by Emma Horwitz
Eric, shoving his cock in and out of the hot cantaloupe he’d sent for a spin in the microwave, took a pause. Someone had just broken into his apartment. This was particularly ill-timed, as Eric had spent the better part of the afternoon getting it up and hard in the first place, jacking himself to hell and back alone in the early morning elevator car, teasing at the sliding skin of his shaft with a rogue hand as he rearranged the tuck of his shirt at work, pinching a nipple on the subway ride home from the grocery store where this particular melon had been selected. He had wanted to tell someone while in transit of the hardening underneath his pants’ zipper, proud of the day’s accomplishment. But, looking around the crowded car, he wasn’t sure who to share himself or his successes with, and so he decided instead to stare at his cantaloupe swaying in its plastic bag, knocking into the knee of another man, traveling with his own items, standing in his own pants, a cock of his own that Eric would likely not see, though not for lack of imagination.
The apartment was winter-dry, a half-sized radiator squealing underneath the only window in this bedroom where Eric stood stiffly, waiting for the intruder to announce their entry with some verbal cue. A window breaking had been noticed, but Eric wanted more certain proof, something he could see. He pressed himself further inside the cantaloupe, waiting. A small bird took flight outside, flitting from one tree to the next. Eric looked down at his pillows bunched on the floor, covered in stale cum, their fluff insides creeping out from casing. He wasn’t worried about the bird, anyway. It would survive the cold, as so many birds had done so many winters before. As Eric had, too.
“Hey!” Eric called out into the apartment’s few other rooms, “Is anyone here?”
Eric was not a fighter. He was not ready to rescue himself from evil of any kind and so he removed himself from the melon, leaned against the room’s doorframe, and peeked down the apartment’s dimly lit hallway.
“I’ll give you whatever you want,” Eric tried to bargain, his cock pulpy and raw from hitting the net of seeds at the cantaloupe’s center. “But whatever you need, I probably don’t have it,” Eric offered, now looking down at the extent of his injury, wiping away what was either his or the melon’s flesh. Perhaps he was menstruating, Eric joked to himself. Or, perhaps, the cantaloupe was. Thrusting the dripping melon above his head, Eric said “I think the melon on my bed is having its time of the month!”
“Did you hear me,” Eric asked the apartment, whose floors squeaked from the weight of the visitor, still holding the fruit high, “I think we have a menstruating melon on our hands!”
Eric laughed and laughed and then a tall figure appeared standing in his doorway.
It was the man from the subway, holding a plastic bag of his own, bulging at the bottom.
“Hello, Eric,” the man said, and asked if he could step inside the bedroom.
Eric said nothing as the man sat on the edge of the bed, took off his coat, his shoes, his socks.
“Your apartment is extremely hot,” the man noted, and Eric nodded affirmatively, without explaining why he kept the thermostat set at eighty degrees. The man didn’t seem to care for explanation.
“How did you get inside,” Eric asked, though he knew exactly how, mechanically speaking. Eric never left the door locked, and the apartment building’s security consisted of one never-working keypad, its small camera merely a red herring. No one was being surveilled here, or, if they were, it was only by their own paranoia.
“I really need a band-aid,” the man said, pointing to his smallest toe, which was nearly skinless. A pool of bright blood was spreading across the small carpet Eric had laid out as hopeful décor some months ago. Eric told the man to hold on one minute and pantless, without underwear, waddled to the bathroom where he retrieved a bandage, his dick still stiff and flopping back and forth across the top of his thighs which each hurried step.
When Eric returned, the man was on a phone call with someone named Deborah.
“I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the lunar calendar, but I can tell you—Deborah, slow down, it’s no use—please, darling, I can’t get a word in if you’re—no, I understand completely. How could you have known she was out to lunch as they say, no, I meant that figuratively, I realize neither of you were eating anything but, no, Deborah—Of course I don’t blame you, why would—seven? Evening, of course. I can make it. I’ll bring bagels. What kind do you like, Deborah?”
As the man waited for Deborah to tell him her preference, Eric reached toward the dresser for a pair of clean underwear to tug on over his rock-hard cock. This was not something Eric could control, one way or the other, and as the man hung up his call, it occurred to Eric that he had said his name earlier.
“How did you know my—”
“Oh,” the man said, putting his face in his hand as if he were embarrassed, “your mailbox, it says your full name, that was so rude of me, we should have introduced ourselves to each other first.”
Eric did not think of it as rude as much as terrifying, but for some people, he had learned, the two went hand in hand.
“I’m Eric,” Eric said, and the man nodded.
“I know,” the man said, “your full name was on your mailbox downstairs. I followed you home,” the man said, looking with wet eyes at Eric, “I’m so sorry for forgetting to knock”
Eric hadn’t been apologized to so sincerely in recent memory.
“It’s as if my toe were menstruating,” the man joked, and without thinking, Eric told this man that he himself had always wished to menstruate.
Eric nodded yes.
