#68: Portrait.

Flash fiction.

Jesse tasted like a rental car, one that someone had smoked in. It was endearing, but it was impossible to put into words why it was endearing. Like a lot about him, it simply was.

Jesse had an air of desert kitsch about him. He reminded Lila of wood-paneled walls and dirty shag carpets, $1.00 soft serve near a southwestern national park, the feeling of sweat dripping down your back when you’re fifteen. The sensibilities of when her grandpa lived in an RV near WinStar for an entire year, before her mom “put her foot down.”

Jesse felt like all the little things that wove in and out of Lila’s childhood, features of the landscape, things that made alien places feel like home.

She spent a lot of time at Jesse’s place these days, a lot more time than she spent at her own. Her furniture, or lack thereof, collected dust. The kitchen remained almost totally unused, the fridge contained only alcohol she’d bought for a previous boyfriend and Jell-O, for when she was trying to lose weight.

Jesse’s place wasn’t a house, wasn’t an apartment, wasn’t a condo; it was a territory.

He slept on a mattress on the floor in a spare office in an auto repair shop. It was an illegal use of the room, but that didn’t stop Jesse from overwhelming the place with esoterica, filth, empty bottles of prescription medication, bad art, dirty clothes. A red light in the corner gave the place a ghostly glow.

It smelled vaguely of dog and weed and greasy food. When Jesse fell asleep, Lila often got the sense the place was haunted, too, in a way that was unmistakably malevolent— maybe by a poltergeist. She nursed a theory that an old TIME magazine with Jacqueline Onassis on the cover hung onto some bad juju. She was mostly too scared to open her eyes, but when she did, she always felt like some nicknack or stained tee-shirt was staring at her. Suddenly, everything had an expression.

Despite the filth, despite the poltergeist, she’d still have sex with Jesse in this room, and they made love (really, it was making love and not fucking) even if there were customers just a wall away, even if a mechanic was shuffling around the lobby. She was in denial about whether anyone heard them, but nobody said anything anyway.

“Jesse,” Lila mewed one day, staring at a particularly threatening looking water stain at the ceiling.

“Lila,” he echoed back in his drawl, a pouch of unopened Red Man between his teeth. He put on an Eddie Noack 45 he’d bought earlier that day. Psycho.

“Why do you live like this?” She sounded like a little girl, like she was putting some distance between herself and the question.

“I’ll be a millionaire by 40 and I’ll get you a nice house.” He sat down next to her, and winked at her, like he was putting some distance between himself and the answer.

He tore open the Red Man. Lila believed him. She closed her eyes and listened to the music and Jesse chewing tobacco.