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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Edited by Andrei Codrescu
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the making and unmaking of person
The Making and Unmaking of Person

by Lee Ann Mortensen

What my lover wants first is to breathe in her Thai stick very deeply, slowly, filling the air with the green smoke from her lungs.
      What my lover wants second is for me to lie down on the carpet in front of her and pretend I'm sleeping so she can look at all the parts of my face, all of my lumpy body, and not feel shy because she says she's shy and doesn't want to be.
      What my lover wants third is for me to bake her a cake, no frosting, so she can smell the rising batter as she smokes, as she gets hungrier, so she can watch me move from sink to stove to cupboard and back, little sweat beads popping out on my forehead because it's hot outside, it's summer and 98 degrees, and she's making me bake, and I've silently burned my hand on the oven rack.
      What my lover wants forth is for me to smoke the Thai stick, coughing as she eats hot cake, my throat feeling burned with acid marijuana remains, my head beginning to expand as she gorges herself and looks at me like she wants to fuck the universe, or jump from a tall, wavy building.
      What my lover wants fifth is to dress me in white because it glows, and because it reminds her of her cleanly childhood indoors. She dresses me in shorts and a tank top, these being all I have in that color, and I dress her in a sheer work blouse and a skort, these being all she has in that color, and she wants us to look at each other for at least thirty minutes. "White is pure," she says. "It's clean," she says, "and at least once in a while we need to be clean in this life, don't you think?" And because it's important to her, we dress in white and stare and stare at our sweating cleanliness, and I try not to look like I want to leave.
      What my lover wants sixth is for us to dance to some odd music she found at the thrift store that sounds like Buddy Holly, only canned and slow like you'd hear in an elevator, and because we've been smoking, and because we've eaten cake, and because we're very cleanly glowing in white, we like the music. We sway a little to it, and begin to smile, and begin to dance, and begin to feel a little happy, sort of.
      What my lover wants seventh is for us to talk, to say everything and purge ourselves. She closes her eyes and begins.
      "I've always wanted another Porsche like my first husband gave me. It was red and fast and got me lots of fucking. But you'll never make enough money. I hate that," she says.
      I cough and try to come up with something good. I say, "I don't particularly like your hair, I mean, it's nice hair, nice to touch." I cough a little. "I guess I don't like it after you've been jogging, or when you've put a little too much product in it. It sort of seems too sticky maybe."
      She looks at me tightly because I've said "maybe" and I'm not supposed to say "maybe." I'm not supposed to equivocate. I try not to look away when she says, "The fact that you were spoiled as a child, that you got all of what you wanted, the swings, the horsies, all that shit, makes me so fucking jealous, makes me hate you even."
      I cough and look at the burning joint on the table, then at the table in the kitchen. "OK. So I guess there are times when I wish you could be a little neater, maybe, I mean, just throw your junk mail out more often or something, um, well, dammit."
      She rolls her eyes.
      "Sometimes I wish you were a man," she says. "I think I'd feel safer."
      I lean myself over the coffee table for the Thai stick, take a long drag until my throat burns. I cough out green smoke, and as the room rolls around me I say, "There are times," I start, then cough, then start again. "Sometimes I hate the way your mouth moves when you talk to me. It gets kind of pinched."
      She smiles a little, takes a bite of cake, crumbs falling on the carpet, on the couch. I want to clean them up.
      "I wish you were more assertive," she says. "I hate having to take over all the time, like in restaurants. You never call the waiter over when I want more wine. You can never even get on a ski lift ahead of others. If you were a man, I wouldn't have to think twice. I'd just have what I wanted."
      I flick a piece of lint off my white shorts. I look the cake crumbs, at the pictures on the walls.
      "I suppose I hate that picture over the fireplace. It gives me nightmares sometimes. I mean, I wake up with headaches if I look at it before I fall asleep, which is hard to avoid when you think you need to read until 2 AM. I mean, you can read when you want. But it's the picture I hate. I guess."
      She stares at me.
      "Can't you ever say what you're really thinking, just once even?" she says. "Just one, little, fucking time?"
      I bite at one of my fingernails and reach for the burning marijuana, but she moves it away. I look over at the gouged-out cake, the crumbs on the couch, on the floor. Then I look at the month of junk mail piled on the dining table, at the three days of socks she's left in the hallway on the floor and in the bathroom. I look at the burn marks the joint is leaving on the coffee table. I look at the picture she painted in watercolor class and made me pay to frame, the picture she thinks is so pretty and delicate and classy hanging above the fireplace, this painting full of its mauves and its sickening pinks. I look at all the green smoke in the room and think about the times she has moved my lips with her fingers to try and make me kiss her correctly or speak in assertions.
      "You suffocate me," I finally say.
      My lover smiles, crawls over to me, snuggles into my neck so softly I almost begin to forget I want to leave.
      What my lover wants eighth is to make love, so we do, touching and pulling until yet another Wednesday has been gotten through in relative, lung-filled safety.




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new economics of late capitalism gallery zounds the making and unmaking of person
diaries and memoirs translation and her retinue
the book of revelations and epiphanies working class sweat
the making and unmaking of person the corpse reads classics letters

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