Enamel and Calcium

Lisbeth Coiman

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.”


Reading Out Loud/Per Se

I went to the Saturday Night Special open mic again last night, and read a short fiction piece. Reading my work aloud isn’t my favorite thing to do, but I try to do it at least once in a while. It’s good to practice appealing directly to an audience who is right in front of you, to consider what will make them laugh and what will make them think and what will make them sad when you read it to them. I’ve been going to this open mic on and off for a few years now, and the readings get better and better each time. Here’s what I read:

Per Se

Asher was up all Saturday night surfing the Red Pill Subreddit, which was an anti-feminist website. He went to bed at five and woke up at two p.m. It was pretty much a given that he would spend all Sunday day on the Red Pill Subreddit unless he left the house, so he went to Tilden Park.

He wasn’t an anti-feminist per se. It’s just that the guys on the anti-feminist sites were some of the only guys he could relate to. They weren’t snobs, and some of them made some pretty valid points about stuff. But Ryan, who was the only semi-cool guy from Asher’s dorm who would actually talk to him, told him those sites were for losers who were just salty that they couldn’t get laid. Which was the whole reason Asher was on the sites, because he was a loser who couldn’t get laid. That’s how all the guys on the sites were; it wasn’t some kind of big secret. But anyway when Ryan said it, he called Asher son in that way cool guys talk to each other.

“Son,” he said, “Those sites are for salty losers who can’t get laid.”

No one ever called Asher son, definitely not his father, an emasculated beta male who worked in nonprofit fundraising and had failed to teach Asher how not to be a social pariah. It felt nice to be called son, even by a guy who was chronologically speaking four months younger than him.

The Uber driver dropped him off by a trailhead. She looked the same as the girls in his dorm, Ugg boots, nice body, probably stupid.

“Time for a hike,” he said. She looked him up and down all skeptical, like it was that obvious he wasn’t the hiking type. How to successfully lie to women was another one of those things his father never taught him. Sigh.

As soon as she was gone, he doubled back through the parking lot, past the playground, and up the hill to the petting farm.

He walked through the crowds of parents and kids, said hi to the sheep, bowed low to the rooster, who he thought of as the farm’s concierge. He’d been coming maybe once or twice a year since he was a kid, whenever he felt too lonely and depressed to accomplish anything productive, and it always looked exactly the same.

The cow barn was his favorite. It was dark and shady and smelled like mud. The cows had heads that were as big as Asher’s whole torso. They could eat a baby in one bite, but they never did, even though all the moms kept waving babies right in their faces. They just stood very patient, accepted pats on the head with neither anger nor pleasure, watched the people watching them. Something about the cows made Asher feel very peaceful.

Three Ugg-boot chicks came in the barn, petted the cow, shrieked and giggled when it licked one of their hands with its slow, giant tongue. They looked kind of familiar, like maybe they were in one of his classes. Maybe they lived in his dorm. The parents were all nice to the Ugg-boot chicks, let them play peekaboo with their babies and say hi to their little kids. They never let Asher talk to their kids.

He wished Ryan would come to the farm with him sometime. Maybe Ryan and a few of the cool guys from his dorm. But guys didn’t do stuff like that together. Girls did, guys didn’t. Asher didn’t know why, exactly. That was another one of those things his father never taught him.