I have a joke about a werewolf that goes to space. It’s funny because in space, the moon is always full.
Mary’s brownstone was in the part of town where writers and artists hid from the ugliness of their beloved city. She asked if I was having a good time. I said yeah.
“No,” she said. Wine stained her teeth. “Do you like the city? Are you having a good time?”
“Love it,” I lied. It didn’t matter. She was already pulling on a stranger’s shirt.
“Hey, have you met my friend?” She leaned close to the stranger and pretended to whisper, for my benefit. “He’s a comedian.”
“A comedian,” said the stranger. I shook hands with him and we exchanged thoughts on comedic edginess, “pushing the boundaries,” paying your dues, or something. He too asked me how I liked the city.
I said: “It’s only been two weeks, but honestly, I’ve found nothing but smug elitism masking petty insecurities. There’s nothing romantic about the lights during the nighttime. It’s too expensive, and everything’s dirty. I’ve never felt so surrounded and lonely at the same time.”
The stranger leaned close to Mary, and said, “Your comedian friend is a riot!”
“I know, right? He always has been.”
The stranger moved along. I pulled Mary aside. There was a past between us that occasionally emerged—the result of a friends-with-benefits experiment that nearly ruined the friendship we’d had since elementary school. We treated this intimacy like a ghost, pretending that it didn’t exist, but in that moment, I almost told her that she was the reason I moved to the city in the first place.
“Can you please not introduce me as a comedian?”
“But you are. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Yeah, but— These people.”
“These people are my friends.”
“They’re all the same,” I said.
“They’re good connections.”
“Don’t say that.”
“What’s wrong with you? Why are you acting like this?”
“With me? What’s wrong with you? This wasn’t your scene back home.”
Back home. The words stung, filled with failure. “Mary—” I eased off. “I just don’t have anyone here.”
“You’ve only been here for a while.” She placed her hand on my cheek. “You just need to meet… someone.” She scanned the room, as if embarrassed by letting our ghost manifest. She added: “I know someone. A friend of a friend. Greta. You should meet her.” The music of her dinner party, mundane yet overpowering, drowned out her next words. I heard the word “contortionist.”
“She’s a contortionist?”
The stranger jumped into our conversation again. “Contortionist! I love it! A riot, Mary. An absolute riot!”
The train shook me from a vague, frightening dream. The overhead speakers announced an unrecognizable destination, and panic surged through my wine-coated brain. The blurry transit map provided no help either. I took out my phone. The clock read something:AM, and I shoved it back into my pocket. A metallic scream signaled the train’s deceleration and, for just a second, the idea of the engineering required to make the miraculous event possible made my heart swell.
The color scheme at the platform was unlike any I’d ever seen before; the font was different too. The bells rang. I leaned out the sliding doors in time to see a group of teens disappear into a car farther down. A bearded man lay passed out on the bench. The bells rang again, and I jumped back to save my head from being severed.
I returned to my seat. At the other end of my car, two ravaged men had appeared. Subway ghosts. They wore thrift-store suits, and talked in a language I couldn’t place. One took out an apple and peeled it with a short blade, letting the skin fall on the train floor. He saw me watching, and asked: What you looking at, asshole?
I pretended to sleep until I actually dozed. When I awoke, the train had stopped and we were above ground. The sun peeked through the spaces between the crumbling buildings that lined the dirty beach.
I stumbled out of the station, and caught a stray cab. It was ridiculously expensive, but when I reached into my pocket for extra fare, I found the crumpled wad of paper that Mary had given me. Greta’s number, the contortionist.
“I’m not a contortionist. I’m just a fan of unorthodox yoga positions. Very unorthodox.”
I waited until after our food arrived to ask the question, but the ensuing conversation disappointed me in a childish way.
“How unorthodox?” I asked. “Like, a new version of doggy-style?”
She put the last bit of food in her mouth, and pulled the fork out between her teeth. I shuddered. “Very clever. Mary said you were a comedian of sorts. How is that?”
