BY BLAZE ARCHER Leif Cole was a physician. He lived in a modern apartment off of Rittenhouse Square. In this apartment was a refrigerator. On top of this refrigerator was a box in which Leif Cole kept his syringes. When guests entered his apartment, they never noticed this box, and were always quick to comment on the penetrating painting of a white woman’s genitalia which took up most of the living room wall. The clitoris was especially striking, as were the palpated labia, which were as moving to the eye as the flying buttresses of Le Mont-Saint-Michel. Something French in the windows lent themselves well to the bookshelves stuffed with Proust and Gide, in the original French, with much leafed pages on which Leif had clearly lingered over, his thin fingers curling round the edges of the page like a puff of cigarette smoke curling around a red, wet mouth.
In the evening, Leif sculpted his body on an exercise machine he kept in his office. Its sleek structures jutted like ships rigging and elongated the lines in the curtains behind them, as if they were sails soaring off into the night sea air. Leif would get lost in this rigging, a gymnast in the crow’s nest, scanning the horizon in his head for enemy ships and rocky shores. His pale skin would steam with sweat, so much sea foam washing against the hull, and he’d creak and buck with every thrust of his muscles, as if he were riding a hurricane toward the eye of the storm. At a certain point the sea would level, and Leif would push so close to the edge of the horizon that he felt he could taste the ether on his tongue, a heady musk of blood and air that made his mind disappear, a wisp of cumulus and ice particles floating against the sun—to evaporate like so much mist, and drift away.
That morning, Leif was washing his face with an exfoliating treatment he got from a local salon. It was infused with green tea and ginseng, and made his face tingle when dried with a terry cloth towel. Leif would never admit this to himself, but this tingle both deeply disturbed him and pierced him with an intense, animal joy that expressed itself through the widening of his deep gray eyes. These eyes were encircled with a dark ring that penned the color in and made the whites of his eyes seem whiter, as if a light were escaping from his skull. His skull was pleasing to look at, with a slight slope at the forelock that made you think of sheets of iron or tectonic plates. His nose rose from the friction like a steep cliff, the end of the bridge slightly turned upward. In contrast, his lips were an afterthought, plucked from his face like two wilted cherry blossoms scattered on the pavement. They were colorless instead of pink, as if they had soaked too long in the rain. They made his face appear plainer than it was—if not for his lips, Leif could have been called handsome.
Leif turned off the tap and patted his face dry with a towel. The towel was periwinkle, and had been bought especially for this color. Walking out of the bathroom, Leif glanced at himself in the mirror, his muscular torso glinting with residual moisture.
He made for his closet. Dipping his hands into the swaths of white, gray, and pink fabric, he pulled out a light shirt and gray slacks, along with a gray suit jacket. Slipping into these with the ease of lubrication, Leif then picked out a tie from his tie rack. It was a striking coral color, and as Leif knotted it around his neck he was pleased with the effect—it went well with his creamy, rosy white skin. Leif’s skin was his most pleasing feature: carefully kept free of oils and dirt, it attracted the fingers of men and women, and made up for his colorless, wilted lips.
There is a strain between my eyes. It is cold like a steel door that is locked. When I open it, there is nothing but white walls. When I look in the mirror, these white walls press in on me. My muscles aren’t big enough. My stomach is not flat enough. There is a bulge between my ribs is it cancer or is it water retention? I am brushing my teeth four times a day.
For breakfast that day, Leif had a tangerine. It fell into his stomach like a stone and rested there solidly.
Leif walked into the bathroom and got on the scale. The number dialed up pound by pound. Leif’s heart stood still, then pounded when the number stopped. Leif got off the scale. His heart rate went up and up and up till his veins were pumping air. In the clouds, Leif looked down at the tile floor rushing to meet him. He felt dizzy, but walked out of the bathroom and picked up his briefcase and his Burberry coat. It was a size medium.
