How I Met Pinnochio, after He Became a Real Boy
The Lower East Side was as dark and ominous as the belly of a whale
that night. The homeless lit fires in rusty trash cans, waiting
for a big sneeze or belch from above, something
that could release them. I jogged to the bar on East Sixth Street,
as well as anyone can really jog in high heels. I'd started
having sex for money because I was down on my luck,
not that I was ever a real prostitute or anything like that.
Ricky the bartender, always joked that my lips grow all bulbous
and wet when I lied. But I still say I liked to think this night work
was a temporary thing. So in walks Peno, a young one
from Brooklyn. I didn't think he'd pay any attention
to me. He could have easily had a girlfriend in each borough.
So, needless to say, I felt pretty good when he straddled the stool
next to mine. I recently became a real boy, he said, in an accent that I heard
as Spanish, but later learned was Italian. I didn't understand what he meant,
but produced a flirtatious giggle and threw my head way back
like leading ladies do in the movies. Would you like to touch my nose?
Peno wanted to know. His whole face was smooth
like a monk's, someone who hadn't cried or smiled or talked in decades.
Self conscious of my crow's feet, laugh lines, and the time,
I rubbed his bridge and circled his nostrils. I was as seductive
as possible, given the body part I had to work with. Peno
moaned, as Ricky rolled his eyes. I quickly ordered us two more drinks.
I whispered into Peno's ear—that if he came back to my place
I'd caress more than his septum and nares. He bent over the counter
and seemingly engaged a roach in discussion. Peno, who
was more comfortable with the advice of crickets, nevertheless
made his decision. He agreed to walk the few blocks
to my apartment, and even bought me a plastic rose on the way.
His sense of smell was lost to him, his sense of taste was dim,
which explained the other gifts he gave me over the years—
vanilla air fresheners shaped like Christmas trees, bags of puffed wheat.
I turned on the red light in my studio apartment. Peno asked me
if I was a bad girl who hated school. He relaxed completely when I told him
I'd been an honor student, and later, a corporate secretary—that it was hard now
for any of us, given the economy. He said I was as beautiful as Cinderella,
as soft as Snow White. My vulva bubbled. My mouth went dry.
He came quickly, but I was understanding. It was his first time.
I let him stay with me as often as he needed, for month- long stretches,
because the dangerous train back to Brooklyn took forever. Besides,
the irregular chiming and ticking of the clocks needing repair in his father's store
put sensitive Peno on the edge. Sometimes he cried in my arms:
Do you know what it is like to suddenly have your hands turn into hooves?
Your skin transformed into donkey fur? Even now, I sometimes fear
when I talk nothing will come out but shrill "haws." Yes, I told Peno,
I understood the body's betrayal. I was a woman aging in America.
He assured me I was enchanting, but I knew it was the glow
of the trash can fires outside that was softening the light in my studio.
Each time we made love, Peno's erections grew longer and more magical,
though he always said something outrageous. Alaska is smaller
than Rhode Island, he gasped. Or ten plus ten is eight!
I'd stopped taking other men home, which meant I couldn't very well afford
to send Peno to a psychiatrist. Neither of us believe in them much anyway.
I was a Tinkerbell who'd flown through the wrong open window,
but, once out of the cold, was happy to stay. Peno accepted he was not
totally of his own making. So we made it work, the best we could.
We both knew it would last when Peno finally told the truth.
He groaned he'd love me forever and suddenly went limp—
his penis, a collapsed marionette in my hand.