Bruria had finally gotten over her last boyfriend and now she was dating PURE EVIL. PURE EVIL played the theremin and liked to eat fried things. PURE EVIL, when he laughed, laughed through clenched teeth. PURE EVIL was multilingual. PURE EVIL was uncircumcised. PURE EVIL had a chin so large it looked like a mistake. Often PURE EVIL liked to evacuate his essence from the prison of his flesh vessel and move through the world as a moist, gaseous haze; when he did this it seemed like he was nakeder than naked, and Bruria would feel each and every time a hot embarrassment on his behalf. Sometimes touching PURE EVIL felt like touching a man; sometimes touching PURE EVIL felt like touching syrup, if syrup were alive and also not syrup at all. PURE EVIL lived across the street from a sex shop called Fantasy World; all night every night his bedroom pulsed with a purple light that washed through the window in sexy sexy waves. Bruria liked to watch the sexy light get big and small and big again while she fell asleep in PURE EVIL’s arms. When he had arms. When he didn’t, she pretended not to mind.
Bruria’s gynecologist looked up into Bruria with the help of a plastic light-up speculum and gasped.
Bruria had complained, in the REASON FOR VISIT section of her Patient Update form, of a kind of stinging deep within her that wasn’t so much a stinging as it was a high and scared and vaguely musical call. It’d started the first night she’d had sex with PURE EVIL, but she was trying very hard not to see the two things as related. It had started as a sneeze; now it was worse than a sneeze by far.
“Jesus,” said Bruria’s gynecologist. “Jesus.”
Bruria raised her head to look at her gynecologist’s pretty, half-masked face. “What,” Bruria asked, “what?”
Bruria’s gynecologist pulled the speculum from Bruria’s vaginal canal and tossed it into a large, plastic-lined bin in the corner of the room. She pulled down her little mask, and with two snaps, she removed her pink latex gloves. She gestured with her chin toward Bruria’s vagina, her eyes wide, her jaw tight. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing to it, but whatever you’ve been doing, just leave it alone. Wear breathable underwear and whatever you’ve been doing to it, just stop it and just leave it alone.” Bruria’s gynecologist collected Bruria’s chart and left the room, flicking through the pages of the chart, speaking to herself in what sounded like Latin.
Bruria knew that her gynecologist would charge her at least three hundred dollars for the visit because her gynecologist was always doing things like charging her three hundred dollars for a visit. Before leaving, as a small revenge, Bruria stole several maxi pads, a handful of large cotton swabs—she’d come up with a use for them— and, finally, out of the bin in the corner, with a hot sweat coming over her, she stole the plastic light-up speculum.
PURE EVIL had a burgeoning mouse problem over at his otherwise beautiful apartment, and so lately he had been keeping all of his trash in the freezer, tied up neatly in THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU bags from the deli. On a Friday night, Bruria brought her cat to PURE EVIL’s place to try and catch some mice—it was the least she could do, as she and PURE EVIL had recently made things internet official—but the cat stiffened and seized and died with a shriek upon setting its paws on the parquets of PURE EVIL’s living-room floor.
“I’m so sorry,” PURE EVIL said, and he tied the cat up in a bag and put the cat in the freezer and then he fucked Bruria so hard that she forgot for a little while what a cat even was, even. The moment he finished PURE EVIL turned into a gas and floated up to the ceiling, and Bruria was left all alone in bed, sweaty and shaky-legged. Outside there was loud thick rain and the sound of one of PURE EVIL’s upstairs neighbors blasting the West Side Story soundtrack.
“Anita’s gonna get her kicks tonight,” said the West Side Story soundtrack, and Bruria heard PURE EVIL humming along. Purple light filled the room and flickered prettily. Bruria sat up in bed and looked out the window; across the street, there was a line out the door. Fantasy World was hopping.
Bruria’s friends wanted to know everything about her boyfriend. They were a little worried by the fact that she was dating PURE EVIL, but a new man was a new man was a new man.
“Dish,” they said, “dish, bitch!”
“You guys,” Bruria said, a smile on her face, supremely ready to dish, but quickly she realized that something was wrong. She couldn’t picture PURE EVIL at all. Trying to conjure an image of PURE EVIL made Bruria feel as if she were trying to peer at him through a very small keyhole. She felt herself growing clammy with the effort of it.
