
He wanted to squeeze the hand tight in his own hand, to feel the illusion of its solidness, to run his hands over the chest that contained all the blood and lymph and organs that were really just carbon and hydrogen and oxygen and empty space.
But Cody was leaving, shoulder blades and saggy jeans headed down the alley towards the brightness of the streetlight.
“Cody,” Geoff said.
The carbon and hydrogen turned his head, raised his eyebrows, opened the mouth whose emptiness Geoff’s dick had so recently been filling.
“It’s Connor,” he said. “Not like it matters to you.”