Closer to nine, Jenny’d texted half hour after she’d called ask­ing if I had any­thing going, if I was will­ing to come along for a help­ful task—her words, help­ful task. The first call was at quar­ter to seven, and at ten till ten she was nowhere and I’d fin­ished the sched­ules. Win­dows open, end of March, day be­fore open­ing day. Down the street at Longfel­low’s, spring’s ar­rival was ob­vi­ous: the place didn’t card, and the Nokomis Tech un­der­class­men who’d spent the win­ter suck­ing quick gaspers and pitch­ing them to re­turn to their buck fifty Schlitzes be­fore the cherry’d even ex­tin­guished in the street now loli­gagged out­side, tak­ing their time.

I’ve told Jenny how big a deal sched­ule-mak­ing is, that it’s not enough to get the crappy free­bie pocket sched­ule from the gas sta­tions, that a real fan’s got to have some big, easy-to-see thing. For in­stance Greg: he buys a cal­en­dar at the mall, end of Jan­u­ary, when they’re 75% off, and Sharpies the shit out of the thing. Dur­ing the sea­son he tracks player up­swings in the mar­gins, clut­ters every­thing with num­bers. For in­stance me: I buy sheets of con­struc­tion paper, the sort I’d as a 7th grader Rub­ber Ce­mented Xe­roxed En­cy­clo­pe­dia pages about as­ter­oids or plan­ets onto. One broad piece for each month, and, on each day’s square, the name of the team the Twins’d be play­ing. The sched­ule stuck frid­ge­side I would, through the sea­son, track scores, win­ning pitcher, and no­table hits or in­juries on each date’s square. Some peo­ple train dogs, some re­search the his­tory of the bi­plane.

I heard honks out front and clear as an 8th-grade dare there was Jenny, be­hind the wheel of her elec­tric blue 2004 Chevy Blazer. She honked again when she saw me in the win­dow and I smelled pop­corn. She didn’t try to kiss me on the cheek when I got in, which was a nice de­vel­op­ment. There was plas­tic wrap at my feet; in the back­seat were stacks of padded en­velopes, var­i­ous sizes.

“Tone, you up?” She looked over, hun­gry and saucy—I’d seen her like this—as she pulled away, flicked her blinker, headed south. There was noth­ing wrong about Jenny—she’d gone to col­lege, had okay teeth, and wore her twenty extra pounds well enough, and laughed a lot. She liked dub­step more than nec­es­sary, sure, but she was good for a beer, a trip to the State Fair or Tar­get Field, and she lived lakes—she was a solid Min­nesota girl. Still: there was some­thing a lit­tle much about her, like she was al­ways over­com­pen­sat­ing.

“Up for what, ex­actly, Jen?” She was a re­cep­ton­ist at an ear, nose and throat clinic, and I glanced again at the en­velopes in back. I swung a palm through them, just to see what hap­pened—had to be three dozen. All that manilla and bub­ble pack­ag­ing, that trapped air.

“Oh, you wait, Di­al­tone.” She’d called me that god knew how many times. She tapped the steer­ing wheel with her thumbs and her hor­i­zon­tal-stripe red and pur­ple shirt shook slightly with her move­ment. The win­dows were up and Jenny’s jeans were, as al­ways, a pull too tight on her, rec­og­niz­ably last year’s model. She sud­denly rubbed my thigh then clapped twice, like we were going to a party. We were at a red light and she blazed at me, 100% bright.

“You re­mem­ber Je­remy?” She asked.

“Foos­ball?” I scratched the back of my neck, sure some­thing’d just bit me. Jenny’s car was a con­stant flux, a place which al­ways made you think it’d smell. Empty Diet Coke bot­tles clonked be­hind us and if I’d looked I’d’ve seen their red caps on the floor be­side the bot­tles, dried last-sip pud­dles down in the south­ern reaches of the bot­tles—it was al­ways thus. Jenny kept a bag of Old Dutch salted pop­corn be­neath the pas­sen­ger seat; I’d lit­er­ally never been in her car when it’d lacked pop­corn, and she’d quit of­fer­ing sim­ply be­cause she knew I knew what was avail­able.

“Den­tist,” she said.

“Right, Space Cadet.” She rolled her eyes when I said it and the light turned green, but she kept her stare for a beat be­fore jam­ming the gas.

“He didn’t say ei­ther way for sure, just that it’s maybe not as clear as we think.”

What was im­pos­si­ble to ever ask Jenny was what the hell is going on. I imag­ine other peo­ple asked her this, but I could not. When she rubbed my thigh? When she’d, a few months back, told me about hav­ing gone out with a den­tist who had, over dessert, ex­plained the in­con­sis­ten­cies re­gard­ing the moon land­ing? When she’d call and ask me to come along on some task or er­rand left pur­pose­fully ob­scured?