“I have some shows here in the next couple weeks. Everyone says this is where it’s at.”
“How do you like it so far?”
“It’s all right.”
“No, it’s not. This place is horrible. All these people are idiots. So full of themselves. They just . . . inflate themselves just to take up more space, or something.” She paused. “What are your jokes about?”
“They’re about werewolves,” I said.
Her face pulled into a smile. “That’s good.” She grabbed a waiter and demanded our check.
“Why do you stay if you hate it so much?”
“I want you to tell me your werewolf jokes.”
“I stay because I like awkward positions.” Again, her face pulled. “Because I’m a contortionist.”
“Now look who’s being funny,” I said.
I have another joke about how any joke could be a werewolf joke if there’s no full moon.
I did. Greta’s clothing slid easily off her fragile, elongated frame, much to the relief of my shaky hands. This sort of thing never happened back home.
She wore black underwear, with a garter belt to hold up her stockings. Lingerie on anybody but her—she wore it like a uniform. I looked over to the large windows that showed Greta’s apartment to the thousands of other windows floating in infinite darkness. Above it all: a sliver of moon. A horrid fingernail clipping. I moved to shut her drapes.
“Leave them open.”
I was being dominated and, contrary to all my egalitarian, liberal sensibilities, I found myself enjoying it.
She crawled onto the mattress and arched her shoulders up, tossed her head back. Her spine popped like a string of firecrackers.
Her body was no longer sexed, but geometric. She lowered her face into the pillow and clasped her hands together behind her back, held them straight so it was a perfect slope from her wrists down to her neck. Again, more cracking sounds. A low moan shook out of her.
Greta freed her hands and let them fall like weighted pendulums. She used the motion to roll back onto her knees, then fell onto her elbows. Both feet and hands were under her. Viewed from above, she looked quadriplegic, supported by stumps. She raised her pelvis into the air and the sharp bones in her hips and ribcage emerged under the nylon and lace.
By then, the cracking sound was arousing.
Greta curled into a tight ball, her heavy breathing filling the room. Beads of sweat stood on her forehead.
Then the show was over.
“Was that the unorthodox yoga you were talking about?”
She smiled. “Funny. I was just stretching. It’s good for the body.” A yawn escaped her. She looked at the pants that had fallen from my waist, now bunched around my ankles, and laughed at the black socks still pulled up to my kneecaps. “Finish getting undressed.”
“So you ever hear of this werewolf who goes to outer space?”
A couple drunken chuckles echoed in the emptiness.
The venue was a small warehouse that, I suppose, was hip in its sparseness. Minimalist was what the promoter said. Edgy, avant-garde. Punk rock. I wished she hadn’t added that last one. I looked down at the single piece of notebook paper placed on the stool next to the microphone. A new joke. I hadn’t had time to memorize it yet.
“Turns out, the moon’s always full in space.”
Coughs. Somebody burped. No laughter. The floodlight pulled sweat out of my forehead. I got too close to the mic, breathed too hard into it. A sonic squeal. Everyone covered their ears.
I went on, improvised the grisly details about how the werewolf kills all the other astronauts on the shuttle, and then hightails it (TAILS!) to Pluto (GET IT!) where the atmosphere is really ruff.
There was no applause. The lights flared and I shielded my eyes against the glare. I bent over to catch my breath, let the blood rush back to my head.
“Well?” I said, holding the microphone stand for balance. “Well?”
My question was answered by a lone voice, telling me that Pluto wasn’t a planet anymore.
Most of the audience left shortly after. The ones who stayed were there for the free alcohol. Mary waited for the crowd to disperse into socially-lubed clusters before approaching me.
“That was um—” She smiled. “Ruff.”
I felt an intense pang of hatred toward her. I wanted to explode, let my frustration pummel her. I loaded up a response, but it stuck in my ribcage, near my heart.
Greta appeared at Mary’s elbow.
“Hello, Mary,” she said.
