The Natural Man
Your boyfriend decides to grow his hair out. He has always kept himself carefully groomed, but lately he had been going to greater and greater lengths to manage hair growth. He waxes, he trims, he clippers, he tweezes. He keeps every follicle under such careful control that when he says he’s going to grow it all out, just not worry about it for a while, you aren’t surprised at how desperate he sounds, how lonely. You’ve always been a more natural kind of guy, but he knew that when you started dating.
At first, there is only a slight shagginess that you find appealing. It’s boyish and interesting. It’s something to grab on to, as you say when you thread your fingers through his hair during sex. You return to his hair frequently, ruffling it as you pass by or brushing it off his forehead when you kiss him. This is okay, you think, this is nice. Of course the hair on his body grows more slowly, so for the first several weeks you don’t even notice that. You notice that his eyebrows seem less painstakingly arranged, less cultivated.
Soon, every surface of his body is bristly with new hair. He’s uncomfortable to hug or fuck. When you kiss, it feels like you are kissing more beard than lip. The floor is covered with his hair. You have to sweep frequently. Otherwise, hair sticks to the bottom of your feet when you get out of the shower. When you have to pull the hairs off your feet, there is an uncomfortable tug, like you are pulling the hairs out of your skin.
As your boyfriend’s hair proliferates, you drop hints about getting rugburn when you sleep too close to him, or always finding small hairs between your teeth, or even finding hair in your food. He ignores you while his hair grows even longer. He develops a thick, shaggy coat all over his body. You realize you never knew how much exactly he had to shave, how much waxing he must have done. You wonder what you were doing while your boyfriend was performing this maintenance. It must have taken hours.
One day, after a reluctant kiss, you notice that your boyfriend has grown fangs. Did he always have fangs? You are reasonably sure he didn’t, but there he is, with oversized, pointed canines. He must have been filing them down all this time, you think. You search your bathroom for the tools, for files and clippers that might have been used to make teeth look straight and even and very normal. Then he grows long, craggy claws. And then he can’t talk through his new, oversized teeth, so he barks or grunts. The more strange-looking your boyfriend becomes, the more normal-looking you remember him, until you remember him being perfect. Surely he had to have been perfect to become this deeply imperfect.
You view the inevitable damage to your relationship as his fault, not yours. You start to sleep on the couch, when you sleep at home. Usually you are out all night. You go to parties where everyone wears only underwear, and you admire the waxed chests and hairless backs. Eventually, you start hooking up. It seems an inevitable progression. You still appreciate a hairless asshole every once in a while. It seems like your boyfriend knows what you’re getting up to. You come home in the early morning to find ruined furniture, chewed-up shoes, and sometimes he has peed or shit on the floor. When you leave, he stands at the door and whines, his eyes big, trying to express how much he is going to miss you.
Eventually, you buy a collar and a chain and start tying him up in the backyard. You stop telling the men you have sex with that you can’t bring them home. You might as well, you think, as your boyfriend barks and scratches at the door. He howls as you bury your face in every hairless inch of every man you can find. It’s such a relief. Eventually, you find a man you bring home a few times. Then he’s over for dinner, to watch a movie, to nap and read on your couch. Your boyfriend barks and barks. He comes inside sometimes, but you tell the man you keep bringing home that your boyfriend is more of an outdoor pet. Out of guilt, you build your boyfriend a little house back there, but he refuses to live in it. He looks at you scornfully. He looks at the man you keep bringing home scornfully. He looks at the little house scornfully. He doesn’t come to the door as often.
I think your dog hates me, the man you keep bringing home says.
Yeah, you say.
The Barbecue Supply Store
Uma Thurman comes into the barbecue supply store where your boyfriend works and asks where to find the jumbo baby clothes. Your boyfriend notices that Uma Thurman looks different in person, in the sense that she is actually conjoined twins. Turns out movie directors and photographers edit Uma Thurman out of movies and promotional pictures, or they edit Uma Thurman out of movies and promotional pictures. They are both called Uma Thurman. They are both very pretty. One of them looks better from the left and one of them looks better from the right. I am the perfect celebrity, she explains.
Your boyfriend tries to point out to Uma Thurmans that baby clothes are not a barbecue supply but she shakes hear heads at him. I don’t think you understand, she says, I need jumbo baby clothes. With her hands, of which she has two sets, she indicates a baby with roughly the dimensions of an aging John Travolta. Your boyfriend asks if she is pregnant and she shakes her heads again. Just in case, she says. She repeats the aging John Travolta motion with her hands.
Your boyfriend is still trying to explain that this is definitely a barbecue supply store that doesn’t carry baby clothes when his manager comes up and introduces himself to Uma Thurman and then to Uma Thurman. Uma Thurman feels slighted because the manager introduced himself to Uma Thurman first, but after all, he approached from the left. From the left, Uma Thurman is no competition for Uma Thurman. Your boyfriend’s manager agrees to provide Uma Thurman with whatever baby clothes she needs. You, he says, are the perfect celebrity.
Your boyfriend creates baby clothes in roughly the dimensions of an aging John Travolta. When presented with the baby clothes, Uma Thurmans look upset. I don’t think you understand, she says, I need the jumbo baby clothes. With her two sets of perfect hands, she indicates that there needs to be room for, at least, a full-grown male Kodiak Bear with excellent genetics. Your boyfriend goes about constructing baby clothes in the size of a full-grown male Kodiak Bear with excellent genetics. Uma Thurmans decide to wait overnight for the clothes to be finished, making small talk with the manager while your boyfriend sews in the back. Your boyfriend’s manager asks Uma Thurmans what Meryl Streep was like in person. She is also conjoined twins, Uma Thurman says, one of them is named Greta.