Here’s what had hap­pened: I hit her bike, with my car, while she was try­ing to pass me at a red light. I was tak­ing a right, she was cut­ting around me, there was a gap in traf­fic, I went for it and hit her, trashed her bike’s rear wheel, gave her a fierce scare. She stood on the cor­ner dust­ing and re-dust­ing her­self while I loaded the bro­ken thing into my car, dri­vers honk­ing as they bal­looned around us. She said two, three times “My Jim gave me that bike,” be­fore fi­nally spit­ting out an ad­dress. She said she wasn’t hurt more than just the scratches on her knee and palm, the pain in her neck from brac­ing for the fall that didn’t come as she’d ex­pected. We shook hands and I gave her my num­ber when I dropped her off at her dingy place, 14th and 32nd—she lived in one of those old 4-plexes and, just stand­ing there and look­ing at her—all ner­vous with her shaky hands and knees, her busted bike at her side—I could smell her apart­ment, a sort of shut-win­dow dank­ness, like the in­side of a plas­tic gal­lon of milk which’d been capped and empty, lying in the re­cy­cling pile for days.

When she called two weeks later and asked to get cof­fee, I fig­ured it was to ask for money, tell me she was in phys­i­cal ther­apy and I’d screwed her dreams of being an ac­ro­bat, and she was gonna sue, but in­stead we talked about old Jim Car­rey movies and she wouldn’t shut up about how the pop­corn at Riverview was the best movie the­ater pop­corn in town. I didn’t look close at her when I drove her home that first time: it wasn’t that she was big—maybe 5’6″ and 160 on her best day—it was that she was thick. She didn’t carry her weight like a fat kid car­ries his dou­ble-sized slice of cake across a birth­day party room, but tucked it, tried to keep it stuffed under her arms, tied across her back. That time at cof­fee she seemed un­com­fort­able in her own skin, her own body, like she was liv­ing in a rental while her real home was being re­mod­eled. When we were walk­ing out, she said she’d call soon. That was two years ago, and she’s the only per­son I know of who has made a friend through ve­hic­u­lar vi­o­lence.

What I’ve never told Jenny is that I saw her com­ing. I didn’t try to hit her, but I didn’t try to miss her.


“That’s Greg’s,” Jenny said, point­ing up at the Penn exit from 62. We’d passed the mess and crank of the con­struc­tion cor­ri­dor and were empty dri­ving, no­body around—it was a Tues­day at 10:15. I’d cracked my win­dow, say­ing I needed air, but it was mostly the scent I imag­ined or felt in Jenny’s car. She must’ve al­ways been like this—the girl you got rides from, the girl you an­swered the phone for but never called.

“That’s Greg’s street,” I agreed. In win­ter, when it was all foot­ball and bas­ket­ball and no base­ball, Greg and I spoke oc­ca­sion­ally and briefly, swap­ping Twins sto­ries—trade ru­mors, hopes for the ro­ta­tion, lies we’d tell our­selves about all the games we’d see. As of March we’d talk a cou­ple times a week, and by open­ing day we were tex­ting daily, plan­ning trips to bars for games.

“Isn’t that funny how you both have Jen­nys? You’ve got me and he’s got his wife?” There was al­ways some­thing not right about Jenny’s face: even per­fectly still and set­tled it looked smeary. There was an edge­less­ness to her that had every­thing to do with her deep need to ap­pease. It wasn’t that Jenny lied or was hyp­o­crit­i­cal, she sim­ply tweezed de­tail when she spoke. That first time, at cof­fee? Even after she’d snif­fled and twice said that’s from my Jim about her bike on the af­ter­noon I’d hit her? She swore, at cof­fee, that she didn’t even like bik­ing, and that she’d had half a mind to hit bik­ers plenty of times, how they got in the way and clut­tered up in­ter­sec­tions, and not once did she men­tion any Jim. I was oc­ca­sion­ally tempted to tell Jenny I hated her, just to see if she’d say some­times I think that’s the right idea.

“I don’t have you.” She’d of­fered this be­fore, how Greg had his Jenny and I had mine, and it scared me. She’d tried to kiss me once, and I’d pushed her away and, shock­ing my­self, told her I wasn’t sure I was into women. What I minded was her des­per­ate hunger for sym­me­try, neat­ness: only a 10th grade mind could so hope­fully build a sce­nario in which two guys, whose friend­ship was based en­tirely on the local base­ball team, were both with women of the same name, or that the fact of a shared name meant a damn thing.

“Tone Loc the heart­breaker,” she said, grin­ning, her brown curly hair a spazzy non­sense on her head. She’d never asked about dat­ing, whether I was gay or bi-, after that first men­tion—we’d been a bot­tle and a half deep into red, it was four months after I’d clipped her bike. She never asked about any of it, and I al­ways won­dered a lit­tle whether she wanted to stay friends pre­cisely be­cause of my sex­ual am­bi­gu­ity.

“You should get a dog,” she said.

“Name it Jen?” I wasn’t even think­ing but she bright­ened, her curls spring­ing.

“I’ll come. I’ll sit. I’ll eat treats out of your hand,” she tapped the steer­ing wheel and play panted, then reached into the dark be­hind her. I tried not to look at her tongue, hoped she’d pull some­thing to make clear what ex­actly was hap­pen­ing, but she just had a mini-bot­tle of Diet Coke which she set in the cupholder next to an al­ready empty one.

