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Bead Lizards

Story by Emily O. Gravett (Read author interview) March 20, 2023

Art by Samuel Scrimshaw

Soon I learn that Anthony the adorable mailman makes animals out of colorful beads, just for fun. I learn this during one of our front-porch chats, when he is dropping off my packages. This sounds like the start of a porno, but it’s not like that. He wants to give me something. A bead lizard. He promises to work on the lizard on his day off, whenever that might be. This is only a temporary route for him—he drives an hour just to get here—and the post office is working them hard.

Last week, I chatted with a guy on Bumble who claimed his jizz tasted like pineapples. Two weeks before, I went on a date with a ski instructor who planned to have a girlfriend by spring, summer at the latest. Does this work?, I thought. Can you really schedule love? I’d like to book someone for June. Two weeks before that, I listened, over Indian food, to a man detail the way his bisexuality tore his marriage apart. Is this what dating is now, now that we’re all aging and viral? The lamb biryani wasn’t even that good.

The adorable mailman instead tells me about his bead art and how he stepped in snow earlier that day.

There is nothing worse than wet socks, I solemnly nod.

A mile or so down the road from my house is the university where I teach. The men I date assume that all my students have crushes on me. Maybe. Or maybe they think I’m trying too hard, dressing too young. Or maybe—this would be worse—they don’t register me as a woman at all. I’m not a nice ass or legs for days or a pair of fatty tits not sucked to rags by a child who doesn’t remember it, born to a man no longer legally obligated to love me. I’m not anything like that because, somehow, in the three years since my divorce and a global pandemic, I’ve aged about a hundred.

When Anthony isn’t subbing, I don’t get any mail. When he is, I leave little treats out for him: two Girl Scout cookies, a granola bar, some skittles—his favorite.

My friends think I’m leading him on. Am I? Must every decision of adult life be unimpeachable? It’s tiresome to be responsible. It’s tiresome to follow social distancing rules. It’s tiresome to chat online with men and know it’s not going anywhere, but to keep chatting anyway. It’s tiresome not to go to a bar and find someone, anyone, to suck on my toes and make me remember what it’s like to be loved.

I find myself aching for a lizard made of beads. No man my age would offer up such a thing as a precious gift, without any irony. They might go on a hike or cook a meal or meet up for “margs” (an abbreviation that makes me want to obliterate the entirety of the English language), but nobody in their 40s is making gifts for women out of beads. I almost can’t bear it—not the sweetness of it, though it is sweet; not the innocence of it either, though it is that too, but—knowing his future, knowing he will turn out in a way that he doesn’t know about himself, knowing that someday he will no longer be the sort of person to offer bead lizards to a woman he wants to love.

He’d left me a note, Anthony had. It took courage, that note, to write down his phone number and stick it in my mailbox. I always want to reward courage, because it took me so long to find my own, so I texted him back. I find out, quickly, that he is only 18 years old. The postal service could barely let him in. My brother laughs when I tell him and sends “ABORT! ABORT!” back in all caps. But it feels like a triumph, at first, to be seen as desirable by someone so young, someone so untouched by the loose gravel of life.

Every so often, Anthony brings me packages from my stepmom out in California. This time, she’s sent old photos—real photos!—of me and my high school boyfriend. We are at the beach. We wear red bandanas on our heads while we hug. I can’t stop looking at my hands on his back. Real hands on a real back. I can’t remember what that feels like, how warm or soft a man’s skin can be.

Back then, I could touch him whenever I wanted to. I could get up close, face free, and his air would become my air. I owned him, in a way. Now he is married and has a kid, maybe more, with another brunette out in the Bay Area. They probably pay for preschool and landscapers and all the things you do when your life is no longer your own but is instead your kids and your house and your 401(k) and only the gauzy memories left of a trip you took overseas back when you were still young.

Listen, I’ve had poems written about me. I’ve been picked up in a darkened movie theatre. I’ve been given flowers and foot rubs. I’ve been kissed in the middle of the Potomac River. I’ve gone down an aisle, wearing white. I’ve grown a child with an egg that was with me since birth. I’ve unraveled the whole thing. I’ve had all the experiences. How can there be anything left? What greed to long, still, for something that isn’t loneliness. Isn’t it enough to know I was loved, and I loved? This is more than most people get in a lifetime, the sayings go. But the world can surprise you. Someone might stand on your wraparound porch one day and say, I make things out of beads. Do you want one? And you might pause, heart beating, and think to yourself, Huh, I never had that before.

About the Author

Emily O. Gravett mostly spends her days cycling around the counties near Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she also teaches at James Madison University. She lives with her daughter in a 100-year-old Victorian, just down the street from their favorite dairy bar, and writes in her “spare” time.

About the Artist

Samuel Scrimshaw is a photographer from Manly, Australia.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Nine

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