Joanna C. Valente

The first time Baby Girl had sex with Elvis-Not-Elvis, Z is there watching her. At first, he hovers above the bed watching her as she is on her back, her eyes closed and she’s so inside her own head that is now a sailboat swaying in a barely-there breeze over some distant ocean, over an ocean in a fairy tale book that has no ending but no beginning either, that she doesn’t notice him there. Watching her, waiting for her to wake up, for the tide to turn.

Elvis-Not-Elvis is on top of her, his face making his way from her breasts to her abdomen. Z thinks he is a mediocre lover, and wants to ask Baby Girl, “Do you ever like men? Ever? Really?” Z wants her to wake up. He knocks over The Beach Boys' “Smile” from off the table where the record player is, haplessly put there as Elvis-Not-Elvis left it there before he started to undress Baby Girl in a somewhat frenzied rush, as if he didn’t know if she really wanted him or if she was real, so he had to get his hands all over her before he found out. Baby Girl just wanted to be touched, just wanted someone to love her enough to worship her body for just one night.

Baby Girl heard the record drop in the far off corner of the dimly-lit room, almost so bare that it could be mistaken for empty. But the room’s barrenness had a welcoming quality to it, with the precision of the obscure wall art and carefully chosen books and records and antique rug. It was a mix of modern and old that looked both like a room where someone strange and anachronistic lived—a ghost from the 50s, or a traveler simply passing by with exceptionally eclectic taste, as if it was a vampire who settled into Bushwick apartment with too many people and not enough light.

It was then that Baby Girl saw Z, who then whispered into her ear but look liked a text in her mind, “HELLO BABY GIRL THIS IS SATAN.” Baby Girl thought (and knew Z could hear her thoughts, as if he was inside her body but also outside of it), you’re not cool enough to be Satan. You’re lying to me. You’re an awful liar. Z smiled—and just shrugged, then said, “You’re right.” She wanted to know why Z was watching her, who Z was. He didn’t answer, just watched as she lay bare, her cellulite jiggling underneath Elvis-Not-Elvis weight. Baby Girl suddenly became self conscious of the way her thighs looked bent upward, of the fat between her ass and legs.

“You’re never going to lose yourself in someone else. Maybe you should just stop trying.”

Baby Girl slapped Elvis-Not-Elvis across the face, smirked as he looked at her surprised, as if he wasn’t expecting that—and right as he whispered something in her ear, words stringing something like, “oh aren’t you a bad girl,” she started choking him and could feel Z watching, could feel Z smirking, could feel Z saying yes, yes do it do it do it do do it do it do it. She squeezed as hard as she could until Elvis-Not-Elvis came. And then rolled off of her. She went into the bathroom and cried.

Why was it that she couldn’t even be allowed one night of happiness? She liked Elvis-Not-Elvis a lot, a lot more than other boys and men she had met, especially in recent months. He would walk her to the train, or sometimes even order an Uber for her to take her home to her side of Brooklyn. He would text her selfies in the morning and at night when they weren’t together, ask how her day was going right when she would feel that 4pm indifference roll around at work, and sometimes sing her songs over the phone. She liked that they were friends for awhile before he kissed her tonight outside as it started drizzling out, and awkward put his hands over her eyes so her glasses wouldn’t get wet.

As she came out of the bathroom, covering her torso with her arms, Elvis-Not-Elvis looked up at her, his hair in his face, and smiled. He told her to come back to bed, that she was beautiful. He told her all the right things. When he asked if she wanted to stay over, she nodded, and looked around for Z—who vanished as if he never existed. Just like the sounds of the birds outside as the moon lay guard over the sky from all the terrible spirits out in the galaxy. All the spirits like Z, restless and bored and obscurely angry.

Outside, sirens echoed down into the street—she could see the red lights blink through the open window—and allowed herself to be held, to feel some semblance of love. Elvis-Not-Elvis began stroking her skin and hair, slowly, softly, barely there that she couldn’t remember when he started, if he was always stroking her. If he had always been there before they had even met, somewhere lost in the strangeness in her dreams.

Everything seemed to vanish except for the quiet darkness in his bedroom. Elvis-Not-Elvis got up to put on another record—Billie Holiday—and laid back down to Baby Girl’s sleeping body and watched as her eyes twitched in her sleep, wondering what she was seeing, what horrors, what beauty deep inside her body.

Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (ELJ Publications, 2016) & Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes, Poetry and the managing editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms and Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in Prelude, BUST, Spork Press, The Feminist Wire, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente