The day I saw the grey lady, I froze. She was walking along the road, carrying a roadkill carcass. She held it out in front of her, like an offering, or a lunch tray in a cafeteria. At first it creeped me out; turned my blood to cherry freezies.
The whole time she smiled with a big, wide grin. I didn’t know it then, but now I figure she was distracting me from her color. The instant I eyed her, I had to look twice. Three times even. She looked like cement or old bacon.
Her smile held me, made me wait near the sign that says, “Road ends in 0.5 km”. A cloud moved away from the sun and the yellow reflections from the sign painted her skin, melting the freezies. In the golden light she looked pretty, a whispered kind of beauty. We walked closer to each other, and she set down the carcass. With every step she made me hot. I wanted her. Right then. Right there.
When I take a woman, I’m usually slow, careful, the chicks like me that way. But urgency took over and I grabbed my usual slowness and squashed it like a mosquito. A messy swat too, the kind that left a big splat of blood because the damned bitch already tasted me. Not until her sting sank home did I feel her, and by then, it was too late.
I needed to grab the grey lady and kiss her and tell her my life story. Maybe in that order. She wanted me too. The grin said it all. Now, baby. Come on over.
I stumbled in the high grass as my ankle twisted over a rock, ruining my slick come-on. She wouldn’t want me if I walked like an old man. She wanted me fresh, snappy. But she kept on smiling so I kept on limping.
When I was close enough to touch her, she turned away. Actually, more to the side. Gave me her profile. I saw the mark on her neck — a big purple bruise with yellow and green swirls. It looked like someone had stepped on her neck and held her down. But then I wondered if it was a hickey because it was in the right spot. I could suck neck with style, back in my prime.
The bruise called to me. It wanted me to touch it, taste it, smell it. So, I leaned in close, put my nose right up, and snorted a big whiff.
I’ll never forget the smell: creamed corn, fresh beer, and granny-soap. I didn’t think bruises had a smell, but hers did. Something about being grey, like it gives you permission to amend the rules.
I stepped back and looked her up and down. She was thin, but not skinny. The kind of woman who passed up desert but still ate potato chips. I put my hand on her waist, above that oh-so-curvy-hip spot that jeans turn into a dream. She faced me and turned down the wattage on her smile. Only a quarter turn on the dial, but I felt the change. I wondered if she didn’t like me up close, or maybe she’d changed her mind.
She opened her mouth, like she was gonna speak, but she didn’t. I waited, in case she was drawing out the moment.
I said, “I’m Ray.”
“I want you.”
“I can tell.”
“Can I kiss you?”
I leaned in and our lips touched. I wanted to close my eyes, even though I’m not a closed-eye-kisser, but my body was blocking the yellow glare from the sign, and she looked even greyer this close. But something about the smell of creamed corn and beer compelled me to keep staring, eyeballing her every pore.
Her lips were dryer than dead flies. I thought they’d be cold or slimy, but they were scratchy. Rough. I pressed in, trying to share my spit, to wet her up.
She opened wider and her tongue touched mine. I shook, like the back gate in a wind. I thrust my own tongue into her, reaching, probing, and marking my territory between her teeth. My hands found her hair and leaned in, harder, faster. I took turns pulling back for air and then diving back in, finding different ways to suction-lock our mouths. I switched nose sides, I turned sideways, then upright, then the other way.
She tasted like candy. The kind that you wear around your neck, biting one piece after another, until all that’s left is a sticky elastic. I bit her lip, only a little, but enough for her to pull away.
“Never say you’re sorry.”
I ran my hands down her neck, along her shoulders and forward. Her knockers were big enough to enjoy. But not huge. Not like a stripper or a bingo junkie. I squeezed and she moaned.
That started the snow blower. I didn’t want to make a mess, so I cradled her in my arms as I lowered her to the dirt.
She kissed me all the way down. I took that as a yes. An alarm bell in the back woods of my brain yelled something about latex, but I ignored the warning.
The belt loop, the zipper, and then the jeans fell away. I hauled up her shirt to get the full view. Greyness, everywhere. Like elephant skin, but not as hairy. I caressed the grey, up and down; touching her anyplace I could, mostly in the places that made her moan.
I kept inhaling her, pressing my nose against her, and every spot brought another surprise. Wet wool mittens, day-old donuts, copy-machines, new cars, cut grass, and rubber bands. She was a buffet line of scents and I wanted to taste everything.
My nose was getting overloaded, so I licked her. That started another round of moaning, and most of it wasn’t coming from her.
I yanked my shirt and pants off and tossed them into the woods. The grass brushed against my skin, rough but so alive. I was glad for the height of it when I took off my boxers. I didn’t want the neighbours driving by and catching a glimpse of my ass. The bugs were at me, but I didn’t care. I could scratch the itches later.
We cupped and found each other. My Johnson still remembered the dance, but the DJ played a short song because it was over quick.
Grey lady nudged me off. I flopped onto my back, and she snuggled close, resting her head on my chest, playing with the hairs, twisting them, grooming them. The after was better than the big moment. We lay there for a long time, touching, remembering.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
She moved her head off my chest and pressed it against the grass, once, twice, three times. Each thud a bit louder than the one before.
“Never mind,” I said.
Her head settled back on my chest. I inhaled. Her hair smelled like moth balls and dusty books. I buried my nose deeper. Hair spray and bug repellent. I sniffed around for a better scent, that didn’t remind me of dark basements, but the good smells had all faded.
Grey lady smiled. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it somehow. She hummed like a florescent bulb. But her grey color was darker. Not black, but on the road to it.
“I’m glad,” I said.
“Me too, Ray.”
She shook her head.
I was bummed, but I knew the deal. Grey lady was a one-time girl. No repeat customers. No refunds. No exchanges. The grass rustled in the wind. Bugs buzzed, flew past, and bit me. I kissed her shoulder. Then her neck, on the other side, the unbruised one. I found a spot that tasted like leftover boiled potatoes. God, I love potatoes. Then it was gone, and I could smell axle grease.
Should I ask for her number? We both knew she wouldn’t have a phone. So I closed my eyes.
“You’re sweet, Ray.”
I drifted off. I dreamt in grey. And when I woke, she was gone. The grass was squished down beside me; most of her smells forgotten. My skin was cold so I reached for my shirt, but my arm wouldn’t work. My eyes did, so I looked down at my naked body.
Every inch of me was cutlery grey. The bugs were on me, but not the kind that bite. Nope, these were the kinds that ate rotten meat. Maggots and beetles and shit.
The crows flew down too, they wanted my eyes. It was then that I realized I wasn’t seeing the whole picture in the usual way. I had an overhead, top-down view. A drone shot of the ditch and me.
I had my chance, and I blew it. I even tried for kindness but couldn’t thread the needle. Got as far as the “I” but anything resembling commitment, or decency never emerged. I should have thrown caution to the ground in front of her and pleaded for amnesty. Maybe that would’ve saved my soul.
She left me there as a reminder to be benevolent or join the ranks of grey.
Suzanne Church grew up in Toronto, moved to Waterloo to pursue mathematics, and never left town. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in Cicada, Clarkesworld, several anthologies, and her 2014 collection Elements. Her favorite place to write is a lakefront cabin, but she’ll settle for any coffee shop with Wi-Fi and an electrical outlet. Her social media links include: @canadiansuzanne on Twitter, @suzanne.church on Instagram, and her website suzannechurch.com