Thirteen Ways of Looking at Publick Universal Friend
After Shira Erlichman
Early in the morning, Publick Universal Friend and I hop the fence into the neighbor’s yard and steal figs from the neighbor’s tree. Back on our side, I ask the Friend, Aren’t you a prophet or something? Isn’t this a sin?
God hates figs, they joke back with a grin. I smile but don’t really laugh. I’ve heard that one before.
Even though they say they’ve gotten over typhus, I’m not so sure. The Friend talks about typhus constantly. The Friend likes all of typhus’s Instagram photos at strange hours of the night. That fever, they say so often it’s getting boring, filled me up, and after, I was forever changed. They say they’re not interested in love or marriage. Sure sounds like love to me.
At the dinner table, Publick Universal Friend peppers their tofu scramble and chews more loudly than expected. My dad says, She, and I say, Dad, you’ve got ketchup all over your shirt. I say, Dad, you’ve got a geranium crowning from your skull. And my dad says, blah linguistically incorrect blah, and pours a bagful of geraniums into the peas. He is trying his best. Publick Universal Friend, who loves flowers, is linguistically incorrect. They stand up and walk to their room, conjugating all their verbs poorly. They don’t touch the peas. Their tofu gets cold.
On Friday nights, Publick Universal Friend sits deep in their divot of the loveseat and watches Drag Race. They laugh when Trixie Mattel says, Trixie Mattel is a product of bad things that happened to me. They laugh when Katya says, You know you want this crocheted pussy. Yvie Oddly has skin and joints like mine, but we don’t know that yet. The Friend laughs regardless when I stand up and place my palms flat together behind my back. They laugh when I pull my jowls to my ears. Several hundred rooms over, RuPaul apologizes and posts a train flag on Twitter. RuPaul fracks his acreage. RuPaul is a capitalist. The Friend says, I have a frock just like that, and covers their bony knees with an American flag.
Publick Universal Friend loves to dance the “Time Warp” but is self-conscious of history. Richard O’Brien dances with us in the bedroom, but not on the porch. While ingesting his estrogen in his best chiffon teddy, Richard says to no one in particular, You can’t be a woman, but you can be the idea of a woman. Today we learn about twenty-first century irony.
On a podcast, a historian proclaims, It would be disingenuous and dismissive to only gender her as a woman; that’s why I often use he/him pronouns. The historian says she for the remainder of the show. Publick Universal Friend tries not to get too caught up in language, but asks to lease an apartment under my name so they don’t have to write down [ ]. I try not to get too caught up in language.
With enough Time Warps, everyone’s name becomes a deadname.
While lying in our parallel twin beds, staring up at the popcorn ceiling, the Friend and I debate the best non-gendered honorifics.
Ma’an, I suggest.
Slurm, they say.
Like in Futurama? I ask.
Yes, slurm-ee, they say.
Sometimes I catch the Friend staring at their naked body in the bathroom mirror, but I never know what they’re thinking. Sometimes I catch myself doing the same, and I am just as impenetrable. Sometimes the Friend wants to bring their horse into the bathtub with them but knows better than to get all that hair in the drain. The wetness of my body makes me this way, they/I say, mounting my horse at the sink.
Over Boggle, we ask them to tell the story again.
They always sob before they get to the part where the archangels proclaim that there is “Room, Room, Room, in the many Mansions of eternal glory for Thee and for everyone.”
Everyone laughs at the part about mansions and sips their Two Buck Chuck with a pinky raised. There is always someone in the window.
When Publick Universal Friend ditches me for Bible study, I pace the periphery of my box spring praying they make it home safely. Every pair of headlights to enter the window is a small and bright god. Under the roof of my eternal worry, my bedroom becomes a steeple enraptured with small and bright gods. When the Friend finally comes home, usually no later than 8:00, they catch me on the balcony with all my teeth trying to crawl out. They kiss my forehead and tell me to go to bed. Even then, I rarely sleep.
Sometimes Publick Universal Friend stands in the middle of springtime, and it is springtime. Other times Publick Universal Friend stands in the middle of springtime, and it is suddenly fall.
On long drives up into the canyon, they stare up at the moon and say, God made this one change just like mine. When we arrive, the Friend opens their door and enters the night toes first, rising from the car. They look out at the countless lights of Los Angeles, each home a small and bright god. They say, So many of them are just like me. So many like mine.
Publick Universal Friend Flirts with Typhus
Thurs., Nov. 7, 12:01
At the other side of the valley, there are teeth in the gums of the mouths of every river I have loved. I’m not one to love, much less one to marry, but when the waves lap at my toes, I taste a golden ring on my tongue. The lung is a strange breed of fish, but, shit, does it love to hold the river’s stink!
Thurs., Nov. 7, 12:05 PM
Lol. I get so flustered when I talk to
you, but you are a fever, after all.
What am I supposed to do?
Thurs., Nov. 7, 12:07 PM
OK OK. Take two: I said to the wind,“Please listen to me for once,” and when I got her attention, you wound up on my doorstep. This is not what I meant. But it’s just like you to show up unannounced. I guess what I mean is, did you ever think we’d hook up?
Thurs., Nov. 7, 12:22 PM
I mean, I burn red every moment of the day. That’s one of my defining traits. I sweat, and consequently all my lovers do too. I blister, and consequently everyone writhes.
Thurs., Nov. 7, 12:34 PM
How can you even sustain that level of cockiness? I know girls like you; I’m not stupid. Typhus: Greek for smoke. You: smoking my daddy’s tobacco on my daddy’s porch. You: stomping through my daddy’s grasses while I rinse the puckering corners of my body with frigid lake water. I knew when you were watching. It was as clear as the day you first placed your hot palm flat against my throat, holding tight to my risen skin, asking, “Pray me inside.”
Thurs., Nov. 7, 1:41 PM
You know nothing of girls like me. Years from now, someone who looks just like me will hold the hand of an Irish girl named Mary, and Mary will become only hands. She will make peach ice cream, and the ice cream will be hands. Rich families will eat her hands, and they will die as hands. She will hold her hands to the wind, and the wind will become hands. She will place her hands in the water, and the water will be hands. The authorities will find her, forcibly isolate her, and her isolation will be all hands. She will move to new towns, to new families, and the towns will become hands, the families will become hands. Her thoughts will become hands. Her hands will think, Why keep your hands to yourself when all you can be is touch? Why keep your hands to yourself when all you are is hands? You know nothing of girls like me. We change people like you.
Thurs., Nov. 7, 1:59 PM
You’re not wrong. I wasn’t the same when you left. You came and lived with me for a while, left your saliva on all my mugs, your sweat stains on my sheets, and when you had had your fill (this blood, yours), the girl who had lived in this body before I did rode her horse beyond the horizon’s round breast. When the body returned: Only deer ticks. Porches. Rivers. Grasses. A golden ring. When the body returned: only Friends, praise be.