“It’s been a long time.” Mary sized her up, gave a once-over. We both marveled at Greta, who looked stunning. I felt my anger dissipate. It was probably the lipstick. Greta’s lips were so bright against her pale skin it was overbearing. A flash of full-color violence on black and white film. I felt nervous. I folded the sheet of notebook paper my new joke was written on in half to keep my hands busy.
“I love your humor. It’s so brave,” Greta said. “You take so many risks.” Her mouth fell open and she held her hand to her chest. “Did you like it, Mary?”
Mary snorted. “It was different.” She shifted her weight to one side and closed the distance between her and Greta.
“Yes, it was different. Genius is what it was. Allegorical! Poignant for our times!”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Mary said.
I folded the sheet in half again.
Greta wrapped her arms around my neck. Mary looked down at her shoes. “I guess everyone has different tastes. To each their own.”
I wrapped my arms around Greta’s waist and folded the paper in half behind her back. My joke was now a tiny rectangle that I held between my thumb and index. I felt the small of Greta’s back, felt for the line of her panties, and realized she wasn’t wearing any. She grinded into my thigh and kissed me deep on the mouth. In bed, she hadn’t shown as much passion. The din of the crowd faded, melded, converged into shrill laughter, laughter that I hadn’t noticed before, but was always there. Everyone was laughing. I dug my tongue deeper into Greta’s mouth. Mary was faking disgust to cover her obnoxious cackle. I folded the joke again and again until it was a sweaty ball. Mary reached out for me, but shrank with the room. The fluorescents of the warehouse fell away, replaced by a half-moon that spilled ugly light over the city. Structures grew over us, curved inwards at the top like teeth from a Venus flytrap. Greta and I ran, both of our mouths crimson—as if fleeing from a just-murdered meal.
I must have dropped the joke somewhere, because when I finally opened my fist to touch her folded body, it was gone.
There were three messages on my voicemail the next morning. The first one was from Mary, which I expected. It began with nervous laughter:
“I guess you had a lot to drink? Are you feeling all right? I know we didn’t really have a chance to talk last night. I—” Short silence of intense deliberation. “I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I didn’t hate your set. Ugh. Sorry to be rude. Please call me back.”
The second message held no voice, just noise from a phone left off a receiver. A payphone from a subway tunnel. There was a harsh metallic screech as the train came to a stop—the decompression of its landing. The ding of the doors opening and closing, opening and closing, over and over. And then Greta’s voice, shouting from far off, from the other side of the platform. “Genius is what it was. Allegorical! Poignant for our times!” A wolf howled, and then someone picked up the hanging receiver, asked “Who is this?” before hanging up.
The last message was just someone screaming. Pretty sure it was me.
A severe case of writer’s block had kept me bedridden. Sometimes Greta would call and she would tell me of all the awful things she had seen that day, none of which sounded all that terrible. I’d sit and listen to her while writing pornographic love letters to the sound of her voice. Sometimes I’d switch my writing hand to see if it would make a difference, whether the left hand was dirtier than the right. I’d mumble affirmations until the page was filled with my call-and-response switch-off between elegant print and scribbling.
I waited for the nighttime when Greta would come over and I’d bend her. I don’t know why we waited until night—it’s not like she did anything during the day. It seemed more appropriate. Like when kids make suicide pacts, it just works better at night.
I never saw Mary after my show. She would call and I would answer on the last ring before it went to voicemail, and she’d say something like “Oh, did I wake you?” or “Am I bothering you?” and I’d say no, remain unresponsive or distant. She’d usually get the message early, so the conversations never lasted that long. The last sentence I ever heard Mary say was: “You were right about home.”
I also ran into her friend from the party, the stranger. He bumped into me when I was leaving a donut shop, and he said “Oh, you’re Mary’s friend. The comedian!” I reached into the bag, pulled out a powdered donut, and shoved the whole thing into my mouth, screaming NOOOOOO!!!, blowing dusty sugar and crumbs all over his handsome pea coat. He turned and hurried away, and I laughed until I choked and had to throw the donut up on the sidewalk. A few people stopped and watched as I cleared the last crumbs out of my esophagus. It was a riot.