“When we were in grade school, I had a particularly revolutionary teacher who decided not to separate the girls and boys from one another during sex ed, as was standard for health classes at the time. She wanted us to understand all bodies, to make us less of a mystery to one another, which, assuming so in the first place, allowed such mysteries to flourish, but she was well intentioned. On the day during which we were learning about menstruation, the other boys in the class grew bored with the topic and started pelting one another with spit-wads fashioned from the ripped-up worksheets our teacher had handed out at the beginning of the period. These handouts were illustrated with pictures of ovaries, wombs, enlarged human eggs, organs which I was not previously familiar. I wasn’t familiar with all the organs of the body yet, because I was young, but these I knew I’d never seen, accidentally or otherwise. I didn’t catch onto the boys’ game in time to participate and so I continued to pay attention along with most of the girls in my class, who were furiously scribbling down notes about when they were most at risk of impregnation. I, too, was scribbling, and as I scribbled, I wanted so badly to be someone who was carrying around eggs. I wanted to be someone who could become pregnant. I wanted, more than the eggs even, to be someone who menstruated, and so when the time came for questions, I raised my hand high in the air. I even wiggled it around enthusiastically. After the teacher called on a number of the girls, she finally said my name. Eric, she said, did you have a question? I told her I did and then I asked her what it felt like to menstruate. She thought I was asking about her, specifically speaking, and seemed offended by my inquiry. She told me it was an inappropriate and invasive thing to ask. It took me a moment to realize what she was scolding me for, which was all the more humiliating. I tried back-tracking but by the time my stutter stopped for long enough to clarify that I meant a more general feeling, not her own body’s, but the bodies of those who menstruate at large, the boys in the class interjected. How did it feel to menstruate, they asked. Her body, specifically. How about her lower back, about the swelling of the veins in her breasts, about the stiffness of her knees, the inflammation of her labia, smelly defecations and toxic flatulence, though of course they said fart, which they started chanting. Fart, they yelled, fart, fart, fart, until all the boys were sent to the principal’s office for scolding. I was sent, too, as assumed leader of the group, which I was most certainly not.”
“You don’t strike me as a leader,” the man said, smirking.
“I’m not,” Eric confirmed, crossing his arms over his chest, letting a hip jut out casually, “so what?”
“So go on,” the man said, teasing him with the un-bloodied foot.
“At home, I told my mother what had happened at school and she believed me. She told me about what menstruation felt like for her and how and I sat attentively as she described the feeling. I thought of what I had learned about semen and its leaking, and was sure the sensation wasn’t the same. My mother described this as a very random, very ridiculous process. A system with a sick sense of humor. I thought of my penis, and how silly it was, but it was just something funny to look at, whereas menstruation was a joke by the whole body, a regularly irregular reminder, a great and painful mystery I would never be so lucky to experience myself. Sometimes, my mother said, her menstruations would cease for months at a time due to unidentifiable causes. Stress, diet. It didn’t matter to me, I was enraptured by the promise of an internal clock. As a boy, there was neither working nor defective calendar. As a boy, I felt timeless.”
Eric paused, thinking of how he had felt, and still felt, out of sync with something larger than his own repetitive existence, the mundanity of his daily habits a collection of proofs toward what meaning he remained confused. The man was now lying on Eric’s bed, clutching the cantaloupe like a child against his chest.
“Go on,” the man said, and Eric sat on the wooden chair in his room he had rescued from the building’s dumpster last summer. He had been rubbing himself against the brick siding of the alleyway when he spotted the chair turned upside down, halfway inside the enormous trash can. It looked perfectly in shape to him, and once he had sprayed his semen across the cement, he took the chair by one leg and lifted it from its inevitable doom. Eric took a breath, and asked the man what his name was.
“I was one of the boys in your class.”
Eric paused. He squinted his eyes tightly, searching for a memory of this face.
“That’s my name,” the man said.
“From Baxter Lower High School?”
“Danny, from Baxter Lower High School. I’ve come here to apologize to you, Eric. All those years ago, I was one of the boys in that group of boys, and I went with the flow, I wadded up my worksheet, I hit you in the back of the head with slobbery ammunition, crumpled up pictures of ovaries, you can understand, I was young and impressionable and I didn’t want to be seen as anyone, so I went along with what the boys were doing, and I’m sorry for that. I really am, Eric, and I’m sorry for everything we ever did to you.”
Eric thanked the man for being so forthcoming.
“But you aren’t Danny from Baxton Lower High School,” Eric said, his shoulders hanging, “because there were no Dannys at Baxton Lower High School.”
“You’re right,” the man said, “I only just saw you today, on the subway. I noticed you were carrying a cantaloupe with you. It’s funny, because I microwave melons on evenings when no one’s at home, my children spend half the week with their mother, I carve a hole big enough for my penis as soon as they leave, I like to hump honeydew underneath the covers of my queen-sized bed with my face buried in a triangular pillow my ex bought for her gastrointestinal issues. I saw you with this cantaloupe and nothing else, and I had a feeling you might like what I like, like you might be how I am.”
Eric wondered whether he was feeling the feeling of being remembered, as he had felt earlier when struck with the idea that the man sitting in his bedroom was someone who had met him once, long ago. Today was a memory, too, though Eric wasn’t sure it elicited the same feeling.
“That felt nice, though, the apology,” the man said, “didn’t it?”
Eric wasn’t sure that it did.
“I had been thinking about your cock,” Eric admitted, “on the subway, earlier. I was having a little fantasy about you.”
“Me too,” the man said, “that’s what I meant,” and for a brief moment, Eric wondered what it would have been like to lead the group of boys in their chant, to take responsibility for their disruption.
The man looked at his watch.
“I have to go pick up half a dozen pumpernickel for my ex-wife,” he said, and left the apartment through the front door, letting it close heavy behind him.
When he re-entered his bedroom, he noticed the man’s plastic bag was sitting on top of his bed next to the broken cantaloupe, no longer whole enough for Eric to enter. When he opened the bag, he found the body of a small, dead bird laid limp. He took it in his hands with tenderness that surprised even Eric.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered into the bird’s hidden ear, hoping his apology would sound sincere and knowing it was too late.
Eric laid down across the pillows strewn on the floor, took his cock in his right hand, and felt his hardness wane until the evening ended, and it was time to ready himself for work again.
Emma Horwitz is a New Yorker who writes plays, fictions, and comics. MFA: Brown University, Playwriting (Lucille Lortel Playwriting Fellowship). For more: emmahorwitz.com / Twitter: @e_horwitz
Photo: Cédric VT/Unsplash