In the elevator, Leif looked at the button panel and avoided looking the floor length mirror occupying all the walls where his reflection reflected back on itself into infinity. A man got into the elevator. His body was sculpted by the gym, and his pants were well hung over his well-fleshed out crotch. Leif noticed the bulge of his dick fleetingly, his eyes poring over the pronounced musculature of the man’s torso and he struggled to keep his face blank of envy.
The two of them got off the elevator and parted ways. The man went left: Leif noticed his stride was bold like black coffee, and as fluid. Leif’s stride was bold too, but it was with the stiffness of a well-disciplined Marine. In the center of his legs was a weakness of the knees, but on the outside Leif was well-oiled and brisk. He went right: the sun glinted off his blond hair. He kept his briefcase exactly at a right angle to his knee. It stayed in place like a crucifix.
Every morning, Leif took the subway to 34th Street. That morning, he descended the piss-soaked stairs, holding his breath. A homeless man was slumped on the stairs, and Leif had to walk around him and fit himself into a small space between the wall to pass. Leif managed to not touch the tiled wall, and walked quickly toward the ticket booth where a crumpled trash bag of a man sat, unblinking, behind the glass. Leif swiped his trans pass, passing through the gate swiftly. He made a point of touching the turnstile as briefly as possible, so that he clacked through like an incoming train. He walked quickly past a woman carrying a suitcase. She paused, out of breath. Leif noticed the stains on her teeth.
Descending the stairs to the platform, Leif paused next to a pillar on the west side. A bright light was emerging in the tunnel, and Leif was fearing his heart would burst. Every morning, Leif dreaded the subway car and its multitude of stranger flesh. Leif would never sit on the seats, but would stand by the door. Sometimes, a back would be pressed against him, and Leif would count to ten and imagine he was in a box. The box was small, and kept a wall between him and the jacket covering the back in front of him. Sometimes there would be a tattoo on the neck, and Leif would get lost in the ink and forget it was on skin. The red of a flower, the orange of a tiger. Leif had a tattoo of a name on his thigh —“Richard.” Leif always wore pants, and never went swimming.
The train reached 34th Street, and the doors opened like the red sea and Leif crossed onto the platform and climbed the stairs into the morning sunlight. Leif began the walk toward Spruce Street, making sure to keep to the right side of the sidewalk. If he were to walk on the left side, Leif’s heart would have failed him and he would have to exit his skin. Outside his skin, he would watch his body walk and analyze the contours of his silhouette, how his clothes were draped on his body, and how his weight was distributed. Outside his skin, Leif became a walking mass of water and carbon. If he could, he would weigh each atom, and discard what tipped the scale.
Leif walked toward the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. It was a big concrete building occupying one block with an emergency room. Leif worked in the trauma department. He was known for his efficiency and keeping himself controlled when patients were screaming obscenities at the staff. Leif would calmly watch them, then say, “I’m sorry, but I need you to trust you will be taken care of.” He said this in such a firm, soft voice that people would immediately quiet down and allow Leif to administer pain killers.
Leif walked through a side entrance and made for the elevator. It never occurred to him that he spent most of his time avoiding the mirrors in elevators, to Leif the only mirror that existed was the mirror in his bathroom. In the elevator, Leif pressed the button for the third floor. Immediately, the door closed—only to be stopped by the hand of his colleague, Dr. Prost, and forced open like a mouth in a dentist’s office.
Dr. Prost took up a lot of space in the elevator, and Leif made a point of keeping to the back corner whenever they shared a trapezoidal space. Dr. Prost always came into the hospital reeking of cigarettes and carrying a cup of 7-Eleven coffee. On his salary, he could afford a latte from Starbucks, but made a point of getting a Big Gulp for 99 cents. He would chug this Big Gulp on his way to work, and smoke a cigarette before going into the 7-Eleven.
Leif made note of his tie that morning: it was a greenish brown, with an obscure pattern that was indeterminate between squares or polka dots. Most days Dr. Prost did not dress very well, and could never keep his suit jacket clean of dog hair. Leif made a point of never getting near Dr. Prost’s suit jacket, and was always relieved when Dr. Prost draped it over his chair and went about just in his wrinkled dress shirt.