“I could maybe deal with a ger­bil. Maybe a bird.” I’d thought about pets: any­one who lives alone thinks about ways to fill the rooms those nights they’re dan­ger­ously empty. When we were kids, my sis­ter and I would sit glued to the aviary in our mom’s of­fice, and I’d thought about get­ting some­thing sim­i­lar for the house, imag­ined pass­ing in a towel to take a shower and watch­ing small fly­ing things, back-and-forth, con­sid­ered how it’d sound to wake to bird song daily, to shower among such chirp­ing.

“You like Greg’s dog,” she said, and she was right: I loved Stella, mostly be­cause I could walk away from her, and be­cause all she wanted was my warmth—when­ever I was at Greg’s she’d clam­ber onto my lap and make a bed of my crotch. She was a tiny ter­rier, perky ears and a mini tail which, when she wagged it, moved like a dou­ble-jointed thumb.

“Every­body likes Stella, Jenny.” She flicked her blinker and we curved dark and quiet through the exit ramp and came to a stop. The street was com­pletely dead but there was a catch of some­thing in the air: nights had quit get­ting so cold, and the gray of yards and high­way dirt was slowly get­ting re­placed with the first tiny pokes of vi­brancy. In a month the green’d be mon­strous. Jenny leaned over the steer­ing wheel and looked both ways down the road.

“Where are we going, any­way? What’s going on?” I watched her cheek as her tongue pushed it from in­side and she eased out of the stop and headed left, though she looked around anx­ious, scan­ning for fa­mil­iar­ity, as­sur­ance.

“Ton, lemme ask you: would you say I’m smok­ing hot?” She pulled on her Diet Coke as she ac­cel­er­ated through the dark, past sin­gle-story in­dus­trial build­ings on both sides—light man­u­fac­tur­ing, im­port/ex­port, car re­pair/ I knew St. Louis Park as well as the next down­towner, knew where the bowl­ing alley was and how to get out. The build­ings—their cor­ru­gated sid­ings, their dump­sters parked hulk­ing at their sterns—were lit by yel­lowy un­der­pow­ered sodium bulbs that cast spooky, ne­far­i­ous glows across every­thing. She looked over, wait­ing.

“You’re pretty foxy, Jen.” I hadn’t the faintest what she wanted to hear, but the fact that her mind’d been whirring on ques­tions of sex­i­ness made things sud­denly eas­ier to bear, slightly: that’s why the jit­tery fun, the gid­di­ness, the thigh-slap­ping.

“It’s up ahead here,” she said.

“This about the den­tist?” I asked. She nod­ded to the dark and sighed. I pulled the bag of pop­corn from be­neath my seat, tried to ig­nore the smeared fin­ger­prints all over the plas­tic. I un­rolled it, of­fered her some, dumped a hand­ful for my­self, ate it, waited. She took a right and a block in and we were cruis­ing a res­i­den­tial stretch of nice lit­tle homes, front porches and all. I lived by where peo­ple drank, ate, bought lamps; out here they lived next to tire re­place­ment shops, scrap metal venues, din­ers car­peted in old smoke.

“He said—he was being nice, I guess—he said I didn’t even know how hot I was. I think he was pretty drunk.” She shrugged and I won­dered, not for the first time, how great Jenny’s need for af­fec­tion was, what she’d put up with to get some. Any.

“That’s nice,” I said, and only on say­ing it did I re­al­ize what I said.

“I don’t mean, like, that’s nice that he said that, but that it sounds nice—him say­ing you don’t even re­al­ize how hot you are.”

“Nah-ah,” she said, slowed at a four-way stop, glanced around. If we were going to his house, I didn’t un­der­stand how she could be so lost.

“I made brown­ies, and I—don’t laugh—I put on lin­gerie and fed him some. This body. In the kitchen. I’m try­ing to be, you know, all saucy, mov­ing the fork slow up to his mouth, push­ing against him, and he stops me be­fore he gets his bite. He looks down and goes you don’t know how hot you are.” She bit her lip, turned left. I won­dered what she looked like in bra and un­der­wear, how it’d feel to be fed by some­one so hun­gry.

“Like I’m a kid. Like I’m a lit­tle girl play­ing dress-up, and he’s an adult, and he’s, like, you don’t get it, you don’t know how to be hot.”

“You think?”

“He’s very pro­fes­sional, Tony. He doesn’t even say molar, he’s got codes for that, let­ters and num­bers. Cus­pids and bi­cus­pids.”

I couldn’t think of a thing to say.

“This was last week, Fri­day.”

I imag­ined say­ing that line, telling some­one she didn’t know how hot she was, telling some guy. The au­thor­ity of it.

“So we’re headed to his place now so you can tell him you know how hot you are?” She grinned as I hit the nail.

We drove a minute with noth­ing but music and air be­tween us.

“Do you have a lighter?” She asked after a bit.

“No—you know that, I don’t smo—”

“Sh sh sh, this is it,” she said and turned off her lights and slowed to the curb and killed the en­gine.


