I tried eating rusty nails for breakfast. I figured that if you’re gonna be tough, you might as well do it quick. Why wait for some life-changing crisis or character-scaffolding job when lockjaw ‘n milk is so easy to make? To tell the truth, the nails weren’t whole. They were broken, bite-sized. So pretty much I ate jagged rusty nails, served fresh in a puddle (more or less) of Vitamin D Meadowbrook milk, 2% viscosity. The high fat content sort of disguises the rust taste.
I worked my way up to nails gently, on a gradient of home-improvement breakfast supplies. It should be obvious that I started out with insulation—could anything so inedible look anymore delicious? It’s like flocking your house with cotton candy. Not that it tastes sweet or anything, mind you. Think: getting a girl’s hair caught in your mouth—kind of nice texture, smells nice, but not so good to chew. It took about a month or so before I could eat a full square meter. I now have the lungs (supposedly) of a 200 cigarette a day chain smoker. Who’s 150 years old. And works in a coalmine. I accomplished all of this in the privacy of my own home. Amazing, huh?
It was time to move on after the gastrointest-insulating. I went to the local hardware/DIY store to browse the smorgasbord, just to get an expert’s opinion. The clerks, in their rough canvas orange aprons, were extremely helpful, if a little close-minded. I subtly wondered aloud what kind of caloric value caulk has, hypothetically and all. I think maybe the attendants have silent alarms sewed into their uniforms, because wow, pretty soon there was the manager, Ed with the angora eyebrows, twitching in front of me, trying politely to explain that, essentially, people of my particular persuasion weren’t welcome in the store, and if I would please leave quickly, he could maybe give me some leftover dowels, gratis. I declined and briskly walked out, but not before chewing on some drywall—which is actually surprisingly moist—and leering at one of the checkout girls; my sneer flaked with chips of white.
Black-market is a kind of strong term. People tend to throw it around a lot without really knowing what they mean. After the incident at the store, I had to resort to an underground market, but I can tell you that it’s not all that black. Mauve, maybe—softer, but still strange: mauve-market. Selina was my entrance—I met her at the local home show. She was passing out free yardsticks at the storm windows display—looking for all the world like the ringleader of some fenestral festival. I was in a t-shirt that exclaimed glass (eater at) heart in sans-serif font. It was an understated outfit.
I walked over to her booth, buoyed along by the receding tide of families. She was pitching the windows to a man with a raccoon beard and waxy hair, who maybe could’ve used a house to go along with those windows. I think he was just in it for the yardstick, judging by his expression of intent. The animal beard man, after receiving his present, set his sandaled feet towards the food booth, three feet swinging gently by his side.
Selina saw me soon. I looked at my shoes; ground a candy wrapper into the parquet floor. It stuck like that. She tapped me on the arm with a stick.
“I like your t-shirt. You shouldn’t be afraid to list your dietary needs on casual clothing”. She curled both hands around the counter. Flexed.
“Well, you know. It was a tough decision between this one and 0 to Horny in 2.5 Beers. That one’s more for formal occasions.” Pre-sliced witticism. She laughed.
“An experienced glass-eater like yourself must be a window connoisseur. I don’t suppose I could interest you in a set of vintage ’98 bays perhaps,” she asked. Her hand on my arm was provenance from potential commission or kinetic attraction? The hairs on my hand looked wispy, shiny. I said something about saving up for a new kitten. I’m adorable.
I left that night with her number on the yardstick, the inch digits circled in appropriate order, red carpenter pencil. “Just so you don’t lose it,” she had said.
On a Tuesday, I called. She wasn’t in, so I left a message on her soberly voiced machine. I told her I would make dinner for her at my house, and that she should wear something warm. Since the insulation ingestion my place had become a little drafty. Taped-up towels were not so good as a stand-in.
It’s a mistake to think that you should be yourself on a date; you should be yourself plus—the addendum is determined by the other person. Romantic math, sigh. Changes needed to be made before her arrival, which she had called in as 7 p.m., post-dusk, pre-night. We had a pleasant and shallow conversation on the phone, me describing my house, she speaking of her car like a long-lost relative. Objects are closer to my heart than they appear to be.
She arrived, with a good tailwind, at about 7:10 p.m. I thought she was fashionable, she thought that traffic was rough in this town and that they should fix that damn light. She didn’t notice the towels, thank god. Or, if she did, it was only to tell her friends about it afterwards: secrets on interest.
We sat down at the dinner table, which I had set pretty minimally. I rescued the chicken from the oven and it steamed up my glasses appreciatively. Wine was decanted into Burger King cups.
“This is pretty good,” she said. I don’t think I’ve ever had this type of chicken.
“It’s a little wrinkled,” I said. She smiled at me, then over my head.
I had managed to slip a little bit of latex paint into my serving, thinking that hey, a date is no excuse to stop. We talked about things, I guess however normal people usually talk, wanting not to spend too much time describing themselves, but not knowing enough about anything else to do otherwise. Exactly when she was detailing her years in Catholic high school I made up my mind to remember to sniff her hair when she left. It looked as if it might smell like warm laundry.
I figured dessert was as good a time as any to tell her about the eating of things. Dessert always helps you see the world a little bit more graciously. Especially when it’s cheesecake.
“So, you know that t-shirt I was wearing,” I asked.
“Yeah, what about it?” she said, mouth full of strawberries.
“It’s not just a witty slogan.”
“I didn’t think it was so much witty as it was individual, you know?”
“Well, yeah, that’s one way to put it,” I said. She put down her fork and looked at her watch, the tablecloth, the fork, and then into my eyes.
“What do you mean by that?” she asked.
“I do eat glass, sometimes. Actually, I stopped that a little while ago.”
“Thank god for that. I heard it’s bad for your heart. Oh, and that it cuts your mouth, and that normal people don’t usually do weird things like that. Maybe carnies, I don’t know.” She kind of sighed/whispered that last part. It wasn’t going how I had planned it. When I was cleaning that afternoon, I envisioned her bouncing out of her chair and giving me a huge hug and a kiss, saying that I was the most interesting man she had ever met. She would still probably bounce out of her chair, but to do something else.
Before leaving, she left a card for me, with a number on it. “Call him,” she said, “he can help you get whatever you want, in bulk.” I watched her drive off. She wasn’t lying, her car was pretty nice.
That night, after brushing my teeth, I swallowed a can of ball bearings. I went outside, where it was quieter than indoors, and rolled around in the leaves for a while, listening to the clacking on the inside and the crunching on the outside. I wasn’t mad until I remembered that I had forgotten to sniff her hair. A ladybug crawled onto my hand, walking its way to my palm, thinking about how many times does this have to happen, how many times can this happen.
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