That morning, it was clear Dr. Prost was having a bad day. His brows were knitted, and he was muttering curse words to himself that sounded obscene without being properly enunciated. Leif nodded courteously, a movement which Dr. Prost did not notice.
“Can you believe it?” Dr. Prost said. Leif could not, mainly because he was not psychic, or at all interested in having faith in what Dr. Prost could not believe. “Some asshole ran a red light and nearly hit me—people here are vicious, this is the most hostile city in America!”
“People certainly are discourteous,” Leif said softly. Leif almost always agreed with Dr. Prost when he was like this. When faced with anger, Leif preferred to duck his head and let the wave pass over him.
The door opened with a clear ring. Every morning, the doctors did their paperwork. Leif always started on his promptly, while Dr. Prost gossiped with the secretaries about gossip columns they both read. Dr. Prost was an open fan of Britney Spears and Beyonce, a fact which was very mysterious to Leif, who preferred Brahms and Beethoven, as well as some light jazz.
That morning, Dr. Prost was not abandoning Leif to talk to the secretaries, but was pressing on with the conversation. “Did you see the Republican presidential debates last night?” he said. Dr. Prost knew Leif was a Republican, and never failed to bring up politics when they were together, mainly as a way to get Leif to snap like a dog and flush pink, which was very becoming to him.
“Yes,” Leif said promptly, mentally attempting to preemptively calm himself before Dr. Prost could reply.
“I do not consider that man a proper Republican,” Leif said.
“He’s running in your party, Leif.” Dr. Prost always called Leif by his first name, a fact which Leif also found mysterious, as he always called Dr. Prost “Dr. Prost.”
“The party should not be defined by one buffoon,” Leif said.
“You’ve only got one? What world are you living in?”
“It’s all a three ring circus—you Democrats are as much media chimpanzees as the rest of us.”
“I don’t see any Democrats making up crap about Planned Parenthood. I mean, Christ, you’re a doctor! How can you vote for a party that wants to get rid of Medicaid?”
“Not all Republicans are class reactionaries,” Leif said primly. “Dr. Prost, I have paperwork to do.”
“All right, all right,” Dr. Prost said. “I’m going to go propagate socialism and the gay agenda like a good liberal.”
Dr. Prost went left, and Leif went right toward his office. Opening the door, he walked toward his gleaming desk which he kept polished and turned on his computer. Typing in his username and password, he opened up his UPenn e-mail and replied to a few emails before opening his browser to Gmail. The account name was topshot80, and the inbox was filled with messages from Craigslist and OkCupid. Leif opened up the first message that caught his eye, and scrolled through the text.
23, bottom, looking to eat your cock.
Leif opened up the profile and scanned the photos. Pale face, bleached blond, grainy cell phone images. Hard to know what his BMI was in those clothes. Leif closed the window and moved onto the next message:
Hey, 24 bi chick. Hit me up? I’m pretty subbie :):):)
Leif opened up her profile. Clear headshot, prominent breasts. She was of indeterminate race, but her profile said Asian and Latina. Leif liked that she did not smile.
Opening up his browser in OkCupid, Leif wrote. “Hello. Nice pics. Want to meet tonight?”
Leif opened up her profile again and made sure the door was closed. He unzipped his pants, and took his dick out of his boxers and started masturbating into a tissue from a box he kept ready on his desk. It took Leif a very short time before climaxing, and he did so silently with a brief exhalation of breath.
Putting away his dick, Leif turned to his paperwork and finished it by seven a.m., when it was time for his shift in the ER to start. Leif put on his blue scrubs and walked toward the elevator. He saw Dr. Prost still chatting with the secretary, a black woman with fake hair and long red nails. They were talking about Justin Bieber.
Leif got on the elevator and went down to the first floor. He flashed his ID and opened the door to the ER. A wailing scream of a woman with an open wound on her bicep greeted him, and Leif set to work.
END OF PART ONE