It was a scene you’d imag­ine with crick­ets or a light breeze to rus­tle the back­ground por­ten­tiously but it was dead still and near silent, only the dis­tant half-mushed sound of car tires. I thought of Jose, whom I’d re­cently met, and what Car­o­line had said, my col­lege girl­friend: I’m not sure the shape my love’ll come in. We’d had sex like an­i­mals, up­right and howl­ing, filthy with spring mud one time; she pushed me to wear her un­der­wear to din­ner when I met her folks and whis­pered as I rang the door­bell I’m gonna fuck you like the naughty cunt you are when we get home. She’d ex­plored be­fore me, she said, and would, she guessed, after, and on the one hand, I ap­pre­ci­ated the hon­esty—she was a sixth-year se­nior, I was in my sec­ond year with ju­nior stand­ing be­cause I’d over­loaded and en­tered with cred­its—but it left me twitch­ing, how ca­su­ally she could see through what we were in while we were in it, how she’d said after. When I turned down a three­some with her and an­other girl, she said what about an­other guy, and how she looked at me when I didn’t an­swer right away was still the image I car­ried when I won­dered how I swung, who I wanted to hold, the shape my love came in.

Gay bars are ab­solute bi­nary—in or out, lines so sharp and clear—but the thresh­old for being cu­ri­ous about your sex­u­al­ity, for guys, is al­most im­pos­si­ble to trace. I’d gone on plenty of dates with men, plenty of dates with women; I’ve had my share of good­night kisses from all sorts of lips. At the bar dur­ing base­ball sea­son I’d some­times imag­ine crouch­ing be­neath the table and going down on Greg, force my­self to pic­ture it, hop­ing for some spark to catch de­sire’s fric­tion and clar­i­fy­ing burn.

I’d met Jose through his sis­ter Pilar who’d in­tu­ited my clum­si­ness as clos­eted gay­ness, but Jose was all pri­mary col­ors and ag­gres­sive­ness: he was ready to stick his tongue down the whole world’s throat. I’d gone out with him twice, had en­joyed it the way I en­joyed Jenny oc­ca­sion­ally blast­ing music too loudly when she drove, when I felt drowned be­neath waves of beeps and thumps. I thought of him now, won­dered if he was in some­one else’s car think­ing of me the way her den­tist thought of Jenny: some­one who didn’t even know.

Jenny pulled from her purse un­der­wear and a bra, both bright pink and edged in leop­ardy lace, set them on her lap. After some con­sid­er­a­tion she said “You take this” and handed me the bra. She smoothed the un­der­wear across her thigh then looked over.

“You gotta smooth it out if we’re gonna burn the edges right.”

“Burn the edges? This’ll melt, at best, if it doesn’t just go up like rice paper.” I felt a buzz against my leg and pulled my phone to find a text from Greg: Bullpens fuk­ing beau­ti­ful were going all the way GO TWINS!!! I pock­eted it to see Jenny look­ing wor­riedly down at the un­der­wear.

“But don’t you think if I singe the edges it’ll be like, I’m so smok­ing hot I set my own un­der­wear on fire? And I know it?” She ran a fin­ger over the lacy edge of one of the leg open­ings and thought of how I never found out who Jim was, who­ever’d given her the bike—she never vol­un­teered the info and I al­ways felt too bad to ask.

“Have to fig­ure out where to burn the most,” she said, tak­ing the bra back. Greg’s Jenny trav­els for work, is gone a week every other month, and Greg as­sures me Stella hates it when Jenny’s gone, that the tiny dog gets more de­spon­dent as the week passes. I was there, Sep­tem­ber last year, and Greg and I were watch­ing the game silently, both bent to our score­books, and though Stella’d jumped and yipped glad when I’d come in, she was nowhere by the third in­ning. I got up to pee at in­ning break and, as I passed Greg and Jenny’s room, saw her lying in front of Jenny’s dresser, nose pressed to the light green car­pet. Greg must’ve heard my pause.

“Jen stands there when she sprays her per­fume. Stella likes it cause the ground smells like her—I’ve got down and smelled it, it re­ally does smell like her per­fume.” As he said it Stella looked up then rolled over, her tiny white paws punch­ing help­lessly in the air.


Jenny scoured the car and came up with a pack of paper matches and we talked about how it’d have to work. Leg open­ing, she said: that’s where the hot­ness had to start—it had to start with her pussy, oth­er­wise it’d seem like her stom­ach was aflame. A singe at each leg open­ing, maybe one on the ass, then a touch of flame to the bra cups. I didn’t ask if the un­der­wear was an old set or some­thing she’d bought for the oc­ca­sion, and we agreed that I’d hold the un­der­wear and she’d be hold the fire.

“Turn the bat­tery on for a sec” I said as we were al­most ready to go. She stared.

“The win­dow—if this catches, I’m’nna throw it.” Her eyes bloomed.

