We have to get our veins cleaned out before we’re allowed to see her. Rumor says she’s a lesbo. Other rumors say she just says that to keep us from hitting on her. Some of us think we can change her mind. Some of us are real assholes.
Truth is, you can’t really know Chyna. That’s not the way it works. But we’ve seen her, maybe even said hey when she pops into detox. Just popping in to check on the schedule, she says.
But Chyna doesn’t pop. She floats—like seaweed floats, like it should be rooted but now it’s just cut loose—gliding, swirling. Follow it out to sea and you could end up anywhere. That’s Chyna. Even her hair moves that way—like a promise there’re places to go. We want to dive into that hair because it’s amazing. Blacker than black. Blacker than blue, black as the deepest part of the ocean where it’s so dark the fish have grown blind.
She wears this thick swab of eyeliner curled up on the ends so she looks like Delilah, (some of us are too stupid to even know who Delilah was, but not too stupid to know that Chyna could betray us with a flick of her pen). But we don’t believe she will. We believe in her because she’s all we’ve got. We believe in her because we’ve never believed in anything and we have to believe in something, so we’ve been told.
She has skin that reminds us of our little sister, or the girl who sat across from us in History in eighth grade, or the woman at the make-up counter at Macy’s who talked our girlfriend into a hundred dollar bottle of face goop—but our pockets were full that day and it was a rush—or, for one of us, the bottom of his six-month-old baby girl who will be nine-months old when he sees her again, if he sees her again because there are things in the works to keep him from seeing her again and everything is riding on Chyna and her creamy skin.
Chyna has legs that go on forever and we all want those legs wrapped around our waist, our necks—wrapped and clamped, riding the wave.
Chyna doesn’t have any tattoos. She says. Some of us want her to prove it. One of us doesn’t have tattoos because he’s Jewish and his father is a rabbi and Jews don’t desecrate their bodies. That’s news to two of us who are Jewish and have tattoos and now what the hell are we supposed to do about that? Tattoos are important not because of what they say or what they look like. You can tattoo anything you want at all–skulls or your dog or your mom, words you want to live up to. Doesn’t matter. It’s just about the needle and the pain of it, the way you know for certain you will be something new again when the ink heals, only to find you’re the same piece of shit you were before you inked promises all over yourself—No Regerts.
Everyone says Chyna is smart. But some of us know she can’t possibly be a match for our bullshit and others know she can’t possibly be a match for our truths. Some of us can’t tell one from another.
They say she can’t be shocked but one of us will blow her out of the water when he tells her he did up his best friend, one last time, the night before he came in. He’s here and the best friend won’t ever be. And one of us hit his mother, selfish bitch, right in the face, knocked out two teeth, when she reported the stash in the radiator vent. One of us sold his girlfriend to supply and not even because he was high but because he needed to stay that way. One of us tried to cut off his own balls because he thought they were aliens, and one of us thought he killed his brother but only beat him till his eye came out of his face. He says he’ll have his own eye removed when he gets out and give it to his brother. Amends have to be made.
We all want to know what the secret is, the answer, the trick to it, but none of us want to believe it.
We wait for Chyna to tell us anyway. We hope it sounds like something we’ve never heard before. Floodgates and burning bushes. We shift our backsides in folding chairs, scrape them over the floor, slide a smoke behind an ear, gulp coffee—water, scratch our balls and our arms and our thighs and our scalp. Grateful the itch is less than it was. But bigger itches are waiting for us.
Some of us will suck on our bleeding gums and it will taste like we deserve it—this bleeding in secret. One of us will get a hard-on and just be grateful he can. And one of us will wish he could.
Some of us will cry Chyna an ocean.
When the hour is nearly up, when the sins have been sucked from our pores and we’re drenched in the salty sting of it, when the sighs have merged, lashed together by the beat of raw hearts, our oracle will run her hands down those endless thighs, sweep her smile around the circle. If the moon is blue, if the stars align, one of us will choke on that smile, clear his own phlegmy throat, feel with his tongue at a piece of grit rolling between his teeth and if—if God is real, if Chyna does not blink—he will imagine it is a pearl.
Shawn Nocher’s work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Eunoia Review, Literary Mama, and Five on The Fifth, among others. Her debut novel, A Hand to Hold In Deep Water, is scheduled for release from Blackstone Press in early 2021. She is currently finishing her MA in writing at Johns Hopkins University. She resides in Baltimore City with an assortment of sassy rescue animals–but no rats.