Playboy Fiction: Yeast
Desperately searching for salve…and perhaps salvation
Sorry to bother you on a Saturday, Mia said. Her rose gold phone was on the bed and speakerphone was selected. She was offensively high and her voice sounded smeared. She pictured Dr. Ruspin on the other end, mild and gray-bearded, in a spectacular kitchen. Chickpea alfredo.
She waited for him to say, That’s all right, but there was only silence.
It’s just preternaturally itchy. Like, the itchiest it’s ever been.
Is there any discharge?
Any pain with urination?
No, it’s definitely not a UTI. I just need Diflucan. Fluconazole. Though I’ve taken the generic before and it hasn’t quite worked, so.
I’ll send a prescription over, but if it doesn’t get better you have to come into the office on Monday.
Okay, but I just want you to know I’m positive it’s yeast.
What pharmacy do you use?
CVS. Um. Fuck. Sorry. It might not be open. Can you give me a second while I find a 24-hour place near me?
Dr. Ruspin didn’t say anything. Mia grabbed her laptop. She typed in 24-hour CVS near me. The internet was slow. Fuck. She took a hit from her tiny wooden vaporizer. Held it in.
Why don’t you just text it to me when you have it.
Oh, okay. This is your text? I mean, this is your cell?
Yes, said Dr. Ruspin. He sounded irate and bored. Perhaps a highborn wife was beckoning with sauvignon blanc. Mia wanted him to know she wasn’t just another loser. She wanted him to know that she knew about white wine. She loved Riesling and Sancerre. She knew a lot.
Okay, thanks. Bye now.
The sativa was hairy and Granny Smith green. It smelled like rain puddles in London in the springtime. And the sweat of a regal man.
I am so high, Mia drawled. She reached her hands between her legs and grated her v with her nails. She’d hoped the pot would dull the itch but if anything it only bejeweled it.
The nearest 24-hour CVS appeared to be in Queens. How was that possible?
Thank God she had a car. Kate’s car. It was an aquamarine Chevy Cavalier. The ugliest car in the world.
She texted Dr. Ruspin the phone number of the pharmacy and her DOB.
Six minutes later the phone buzzed.
Done. MY pleasure.
Holy shit, Mia said aloud. Why was MY in all caps? Dr. Ruspin was mostly bald. He was pale and birdlike and she imagined fucking him would be like being a piece of bread on a pier as a seagull shovels its salmon beak across your surface. But he had the power to cure a yeast infection. That was the most any man would have done for her in years. Decades.
She didn’t write anything back because she knew being quiet was more powerful. She took a giant hit and held it in for so long she could picture the smoke tinting her lungs a bright jungle green.
Mia thought how weird it was that everyone adored weed. Dads, bankers, chefs, politicians, rich and poor idiots. Loved getting high. But Mia wondered if anyone could even agree on what being high on marijuana was like. Some people inhaled frozen veggie burgers and fruit twists and truffle salt popcorn. Other people got sleepy. Others got talkative. Some people felt horny and sexy. Mia understood those people the least. She felt terrifically unattractive when she was high. She felt like a snail, curling inward and eating itself.
She took off just her sweatpants and angled her crotch so that it was under direct assault. The water felt cruel. Teasing. Not hot enough.
Fuck! The itch. It was the worst she’d ever experienced. In her bathroom she turned the shower on to the hottest setting. She took off just her sweatpants and angled her crotch so that it was under direct assault. The water felt cruel. Teasing. Not hot enough. She’d been fantasizing for hours about finding a homeless man on the street and having him wrap a rough Brillo pad around his penis and then fuck her until pain replaced itch. Pain and fear of whatever he’d given her. She wondered if the homeless even contracted STDs. Where would they find the time? Then she remembered everyone always found the time for sex.
The infection could only have come from one of two places. Venice or Hoboken. Last week she’d stayed in an airless but stunning apartment near the Piazza San Marco, right above the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. It was the second best and third worst week of her life. She’d met a man.
