Raki is a Jewish, queer, experimental fiction and poetry writer. Her work has been published in Duende, Restless, Monkey Puzzle, Wilde Magazine, Not Enough Night, on her blog, Night Stories, was shortlisted for the Black River Chapbook Contest, and received an honorable mention for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and currently lives in Minneapolis. You can find more of her work here: rakikopernik.wordpress.com.
The red-lipped fedora girl
I met a girl with a fedora and a huge red mouth. She smiled all the time, a big wide smile. Her mouth was so big that when she opened it I could see all the way down her throat to her heart. More than once I almost fell into her mouth and down, into her body.
The fedora was dark gray with a light gray band and it lived, permanently, fixed on her head. She would flip upside down and still, the fedora stayed put. When she showered she put a plastic cap over it so it wouldn’t get wet.
Every day, I visited her at the teahouse down the street where she worked. On warm days I drank bubble tea with aloe bubbles, and when it was cold, spicy chai with whole milk. At night we’d go to the bar down the street and play ping-pong, a soda on her corner of the table, a cheap beer on mine. Once in a while she had whiskey in her soda and even then, even with whiskey, her fedora stayed in place.
Our ping-pong game got to the point where we could play so fast the ball looked like a shooting star. People started to stand around us and cheer. Then the local news came. We got on TV and in the newspaper.
Red-lipped fedora girl and small hesher take ping-pong to outer space!
When she read that headline she hugged me and kissed my forehead, leaving a big red lipstick mark from my right temple to my left. Then she looked in my eyes and I put my mouth on hers. She didn’t swallow me even though I thought she might. She just kissed my lips slowly and licked my gums. Her mouth tasted like a campfire. I licked her gums back. When we pulled our mouths apart, her lips were still perfectly red and her fedora sat in place, unmoved. I tried to ask her how it was possible but she put her fingertips on my mouth and said, Lets drink coconut chai.
Okay, I said.
On her birthday I bought her a shiny black top hat, thinking she might want a change. She smiled in her Guy-Smiley way and kissed my cheek, leaving a red lipstick mark from my right ear to the edge of my mouth.
I’ll put it on top of the Christmas tree, she said.
But you don’t have a Christmas tree.
I’ll get one for the hat, she said.
It was July. And she was Jewish. But she was good with plants.
For Rosh Hashanah, we ate apples with honey for a sweet new year.
This year I will change my style, she said.
I hoped that maybe she would get a new hairdo and want to show it off. Instead she started wearing black thigh-high boots. Nothing to complain about, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what was under the fedora.
By winter she had left wide red lipstick marks in various places on my body, like my arms: shoulder to elbow, and my lower back: hip-to-hip. Once she kissed my butt and was able to cover both cheeks in one kiss.
When it finally snowed she invited me to sleep under her down comforter to stay warm. We ate toast in her bed. She put my whole hand in her mouth and it came out red with lipstick. I kissed her neck. Then we slept. She tossed and turned and still, the fedora stayed fixed in place.
In the morning I woke before her. Her lips were perfectly red, parted a little. I wanted her mouth to be opened wider so I could crawl inside and be warmed by her breath. But more than that, I wanted to take off the fedora. I touched its velvety rim between my thumb and fingers. I stroked the light gray band with the back of my hand. I put my wrist in the valley on top of the hat. She didn’t wake. I stared. I watched her sleep. I touched her red mouth. I thought some more. How could I really know someone without ever seeing her cowlick?
I held the brim of the hat between the fingers of my right hand. I tugged upward as gently as I could. The hat didn’t move. I tugged again, a little harder this time, and heard a faint tear. Nothing dramatic. I pulled a little more. Another undramatic tear. I kept going. Gentle tug. Little tear. Small pull. Rip rip. I kept pulling. Slowly. The hat lifted inch by inch. She slept through the whole the thing. When the hat was almost disengaged with her head, when her skin had undone itself, a small light shined from her forehead and then from the top of her head. I rested the fedora, still connected to the back of her head, on the pillow. My face was lit from the bright white light shining out of her head. She was a heat lamp, a spotlight, a lantern. I felt my pupils turn to slits. The light was blinding. I couldn’t see anything else inside. I crawled in. It was warm and cramped but comfortable enough. I reached up and pulled the fedora shut, closed my eyes, and went back to sleep.
I go to parties with my cat
We ended up in Randomville, Arizona. Sami and I go there often, but I don't know the place well. In Arizona you can sit outside without feeling air on your skin. We sat at an outdoor cafe eating onion bagels and cucumbers when a girl that looked like a girl I went to high school with came over to our table and invited us to a house party. Sami was on the prowl, so right away she said, yes.
Okay let’s go, the girl said.
We followed the girl for a few blocks and arrived at the party. I knocked on the door even though I didn’t know who’s house we were at and an extremely tall person answered. The door answerer noticed my noticing her tallness and said, Oh I’m just wearing stilts for a second because, you know, I just am. Then she said her name, which was the same as mine.
I said, Sami she has the same name as me.
The person said, I don't go by she.
I said, oh sorry I mean they.
Then they said, no I go by he.
He was deeply offended so I thought I got off to a bad start at a party where I knew no one. Sami was already gone, flirting shamelessly with girls. I walked away, alone.
As is often the case in Arizona, there were cats all over the party. My cat included. In the bathroom line I told someone that my cat came to the party and she gave me a look like, who do you even know here that you can bring your cat. So I quickly reassured her that my cat doesn't fight with other cats and is very nice to people. She was gone before I finished my explanation. Maybe she didn't really have to go to the bathroom. Most of the people at the party seemed to be in their own impenetrable bubbles and I didn't know the secret password. So I walked room to room around the party, giving Sami time to flirt and possibly make-out with someone, and to checkout out the cats. I kept reaching toward cats I thought were my cat, only to see a foreign marking, like a white spot on the tail. I started to wonder if I was a still a good cat mom if I couldn't recognize my own cat of eleven years in a sea of other cats I'd never known.
I called out my cat's name and she came running to me without a meow. I picked her up and told her it was time to go home, even though I wasn't sure how we would get there. I wasn't as distressed as Dorothy trying to get to back to Kansas, but I closed my eyes anyway and tried her trick, there's no place like home there's no place like home there's no place like home.