Under the soothing lamplight we laid the new boyfriend out, converting the sofa into a kind of demonstration table. Lauren and Melanie cooed in his good ear, and rubbed all his muscles, to relax him.
I gulped down two more bites of my SpaghettiOs, then took a blade and penetrated the new boyfriend’s ample stomach. Beneath the skin were waiting sheets of fat and muscle to cut through. Again, Lauren’s safety scissors proved handy.
“Ugh,” gagged Melanie, “what’s all this garbage doing down here?” She waved her right hand in front of her nostrils, her fingers splayed.
“This isn’t garbage,” I said. “This is practical business, fat and muscle. Their job is to hold the body in,” I explained. “To keep the innards inside. To keep them innards.”
“It’s such a collection,” Melanie put forward. “Everything is held in—that’s what I’m learning today about the body. It’s just like a big bag, or just like some other living container. It does a good job of keeping its disparate parts together.”
“And then we put clothes on top of that,” said Lauren, neatly. “They’re kinda like icing.”
“What makes the body like a cake?” I prodded her.
“Its taste?” she answered, my question leaving her mentally unstable, her footing uncertain.
Adrift, banged asunder, she reached in, arranging her fingers like pincers (or like chopsticks), and pulling out a delicate little bit of something.
And, after a moment’s hesitation, she popped that portion into her round mouth.
Her face went all scrunchy. “Ugh,” she complained. “I don’t know how the jungle cannibals can do it.”
“By means of extensive fresh garnishes,” I elucidated, “and fancy dipping sauces.”
Lauren braced herself and pulled out another morsel, dropping it in amidst her Chef Boyardee meat raviolis. She stirred it around.
“Plus, cannibals feed their victims diets of rare aromatic herbs, and sundry other savories,” I explained. “But who knows what god-awful foods up until now Melanie’s new boyfriend has been eating?”
“Probably crap,” agreed Melanie, making an unhappy face of her own. “Probably bags of sour Gummi worms, and whole packages of chocolate-dunked Nutter Butters.”
“I can’t believe that you allow him to subsist on nutritionless sweets!” Lauren scowled.
“Oh, of course I try not to,” responded Melanie. “I try to keep a close eye on him, and on everything that he eats. But he sneaks all kinds of junk foods whenever I’m not looking. And while my eye is trained and talented, I can’t keep my peepers trained on my boyfriend all of the time. I have so many other important items that need looking at—papers and emails. Magazine articles.”
“Every new boyfriend will eat what he will,” I agreed. “It’s a sad fact that we need to resign ourselves to.”
“Not me,” said Lauren. “No way, no how. When I have a new boyfriend—someday—I’m going to let him eat only good, wholesome foods. Like brown organic long-grain rice, and filtered water.”
“Your boyfriend might try to flee then,” I warned her. “He might turn ravenous and run off, scooting over the hills.”
“He will not,” countered Lauren, most definitively. “The boy will be quite happy to stay beside me—on account of the fact that I’m so pretty.”
Lauren is in fact very pretty, very lovely—almost decadently so. Most men fall over when she comes near them, flabbergasted. They stuff their hands down into their pants. They start speaking in tongues, their tongues nonetheless tied.
“As well as the fact that if he tries to run away,” the pretty, assertive female continued speaking, “I’ll lop off his two lower legs, one inch below the kneecaps.”
“But don’t you like a young boy’s young feet?” I asked. “His muscular, hairy calves?”
“Oh, I like them,” answered Lauren. “I like them all right, and I’ll keep a firm grip on them. I’ll bronze them and stick them right up on my mantelshelf.
“Alongside the others,” she added, coyly.
“Lauren, boys are not just objects that you can dismember!” I reprimanded her.
“Boys aren’t just objects?” she asked. “Aren’t they objects?”
“Well, yes, they’re objects,” I reluctantly agreed, “but they’re also something more than that. They’re human! And they should be treated with both a courtesy and a respect!”
“And dignity,” put in Melanie. “That’s for damn right. That’s for fuck’s sake damn certain.”
Lauren pouted. “How does one do that?” she asked. “Isn’t bronzing a boy’s legs a rather respectful action? A total homage? And isn’t the mantelshelf an honor, an honorable position?”
“Lauren,” I said, expelling breath, “you’re missing the point. You’re being deliberately obtuse, and I want you to stop.
“The boyfriend might want to keep his legs,” I explained, my tone corrosive. “To keep his handsome legs below him. As part of his body.”
“Sure thing, keen, I get that,” trampled Lauren, “but I might want to keep his legs, also. As a trophy. For myself.”
“Well, sometimes a conflict arises in relationships,” I acknowledged. “You both want to keep something, something precious, a certain something that cannot be shared.”
“What happens then?” asked Lauren.
“You have to act like adults, make compromises,” I said. “You have to let go of certain childish desires, and grant concessions.”
“The strongest relationships,” said Melanie, gently, “require listening, and genuine efforts at communication.”
“Oh, phooey on boys, then, and on their desires!” Lauren exclaimed. “I want what I want, and I want to get it right when I want it. Precisely like the song says.”
“Which song?” I asked her.
“‘I Want What I Want, and When I Want It,’” Lauren answered. She hummed a few lines, then asked: “Why have a boyfriend in the first place? Why even bother?”
That was a question deserving of an answer. “Well, boyfriends can offer you certain benefits,” I said.
“Like what?” Lauren asked. She tried to sound as though she didn’t care, but her voice betrayed itself. It went up.
“Well, a boyfriend can hold your hand,” I fumbled, unsure of how best to broach the subject.
“I can already hold my own hand perfectly well,” Lauren said. Indignant.
“And he can fumble charmingly and clumsily with the Peter Pan collar of your blouse,” I continued, starting to perspire.
“Now that’s a bit better,” Lauren agreed. “I’m much too accomplished at taking my own blouse off. And every other Tuesday, it seems, I wish that it offered me more resistance, that it came off more leisurely.”
“Not to mention with pomp and circumstance,” added Melanie. “Some boys can take absolutely forever to undress you. They make a big deal out of it, too, out of their undressing you. Because of the way we look to them.” She smiled.
Lauren closed her eyes; she clenched her fists such that her nails dug into her skin.
“And boys are always wanting to smell you,” I whispered, leaning in. “There are boys who might like your girlish aroma. And who might spend long hours sniffing your hair, your skin, your armpits—that is, if you let them.”
Lauren had grown extremely still. The sides of her nostrils flared. “I want those benefits,” she said.