“Some­body’ll see,” she whined, and I glanced around: we’d been sit­ting ten min­utes on a quiet street. If some­one was going to see, it’d’ve al­ready hap­pened. At one cor­ner Jenny’s lips stuck to­gether, skin dryly ad­he­sive, and she looked ter­ri­ble be­cause of it—weak, klutzy, pieces that’d never fit right. I raised my eye­brows, re­ally?

“I don’t want third de­gree burns,” I said, want­ing to add just so you can prove a point. Her eyes jabbed at mine for a bit, then she looked down, around, and then she smacked the arm rest. Diet Coke. There were maybe two sips left in the thing.

“I’ll douse it!” Her eyes were scary: she was gone on this idea. She’d start the fire, she’d put it out if it came to that. I de­cided I’d toss the burn­ing lin­gerie in the back­seat, get the hell out and walk home if things went awry, then took the pair of un­der­wear by its cor­ners, held them up.

Scent­less. They were new, dis­play-case smooth. The pink and leop­ard mix was gar­ish, a hy­per­growl­ing meowy sex­i­ness, and imag­in­ing them on Jenny—her full body fill­ing curves, creas­ing cor­ners—heated me. Just the idea of her sit­ting in a chair, know­ing she was wear­ing this un­der­wear be­neath her clothes: some­thing about her sit­ting and look­ing at me made me need to shut my eyes as she struck the match.

“Relax, Tony, you won’t burn,” she said. I opened my eyes. She was inches from the lace, fire throb­bing at match’s tip, her fin­gers poised for the silk­i­ness. I wanted to blow the match out, not play­ful but from fear. The lace caught, blue flame seem­ing to lick in­stant across the fab­ric, it was a tiny spot then half an inch then an inch then two then three just like that, a breath, a snap. I was ready to drop the un­der­wear or throw them at Jenny when the flame went cause­lessly out. The song on the radio had a quiet verse and a throb­bing, ham­mer-drop­ping cho­rus and moved from one to the other as we both looked at the not-burn­ing un­der­wear.

I won­dered what her den­tist looked like.

“That’s perfect. That’s smok­ing hot­ness.” She nod­ded, some men­tal vi­sion con­firmed, dropped the used match in the Diet Coke bot­tle and im­me­di­ately pulled an­other one, scrap­ing it to life and bring­ing it to the left leg open­ing and touch­ing the leop­ardy lace the same as last time but the flame leapt large now. I waved the un­der­wear like a flag al­most in­stantly, sur­ren­der, blow­ing, and Jenny blew too, and then it was just as sud­denly as last time over, my heart a seis­mic thud­ding in­sis­tence.

The panties were mis­con­fig­ured, clumpy, the ma­te­r­ial moved into wrongly new shapes. I could imag­ine what Jenny wanted—touches of ash, an un­der­gar­ment which’d given up its ghost in a des­per­ate at­tempt to hol­ster hot­ness. I pic­tured racks and racks of shiny boxes of briefs at Macy’s. I could never not get hard walk­ing through the un­der­wear sec­tion, not be­cause I wanted cock but be­cause of so much pre­sen­ta­tion, such shape­li­ness—sculpted bulges on head­less man­nequins, trios of tight plas­ter asses jut­ting jaun­tily atop dis­play cases. It re­ally wasn’t, isn’t, about dicks or pussies, guys or girls, the unique­ness of plumb­ing: I felt the same deep need to in­hale walk­ing through Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret, or walk­ing past the over­size, flesh-tone bras for Tar­get’s largest cus­tomers. What I couldn’t get hard think­ing of, though, was any of those un­der­gar­ments ac­tu­ally worn and washed, then even­tu­ally dingy, and, even later, thread­bare.

I waited for Jenny to say some­thing. The un­der­wear I held was strange, a cal­cu­la­tion of sex­i­ness solved for the wrong vari­able. A car drove past but noth­ing changed and Jenny kept look­ing at the un­der­wear.

“You think it works?” She whis­pered. Je­remy’d been right, who­ever he was—she didn’t know. There’d’ve been some­thing sweet to the in­no­cence had she not been buck­ing so hard against it.

“They’re cer­tainly hot,” I said, not falsely. I still didn’t know the ac­tual plan; I as­sumed she was going to put the un­der­wear in one of the padded en­velopes and leave it in the guy’s mail­box. It nei­ther did nor did not make sense. For some rea­son I checked my watch, and thought at this time to­mor­row, I’ll know if the Twins won.


I stood out­side while she changed, try­ing to not think about how she was ma­neu­ver­ing the un­der­gar­ments into place. She’d ended up de­cid­ing not to burn the bra—wanted first to try on the scorched panties to see if they achieved the de­sired ef­fect. I scanned houses, won­der­ing which be­longed to Mr. Je­remy Teeth, and if he was there presently—eleven on a week­night—and if so with whom, and if not who he thought of when he was alone. I won­dered if he was mar­ried; Jenny was ab­solutely a woman who’d have an af­fair, not for any home-wreck­ing im­pulse, just that the im­pos­si­bil­ity would’ve at­tracted her, would’ve given her pre-cover for when it all fell apart. She knocked from in­side the car and I turned to see Jenny’s hand against the glass, one fin­ger come-hith­er­ing. The door was closed and I was all sat down be­fore I re­al­ized she wasn’t wear­ing pants.

