I didn’t know much about spices back then. Our home cuisine was American, not Middle Eastern in any way, and my mother was a big fan of Lowry’s seasoning salt and used it on everything. Something about that cumin beckoned to me. I wanted to sniff it right up into my nose. For a very long minute I just stood there bent almost in half, my hands behind my back, the tip of my nose nearly touching the hillock of yellow cumin in Maya’s palm. Finally she laughed and said, “Hey dude, I need my hand back. Get your own pile of cumin.”
Ariella gave me some caraway seeds and sesame, which she called kimmel and sumsum, and we nibbled our way down the aisle. Maya called out to Danny, whom we could see outside the coop petting a dog. Up in Tiberias we had roasted under the sun, but here, late in the day and by the sea, there was a gentle breeze, and the coop was pleasant. I noticed several industrial-sized fans spread through the coop, but they were silent.
We talked some more, sniffed some more, filled our little bags with spices we would probably never use, though Maya and Ariella couldn’t stop planning meals as we went. Fish dishes, meats, salads. Middle Eastern, Indian, South American. I got caught up in their repartee and offered suggestions; with their excitement I knew I would be eating the results of this spree more than cooking them.
We had been there for nearly an hour when I went looking for someone to pay for all the goodies we’d gathered. The only soul I met was the dog Danny had been petting, a caramel colored short-haired breed with a pointy nose like the kind you see on the tombs of the pharaohs. (Adam, you know from the fiasco with that yapping chow at Beth’s sister’s house that I’m no great fan of dogs, but I didn’t cause it to tumble down the stairs on purpose no matter what she thought.) It was quiet and no one was about. I wandered around in the messy yard and finally entered a little building that clearly wasn’t one of the houses on the property. I could see someone toward the far wall, his back to me and crouching so that only the baseball cap on his head was showing. I made my way toward him, past shelves crammed full with boxes and appliances and light fixtures and I don’t even know what—just rows and rows of stuff that wouldn’t pass muster at a yard sale. What I saw when I reached him was the upended lawn mower he was working on and his naked, slightly hairy back. The black waistband of his underwear rose above the belt on his olive-green work pants, which sported a few tools and a telephone pouch that seemed to be empty.
“We want to pay,” I said in my blunt, unripened Hebrew.
“Okay,” he told me, not looking up from the lawn mower. “In a minute.” I was already accustomed to a sales style unlike here in the States, where salespeople pretend they’re your best friend and sometimes tell you their whole pathetic life story when all you want is to buy a pair of jeans. Over there, in Israel, they act more like they couldn’t give a fuck if you buy or not. I looked around again at the mess and was about to go back to my friends when he spoke up.
“It was the carburetor,” he said. “One of my idiot employees used old gasoline from a rusty can.” He popped a few screws into place, wiped his hands on an oil-black towel lying next to him and stood up, his back still to me. I could see that he was a few inches shorter than I but still a good six feet tall, and very broad. He grabbed a T-shirt and as he turned to face me he took off his hat and mopped the top of his bald head. The hair under his arm was light, almost blond, and I could smell him. Oh yes, I could definitely smell him, and everything that eventually happened may have started at that particular moment, with the scent of him rolling off in waves and wafting under my untested nose. I’ve smelled you too, Adam, your real true scent under that cloying body spray you use to cover up any connection to the real physical world, but yours is different: It has no body, no weight to it. Your smell is thin, gaseous, almost like legumes cooking on a stovetop. This man standing in front of me, though, his smell was meaty, truly pungent and ripe. I was drawing it in through my nostrils and holding it there, letting it shoot straight into my limbic system, that ancient part of the brain where memory and emotion and lust and smell get entangled.
He was facing me now, still mopping himself but lower: his chest and armpits. I stood watching. His chest and belly were thick with honey-colored curly hair, his nipples large and erect. He was going about his business with no mind to me, while I was going about his business with no mind to myself. I didn’t know then what it was that I found so riveting, but I clearly couldn’t stop watching him touch himself. When he was done, he tossed the shirt over his head and his naked chest disappeared behind a faded green T-shirt with a logo I couldn’t read.
“What did you want to buy?” he asked me.
“My friends. They’re outside,” I said, slightly breathless, pointing over my shoulder.
He brushed past me to lead the way out, his hand on my back to turn me to the right direction. I followed him out of the large shed, back to the yard and into the coop with the spices, where Maya and Ariella and Danny were chatting over the wire baskets and the dog was standing at attention.
“Are you Uzi?” Ariella asked him as he walked behind the counter, where there was a computer and a cash register I hadn’t noticed before.
“Uzi the Spice Guy,” Maya added, almost to herself.
He looked at her but said nothing. My friends handed over the baskets and he weighed and punched in numbers until eventually he came up with a grand total that could have been a completely bogus number but I suspected was not. He dumped everything into plastic bags with the same logo as his T-shirt and handed them over. Maya and Danny and Ariella took out their wallets and paid in cash.
“This is a really great place,” Maya said to Uzi. “We read about you in Haaretz.”
He nodded. He may have smiled but it was hard to tell under the sandy beard and mustache that covered the lower half of his face.
