After her marriage blew up, Jane's therapist suggested she join an "I Am" class, so she could hang out with other shells of their former selves. She attended her first "I Am" workshop, which was really an unorganized support group with dancing afterward. Jane saw that for most of these people, deep into middle age—music had become a functionality balm, a way to get through the next hour. That and pumping Visine into their eyes. One member started with the Visine, and it began a domino effect, nearly choreographed.
Fiercely addicted to their iPods, the "I Am" members shivered or growled when she attempted to converse. Worse, the men who tried to talk to her after the get-together had mange, or fleas. They scratched at themselves nervously and stuttered.
When Jane dragged herself home alone, thirty new Facebook friend requests glowed in her inbox. She felt desperate for a smoke, had nothing left. If she were a kid she would smoke oregano and pretend it was grass and it would feel wonderful. Instead, she turned on her own music.
Jane asked "Tarzan" what he was wearing. He said, "nothing." She said that she was wearing nothing as well, and that her name was Jane.
"Good," he said.
"Let's think about something now," she said.
She told him to imagine that they were both in a hot tub, and it was very comfortable and warm. Jane could hear a dog barking through the phone, and clearly the man named Tarzan was chewing an apple or a sandwich. There was the sound of a toilet flushing.
"So, you're cock is just floating like a pontoon boat near me," she said. "And then, well . . . "
She waited for him to chime in, to say something about Jane's wet tits gleaming under the full, rising moon . . . or something.
"So, it's just floating and I'm getting very excited and all," Jane said.
She could no longer hear chewing, and the dog had stopped barking. She didn't hear anyone breathing, and for a moment, she worried that he may have choked to death.
"You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, why?" Tarzan said.
"Oh, okay, and so, good," Jane said. She was not naked but didn't need to tell him that she was really wearing comfy new pajamas. She needed to cut the tag off the collar, could feel just a tiny scratching feeling at the back of her neck, like a flea.
Jane hired a man from Craig's list named Paul to clean the pool area, and remove the bees from the water. She liked Paul's ass, the way his jeans would bunch from all he was bringing. She really needed to commit to eating red tuna sushi for the next three weeks—lunch and dinner. There were ways to fill days that had nothing to do with fatty food.
There was also a bronze-faced man named Haha; sounded like a joke but wasn't. The man said he'd had a terrible afternoon, and she had given him the opportunity to accompany her for a seaweed salad. She told him it was "on her," and, sipping Dragonwell tea with him, she asked about the name Haha. He said he had always been a comedian.
Paul was only good at scooping bees, and she couldn't stop wanting to eat seaweed with the dark skinned, funny man.
At night, after their smoke, nothing would stop Haha's voice, all sucky, burrowing in and out of her fleshy dream and her unstained kimono. In Jane's dream, she was serving tea to young men with shiny hair. In the real world, Haha's voice lived off the blood he sucked from her shins, calves, and her bottom. A tick can draw blood from a person in an ape suit—so hungry, so smart.
Haha's life kept growing, he had hundreds of friends just a click away. He told Jane he was popular because he said things of importance to people. "That's how you collect friends," he said. "Real followers."
When Jane closed her eyes, telephones appeared. They were the only way to connect—she would dial random numbers and say "can you hear me? Do you know who I am?" Once, a seven bloomed on her fingers, and she dialed sevens—got a busy signal. Fives felt hungry, maybe fives ate children—so she avoided them. Eights were delightful though untrustworthy, they used Listerine.
Every number had a little problem, and she didn't have anyone but Haha, the size of a dot. Even in her dream, his part of the story needed work—felt false, unfinished. She blamed herself—lived to please. She used his deodorant, his lotions.
He said he was falling for her every time they fucked. He said, over, and over, "Jane is sexy, but she is a real mess." There was one exit, one way to make him happy.
A year and one day later, Jane met Bill. He was sunning in the yard next door, must have moved in to the rental. She had discovered nettle plants growing, and needed to destroy them before things went further.
Jane had developed a little problem with anything new, in general, since Haha vanished. There is always a loyalty factor, they say, like thread hanging from your skirt, or pocket lint. Where does it come from? Jane tried not to drag Haha's scent behind her everywhere she walked, but somehow she had started tripping. Once or twice a day, she would trip on invisible rocks, or ruts in the sidewalk—undetectable upon later inspection. She would go back like a detective and stare at the place where she'd tripped to figure out how it could have happened again.
Jane's words felt shy. She wanted to say hello across the fence, casually. The neighbor looked sad, sunbathing and reading, as though he were nothing better than an apparition. As if he didn't deserve to be spoken to. Jane understood. This man had large dark glasses and a bald head.
Jane walked over to the fence, cleared her throat, and said, "Hello there." He didn't look over. He might have had an iPod on, in fact she thought she saw white wires hanging down from his ears.