“What does he look like?” they asked her. “Is he handsome? Does he have all his hair? Is it big?” They slurped their drinks with fury. “Dish,” said Bruria’s friends, “dish, you big fucking cunt!”
“Well,” she said at last. She took a sip of her drink. “He is sometimes?”
Bruria’s friends look disappointed, but they pressed on, a feverish kind of curious in their drunkenness. “What does he do,” they wanted to know. “Where does he work?”
“A startup,” Bruria said, though now that she considered it actually maybe PURE EVIL was between jobs at the moment; maybe he was independently wealthy and needless of gainful employment.
“Is he nice to you?”
Bruria smiled a small coy smile. “He’s really nice to me.”
“But,” Bruria’s friends said, slurring their words, “he’s PURE EVIL, isn’t he?”
Bruria reassured her friends that PURE EVIL was gentle, actually; and most definitely handsome, she was sure of it; and that he was special. She told her friends that it was narrow-minded of them to judge someone they hadn’t ever even met. “PURE EVIL’s a person, too,” she said. She gulped her drink, aching to catch up. “I think.”
Bruria’s shoulders tensed and throbbed. Her pelvis contracted. The base of her spine vibrated. The call was coming on. Bruria felt the urge to sneeze and then she did, all over the table, disgusting every one of her friends.
“Ew,” said her friends.
“I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” Bruria said, wiping at her nose, trying to hold in the call’s full volume until she got to a private place. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” she said again, and then she got up and walked away, and she knew in her heart that the whole time she was gone from the table her friends would talk about her, wide-eyed, in low and nasty tones. For a second, she almost cared. Then she remembered that she had PURE EVIL; she remembered that she had such a great great love.
Bruria didn’t see PURE EVIL for a whole week and when she finally did see him again his teeth were different than they’d been before. His front two teeth pushed out like rabbit’s teeth, like horse’s teeth, and there was a small gap between them now, too. PURE EVIL acted like nothing was the matter. Bruria considered taking PURE EVIL’s face in her hands and saying to him with tender eyes What happened to your teeth, baby, but she didn’t want to be rude, and she didn’t want PURE EVIL to think that she valued the physical over the emotional, and she didn’t want PURE EVIL to think that she was in any way a bad girlfriend.
“Do you hear that,” PURE EVIL asked, motioning toward Bruria’s vagina while pouring her a glass of pink wine. Bruria said that she didn’t hear a thing.
“It’s like a boy’s choir down there,” PURE EVIL said, and he looked into Bruria’s lap with great disgust.
“I don’t hear it,” Bruria lied, but PURE EVIL was on the ceiling already, a fine gas again, and there was wine all over the floor.
Bruria lost her job on account of the call.
It’s become… tormentous, her boss had said when firing her, all the while squeezing a red-rubber stress ball and gazing painedly at Bruria’s crotch. She soon thereafter began working as a hostess at a restaurant that served many kinds of fried things. She told herself she’d taken the hostessing job because the restaurant was low-key and close to her apartment, but really she’d taken it so that she could maybe take some of the restaurant’s sundry fried things home in to-go boxes at the end of the night and give them like rare jewels to PURE EVIL and thusly secure his undying affections.
“I’m a feminist, still,” Bruria said to herself in the mirror while donning her hostessing blacks. “I am just in love.”
Her insides whined. The whine sounded like a silver slide whistle. Bruria picked up the phone and rang her gynecologist’s office.
“Hello,” said her gynecologist’s medical secretary.
“Hi,” said Bruria, “It’s Bruria—” but before Bruria could give the medical secretary her last name there was a whooshing noise and a scraping noise. “Hello?” Bruria said. “Hello?”
On the other end there was a whoosh of breath. “Don’t call here anymore,” said a voice that Bruria recognized as her gynecologist’s. “Please don’t call here.” The line went dead.
Bruria tossed her phone onto her bed and sighed. In her underwear drawer, she knew, was the plastic light-up speculum and a bottle of personal lubricant that smelled like sweat and marshmallows. If she wanted to, she could try to open herself up and see just what was what. She could take matters into her own hands. Instead, she pulled on an extra pair of tights. They were sweater-knit tights, and Bruria was pleased to find that they muffled the whine nicely.