It was Greta’s idea to go to the sideshow out at the boardwalk. She said it would be good for me, give me joke ideas. Some fresh air, at least. “To do something about that smell,” she said, scrunching her face. She opened a window. “Like a dog.” I hadn’t even noticed.
The boardwalk was nearly deserted. The summer crowd was gone and a cold wind forced my breath back into my lungs, but it felt good to be away from my apartment. The only other person on the boardwalk seemed to be some kind of photography student or a foreign tourist. Greta stood at the balcony that separated us from the sand and looked out over the water. I found a spot out there and stared too, listening to the waves take in the broken bottles and trash and crush it all into sand. I felt a need to reply, to heed the sea’s beckoning, to let it take both of us out there to drown and smash us into each other until we also became sand. Behind us, the kid snapped our picture: A couple contemplating the infiniteness, the vast expanse of nothing, or something else arty. I grabbed Greta’s ass; the kid walked away.
The building that housed the sideshow was painted with large depictions of snakes and the kind of crude, Amazonian women that thirteen year-olds conjure up as the epitome of sexuality. It was nestled between two small roller coasters, both of which had shut down for the winter. I looked to Greta. The vitalizing novelty of being outdoors was wearing off, and the creeping ghosttownness of the place wasn’t helping at all.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s open. They’re always open. I come out here a lot.”
A man with a curlicue moustache and top hat emerged from the grotesque building. He stuck his thumbs underneath his suspenders and slid them up and down the elastic length. “Howdy, folks, the name’s Donny Snot.” He took both our hands. “Just letting you know that we’re about ten minutes away from show time.” He licked his thumb and index finger before greasing his moustache. He winked at Greta. “Hope you can join us. It’s going to be a good one.” He looked past us, to the sky, through rotten roller coaster scaffolding, and then buttoned his collar. Ice flakes stood in the air like a swarm of white gnats. I pulled my own jacket collar up and looked back to Donny Snot, but he had already disappeared, retreated back to whatever he ruled over. Greta pushed me through the door.
The auditorium—four stacked, wooden benches—was lit by torches protruding from the walls. The flames rose high and whipped close to the Arabesque-patterned curtains. Everything took on a fevered, dancing quality. Five people sat in the audience, waiting for the show to start. The flames made their faces seem to bounce within the confines of their heads. One of them looked over at us and put a finger to pursed lips: shhhh. I grasped for the top of my jacket, suddenly aware that I was suffocating. From the heat or whatever freak juice they had put in the ventilation, I wasn’t sure. I stripped down to a T-shirt and jeans and held my shed garments wadded up in my lap.
We took our seats on the front bench. One of the other attendees moved to sit there too, now that we had confirmed that it was safe to do so. He took out a flask and sipped out of it before offering it to us. I declined, but Greta took it and drank deep, much to our companion’s satisfaction. He smiled and shook when she handed it back to him.
“Eh,” Greta responded.
A wind blew through the auditorium; the unearthly whoosh extinguished the flames. A spotlight, delivered with a deafening bang, lit the stage. A compartment door in the floor opened and Donny Snot rose out of it. Red footlights illuminated his features, which gave his face a ghastly, inverted quality—more demon than man.
“Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome welcome welcome. I’m your host, Donny Snot. Before I introduce you to our prized specimens, I have this sinus infection to take care of.” He produced a long nail out of his breast pocket, and a hammer from the back of his pants. He tilted his head, and tapped the nail into his nose. Greta covered her mouth in pretend shock. I felt my stomach give. “Almost there.” Donny kept tapping, squinting at the pain of breaking through some internal membrane. He leaned farther back so the nail stood vertical in the air. “Easy does it!” and one final tap forced the nail all the way into his skull. I wiped my forehead, and pulled the wet shirt material at my armpits.
