Best Features, by Roxane Gay
November 4th, 2010
Marcy is fat and ugly but she gives good head so she rarely sleeps alone which is not to say she’s not lonely. Marcy is not, in fact, ugly, but she might as well be. She has a pretty face, which is the same thing as ugly when a woman is fat. In the complex calculus between men and women, Marcy understands that fat is always ugly and that ugly and skinny makes a woman eminently more desirable than fat and any combination such as beautiful, charming, intelligent or kind. Marcy is all those things. She knows it doesn’t matter. The truth of things makes Marcy angry but she is quiet about it, her anger. She keeps it to herself, knows it sits at the bottom of her chest growing and growing but there’s not much she can do about it. She knows how difficult it is to change the world. She used to try, to change the world but she learned better.
Jack is a troubled man. He has done time in county lock up, not hard time, but enough time where he has learned things about how to be the best kind of bad man. Jack is lonely and angry. The world is against him and he’s smart enough to know it. Jack is very self-aware. On their first date, which involved a very long drive from the country to the city, Jack told Marcy about all his troubles. He talked about loneliness and bad friends and being stuck in a small town. He talked about not having any options and not knowing how to do anything with his dreams. Marcy listened and listened and then asked, “What do you have to offer a woman.” Jack rolled down the window, lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, sighed. “Not a damn thing,” he said. Marcy looked at him, appreciated the awkwardness and sincerity of his honesty. She took in his pretty gray eyes and thin red lips. She thought, “I might love this man more than he deserves.”
Jack can’t drive because he doesn’t like knowing the damage he could do behind the wheel of a car. He walks everywhere. His thighs are full of muscles that flex with every step. He is proud of his thighs. He knows they are one of his best features. He knows that having best features is the only thing he gets by on. Jack lives nine miles from Marcy’s apartment. Every day at four in the afternoon, he starts walking to her place so he will arrive just as she is getting home from work. When Marcy lets him in, he immediately takes a shower in her guest bathroom. She has told him he is welcome to use her bathroom but he says, “I am a guest in your home,” with real formality. He uses a fresh towel each time. This drives Marcy crazy. She leaves them, hanging on the towel rack. She doesn’t care if they reek of mildew and mold. She hates doing a man’s laundry. After he showers, Jack likes to walk around her apartment with his towel tied around his waist like he belongs there. Sometimes, he’ll stop and flex and pose and preen. Marcy pretends to find this charming.
She hates the cliché of it but Marcy loves to cook and she is very good at it. The first time she cooked for him Jack said it made sense that a girl like her could cook so well. For a moment, Marcy couldn’t breathe as her anger flew out of her chest and into her mouth. She ran her tongue over it, hard and bitter, then swallowed it again. Marcy makes everything from scratch using natural ingredients and Jack, accustomed to canned goods and frozen meals, takes real pleasure in eating Marcy’s food. He asks her detailed questions about how she has prepared her lasagna or chicken cacciatore or paella. He enjoys the sound of her voice, the warmth in it. Jack sits at the head of Marcy’s table as if he belongs there too. When he is eating he is not a guest. He is a king. He lets her serve him and always salts his food before tasting it. Marcy does not pretend to find this charming. When he does this, she rolls his eyes and comforts herself with the knowledge that his blood pressure cannot be good.
They slept together the night they met after several hours sitting feet apart on her couch, pretending to be absorbed in a popular romantic comedy they had both seen several times. Marcy tapped her fingers nervously against the arm of the leather couch, the sound echoing softly through the room. Her apartment has wood floors. Sound carries. Jack inched closer and closer as the night progressed, finally stretching his arms out and moving in to pull her toward him. He said, “I don’t normally go for girls like you but big girls try harder,” and Marcy couldn’t help but let some of her anger trickle out. She said, “Don’t do me any fucking favors,” and Jack turned bright red. “I meant that as a compliment,” he stammered. Marcy decided she hated him and that turned her on so she said, “Let’s get on with it then.”
In her bedroom, Marcy quickly undressed and slid beneath the sheets, waiting. Her stomach hurt. It always did the first time she slept with a man. She hated knowing how he would look at her body and she hated what he would think but she knew girls like her had little choice but to put out so that’s what she did. She put out whether she wanted to or not. She barely remembered what it felt like to truly want a man. She rarely slept alone. Jack took his time undressing as he took in the spare décor. Marcy saw little point in spending much time making a room pretty if most of her time in that room was spent with her eyes closed. “I like this,” he said. “I don’t care,” Marcy replied. He was a hairy man, his body covered in a thick matte of dark hair. Later, when he fell asleep as he lay on top of her, the whorls of hair on his chest would tickle her uncomfortably and she would say nothing. She would say nothing but her anger, just a bit of it, would trickle from between her lips, down her neck, resting at the base of her throat. It burned.
Marcy had ample breasts and they were soft and always smelled good. She knew they were her best feature and Jack enjoyed them thoroughly. He couldn’t stop talking about their dimensions as he squeezed and licked and nibbled and sucked. “I’m going to come all over your tits,” he said. Marcy lay beneath him, one arm over her head and she patted his shoulder. Men were all the same. She hated knowing that. When he had drawn enough amusement from her décolletage, Jack wasted no more time. Her forced her thighs apart with his and started fucking her. He stared at the spot on the wall just above her headboard and then he stared into her eyes, which made her uncomfortable so Marcy put on a good show, bouncing in rhythm enthusiastically, making the appropriate noises, feigning ecstasy. She told Jack how big he felt inside her and took the Lord’s name in vain and demonstrated her flexibility by resting her calves against his narrow shoulders. Jack moaned loudly, made comments about how fucking good she felt, how tight. He told her she was a good girl. He said her pussy felt amazing. She didn’t care if he was telling the truth. Marcy felt nothing but she was very good at making men think otherwise. Sometimes, she nearly convinced herself.
Roxane Gay’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Mid-American Review, Blip Magazine (formerly The Mississippi Review online), Cream City Review, Annalemma, McSweeney’s (online), and others. She is the co-editor of PANK, an assistant professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, and can be found at RoxaneGay.com. Her first collection, Ayiti, will be released in 2011.