That night when PURE EVIL answered the door to his apartment he looked disheveled and deeply stressed. His teeth, however, looked amazing. He had, Bruria supposed, gone to the dentist and gotten veneers. Or conjured veneers for himself. Or conjured for himself a new face entirely.
“You seem stressed,” Bruria said, reaching up to massage PURE EVIL’s left shoulder.
“I’ve decided to apply to some Ph.Ds,” PURE EVIL said. “It’s a lot of work.” There was a UC Santa Cruz brochure open on the kitchen table.
“Santa Cruz,” Bruria said. “That’s very far away.”
“I’m just thinking about it,” PURE EVIL said. He poured Bruria a glass of wine.
“What would you study at UC Santa Cruz,” Bruria asked.
“Um,” PURE EVIL said. “American Studies.” He raised the wine bottle to his mouth and licked the bottle’s neck. “Also they have this program in Games and Playable Medias.”
“Your ex lives in Santa Cruz.”
PURE EVIL shrugged. “A lot of people live in Santa Cruz.”
“Don’t do that,” Bruria said.
PURE EVIL looked around the room as if to an audience. “Do what?” he asked.
Bruria sipped her wine. There was a lipstick print on the wine glass and it was not her lipstick print. Bruria studied the lipstick print. “I thought dating you I wouldn’t have to deal with this kind of thing.”
“What kind of thing?”
Just then a mouse ran loudly across the floor between them. PURE EVIL stepped on its tail and it screamed, half-caught beneath his huge black loafer. PURE EVIL laughed.
“Holy shit,” Bruria said over the mouse’s screams, “Let go, let go, that’s fucking evil!”
PURE EVIL stopped laughing and lifted his foot off of the mouse’s tail and then he was on the ceiling, suddenly, in a rush of cool air. The UC Santa Cruz brochure fluttered shut.
Bruria realized with a horror what she’d said, but it was too late. “I’m sorry,” she cried. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
PURE EVIL made no answer. He drifted into the far corner of the kitchen, right above the fridge.
Bruria looked down at the floor, distraught and ashamed. The mouse was gone; its tail remained.
Bruria’s mother called her to ask her if she was taking a multivitamin. Bruria told her mother that she was not taking a multivitamin.
“I’m sending you a women’s multivitamin,” Bruria’s mother said. “A young woman like you, you have to keep yourself healthy. You need to get enough roughage. And probiotics. Yogurt, and.”
Bruria was on the street; cars and trucks drove by and made it difficult for Bruria to hear exactly what it was her mother was saying.
“It’s difficult for me to hear what you’re saying,” Bruria shouted into her phone.
“You don’t sound like yourself. Are you all right? Are you sick?”
“I’m feeling great,” Bruria said. The little call had quieted down over the last few days. The weather had turned, and Bruria thought that maybe sunshine had cured her. This morning she’d considered walking over to her old office and asking her old boss for her old job back. Her privates were totally silent! She felt brave and new and empty of worry! Even PURE EVIL had noticed a change. Huh, he’d said the night before last, licking her clitoris. Huh. Bruria’d looked down at him and nodded. Yup, she’d said. PURE EVIL had smiled and turned himself into a viscous purple tendril and gone
A man with three teardrops tattooed on his face walked right into Bruria. “’Scuse me Snowflake,” he said, “you got a dollar?”
Bruria had three quarters in her coat pocket. “My father’s Brazilian,” she told the man. “So please don’t call me Snowflake.”
“You got a dollar or what?”
Bruria put her quarters into the man’s hand. “I’m Brazilian,” she said.
“Who are you taking to,” Bruria’s mother asked.
“I ran into a friend,” Bruria lied.
“That’s nice,” Bruria’s mother said. “That’s nice that you run into your friends on the street there.”
“When are you coming down to the city to meet my boyfriend,” Bruria asked her mother.
“Soon,” her mother said. “Soon. When your father gets back from São Paulo.”
“I told you,” Bruria said to the tattooed man, and she held her phone aloft in what she thought was his direction, but he was already long gone.