“What’d’ya think?” She stretched, tucked her feet under the dri­ver’s seat, tried to straighten her legs, and I stared at the burned pink un­der­wear, the tri­an­gle of her sex. I looked at her chest, her pur­ple vest and white t-shirt, looked hard, and the air in the car got strange as Jenny grabbed her­self, pushed her boobs to­gether from the sides, like a strip­per. It sud­denly oc­cured to me to won­der if this den­tist ac­tu­ally was real, if this whole thing was a set-up and I the tar­get. I didn’t look her in the eye, and she dropped her hands, and I scanned her crotch and the un­der­wear, try­ing to find some­thing to say.

Above the left leg was a small gath­er­ing of stretchy fab­ric, at the right leg the leop­ard-print lace was burned off in spots like teeth knocked from some smar­tass’s smile, and the re­sult was strangely hot—the bright pre­sen­ta­tion of hot sex now messed and heated. I could hear Jenny breath­ing, the hint of a wheeze. For some rea­son the fact that she was wear­ing a vest and pink un­der­wear and that be­neath her feet were empty Diet Coke bot­tles made all the sense in the world. This was the world.

“It looks great.” The com­mon ad­vice for men who fear they’re near­ing pre­ma­ture sex­ual cli­max is to think of base­ball or the Queen of Eng­land. Star­ing at Jenny in her ru­ined-but-bet­ter un­der­wear in her car’s back­seat on a quiet dark street, I thought of the sched­ules I’d made that night. I tried to look on dis­pas­sion­ately as Jenny set her butt back on the seat and stopped mod­el­ing, and we sat to­gether, just like that for a sec­ond until she heaved for­ward, flash­ing her rear, reach­ing for and pulling the Diet Coke from the front con­sole and only as she was about to drink did she seem to re­mem­ber she’d dropped a match in the thing not ten min­utes ear­lier. She ex­haled loudly, looked out the win­dows, around the neigh­bor­hood. I looked at her legs and de­cided she must’ve shaved two days ago—tiny hairs were just again vis­i­ble on her wide, creamy thighs.

“Think he’s here?” She asked, a big sigh. My de­sire for her to put her pants back on was half and half. I won­dered what would hap­pen if I kissed her, asked if I could singe the bra’s edges while she wore it.

“You’d know,” I said, hop­ing she would. She was star­ing at some house, ab­sently held the bot­tle of Diet Coke in her right hand and, with her left thumb, tapped her front teeth.

“Usu­ally here, af­ter­wards,” she mum­bled. Had it been any­one else I’d’ve won­dered if what had been spo­ken was said ab­sently, not fully aware. Given that it was Jenny, I had to con­sider that she was gam­ing me into ask­ing a ques­tion, beg­ging into her ner­vous­ness. Af­ter­wards.

“He works nights?” There was a long pause.

“Nah, he’s…” In­stead of say­ing more, Jenny looked over and shrugged care­lessly, a blank look can­vass­ing her eyes in the same way there’d so re­cently been elec­tric­ity. Some fight went out of her, a de­ci­sion reached: she looked as if she’d just de­cided the whole thing—the un­der­wear and burn­ing—was too much, per­haps not worth it. She reached into the back and pulled one of the pack­ing en­velopes. I sup­posed this meant she was ready to prep the de­posit but she looked again at me, held the glance for maybe three, four sec­onds; longer than com­fort­able. It felt like I’d mail this to you, some­thing. She looked like what she was: a woman with­out pants, hold­ing an en­ve­lope, hun­gry for some­one to offer her pack­age to.

“I’ll wait out­side,” I said, fig­ur­ing her about to change, and as I reached for the han­dle she said, al­most under her breath, “you don’t have to.” I paused but didn’t look back.

Two min­utes later she hus­tled to the house she’d been eye­ing, snuck the screen door ajar a peep, stashed the en­ve­lope in­side. It was an older house, had a mail slot in­stead of a box; if this had been my pro­ject, I’d for sure have shoved the pack­age in­side. Jenny stood a mo­ment on the front step, look­ing through the dark­ened front win­dow of the house, and I waited for a light to blink on and end what­ever this was, but noth­ing hap­pened: she clopped back down the walk, and on the drive back she asked about who I was going out with, what I’d been up to, when I had time to get din­ner. We parted the same as ever, see you soon, sort of mean­ing it, sort of not. I wanted to tell her I was dat­ing boxes of un­der­wear, that I was hun­gry for plas­tic love.


Three days later I got a text from Jenny say­ing She got it! and an­other hour after that text she called.

“Je­remy’s pissed, he’s so mad, an’ I’m like: you didn’t think I had it in me. You prac­ti­cally dared me!”

“Wait, what? The den­tist is pissed?” I was home, read­ing, lis­ten­ing to the sea­son’s start. Twins had gone 1-1.

“Um, yeah,” she said, so thick with sar­casm I wanted to hang up, “I left burned lin­gerie at his girl­friend’s house with a note say­ing Think you’re this hot?