One lilac evening at the start of the week Mia had walked into Harry’s Bar. She ordered a carafe of red wine. It was brick-colored and ashy. She ordered the carpaccio. She wore a pair of slim navy slacks and a silk camisole. It was July and she was tan all over. Her hatred of the world and everyone in it was at the lowest rung it had been in decades. She sat under a thick window and pretended to read La Repubblica. A waiter brought a glass ramekin of olives that were dry but exotic. The water was ice-cold. There were a few businessmen with martinis engaged with their phones. All of them had cuff links. Her carpaccio arrived too quickly, under a grid of Dijon. The door jingled and a 40-something blonde wearing a clear plastic coat walked in, sat at the bar alone and ordered the butterflied veal.
As the first notes of the wine hit her bloodstream Mia felt the problems of the past year evaporate. In Italy everything that worried her seemed subcutaneous. News was not metastatic in Italy. People read the paper. They watched stocks rise and fall like it was the 1980s. Whenever a strange-looking fellow walked into a coffee shop Mia didn’t worry he had a gun.
She ate the carpaccio very slowly, savoring every slippery bite. The door jingled again. A man appeared in the doorway. A real one. Late 30s, early 40s. Snout of a wolf, waxed canvas jacket, Mets cap. He was seated at the table directly across from hers. He sat so that he faced her. The blonde at the bar uncrossed and recrossed her legs and took her plastic jacket off. Inside the restaurant the air changed. Mia felt the carnal hiss in her veins. It had been so long.
It happened the way all good things do. Like an architect designed it and Mia had no control.
The blonde drank two gin martinis and passed out on the floor. The man in the cap—David—was on the ground in an instant. He picked the slumped body up and splashed Mia’s glass of water on the blonde’s face. She came to immediately. Came alive in David’s arms like a fish. Her skin was like crepe. From the front she looked like someone who had consented to terrible things out of desperation. She had a Polish accent but spoke English well. She said she was in town with a man, and the man was called. The way that David handled her, eased her embarrassment, made Mia thrum down between her legs.
After a visit to the bathroom the blonde left, saying the man would meet her at their hotel. Harry’s Bar did not charge her for her drinks and the waiter brought her butterflied veal to David and David asked Mia to join him. They shared a few bites before even knowing each other’s names.
I don’t like veal but this is amazing, Mia said.
On account of their being kept in cages?
No, Mia said.
Is this your first time in Venice? she said.
That’s supposed to be my question.
I know, I stole it on purpose because I didn’t have any good ones.
No, this isn’t my first time in Venice, David said. The tone of his voice was egotistical and present. Mia felt like an animal of prey that wanted to die. That wanted to be hunted by precisely the right predator.
He was a Nike executive. He had hundreds of thousands of frequent-flyer miles. He was staying at the Hotel Flora. They served a children’s tea every day and Mia should have known when he mentioned it that there was a reason he did.
Do you like advertising? he asked. They had moved on to bellinis. He ordered a round without asking her if she wanted one. He wore a Patek Philippe that gleamed.
If you mean, do I hate myself, then no. I don’t hate myself. But I do want to write screenplays.
There are men who give you yeast infections, she thought, and men who don’t.
When David laughed, Mia felt her whole trunk rise from the seat. She smelled cherries in the air. The bar filled with Beethoven. Then Tom Petty. Mia thought of Kate, for the first time in months, with gratitude and not with rage. This would be the year, she decided, that she would have one linen top. One pair of swinging pants. One beautiful black silk romper. One pair of leather sandals. One vital under-eye cream. And absolutely nothing else.
Do you want to take a walk through the streets of Venice? he asked once she’d taken the last bite of the veal. He canceled his client dinner and her photo shoot didn’t start until the following morning. They walked for nearly six hours, stopping for wine and prosciutto and stracchino at several spots along the way. He paid for everything. Every place looked the same, open doorways, sweating waiters. For the rest of her life Mia would associate hanging muscles of provolone with lust, obsession, happiness. They made love in her room. They did not use protection and she would have taken whatever he had to give her.
