Paige Johnson

Sugar/Salt Baby

Another date on Surfside, beside the ocean-white 
apartment tower with beautiful, blue balconies. 
The same that will collapse in five years’ time,
leaving no Wi-Fi to leech an Uber from
or shade to smother an emotional hangover.
In other words, no escape from the crumble. 

So, I’m kicking it with strappy platform Janes,
lace flats stored in a puke-brown purse with fraying handles
for when I have to run out of fear or fun.
Securing a bag’s not all the reason that I’m letting 
a wannabe Banksy sales-pitch me over pastel smoothies. 
More of a two-birds, one stick situation. 
Like men way older, a story almost as much.
Hate boredom, detest sharing a bedroom.
My homegirl is a good time, but she blows 
pot smoke into her hamsters’ ear and
speaks of closet romps in front of her son.

Call me old-fashioned, but
I need space from the viceous people I love and orbit.
Straightedge at this point in life, so I seek a square. 
Need a quiet hunter, a hustler with inspiring (work) ethic.
Someone who will compensate my complaints,
compliment my accoutrements,
fund my sexual revolution.

Okay, so that’s exaggerating but that’s the art I’m paid for.
Maintaining smiles, looping arms at company luncheons.
Nobody believes I don’t sleep with the men,
but I’m more of a meet-and-greet girl.
A dinner debutante, 
cell phone companion,
video game Valentine.
Leave a tip for the waitress and me,
watch me instead of the movie and maybe 
we’ll make out if your hands are soft enough.

Wearing black-fleece even around whores, 
I’m an experience collector, old soul aficionado,
get off to conversation, bedroom or boardroom.
When did trad-life become so perverted?

If we make it to the second or third date,
I might flake like a mil(quetoast)ennial,
hold the L—just one because this is a partnership.
I don’t dip because I want to, but ’cause 
the girl at GUESS hip-checked me, 
scoffing I wouldn’t fit in anything, 
even though I arrived in their smallest dress.
I don’t always feel worthy of men 
who’ve already made it,
and that’s my biggest problem.

Miami sun’s melted everybody’s mind,
disordered me by osmosis, got me runnin’ on E.
My ex too, because he scream-insists he’s not gay 
even though I never asked. Guess I got more in common 

with Patrick Bateman’s secretary than skirt suits.
My taste in men has never not been under scrutiny.

Worse yet, my daddy’s in-person pick-up line is 
asking if I’m “fully shaven down there.”
I don’t know how he’d react to “nine-tenths”
so I keep quiet, a mouse who knows how 
to thieve cheese without getting the guillotine.

I can watch an idiot savant slurp linguini for half an hour,
twice as long if it means three days’ pay at the pet shop.
Either way, I’m watching a crustacean shrivel slowly.
I’m adding to my story and subtracting a shy shelteredness
so nobody—not me—can say, “She never lived, she never tried.”

Most of the men are normal in nature and the exterior,
but always on the clock, in a different city.
They need a nick of normalcy, the feigned familiarity
of “brunch with a girlfriend,” a young thigh to squeeze, 
a bitch who doesn’t bark when they don’t text back. 

This dud of a daddy doesn’t fit the bill 
but pays a few of mine after just one plate.
He paves the way for a cute Chinese immigrant to take his 
seat next Sunday, admire my toe polish and offer a condo
if I’ll be his editor-slash-ingénue a few months from now.

I won’t, but I’ll throw a little extra tongue into my kiss goodbye.
I’ll write a passage for him in my free time,
and spend the rest of the season
wondering if he meant it—
or if I woulda ended up in the pretty pre-rubble
of the beachfront property I passed on my way to the date,
doomed to an art deco death for reaching too high into the sky.

 Most days, I’m glad I’ll never know.

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