In one ear was Jenny’s ex­pec­tant pause and in the other I heard some­one down the street singing Let’s have a toast for the douchebags, let’s have a toast for the ass­holes. Some­times the best move is sim­ply to sit, quiet, wait­ing. Jenny’d asked me to din­ner once, and when I’d ar­rived with a bot­tle of Pinot Blanc she’d men­tioned that she’d hired a pri­vate chef, the sous chef at Alma—which hap­pened to be one of the city’s best restau­rants, which she didn’t men­tion, just knew I’d know. She looked si­mul­ta­ne­ously ex­cited and en­ti­tled, half dis­mis­sive when she told me. The point wasn’t to share a de­li­cious meal (the best salad of my life, duck breast with com­fit, smashed and roasted pota­toes, some pear thing for dessert he lit on fire) or to enjoy the strange fan­tasy of hav­ing a great chef cook­ing pri­vately in her kitchen, no: the night’s rea­son seemed to show me how eas­ily Jenny could take such amaze­ments in stride, some­thing. I left feel­ing like I’d been in­vited to feel up some fa­mously stacked woman’s fake boobs.

“Huh,” I said, fi­nally, an­other voice down the street join­ing the first and the words going un­clear. Sud­denly Jenny’s sense of being lost made sense, that un­fig­urable af­ter­wards from be­fore came clear. What was I sup­posed to ask? Jenny sighed melo­dra­mat­i­cally.

“I just, you know—thanks for the help, I guess is all, why I’m call­ing. Thought you’d want to hear the re­sults of our lit­tle mis­sion.” The forced joc­u­lar­ity masked what felt like re­sent­ment. Of course the guy had a girl­friend. Of course it wasn’t just Jenny want­ing to send him naugh­ti­ness.

“This Je­remy guy—you’re dat­ing? Like, his go-to?”

“His girl­friend’s a harpy—Molly, he doesn’t talk about her much. I think she’s Pol­ish. He says needs some­one like me—he calls her Pota­toes some­times. Plus he’s re­ally, you know, good.” I could just pic­ture her in her kitchen look­ing down, not even hear­ing the sad­ness of that phrase, needs some­one like me. Jose’d called twice, yes­ter­day and ear­lier that evening, though I hadn’t an­swered.

“He a good den­tist?” There were no more voices in the street. The last guy Jenny’d dated had been the gen­eral man­ager of a gym in Wood­bury, a Life­Time Fit­ness, and when­ever she talked about him she spoke of how she was sure there was some slim­mer woman in­side her­self and that, with enough love from this guy, that lady’d be re­vealed.

“Look him up—Je­remy Gravers. Of­fice in St. An­thony. He’s got the best Yelp rat­ing of any den­tist in Min­neapo­lis.” I wanted to tell her no more Jose—he moved fast enough, those two calls’d be the last I’d hear from him. I wanted to tell her it was okay to be alone and that being wanted didn’t re­ally have any math. I wanted to tell her I’d seen her in my rearview and hadn’t tried to avoid her be­cause—I didn’t know; she’d worn a goofy hel­met, and she looked in­se­cure, anx­ious. I re­mem­ber the thought rac­ing through my head as I made my turn: she ex­pects this—you could tell she was the sort who left the house sure that if she made it back it’d be with some­thing bro­ken, some­thing ru­ined, the sort who or­dered food at a restau­rant and ex­pected it to come out with a hair, or not warm enough, and that she wouldn’t send it back, would just suck it up and deal with it, push­ing the hair to the plate’s edge and say­ing, again and again, it’s not that big a deal.

“Glad to help,” I fi­nally said, and we hung up.

I al­ready had a den­tist and wasn’t due for a check-up for two months, so I sched­uled just a clean­ing. In the wait­ing room I thought of the sched­ules on the fridge—I hadn’t, in fact, stopped think­ing of them since the night with Jenny, see­ing her so vul­ner­a­ble and open in her back­seat, des­per­ate for af­fir­ma­tion in her burned un­der­wear. The sched­ules were al­ways eclipsed fun: I tracked av­er­ages and made notes for the first months, some­times, but by June I’d only catch up on note-tak­ing over week­ends, if that, and I’d won­der what the hell to do with the ear­lier months; in­evitably, each No­vem­ber, I’d pull the base­ball sea­son from be­hind the re­frig­er­a­tor and re­cy­cle the lot.

“An­thony Tay­lor,” said a hy­genist from the door­way and I fol­lowed, got in the chair, was lev­ered back and watched her curly hair crowd her shoul­ders as she flossed my teeth and took the crooked hook to my gums and enamel and, on fin­ish­ing, said every­thing looked great and the doc­tor’d be in shortly. A TV played video of brightly striped trop­i­cal fish swim­ming druggedly slow in high­lighter-blue water. I sup­pose I just wanted to see his face, how big his hands were, if he smiled, whether his voice was haughty—maybe Jenny’d been wrong about his in­to­na­tion to begin with. Why I felt I needed to se­cretly vet her pri­vate life, I haven’t the faintest. Why the pro­tec­tive im­pulse reared now yet hadn’t when I’d taken my Volk­swa­gen’s bumper to her per­son was some­thing I didn’t even want to con­sider. The curly-haired woman walked back in, tend­ing files.

