It’s a taboo. It’s dangerous. The second they lower their hands to their crotch, they feel it. The fear. But that’s part of the thrill, right? Fear gets your blood pumping. Fear heightens your senses and alters your perception of time.
They never could see the color of their aura, but, right now, they feel it expand until it occupies everything within a city block. Buildings, traffic, pedestrians. The train rattling by overhead. Passengers with places to be. Deciding their aura is pink—it must be pink now—they pull the thing in close, tight, and hard. Like a fist. Like not letting your mind wander. The alley, the dumpster, the broken cart that was once for shopping. The smell of rotting things and the feel of their cock. That is all.
They try not to think about their mother.
You feel me on you? she’d ask, standing no more than a foot away from them. Not by you, but ON you? That’s the aura part of you. You don’t end where you end. Nobody does. She said pink was love. It didn’t feel like love to them, though. It felt raw and exposed.
Used to be they’d visualize somebody. Not their mother, of course. But somebody. Eyes, lips, hands. A good ass. Now, it’s easier to see fear.
And then there’s blue.
Blue uniform, blue balls.
They put their hands in the air. That’s another thing they learned from their mother: You see a police officer, you PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR. Their father was a cop. Big, strong, and handsome. They’d never met him, but they’d seen pictures. He died in the line of duty.
“Put it away, buddy,” This Cop says. He, too, is big, strong, and handsome. An outdated mustache, but still. They like idiosyncrasies. It’s a little of them on other people.
In a different world, maybe they and This Cop could have been friends, “buddies,” like he said, or more. This Cop escorting them to the cruiser? Opening the back door and waving them in? It could have been pink. The other pink. A playful Your Grace before heading off to the drive-in with a picnic basket. Another idiosyncrasy.
They’d share memories as the neighborhoods rolled by, they and This Cop:
The school where we learned clarinet.
The park where I played Little League.
The library where we hid from the world after our mother died and we had to go into foster care because the others didn’t understand.
This Cop would shake his head and ask, What did you read?
And they’d answer, Les Mis. We’re Jean Valjean AND Cosette.
When traffic slowed, This Cop would reach into the picnic basket for Piroulines, those rolled toasted wafers lined with dark chocolate, and—Your Grace, eyes all flirty—he’d slip one through the gaps in the metal partition. Then there’d be a comfortable silence. Or Lou Reed, maybe. “A Perfect Day.” In a different world, once they run out of neighborhoods, the IKEA and the behemoth corporate headquarters of Motorola and McDonald’s might seem less foreboding. The water towers less like nuclear reactors.
They wouldn’t be wondering, Why the cows and cornfields?
And then, when This Cop pulls over in the middle of flat green as far as the eye can see, when he drags them out of the cruiser, pats them down, takes the $6, shoves them into the muddy ditch, and, finally, just abandons them—that’s all—they would not be fucking grateful.
In a different world, fear wouldn’t be easier to see.
Alba Machado has been published in The Collagist, Knee-Jerk Magazine, Curbside Splender, and Hair Trigger. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing-Fiction from Columbia College Chicago in May of this year, and is currently working on a satirical novel about American education based largely on her own experiences as a former Chicago Public School teacher.