It takes four employees to carry out the baby clothes for the full-grown male Kodiak Bear with excellent genetics. Uma Thurmans are angry. Are you confused about what jumbo means? she asks. With her hands, she indicates a baby with the silhouette of a mythological kraken.
In a room full of fabric, your boyfriend sews baby clothes for a baby with the silhouette of a mythological kraken. It takes days to get the arms right. Your boyfriend has not eaten or slept in a week.
When the baby clothes with the silhouette of a mythological kraken are finished, it takes two dozen barbecue supply employees several hours to lay it out in the food court for Uma Thurmans’ inspection. Uma Thurmans crawl inside the baby clothes. They smell faintly of propane, but your boyfriend’s stitches are small and neat. Uma Thurmans play in the baby clothes, poking their heads out of different armholes, waving to your boyfriend and his manager, or playing peek-a-boo, Uma Thurman bursting out to surprise Uma Thurman. Boo, Uma Thurman says to Uma Thurman, startling her.
After the kraken baby clothes, Uma Thurmans are pleased. They want more baby clothes. Your boyfriend keeps sewing bigger and bigger baby clothes, Uma Thurmas’ four hands describing mountains and oceans, continents and planets, tracing the shape of footie pajamas that would keep the galaxy warm enough. Uma Thurmans tell your boyfriend that eventually they will have a baby, and that baby will grow into the baby clothes. Uma Thurmans, like all mothers, are excited for their baby to grow large enough to swallow a sun. It will be a jumbo baby, Uma Thurmans say.
Eventually, Uma Thurmans have to leave. I need to go to the Yankee Candle Company, Uma Thurman says, so they can take my baby pictures. As they are leaving, Uma Thurman shakes your boyfriend’s hand. Then Uma Thurman shakes your boyfriend’s hand. When they are done shaking his hand, Uma Thurman cuts off your boyfriend’s arm with a katana. I’m sorry, Uma Thurman says, I’m sure you understand. Uma Thurmans take the arm with them as they go.
I learned to sew jumbo baby clothes better than anyone in the world, your boyfriend tells you years later, when he has finally finished all of the baby clothes. You put your hand on your boyfriend’s arm, the spot where your boyfriend’s arm used to be until one of the Uma Thurmans cut it off. It is his left arm, so you can guess which Uma Thurman it was. Uma Thurman truly is the perfect celebrity, you say, and your boyfriend nods.
One Word for It
Your boyfriend is trying to learn how to un-name things. You don’t take this pursuit any more seriously than his other diversions, but he devotes hours of study to the practice. He just got fired, and you think he wants to un-name the restaurant he worked for to fuck with his old boss. This is an awful lot of trouble to go to, you say.
It’s not about that, he says.
His first few efforts are an awful lot of trouble. The first try involves strange-looking glyphs, a bucket of oranges, a homeless black dog, and a knife. It is extremely messy and at the end, neither of you can remember what those things are called. You know, those things that are like cupcakes but … not cupcakes? Immediately, it seems like un-naming is very irritating. The word for not-cupcakes vanishes from bakeries and signs and advertisements and people take to ordering frosting-less cupcakes or bread cupcakes or just making a little outline with their fingers. I’m not sure I’m in love with this as a hobby for you, you say to your boyfriend.
I’m sure I can get it right, he says.
Subsequent attempts are more successful, although mostly they create more confusion. You find yourself constantly trying to talk around things. You coin terms like lawn hair and glass fish cage and foot glove. Your boyfriend does eventually un-name the restaurant he worked for, but shows no sign of stopping. You try to convince him that he is just making it more difficult for people to exist in the world, but he’s convinced that he is acting for the public good.
It’s true the language has taken on a strange, almost Shakespearian complexity, and everything sounds lovelier this way, less precise but more emotional. Still, you are wholly unconvinced you want to live the rest of your life in an undergraduate creative writing exercise. Your aggravation manifests itself in a series of increasingly obtuse arguments. You can’t quite say that he’s doing it on purpose, but your boyfriend keeps taking away your ability to communicate, reducing your pool of available nouns. When the black dog corpses piling up behind the garage begin to smell, the only way you can articulate your outrage is by saying, Stop doing that thing you keep doing, it’s not great.
You think he should understand but he doesn’t, just shakes his head at you as if you are being deliberately obscure. You resort to inarticulate screaming, and to be completely honest, you are surprised by how deeply satisfying you find it. You scream, again and again, imbuing each scream with incredibly nuanced emotions you find it too frustrating to communicate in any other way.
He sits at the edge of your bed until you are finished screaming. I’m sorry, he says. I thought this would help. He says other things, things that sound lovely to you in the way that hearing someone speak Italian is lovely. It is impassioned and elegant garbage. When he’s done, he looks at you pleadingly and you can only shake your head. You laugh uncomfortably because you don’t understand. You attempt to reassure him, but it comes out as a startled bark.
He takes your hand in his and cradles it, rolling his thumb over the skin and bone. The un-naming starts with the pads of your fingers, the ridges of your fingertips, your knuckles, your skin, each sculpture of bone. He goes up your arm, your elbow, your shoulder, removing the name from each muscle group and vein and tissue cluster, each lump of cartilage. Freckles, hairs, moles, warts, tumors, he un-names. His finger traces your jaw until you do not know finger or jaw. He un-genders you, un-sexes you, smudges away the details of your face, any softness or hardness you may once have had is now unspeakable. He whispers your name gently and then that goes too, he peels it off you and you are naked and what remains is beautiful and beyond description.
Zachary Doss was a writer and editor with work appearing in Sonora Review, Fairy Tale Review, DIAGRAM, Paper Darts, and other journals. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama, and was pursuing a Phd in Literature and Creative Writing at University of Southern California. His manuscript, Boy Oh Boy, was selected by Kelly Link for the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction, and will be published by Red Hen Press.