Bruria was on her way to PURE EVIL’s apartment, fritters in hand, after her seventh night in a row of hostessing. Earlier he’d texted her: will you read my personal statement for santa cruz, and Bruria had texted back: Sure!!!!!! Email it over!!!! Will take a look ASAP!!!! She’d added an emoji of a white woman and a white man kissing chastely with their mouths, though really she’d wished there were an emoji of a half-Brazilian woman and a cloud of dark haze fucking each other as hard as they could with their inner, baddest parts.
As she’d promised she would, she’d read PURE EVIL’S personal statement in hungry glimpses throughout her shift. She thought it showed promise, but needed some work. PURE EVIL, she thought, wasn’t yet aptly showcasing his many gifts and talents within the allotted space. She was practicing what she would say to PURE EVIL about his personal statement when she got to his apartment. Brag a little! she’d say, and shrug one shoulder in a cute way. She would not check her wine glass for lipstick prints. She would not call PURE EVIL the E-word. She would not stare at PURE EVIL’s ever-different teeth. Maybe tonight, they’d be very tiny.
As Bruria neared PURE EVIL’s apartment she felt disoriented and out of place, as if something were missing from the landscape; she stopped short in front of a big green wall of plywood. There were some work permits pasted to the plywood. Men in yellow hardhats walked in and out of a break in the wall, munching snacks and laughing and smoking. Behind it, Bruria could see a crane. She could hear the crane’s beep. The beep sounded a little bit like the call.
“Hey sweetheart,” said one of the workmen.
“Hey beautiful,” said another. “You look beautiful.”
It took Bruria a minute, but she soon realized with a strange and lurching sadness what was missing from PURE EVIL’s block.
“You tore down Fantasy World,” Bruria said to one of the workmen.
“Your pussy’s the only Fantasy World I need, baby,” said the workman.
Bruria felt a sneeze coming on, and she sneezed. She wondered what her gynecologist was doing at this very moment. She wondered if her father was back from Brazil. She sneezed again.
“What’s your name, dollface,” shouted one of the workmen.
Bruria’d never been called dollface. It felt incredible. “Dollface,” she said, “is my name.”
Each and every workman laughed. Bruria made herself laugh along with them. Together they considered the tall and beeping crane.
Bruria pressed PURE EVIL’s buzzer and he promptly buzzed her in, but she found that she could not make it up even one flight, so loud and so strong was the call. It took on a vibration and Bruria felt her asshole shiver. She sat down on the stairs to rest, and heard the squeak of PURE EVIL’s front door opening up two flights above her head.
“Baby?” he called. The vibration quickened.
“I’m stuck,” Bruria said.
PURE EVIL came barefoot down the stairs. His feet went pt pt pt against the carpet, and every little pt made the call grow stronger. Bruria wasn’t so much in pain as she was, for the first time ever, aware of her body as a separate thing from the rest of her. PURE EVIL came into view, and Bruria’s vagina screeched.
“You need help,” PURE EVIL said. “Let me help you.” He tried to crouch down and put his sweater around her shoulders, but her vagina screamed and he backed away from her, crablike and quickly.
One of PURE EVIL’s neighbors opened her door. She was in a towel. “I’m trying to watch my show,” she said. “Maks and Kendall are dancing the Viennese Waltz for the Mirrorball Trophy and I can’t hear a goddamn fucking thing.”
“I’m sorry,” Bruria said.
PURE EVIL’s neighbor ignored her. She looked at PURE EVIL. “You always do this, right around the Dancing finale. Right when I’ve forgotten what that fucking thing sounds like, there it is again.” PURE EVIL’s neighbor tried to imitate the sound of the call, but she couldn’t even come close.
“I’m sorry,” PURE EVIL said. “I’m sorry.”
His neighbor shut her door. PURE EVIL turned into a wan-looking gas and floated upstairs.
Once his door closed and locked Bruria felt a little better, and by the time she was on the train headed north across the bridge and back to her own borough, she felt better still.