They saw each other five more times. All of it walking before fucking and walking after. Coffee turning into wine. Drunk walking through the streets. Church bells. The lime stink of trash, the hot sun, the bruise-colored cold of the canal. In Kirikù she bought herself a camouflage slip dress. I have never seen a sexier woman, he whispered in her ear as she handed the saleslady her Amex. She wore the dress outside with her cowboy boots. It was their last day together. He was flying home in the morning. Home was New York for him too. He’d never said he was married, but he also had never taken the ring off. It was gold and the perfect thickness and when they fucked Mia watched it move and glint, thinking there was something outrageously pure in the act of not removing it.
Higher than she had ever been, Mia drove to Queens. She whooshed down avenues like a criminal. She passed a Thai restaurant and an E-Z DIVORCE and a Tasti D-Lite and a Crocs store and every single thing made her think of David. It was nine o’clock on a Saturday. She couldn’t picture him tucking in one of his kids but she could picture him going down on his wife or reading a work of historical fiction.
At the CVS she paid $5 for her pill. Dr. Ruspin had not provided any refills. Her car was parked crudely, many feet from the curb, but instead of going back to it she slipped into a dive bar, the kind that opened in the morning. She ordered a mimosa, which was close to a bellini.
I only have shit champagne, the female bartender said. Is that okay? Verdi.
Sure, Mia said.
Okay. I also have no flutes.
The bartender served the mimosa in a pint glass with a leprechaun on it. Mia slit her fingernail through the foil wrapper and removed the Diflucan. She placed it on her tongue and washed it down with a bright sip of mimosa. The orange juice tasted sweet and freshly squeezed. Forgetting she was in public she scratched herself violently.
There are men who give you yeast infections, she thought, and men who don’t. When she got home from Venice four nights ago, she e-mailed David. We’re in the same town again, she wrote. He did not write back. He didn’t write back the next day or the one after. So last night Mia opened up her Bumble and exchanged seven back-and-forths with a lawyer who was three years younger. His location said NY, NY, but he lived in Hoboken and that was where she met him, at one of the two-story bars on Washington Street. She didn’t meet him there because it was easy for him but because she wanted to be away from Manhattan. His name was Brent. He wore a stiff shirt from H&M and the least expensive Apple Watch.
Brent used a ribbed Durex. His tiny penis felt accusatory inside of her.
Sometimes Mia forgot that, when she was 15, she’d been raped by her social studies teacher. Statutory rape. The teacher, Mr. Hebrides—Jack—went to jail for 15 years. He’d been released just a few months back. His release made the cover of the Post. Jack looked old as fuck, so skinny. She was neither disgusted nor intrigued. She wondered how he would make money and where he would live but that was about it. She wasn’t afraid or anything. It was her parents who had put him away and they were both dead.
But when she was with Brent she felt roundly like the girl who’d fucked her history teacher. She felt like a glazed doughnut. Brent was the kind of guy who read the Post on his walk from his Hoboken apartment to his Hoboken law firm where he wore his cheap suit in a room of cheap suits. After Mia had drunk three vodka cranberries to Brent’s two martinis and two Heinekens, she said, You know the Creeper Teacher? Who was just released from jail?
Yeah, Brent said. He burped and smiled.
That was me. I was the girl.
Mia didn’t know why she did it. The instant it was out of her mouth she felt like something on the bottom of a boat.
Oh, fuck. No way.
Yeah, she said.
He smiled wide. His teeth were Civil War teeth. His gums were light pink. He took her hand in his and she thought he was going to kiss her.
So you’re all kinky and shit, he said. He brought her palm to his cheap gray pants and placed it over his dick. It was small and hard like a dollar-store water gun.