I stood watching all of them. My friends from Tel Aviv, this man, the Spice Guy. Uzi. I said nothing. I did not move. I wasn’t even thinking, though I believe now that the powerful smell from his body may have been trapped in my nostrils and affecting my brain. Maya and Ariella and Danny pocketed their change; Danny lifted two of the bags, Maya and Ariella one each of the others. They said goodbye, thanked Uzi, started heading for the front of the coop. Uzi was busy with the cash register.
He’d pressed a button and the day’s transactions were scrolling forth.
“Yoo hoo,” Maya called back to me from the vegetable section. “What d’you forget?”
I stood there, immobile. “I’m staying,” I called back.
Ariella and Danny stopped at the entrance. Uzi looked up from the register, as if noticing me for the first time. I looked him straight in the eye and said it again, softer this time, to him only. “I’m staying.”
There must have been some fuss and bother. My friends must have asked questions, may even have come back to the spot at which I was rooted and touched me, pulled me even, but I have no recollection of any of that. I found my travel bag parked neatly by the entrance to the coop sometime later—that day, or the next or the next, when I started thinking about the real life of toothbrushes and fresh underwear. But what I do know is that within a matter of minutes they had driven off and I was still there, in that lousy coop, facing a man I did not know. He was leaning back against the wall now, studying me. He seemed amused, or curious, but only very slightly so, as if this sort of thing had happened before, or could happen within the realm of a day’s activities: sort the incoming produce, tabulate the day’s profits, process the guy who has decided to stay.
He leaned, his legs spread wide, his arms folded. I stood, my hands hanging straight at my sides. There was a counter between us, with a computer and a cash register and lots of scuff marks and gouges. The dog had disappeared, the sun was nearly down, the breeze had evaporated.
It seemed time for something to happen and I may have wondered why he didn’t ask what I wanted, why I hadn’t joined the friends I’d come with for the car ride back to Tel Aviv, but he merely leaned and looked and waited for me.
So I walked behind the counter and stood directly in front of him, inches away, between his legs. I reached a hand out, placed it flatpalmed in the middle of his chest. He didn’t flinch or question, just kept gazing into my face, expressionless. I can only guess what my own face was projecting.
You must read on, Adam, there can be no turning back. And I must describe for you, at this important moment in my story, quite precisely what transpired and how it transpired and, if I am able, what it all meant. And while you may form your own opinion, eventually, you must assemble these facts that I am handing you like tools in a toolbox, you must lay them in their proper places, line them up until they all are there and you can make sense of them.
We stood like that for several minutes, I suppose. While he looked into my face I was assessing him: through my hand, which remained on his chest; and my eyes, which roamed from his baldness to his hazel eyes to his scruffy jaw to his thick neck to his chest, his crotch, his knees; and also with my nose, which was picking up his aroma once again.
I pulled my hand away, then using both hands I lifted the T-shirt over his head; he cooperated by raising his arms in the air and letting them fall when I’d finished.
With a flat palm again, I brushed my hand over his chest hair, his nipples, his belly.
He stared but did not move. I raised one of his arms in the air and thrust my nose into the curve, and I breathed as deeply as a man who has come up for air after too long in water. Deeper and deeper I inhaled until he filled my lungs and pierced my bloodstream, and then suddenly it had to happen fast. I rubbed my nose so the scent would stay there and I backed slightly away. I slapped my hands several times against his massive chest—he did not flinch— and with hands that shook (with desire, with impatience; there was no nervousness here) I undid his belt, opened the zipper and reached in to his already rising cock. It was as large as I had expected, larger even, thick and red with a huge head I could barely get my mouth around. I dropped to the floor and sucked in great gulps; he did no thrusting, was nearly impassive as I lapped and kissed and gorged myself, my eyes half-closed in stunned ecstasy. My hands clutched his ass to push him deeper inside.
Until, without warning, he pulled my head away, stuck his hands under my armpits and lifted me in one swift motion to my feet. He spun me around, fumbled with my belt buckle until I understood and opened it myself, and he pulled down my trousers and briefs in a rough tug that caused my own cock and balls to bounce into the open air. I heard him spit into his hand and before I could protest—I wouldn’t have—or explain that I had never been fucked, had only done the fucking, he was pushing inside, that enormous head of his too big, too huge, and it was painful and perfect all at once, and it was all I could do to keep from screaming, though I moaned once, twice, bent now over the counter, my nose to the cash register, the gouges in the counter a design my eyes fixed upon before they snapped shut so they too could enjoy no distractions, and his hands—meaty, hard, calloused, how had I not noticed them?—grabbed my hips and he was pushing now, spreading me wider and wider and he was so far inside that I could feel his balls slamming my ass, and he was leaning farther back so that I rose to my toes as he pummeled and pushed and rammed and plowed and I wanted every centimeter of it and him and I wanted to stay like this, just stay like this, but I could feel him gaining momentum and now he was growling—growling!—and I was panting and he was pushing so hard that the counter I was gripping began to shake and for a brief moment I thought we might topple forward but I was able to hold on for one more battering thrust before he arched his back and pulled me into him and I could feel him spewing himself into me, and when he had finished and the throbbing had subsided I looked down and saw that I, too, had come, so that his orgasm was mine and mine was his and we were a mess, a heaving, sweating, panting, quivering mess.
And I was hooked.
Excerpted from The Parting Gift by Evan Fallenberg ©2018, Other Press, LLC.
Visit www.otherpress.com/partinggift for more information.