The night I decided to leave Seattle, I drank a bunch of forties and flew a sign outside the Taco Bell on Broadway with this crust punk everyone called Fiend. The drive-through shone like a haven in the dizzy of nightlife. The sign we flew read FUCK YOU NORMIE BUY ME A TACO. Sometimes we shouted it. It worked like gangbusters. People always want to prove they can take a joke. Plus, everyone loves tacos, so the sign was relatable in that way.
I had just met Fiend that day. It happens like that on the street sometimes: you hang out with someone for a day or two, then never see them again. He was filthy, of course—we all were—but for crust punks it was like a status thing. The filthier the better. He wore black skinny jeans, a Misfits tee with the arms ripped off, and an ass flap with a bunch of patches. I wasn’t into him or anything; he had a girlfriend. Plus he pronounced library lie-berry, and I didn’t go for crusties anyway. I just wanted to get fucked up and eat tacos. I don’t remember how many we ate, but I remember taking a monster, almost cathartic shit in someone’s backyard and sucking about a gallon of water out of their hose. Fiend shat about three feet away from me, but it wasn’t romantic like it was when my ex-husband would brush his teeth while I pooped, like the worst of my body was something he could handle while performing basic hygiene. When I was done in the backyard, I picked all the flowers in the front and made myself a bouquet.
I didn’t feel bad about the shitting. I figured the calculus of the thing probably worked out. Over the last few months, I’d been collecting little resin figurines of Saint Jude from the church group that handed out burgers every Tuesday behind the Jack in the Box. I dug a Jude out of my pack and left it on their porch. I was probably a maniac beyond salvation. That’s why I needed to meet with the Solid Gold Inamorato.
Fiend told me he had a spot under a bridge with a mattress. A real score. Something between you and the ground, plus bridges were good because it was always fucking raining in Seattle. His girlfriend and another girl named Carma met us under there. They were rubbing milk on their faces and snorting it through their noses. They had just pepper-sprayed each other. To prepare for the riots, they said. I watched them laugh and blow snot-milk bubbles, and I realized I was under the bridge near my gorgeous apartment that overlooked Lake Union. Well, not mine anymore. Now it belonged to Daniel and his new wife. They were in the apartment, the one we’d shared, performing whatever love rituals sustained their relationship.
I remembered when Daniel and I were nineteen and had just moved to Capitol Hill. Seattle was a jewel compared to our small town. We explored the city and each other and bathed in the milkiness of our new love. Over the next three years the light in our apartment shifted, the air and space different. Daniel occupied every inch, there was no room for me. He no longer held me the way he used to. He held me like an inanimate object. I knew that it was time. Nothing felt like mine anymore, not even me; I left in the middle of the night with nothing but my backpack.
Everything under the bridge was covered with a layer of dirt and it smelled like tar, car exhaust, and B.O. I split my bouquet between four Old English bottles for ambiance, to feel domesticated. The mattress was soft enough and the four of us fit fine. The traffic howled and groaned above.
The freeway drowned out my inner drunk-pining, and I fell asleep quickly and thought no more about Daniel. I was headed out the next day, hitching south to California to find the carnival. I wanted to see the Solid Gold Inamorato with my own eyes. They say if you make love with him, he’ll grant you one wish. I don’t really say things like “make love with,” but that’s what they say.
I left Fiend and his girlfriend the next morning, snoring and farting under the bridge. I placed a Saint Jude next to one of the forty-bottle vases, then walked down Broadway as I headed for the I-5 entrance. I passed all the shops. I passed the consumers. I heard music up ahead and found Carma playing an old mother-of-pearl Pietro accordion. She was hunched in the doorway of an empty shop, surrounded by green, glinting bottles, not a drop left in any of them. I stopped to listen as her voice rattled and wailed with the accordion melody. She was singing a murder ballad, decidedly not shy about the pile of vomit at her side. When she finished playing, she said, “Sit down. You’re fucking hot, I want you to spit in my mouth.” Just like that. She completely fascinated me.
I’d been eating chocolate squares; I’d just hit the candy store because they have to give you as many free samples as you ask for. I spit in her mouth—it was the most intimate moment I’d shared with someone since Daniel. She said I had the sweetest spit she ever tasted and that her name was spelled with a C. She said her hippie parents named her that. Her curly blonde hair was matted, but I still thought it was pretty. She wore black jeans cut off at the knee, a dirty tank, and red suspenders. She had several small animal pelts hanging from her pack and two sewn around the straps of her accordion. She said she was from Texas and was headed back to Austin for the winter. She pulled something wrapped in purple faux velvet out of her pack: a tarot deck. She told me to shuffle the cards and then choose one. After I did that, she laid the card out on the cement in front of her.