Donny stood straight, and addressed the audience with the nail still lodged in his brain. “Much better!” The flask man sitting next to us clapped. “Thank you, thank you! We have a wonderful show for you, so stick around.” Red lighting appeared from under him again, and he sank back into his depths.
A brief screech of analog static signaled a tribal soundtrack, which seemed overwhelming for the small auditorium. A tattooed stick-of-a-woman emerged from behind a curtain, and thrust her hips to the beat. She lacked the flowing grace of a belly dancer, which I supposed she was trying to emulate. Instead, her movements were fast and stilted—a film with alternating frames cut out.
The omnipresent voice of Donny Snot boomed over the drums: GIVE IT UP FOR COBRINA, THE SNAKE CHARMER!
A bearded man in a leather vest came out from backstage, holding a large, yellow and white snake. He lifted it above his head like a melted barbell, and the snake’s tail and head hung down by the man’s face. He hoisted the reptile onto the frail girl’s shoulders, and she slouched under the weight of it. The bearded man stood next to her, ready to catch her if she fell. She moved to the beat again, and he followed, always in that bracing stance. I was enthralled—not by how the girl was handling the snake (poorly), but how she and the man had engaged in an inadvertent tango. I chuckled. I was starting to enjoy myself.
The dance ended. The two left the stage while Snot announced SABRE, THE GIRL WITH THE INVINCIBLE ESOPHOGUS! Sabre jammed swords down her throat. The flask-man next to us shifted uncomfortably, trying to hide his erection.
The bearded man who had helped Cobrina turned out to be Lester, the Lobster Man. He removed his gloves, and showed three fingers on each hand. He spent the rest of his act telling political jokes, and flapping his exaggerated digits during the punchlines. I didn’t understand any of them. Greta squeezed my hand and I looked over at her. She hissed shut up! I realized I was the only one laughing: knee-slapping guffaws. The Lobster Man began to tell one last joke, but I drowned him out. I couldn’t stop. He left the stage and the few people around us murmured.
“That guy should have his own show,” I said. “I should get his contact info.”
Cobrina came out again, only this time she was Pyra, who breathed-fire. Nothing I hadn’t seen a million meatheads do at parties back home with just a lighter and a bottle of Bacardi. Still, I laughed my ass off.
Donny Snot rose from the hellish depths again. “We have one more act for you tonight. And let me be the first to say that you’ve been a wonderful, wonderful audience.”
“You’re welcome,” I said.
“Our last performer has come a long way to be here. A long way from home. Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Greta! The Contortionist!”
The spotlight found where we were seated, and Greta wrung her hands and squealed. The room filled with uproarious applause. She stood and skipped to the stage, where Donny kissed her respectfully on both cheeks.
“It’s good to have you.”
“It’s good to be here.” She curtsied for us.
“Now, if I could ask you to climb into the box.”
There was a small coffin on stage, too small for Greta’s whole body. She climbed in and her legs and head hung out of the ends.
“Are you comfortable?” asked Donny.
He closed the lid.
“Could you wiggle your toes?”
She did. He gave them a tickle, and she laughed.
Sabre came out carrying an armful of swords, one still lodged in her throat. Donny pulled the one from her throat. Her saliva stood on it, reflected off the stage lights.
“Abracadabra.” He slid one of the swords into the box. It slid through so the end stuck out the other side. Greta breathed in through her teeth. He did it over and over until all the swords were in the box.
The flask man had taken his hat off and was holding it over his chest. I leaned over and said “Don’t worry, it’s all a trick. Fake.” I made a motion like blowing sand out of my palm. I helped myself to a sip off his flask. Rum, or something. It was strong.
“Now, for only one dollar, you may join me on stage and see The Contortionist in all her writhing agony!” Lobster Man appeared with a linty hat held between his claws. My neighbor was already reaching for his wallet.
“Don’t do it!” I slapped the wallet out of his hand.
I jumped up on stage. “It’s a fake, I tell you! This is how they get your money!” I ran over to the box to free Greta. Only it wasn’t Greta. It was Pyra, but with a different wig. The wig to play The Contortionist.
