By Ryan Werner
Growing up Catholic meant that I learned context faster than most. Good sex was functional, bad sex was vandalism. I explained this to Sandi on our third or fourth date and she asked me about dancing.
“I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of Baptists. As far as I know, Catholics don’t have any rules regarding dancing.” I told her.
She jangled her bracelets, leftovers from her mother’s gypsy phase in the 70s. “Are you sure?”
“Not really,” I said and looked at the bracelets again. She wore them well, all the way up her forearm to the meat above her elbow. She was thick everywhere it mattered, but instead of finding a charming way to tell her that, I picked at my food for a minute and she did the same, bites the size of dimes as we watched each other on the sly. Slow sips of wine, pretending to pick out the different flavors.
She went back to the sex thing. “What do you mean by vandalism?”
“Destruction with no motivation. Misuse of the body, depreciation of the soul.” The light didn’t hit her so much as meet her, glide across the top of her chest and lower neck. “Things like that,” I told her, hashing over the first time I heard such implications at mass and in bible studies. Some things we’ll believe forever just because we heard them first.
I start again. “There was a philosopher who rallied against people being the means to an end instead of the end itself, which is the exact opposite of Catholicism, I think.”
"No, it wasn’t Kant.”
“No,” she said, setting her wine glass down gingerly. “I’m saying the word ‘cunt.’ Can you say it?”
“You mean, am I spiritually allowed to say it? Sure. Cunt. I like big ol’ sloppy cunts.”
“You’re not the best Catholic I’ve ever met.”
“I doubt you’ve met any,” I told her as a joke, but we both became quiet as she thought about it. I had moved to the city a couple years ago with my faith already gone. The people I met seemed to never be born with it, which was fine but different. The sex thing was the weirdest to me, how open a topic it was. The first summer I was here I saw a man sitting down against a dumpster I normally jog past. When I slowed up to check on him and make sure he was all right—not passed out from the heat or anything—I saw he was holding his cock in his hand, a pile of semen on his shirt above his navel. Several flies had landed in it, their wings in a drastic flutter to help their legs get out. The man looked up at me and said, “Howdy.”
She was still thinking when I said, “No worse than Kerouac.”
“I’m no worse a Catholic than Kerouac was, and even though he battled it in odd ways, he claimed to be a good little French-Catholic boy his whole life.”
“I never liked Kerouac.”
We were quiet until I said, “He’s a very male writer.”
She’s smart and uninterested, like other girls I’d met in the city, but she had the good nature to roll with things for her own amusement, meaning, at that time, that she questioned me and Kerouac’s supposed denial of feminine adventure. I denied it on behalf of the both of us. Women are plenty adventurous. I just think Kerouac gets a bum wrap sometimes. He’s adventure, on the road and intelligent reverie and all that stuff, but he never gets credit for his lack of understanding and dislike of cruelty in his own life and work.
“To me, that’s the male of the 1950s, the perfect male who has taken up the option of spending his lifetime pondering the blatantly incomplete aspects of his being.” I notice that I’ve been holding my fork in the air this entire time, poised for the bite of steak at the end of it. I take the bite to shut myself up. She asks for the check.
I feel wrong, headstrong for no good reason. We go back to her place and she’s forgotten about it. When I’m taking off her clothes, I bring it back up. “I think I was wrong about that 1950’s male thing.”
“I don’t care.”
“Fine. But just so you know.”
“Thanks, but I still don’t care.”
The things that happen next happened and then we laid ourselves there, deliberately, to prove we could have been elsewhere had we so chosen. The only thing left ahead was sleep. She went there and I didn’t. I straightened up next to her. The sheets and the pillows and the people on her bed were pressed fine and smooth. There was nothing in the world but surface: the buzz of flies, flesh and silk.
About Ryan Werner