“The Ace of Pentacles,” she said. “This means you’re manifesting your goals. You’re strong and will achieve what you set your mind to. If you stay on track, you’ll see your wishes come true and release your inner potential. It’s a really great card.” I nodded, appreciating the optimism, even if it sounded memorized. After the reading, she asked where I was going, and I told her I was hitching down the coast to Southern California, and before I knew what I was saying I said she should come with me. “I’ll hitch down there with you if you make out with me,” she said. “Then I’ll just hop a train east to Austin.”
I rolled us a cigarette to share. The smoke was clean and good and kept us right there in that moment, the burn reminding us of our living lungs. I tilted my head to the sky and leaned back on my hands, landing one in Carma’s vomit.
We hit the I-5 south entrance and got a ride out in less than ten minutes. Mountains swelled and shrunk in strangers’ windshields, looming before us and then shrinking behind us, before giving themselves up. On the side of the road, packs down, I showed Carma some Sissy Hankshaw moves, shaking my hips and bending way way back when cars sped by. One of the strangers drove by in a blue minivan, passing us three times before stopping to offer us a ride. He had an Ed Kemper look, complete with the Coke-bottle glasses. I sat in the front and attempted to make conversation while keeping my hand on the knife in my pocket. All the street kids had smileys or knives or socks full of rocks.
“What exactly is the difference between jam and jelly?” I asked him, because I figured it was a good jumping off point for conversation. I mean, from jams and jellies you could easily move into toast, biscuits, even pancakes or coffee.
“I don’t know,” the man said nervously. Carma laughed from the back seat, and maybe he thought the laugh was at his expense because he began pulling out his arm hairs. He would pull out a bunch, roll them into tight little balls, and drop them into a small, empty Wendy’s cup. I looked back at Carma like, Do you fucking see this shit? When I saw that the Wendy’s cup was indeed full of hair balls, I said, “You can just let us out here please and thank you.” Thank Christ he did.
“So we were one-hundred percent about to be murdered back there, Birdie.” Carma called me Birdie because she said it suited the way I moved. When she’d call me that, I’d say, “I’m not a penguin,” and she’d say, “No, you’re not a penguin.” Sometimes I’d say other birds and she’d say I wasn’t those, either.
You grow closer than normal to someone when you move across the world this way. Alone, together on the earth. And I liked that closeness and that freedom. No one out here expects anything from anyone. But after spending a year on the street before meeting Carma, I had realized I liked her. We kept heading south, and I started thinking of how to ask her to come to the carnival with me, ask her not to go to Austin.
When we’d make it to a town—first Olympia, then Portland, then Eugene—we’d steal books from libraries and bookstores. Books written by sexist old white men. We’d stuff the pages in our pants to stop our periods. We flew signs to make bus money, but we kept spending it on booze so we had to keep hitching. We often walked miles between rides. Sometimes Carma’d get drunk and yell at people on the street to give her a dollar.
Carma was reading The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, and at night on the beach near Anchor Bay, by the light of the campfire, she would read it to me. She nearly had to shout over the constant sea. It was in the air itself, the feel and sound and smell and sight and taste of it consumed us, a blustery beast all salt and thunder was what the ocean was.
We encountered other beasts along the way too, namely coyotes. They’d get going at night, yapping and howling, and Carma said her blood knew the language they spoke. Me, Carma, those coyotes, and that ocean, we all shared the moon like Carma and I shared that first smoke. It kept us in place. We fucked hard and I liked the smell of her, and when we were done, tits out, I lit a cigarette and asked her if she’d ever been in love.
“The closest thing to love I’ve ever experienced was when I sucked this trucker’s dick for a tuna sandwich.” She laughed and smooshed her tits back onto me and got her face real close to mine and said, “What about you?”
“I don’t like tuna sandwiches.” I hooked my thumbs into the corners of her mouth, giving her a creepy smile that revealed her small, crooked teeth. Like this, she wasn’t as pretty. Like this, we were closer to the same. She stuck her tongue through her weird grin and licked my face. We fucked again, softer this time, Carma pressing me into the sand like she was pressing a flower.
When we were spent, we were quiet. Carma poured some of the wine we’d made using blackberries we picked outside Seattle. Those berries, a packet of dry active yeast, some store-bought apples, a balloon, and plastic gallon jug. That’s all you need to make road wine. It was still beginning to ferment, so it was bubbly, which I liked. We should have left it longer, but out on the beach, in the middle of nowhere, we had nothing else to drink.