“What are you doing?” shrieked Greta from the audience.
Donny jumped on me, wrapped his arms around my neck. I twirled, one of his boots hit the box, and it fell off the stand and broke in two. Prya rolled out screaming, bloody and shredded by the stage blades.
It was a shame, really. I was having such a good time up until then.
The snow flurry had turned into a blizzard by the time our train pulled in to take us home. I was shivering; my sweat-soaked shirt clung to me like someone else’s skin. I tugged my jacket around me tighter and stepped to Greta, perhaps to share some body warmth, but she dodged my embrace.
Pyra would need medical attention—that was true. But it was Snot who jumped me. Technically, everything was his fault. Greta would come to realize that. She couldn’t be mad at me forever. I let her embrace the cold for the time being. Thick snowflakes clung in her hair like monstrous dandruff.
The small crowd that assembled on the platform pushed their way into the car to escape the cold, which, by that time, had turned bitter. The air inside was thick and tepid, the feel of a sauna turned to warm. There was a homeless person asleep on the seats—a leftover who had paid his fare for a place to sleep. A faint scent of urine hung around him, and I pushed my way to the other end of the car where the air smelled less septic. I lodged myself between two old ladies, who had to move their bags to accommodate me. Greta, not wishing to stand at the foul end of the car, stood at my feet and held the bar above my head. She looked out the window to the Ferris-wheel and roller coaster, which looked romantic in the snowstorm. Underneath, the wheels engaged. Greta swayed slightly from the force and our knees kissed. I took this as a small step toward forgiveness.
The photography student from the boardwalk sat across from me. He was looking through the pictures on his camera; the succession of images from the LCD screen made a strobe affect on his face. He stopped at one, and looked up at me to make some verification. Our eyes met, and he looked down. The strobing resumed.
With each stop, more people squeezed into our car. Everyone seemed to have a hacking cough. Their collective hacking mixed with the air and began to form a sickly layer of condensation on the window behind me. I leaned forward to avoid resting my head on their slime, and pulled the collar of my shirt up over my mouth. The concentration of people forced Greta closer to me, so our legs became intertwined. I thought about sliding my hand up her thigh, which was wedged between my knees, but her concentration was still out the window, and I decided if I broke it by groping her, reconciliation would be set back to zero.
The train went underground, and Greta had nothing to look at except her own reflection. I was about to say something, something witty and engaging, something that would smooth out the tension, when a phone rang.
It was deafening, that ring.
At the other end of the car, the homeless man sat up and rummaged through his jacket. He pulled out an oversized mobile phone, a model that I hadn’t seen in years, and extended an antenna, which stood absurdly long—nearly two feet—in the air.
There was a piercing scream from the other end, the treble from the homeless man’s phone cutting through our subway car. I recognized the scream because it was mine.
“Who is this?” he asked.
The scream continued. The pitch increased until it was a screech. The people around me stuck fingers in their ears.
“Who is this?” he asked, again.
A young, brutish thug sat across from the homeless man—the type of person that, like the urine smell, would similarly repel people. He wore sunglasses and a thin moustache that hugged his upper lip and struck down in jagged points, like a two-pronged fork. The points stabbed the air under his chin when he spoke.
“Hey, man, shut that fucking thing off.”
The homeless man covered the mouthpiece with his hand. “Can’t you see that I’m on the phone?”
“You shut that off, or I’ll do it for you.”
The scream had become so high that it was almost lost in the upper-most regions of our hearing-range. So faint that it became maddening. Dogs would kill their owners after prolonged exposure to that sound, I was sure.
The thug stood. He made a motion like he was going to punch the homeless man, who flinched, but there was no follow-through. He laughed at the homeless man’s reaction, the flinch. He looked to us, his audience, for approval, which is why he didn’t see it coming. I saw it coming. I’d been seeing it coming ever since I got on the train. Ever since I threw Donny Snot into the contortionist. Ever since I met Greta and ever since I never saw Mary again. Ever since I moved from home to this city.