Bruria went to a bookstore to look for a self-help book. In the self-help section of the bookstore there were books about getting over men who acted like children and books about getting over men who were narcissists and books about getting over men who had died of terrible and terminal illnesses, but no books about getting over men who were PURE EVIL. One shelf over stood Bruria’s gynecologist, dressed in casual clothes, looking through some cookbooks. Bruria wanted to approach her gynecologist and tell her that she was feeling much improved lately; she wanted to catch up, shoot the shit, perhaps float a couple questions about speculums. Tell her that she was taking a multivitamin now! See what she thought about multivitamins and their efficacy! Bruria was trying very hard to think of the right thing to say. Should she be funny? Should she be like: Remember me?, and then point to her vagina? Should she say to her gynecologist, Hey, Snowflake, got a dollar? Nothing seemed right.
Bruria’s gynecologist looked up from a cookbook about cakes and met Bruria’s gaze. Bruria’s gynecologist’s face contorted in horror. She shelved the cookbook about cakes without looking. She shelved it incorrectly, with the vegan cookbooks.
“Hi!” Bruria said.
Bruria’s gynecologist crossed herself and backed away. She lifted her sweater; underneath she was wearing a small beige fanny pack. She unzipped the fanny pack and pulled from it a glittering golden vial.
“Crux sacra sit mihi lux,” said the gynecologist. She unscrewed the vial’s screw top. She flung water from the vial at Bruria. “Vade retro Satana,” said the gynecologist, “Ipse venena bias!”
The gynecologist ran. Bruria wiped her face. Shoppers were staring. A scene had been made. Bruria shelved the cake cookbook with the other baking guides and left.
A week later, Bruria was in her parents’ arms. Her chin was on her mother’s shoulder and her arms were wrapped around both her parents’ skinny waists. They were so skinny now. They were older and it was frightening. Bruria’s parents’ cats swirled in circles around the hug, swishing their tails and whining.
“You’re home,” Bruria’s father said in Portuguese.
“You’re home,” he said in English.
Bruria’s face stung from the cold. Her house smelled like it had always smelled. She didn’t miss the city at all and she didn’t tell her parents about anything of consequence that had happened to her while she’d lived there.
Bruria’s mother took her to the beauty parlor to get her roots touched up even though she’d told her mother that visible roots were the look now. Bruria’s mother would not have visible roots in her house. Bruria’s father took her to the movies and they saw a sad movie about outer space. Bruria played with her parents’ fluffy cats and applied for jobs and masturbated quietly in her childhood bed and when the fact that she did miss the city crept close she pushed it away. Sometimes in her nightmares PURE EVIL’s dick was right up in her face and it was a bright color, blue or magenta. Her vagina, in her hometown, was silent, and when Bruria took her vagina for a visit with her mother’s gynecologist at Christmastime the gynecologist found nothing remarkable about it at all.
Within a month Bruria found work as a salesgirl in a very normal department store in her hometown mall, and then, within a year, she was training for a role as a manager. She developed a talent for sales and accrued an impressive number of loyal customers who liked shopping best when they shopped with her. She remembered everyone’s sizes; she wrapped everyone’s gifts with skill. Daily she ate her lunches at the food court salad bar. One week, she tried exercise, but it just didn’t take. She signed up for a Japanese cooking class and got biweekly pedicures and anytime an email came from anyone in her past she archived it without reading what it said. She read all the books she’d been meaning to read and hated them all. She attended some soft-rock concerts featuring local bands who all sounded like the Dave Matthews Band, and at one of the concerts she met a kind man who was hard of hearing in his left ear—his childhood dog, a Shiba named Spuds, had mangled it.
They went on several dates and kissed with tongue and without and one night in a flurry of tongue-kissing they declared exclusivity. Soon—Too soon, Bruria’s mother said—they moved in together, and they made coffee in the morning and curry and rice at night and were careful not to ever go too long without having sex. This new man’s teeth never changed, and his face never changed, and when he left the room Bruria could remember what he looked like because he always looked the same. His arms were always attached to his body and he was not interested in going for his Ph.D., now or ever. There was no sex shop in sight and everyone stayed in their skins where they belonged. Bruria’s vagina kept quiet like a Swiss mountain village covered in snow, and on warm nights in bed she tossed and she turned and she thought about how her life, at last, had become an unassailable fortress of normalcy.