We watched the ocean lick the beach. We listened to the night. I’d ask her to stay with me when morning came.
Most nights Carma would fall asleep first and I’d draw my bedroll tight around me and think about the Solid Gold Inamorato. I’d think over and over again about my wish: to love myself fully—alone. I’d already wished it on stars and dandelions and stray eyelashes, but I knew the Inamorato was my only real chance. On the streets, his gifts were legendary.
I woke up in the middle of the night and Carma was gone, probably pissing in the sea. There was a rustling in the woods behind me. The full moon hung low and bright. The crunching of leaves grew louder and more urgent, like pursuit, and I saw an animal just beyond the edge of the redwoods, running full speed. Faster and faster and faster—then silence. In the moonlight I could just see it between the trees. There was something odd about its silhouette. My eyes focused and I could see that it wasn’t a coyote or mountain lion but Carma on all fours, a large rabbit hanging between her teeth.
I pretended to sleep when she got back. For me the streets, the traveling, was a means to an end. I’d plunged myself into a distinct freedom, intent on making myself whole. I understood now that Carma was a wild thing that belonged fully to this life, to her life. Her breath was coppery, and I waited until it found that familiar rhythm that meant sleep before I packed up my shit. Beside Carma’s head I left a Jude figurine before heading down the night coast.
I found the carnival in a little over a week outside Santa Barbara. It was the middle of the night and my feet were fucked up from walking all day and I should have looked for a squat, but I was compelled to check it out. Enormous vintage-style posters were slapped up everywhere, depicting freak show characters. Red and gold and turquois posters presented the Crocodile Girl, the Seven-Hundred-Pound Lady, the Girl without a Heartbeat. The Solid Gold Inamorato was apparently the main attraction. I made my way through the funfair, past the goodies, the vendors, their games, the woman in a sheer purple top and coin-belt belly dancing and breathing fire. Everything slipped by in a swirling downward slide. I felt bloated, not like a water balloon or ravioli. Bloated with possibility, like a gun.
The freak show. It was a candy-striped tent surrounded by torches, and the entrance was the large, gaping mouth of a toothy monster. There weren’t any people around since it was so late; I guessed the thing was dying down. I went inside and found the Seven-Hundred-Pound Lady snoring sweetly, creamy folds of lovely skin spilling around her chaise. She wore a strapless sequined dress, and the dim torchlight caught and magnified her like a human disco ball. Even unconscious she oozed with lust, and I could imagine how her own incredible appetite inspired itself deep within her audience. I wondered if people were disgusted by it, their attraction to her, the quintessence of their own gluttony. It was so late that no one else was in the tent. Where was the Inamorato?
The smell inside that tent was like hot dogs and popcorn and lake water and farts. The mural behind the Seven-Hundred-Pound Lady’s platform was a larger-than-life likeness depicting her as a fearsome hag the size of a two-story building, with frightened onlookers small as mice. She woke up when I set my pack down.
“Hey there, darlin’.” She wiped drool off her chins. “Carnival’s about closed up.”
“I need to meet with the Solid Gold Inamorato.”
“Well now, that’s gonna cost you.” She got a sort of greasy look in her eye. “I tell ya what, if you bring me a bite of something to eat, I’ll talk.”
I went and found a squished chocolate ganache cake from a vendor who was closing up. “Will this work?” I asked her.
“Damn yes, girl. Bring it on over, please and thank you.”
It was a glorious thing to watch her eat. She smacked as she chewed, opening her palate to the furthest possible point, aerating each morsel. Her massive tits heaved and spilled out over her top. She was majestic.
The Seven-Hundred-Pound Lady rumbled low, still enmeshed in cake. “I was married once. To a man. It’s no fairy tale. Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, the witches did them a favor. Let me tell you, girl, if I’m ever lost in a long sleep, don’t let me wake just to find myself married for the rest of my life.” The chaise with its myriad flowers and true mahogany trim heaved for a moment under her. I asked what happened to her husband. She stopped eating to laugh for a minute, and the cake dropped to the floor, upright. I moved to get it, still glossy but now with finger marks raked into the soft meat of its side. I kneeled and dug my own small fingers into the black of the cake, lifted a bite to the hungry woman. She sucked it from my fingers and swallowed.
“Well, I killed him.” She licked a hunk of cake off my hand. “That man left me hungry. He was always out messin’ with other women. Even when he was home, he wouldn’t look at me. If we had a conversation, he’d have his back to me. It was like I was married to the back of his head. One night I came home and found him with my sister. I was so damn hungry, I ate them both.”
