Prelude to a Kiss

Alex Behr

Walk into the party. Try not to look at the couch with the afghan blanket over the top, another piece of furniture the cat ripped up. You will not sit there. You will never get up again. You’ll fall into the cushions and dogs will eat your corpse. Your butt will grow instantly from the size it was at age seventeen to the size it will be twenty years later, but the rest of your body will stay the same. Your butt will be glutenous and firm in places where the squats have had an effect, but wide. You could turn each cheek into a bird feeder. Sprinkle suet on top.

You sit anyway. You are super-glued to the poly-cotton fabric. You do a bong hit of a crushed Quaalude. It feels like plastic is coating your lungs. Not a good idea.

You pass around a handmade pipe, trying to ingratiate yourself with the friends of your new boyfriend: roofers and bikers and petty ex-cons. It’s the pipe that Fred—boyfriend one—made you at shop class. He found a scrap piece of cedar and carved and sanded it for you, bought you a screen for the top. The pipe goes around the circle and never makes it back to you. You are too high to notice. Guns are under beds. Dogs sleep in corners.

You don’t believe in karma, except when something bad happens. You’re cheating on Fred with Billy—boyfriend two—no wonder the pipe disappears.

You break up with Fred, and he says on the phone, heartbroken, “Ralph said I could shoot you with his rifle.”

 

Now, much older, you walk down the street of no sidewalks in Virginia, past the burned-down antique mall, the cement factory, and the auto repair store. You walk on a yellow slabbed path to the bike trail, the old C&O canal. You stop in front of the Masonic Temple, a brick faux-Colonial building, with no erect bushes or spherical shrubbery by the entrance. Just white trim and harsh bricks and the Masonic emblem centered above the first story. The compass spreads out, intertwined with a square, and a side rule underneath. The G in the middle. The goal. The G-spot.

Questions of Masonic wives: Will he have to ride a goat? Is it evil? Why does he have to wear an apron?

 

The Masons don’t recruit you, though you lost your virginity in their shadow, and you don’t marry Fred. His spit tastes bad—pot mixed with the tang of Crest toothpaste. He sucks your tongue hard in the parked car, and it doesn’t feel good.

The Pinto is on your side. The Pinto with its puke-green exterior and the inside that smells of spilled soda and milk, not with the patina of child, but of teen-boy. Crusted catsup packs from late-night stoner runs to a hamburger place; cassette tape of Lou Reed’s Rock ’n Roll Animal—with the song “Heroin.” On the cover, Lou looks nothing like your boyhood crush, David Cassidy. The orange-lit skin, the blurry metal necklace, the studded bracelet, the mic cord wrapped around another wrist. Lou looks to the side with black lips. He will not pose with a horse. He will not ask you to join his fan club.

You take the lyrics of “Heroin” literally, like a bedtime story, with the simple, arpeggiated guitar chords. “Jesus’ Son. Hair. Oh. In. It’s my wife and it’s my life. Leads to a center in my head. And then I’m better off dead.”

 

You are scared of needles. You back away. Even though boyfriend two, Billy, sometimes stays with a guy whose walls and aquarium are covered with blood tracks. You think it looks like an art installation made of fake blood—the set of a splatter film. But it’s real blood shot out from a syringe. Gay porn cartoons are drawn on the bathroom wall during junkie constipation. The kitchen just has a blackened spoon. The guy’s occupation is eating pizza every day and working at a hotel at night. You borrow Burroughs from him. You read Basketball Diaries. He mocks you. He thinks you should work at his hotel as a whore for Arab tourists. He is in love with Billy. Of course he mocks you. You bring him an anti-drug poster from the Falls Church Police Department: a detailed chart. He studies it to see if there’s anything he’s missed, if there’s any description that seems incorrect. You wear white painter’s pants and a buttoned shirt. He signs your yearbook in blood, writing, Art is anything you can get away with—Andy Warhol.

At home you practice Chopin, the repetitive notes under modulating chords. A procession to a cemetery, graves covered with moss.

Your teacher says, “You can’t play his Preludes unless you experience pain.” You will find that pain.

Author Portrait

Alex Behr is a musician and writer in Portland, OR. Her work has appeared in Lumina, Tin House, Propeller Quarterly, Bitch, Salon, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing to teens through Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program. “Prelude to a Kiss" is the prologue of her memoir, which she worked on during a residency at Sou’wester Lodge in Seaview, WA. She is currently writing a novel about a washed-up guitarist named Joe.