The homeless man moved a box-cutter from his jacket into the young man’s neck. A swift jab and pull, and the young man had a second frown.
The photography student snapped a picture before anyone could yell.
The thug held his hands to his neck, tried to catch the blood falling out. It spilled through his fingers, onto the floor. Someone pulled the emergency stop, and he slid on the pools he had created.
“Somebody help him!” somebody yelled. Nobody did. Our end of the car became compressed with bodies as people backed away from the homeless man, the blood, and the corpse.
The homeless man yelled into his phone. “Hello? Hello? Are you there?” He tramped through the blood, paced the length of the car, leaving boot prints.
Greta leaned down. “You should do something,” she whispered.
“Like what? What would you want me to do?”
“I don’t know. Something.”
An old woman overheard Greta and nodded. “Please.”
A murmur of pleases spread through our car. I stood, and a pathway formed. I searched through my pockets for a weapon, and found a pen.
The homeless man stopped pacing, but didn’t face me. “What is it?” He jabbed at the numbers on his oversize phone. “Fucking piece of shit.”
I flicked the cap off the pen. It made a small clicking sound when it bounced in the blood near the homeless man’s feet. He looked at it, and then at my hands. He fixed his eyes on the weapon in my hand, the one that would spell his demise. Quite literally.
He didn’t make a move to defend himself, just shrugged and sat down in the mess. I stood over him. Our eyes met. There was nothing there, vacant blackness. We both saw this in each other. I dropped the pen, which suddenly became unnecessarily gruesome. I crouched by the homeless man and gently put my hand around the base of his neck. He nodded: that was that.
A body flew onto me, then another. People were jumping over each other to get their own fingers around the homeless man’s neck. A pile formed over me, making it hard to breathe, but all together we strangled the life out of the homeless man. I reached through the mass of people on top of me and grasped fresh air with my other hand. Someone grabbed it and squeezed. Greta.
It was twenty minutes later before the train started moving again. By then, we had lost all sense of accomplishment.
I did. Greta’s clothes slid off easily. I hadn’t even washed my hands yet. Still stained red.
Greta, on her bed, on all fours. She arched her back, looked way up at the ceiling, almost at me.
I stood behind her. I placed my hand on the back of her skull and pushed her face into the pillow. She reached behind, flailing. I grabbed both of her wrists and raised them high behind her until there was a perfect slope from arms to neck. I lifted until a hollow pop resonated out of her shoulders, then I dropped them. They fell, limp. Her body flattened.
She lifted her toes. “Please” is what I think she said, face-down, muffled through the pillow.
I pulled each of her toes until they came.
I knew what she meant. I sat on the small of her back and held her head in my hands. I tipped it toward me.
“Ow ow ow,” but then “don’t stop.”
I pulled. I pulled until she was looking at me. Our eyes met, inverted. Then the sound came—not a crack, but a release of air, a deflation. Her body shuddered one last time.
I let go and her head flopped into the pillow.
I turned her over. The drying blood on my hands had left slight marks on her temples and cheeks. She wore a thin smile.
I lay next to her, and we talked about our day, all the fun things we did, and that reminded me: I had an idea for a new joke.
I opened her nightstand and found a pen and some stationery. It was a continuation of the werewolf joke, a sequel of sorts. It ignored the death of the astro-wolf from the original joke, and followed his life as he returned to Earth. His family and friends noticed slight changes, because when you come back from outer-space, you’re never the same. It didn’t focus on his werewolf transformations, just the utterly, soul-crushing impact of living on a leash, compared to intergalactic exploration.
The set-up filled three sheets of paper, front and back, but I still needed an ending. Something snappy, for the fans. Or the one fan, anyway. Something that would kill.
I looked out through Greta’s open window, up. A full moon hung there, glowing, looking right back down at me. I stood, naked, and walked to the window. I held my arms open and basked in the ugly light.
The phone started ringing, kept ringing, but she could answer it. After all, I still needed a punchline.