“You ate them?”
“Damn yes, girl. I ate them. Their lust, their hearts. I ate every bite, even their bones. Can’t ignore me now!” She slapped her gut. “How’d you think I got so big?” She was howling with laughter now. I relaxed; obviously she was joking. Then I thought about Carma with the rabbit in her mouth and realized she wasn’t.
I had the sudden notion that I was naked and grabbed at the thin fabric that stood between me and total vulnerability. The tent felt like it was shrinking, its torch lamps glowing sickly and yellow. The freaks’ platforms inched in together and the cake-eating woman grew larger and larger until I thought she’d fill the entire room.
I woke up in a circular canvas tent, smaller and more domestic looking than the sideshow. There was a portable stove heater and a small vanity with round, lighted bulbs. A silk robe was strewn over the ornate wrought iron chair. And there he finally was, the Solid Gold Inamorato, in the flesh, or whatever. Other than being completely made of gold, he bore the exact likeness of the statue of David. The Inamorato was nude. Women—and men—preferred it. I’d heard that no human could resist him, and I could see the attraction. You’ve seen the statue of David, right? I mean, that is an ass a girl could really motorboat.
I got right to business: “I heard you grant wishes.”
“I do, keeps me immortal. But first you must tell me about yourself. Tell me the saddest story of your life, and then tell me the happiest.” He had a distinctively French accent. At this range I could tell that the Solid Gold Inamorato’s teeth, even his tongue, were really made of gold. You’d think his body would reverberate in metallic tones, but his motions were fluid, sensuous, as if he existed in liquid form in motion and solid form at rest. He was waiting for me to say something.
“Fuck, I need a drink.” I motioned toward the portable bar cart near the stove. He went over and grabbed a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. “Three fingers,” I said. There was a dim mirror behind the bar, reflecting the spirits. I began telling the Inamorato my first story.
“When I was seven, I was playing in the schoolyard and saw something shining in the grass. It was a golden bracelet. It was so beautiful, and my first thought was to give it to my mother. I thought if I gave her something beautiful, maybe she’d know how much I loved her and maybe she could start to love me. That was about as happy as I can remember being.” I tried drinking from my now-empty glass. The Solid Gold Inamorato poured us each another drink.
“I was super aware of the bracelet all day. I kept reaching in my pocket just to touch it, I couldn’t stop picturing her reaction. I kept imagining her gratitude and the beginning of our love. I ran home as fast as I could and found her in the kitchen, kneading dough. She barely looked at me when I told her I’d gotten her a present. She set the dough to rest and I showed her the bracelet.” My voice caught in my throat. “Why do you need to know this shit anyway?”
“I will take from you your pain. Joy is fleeting and soft, better for the flesh. Pain endures, and keeps me solid.”
I swam through the whiskey thoughts in my brain before I started talking again.
“I could tell something was wrong by the look on her face. She asked me where I’d gotten it. I told her I found it on the playground. She was totally disgusted. She told me you don’t give someone something you find on the ground. She held it up to my face and said, ‘Look at it, it’s chipped and flaking. It’s trash.’ She shoved it into my hand and went back to her cooking. She was right, though. It was flaking. I couldn’t understand how I hadn’t seen that before.”
I hadn’t touched my drink while I was talking. All three fingers went down. The Solid Gold Inamorato poured me another. We were both drunk now and he simply said, “Tell me your happiest story.”
“It was the night of my wedding. Daniel, now my ex, made a game. He showed me how wave-particle duality works with shoe string licorice and Skittles. He’d quiz me, and if I got an answer right then he rewarded me with a piece of candy. If I got the answer wrong, I had to lose some clothes. We drank tons of champagne and jumped on the bed and chased each other around the room and fucked all night.”
That wasn’t my happiest story. It was when Daniel found me sobbing, watching East of Eden, and bought me the book, I LOVE YOU ALWAYS, DANIEL scribbled on the back cover. It was sneaking into the pool at night where he worked as a lifeguard and diving deep, breathing into each other for a long, long time until we had to come up for air. Really it was the potential the wedding night held, all the hope, imagining our future stretched out into forever like one long happy moment. Really it was the million little moments like that with Daniel. But I was wasted and ready to get things going with the Inamorato.
He was what you’d call a giver in bed. He was everyone, and he was no one. He was all of my lovers, and he was me. He pressed his finger to my lips to hush me if I tried to speak, he pulled my hair while he filled me from behind. Finally, with me on top, as I was about to cum for the third time, he told me to make my wish. And I screamed it over and over and over and over while I bounced up and down on his solid gold cock.