Inside a bar off Ditmars, John flirts with a twink who has a nosering.
“I didn’t always believe either,” John says, as he lifts his martini. “But after my ex-girlfriend died, I would wake up with scratches all over me…”
He does this a lot. I’ve seen it many times. Sometimes it’s an ex-boyfriend, but usually it’s a girl. Often she’s stabbed on the subway or pushed onto the tracks.
Tonight, it’s in Tennessee, where he’s from. “Her parents weren’t right. They would hit her and lock her in the room, not let her go anywhere. So, one evening, she stole their pills and…”
“How awful,” the twink with a nosering says, his hand on John’s forearm, covering part of the tattoo that reads and then there were none in tiny black cursive.
John swallows. “They didn’t even know. I went over and found her on the bed, her neck just—”
He shakes his head, and the twink with a nosering rubs that place on his arm again and again.
Twinks love the idea of a damaged hetero-normie seeking solace. It reinforces their triumph over all those high school cheerleaders who were skinnier and prettier and overall, as you would expect, more successful with John-ish guys. They love it so much that ghost claws from an ex-girlfriend doesn’t even faze them. See, John looks so straight, it’s almost off-putting: with his polo, and khakis, and perfectly trimmed half-beard.
I mean, it works. I fall for it, too.
When John sits next to me the following week, he gives the same spiel, except this time the girlfriend is hit by a car. “I found her on the highway with her neck just—”
“Jesus Christ,” I say, my hand on his arm, our knees touching under the bar.
Then he tells me about how he can’t sleep without the TV on.
“That’s the only thing that stops the scratches. At first, I thought they were her way of letting me know she’s still there. But then, the scratches got deeper, more red. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’ve started seeing guys.”
And yes, I do feel bad and somewhat scared and even more horny.
“How far away do you live?” I say, after our second or third drink.
So, I go to his place and let him ravage me as he has undoubtedly ravaged all the other twinks in Astoria, and yeah, it’s good—his hips, I’m not sure how he moves them like that, so steady and forceful—but afterwards, I forget about the whole ghost thing, and in the middle of the night, I wake up to go to the bathroom and turn the TV off.
It’s still not quiet enough for me to fall asleep easily; there are motorbikes and gaggles of drunks and airplanes landing at LaGuardia that never cease, but eventually, John’s arms and warmth lull me into a dreamless sleep.
In the morning, there they are: long, violent, and red. On his arms, shoulders, thighs, and back.
“What’s wrong?” he says, then looks past me into the black TV screen.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I must’ve accidentally clawed you.”
But I know I didn’t. I would never reach for anyone like that.
Lukas Tallent lives in New York City. His work has recently appeared in HAD, Vast Chasm, Door is A Jar, and many other places. You can find more of him at lukas-tallent.com or on Instagram.