“Can I ask you some­thing?” I could hear she didn’t look up when she said “sure.”

“You like work­ing here, for this guy, Mr. Gravers?” I could al­most feel her scan­ning me, check­ing my shoes.

“We don’t have any open­ings right now,” she said after a beat, slow.

“No—I don’t want to work here, I’m just cu­ri­ous.” I cleared my throat, try­ing to offer some new view of who I was. “He’s got these great rank­ings on Yelp, I just thought—” She came around and stood so I could see her now. The line of her chin was al­most com­i­cally gor­geous: bold but not ag­gres­sive, sharp but slightly del­i­cate as well. Her chin seemed proof of good crafts­man­ship, like a cor­ner­stone. She opened her mouth and closed it.

“It’s the same every­where—look­ing at strangers’ teeth. I like Dr. Gravers, but at the end of the day, I floss peo­ple—here, wher­ever.” She shrugged and saun­tered off as Je­remy came in.

Dr. Givens was small—maybe 5’9″— with black hair tuft­ing thickly from his cuffs. Ring­less fin­gers Dark eyes, hair bor­ingly combed back, etc. He moved his hands in that vaguely ag­gres­sive style of doc­tors who be­lieve only they know how to grip the weaponry of health cor­rectly, and he said we, as in “I see we’ve had a few fill­ings back here, hm,” and he said hm to end sen­tences, and he of course smelled like minty plas­tic gloves. He wore a mask, mean­ing I couldn’t see his lips, mean­ing sud­denly there was just Might be good to switch to an elec­tric tooth­brush, help these sec­ond mo­lars, hm. He an­nounced, after spend­ing a few min­utes pok­ing around, that every­thing looked just to­tally fine, and asked if I had any ques­tions. We stared at each other, his eyes large and black and some­how mod­er­ately men­ac­ing. Had I the balls I’d’ve asked how many girl­friends the av­er­age den­tist has.

“Can you set­tle a bet? This friend says if you’re gonna brush just once a day, you should do it after lunch—that it’s ac­tu­ally bet­ter then than be­fore you go to bed. He read it some­where.” He was writ­ing in my file and his eyes nar­rowed as I spoke, some part of him get­ting off on cast­ing light in the darker reaches of den­tal ig­no­rance. He pulled his mask down, scrib­bled one last thing on the clip­boarded pages, and he had a soul patch, which both shocked me and made all the sense in the world. Of course a den­tist with a soul patch bangs two girls. He prob­a­bly played bass in a 90′s cover band.

“After din­ner’s best—once a day, after din­ner’s best. I mean, after lunch is fine—it’s just math, 24 hours and what­ever—but let’s say din­ner’s just, you know, Twiz­zlers on the couch at your girl’s place while you watch a movie? That’s no good.” His smile was both pa­tron­iz­ing and clubby—hey, we both have nights of bad din­ner, amirite? though maybe you more than me—then he pressed the but­ton and the chair con­verted back to a chair from the cot it’d been, we shook hands and both left.

I walked out buzzing. I wanted to ask which girl­friend like Twiz­zlers, if he even brushed his own teeth. I took my time through the park­ing lot, not sure what I was look­ing for til I saw a late-model Lexus with DRSMILE plates on it.

At the CVS across the street I toyed with just get­ting a reg­u­lar en­ve­lope, but re­lented, fi­nally, and got a four-pack of bub­ble mail­ers and, on buy­ing them, asked where the bath­room was.

“Ain’t have none,” the girl be­hind the counter said, the bright pink gum in her mouth a shade away from what Jenny’d half-burned.

“Even if it’s an emer­gency?” I twin­kled my eyes; I wanted the sin­cer­ity and the come-on-be-kind both. She chomped a cou­ple times.

Spe­cially if it’s an emer­gency,” she said, then pointed be­hind the re­frig­er­a­tors, and I snuck back, locked the door, and was breath­ing hard be­fore I knew what I was doing. I took off my pants, then my briefs, then stood there, sock-footed in a pub­lic bath­room, and stuffed my musty undies into a pack­age. I grabbed a paper towel and scrib­bled I hope you know what you’ve got, stuffed the note in the pack­age, and sealed it all be­fore putting my pants back on.

I thought about it as I crossed the street and stuck the en­ve­lope under his wind­shield wiper. I’m still think­ing about it, weeks later, think about it every time I hear from Jenny, wait­ing to hear if her den­tist has told her about a pair of men’s un­der­wear that showed up on his car one oth­er­wise note­less af­ter­noon. Maybe it wasn’t even his car, and maybe I do have Jenny, re­gard­less of what I think I want. As I drove away it felt so strange to wear pants but no un­der­wear, how ex­posed but not, charged and frag­ile, and I wished some­one was next to me, some­one I could keep it a se­cret from.