Pause at the Edge of the Country

by Erica Ehrenberg

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He gets back in the car, resting a plastic tray of nachos on his jeans. I smell the salt, the corn, the nacho cheese, its under-smell of plastic, the way his hair smells when he hasn’t washed it in a few days, gasoline.

For a second I forget I’m driving a car and I think I’m on an airplane, leaning back as it rises, and then I see the plane I’ve been following while taking everything in through my nostrils because I’m tired from not sleeping. His penis comes alive for me as a possibility in his pants, like a phone that might ring at any second.

I consider it as something I would have to reach down through that compartment of nacho cheese to reach—I’m conflating again—sinking into vats of it and groping for the bottom. I can already taste the cheese dip in my mouth, but also the skin of his penis.

When I was a kid, I used to go skiing. I wasn’t used to being agile with my body, but I remember the strange feeling of being good at this one thing and how my body was a different body that I could tighten and loosen and bend correctly to ride over the moguls. I could feel this power coming from somewhere in my body, from my ass being taut, from something my hips did, a slight loss of control, an entrance into speed, the weight at my center.

My nostrils are flaring, and when I breathe, a hollow pole rises from my ­sinuses to the crown of my head, a gas pipe or a channel for the smell of the car, puddles of metal and gas, whatever comes off of our clothes in tight ­spaces, our hair, our fingers, arousal itself, that slightly sour scent like the wood of an infested tree scraped clean that comes to me when I open his pants.

I like how blank and stupid I feel. I’m pretty sure I can smell the land and sky for miles. It’s a rush you would never want to see from the other side, and he does it back to me, objectifies me, tries to love me, feels contemptuous, gets angry. And I love the way it feels when I’m naked in the bathtub and he flosses his teeth in the mirror, pees, and then I watch him take off his clothes and get into the bath with me.

I like that he knows my body so well that it’s no longer nudity—it’s something beneath it that’s endless, a renewable energy, a radioactive sickness, a light that never goes off. I like the way the cold porcelain feels when I’m slightly concussed by everything going off in me, the regulated curve of the soap is a relief, the plastic bottles of shampoo. I want to lie in this damp towel in these starched sheets forever while another body that just moved through me clips its toenails and opens a beer.

I need jobs, friends, phone calls, a career. But there is nothing I like more than watching the light as the sun goes down smack-dab through the globe of the coffeemaker. I have vanished in it. There is a trace of gasoline on his hands, the death of this working system, this life together, coming toward us like lights on the highway, and it’s not this end but all the days of going under from which I will have to recover.

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