Mia felt pure hatred bubbling out of her pores and up out of her scalp. Back in his bleach-smelling apartment he fucked her doggy style, her slim jeans manacling her ankles. She imagined herself as a baby calf, being pounded in a small space, and she thought of David. The night they left her room at three in the morning to share a joint by the canals and they passed a baker making croissants and he gave them a blood-orange croissant. It was warm and fresher than anything she’d had in her life. The taste of blood orange was not so much a taste but a scent. A cloud of an idea. They shared it and kissed and smoked excellent weed he’d brought on the plane with him, because he was a champion.
Brent used a ribbed Durex. His tiny penis felt accusatory inside of her. He said Yeah! with every pump. Each one full of his self-hatred and misogyny. At a certain point he pulled out and began to finger her. It was as though he wanted to hurt her in a different way. She began to cramp and worried he’d pulled her IUD out of alignment.
Now, she realized, it was his finger that had done it. His nails, and whatever lived beneath them.
She wished she could tell Kate. That was all she wanted. To sit in Kate’s jewel box on Elizabeth with the bookshelves and the Persian rug and the Riesling on the patio. Their penultimate conversation was the last time Mia would ever be in Kate’s apartment. She hadn’t known then, that it was going to be the last time. She would have taken pictures or stolen the Rodin crema from the exquisite blue bathroom.
On her phone she went into her contacts and scrolled down to Kate’s name and number. Staring at it, she downed her mimosa and smacked the glass back down on the bar like a psychopath. She ordered a kamikaze shot because it was the only one she could always remember. Besides tequila. She felt the shot and the mimosa mix with the marijuana in her brain. She took out her little vial of Xanax. She was down to two and a half pills. She googled Diflucan and Xanax and marijuana and alcohol contraindications.
Before the page loaded she swallowed the half pill. She opened her text exchange with Dr. Ruspin. It was almost midnight.
I’m still itchy, she wrote.
She waited five minutes and sent a question mark.
She waited five minutes more and wrote, Can I also get some alprazolam.
Mia realized the main reason she had fallen in love with David in Venice was because of Kate. Because Kate would have been jealous. A man like David was exactly what Kate had wanted. Not the married part, but Kate would have agreed that a woman in New York over 30 could not be too picky.
She opened up her Talkspace account and typed a feverish emergency note to Susan Premo. Susan was an idiot but there was something homeopathic about writing to her.
Within minutes Susan replied.
That sounds very stressful! And it must be so hard to not be able to tell your best friend.
Yeah, Mia wrote right away, it sucks. She knew she could keep Susan hanging on the other end. The platform wasn’t supposed to work like instant messaging but Susan couldn’t help herself. She aimed to please. Mia loathed Susan’s transparence and availability.
Toward the end Mia had found out that Kate had lied about not getting her calls. She had two “broken” phones in the space of a month. She also occasionally switched her iMessage off and claimed that she’d been in a bad service area. The problem was Kate always pretended to be ignorant of technical stuff. So for many months Mia believed her.
Are you all set? the bartender asked. She had a pierced brow and stunning green eyes.
Mia was wasted. But why, she wondered, did the bartender want her to go? If she were a man the bartender would ask her if she wanted another round. If she were a man, she would have left her change on the bar top, the way that men did.
Yes, I’m all set.
Mia paid and got back in her car. Kate’s car. They had driven to so many places in it. They had seen everything there was to see along the Hudson. Across the dashboard and on the gear shift console and along the bottoms of the windows were the bumper stickers of all the places they had visited in the car. It had been Mia’s idea to put the stickers on the inside because they were reminders for them, the two girls, not for people on the outside of their car. It was always Mia who had the sentimental ideas.
On the horn was a bratwurst and spaetzle sticker from Mountain Brauhaus in Gardiner, New York, where they’d drunk beers from steins and eaten wienerschnitzel with fried eggs on top. That day had seemed to go on forever. Briefly they’d entertained quitting their jobs and becoming waitresses at the Mountain Brauhaus.
We could rent an entire house, Mia had said. And get a dog.
A husky, Kate said. She drank less than Mia did. She almost always drove.
After lunch that day they went to a sugar shack and talked to the men who ran it. Two burly brothers whose names were actually Nick and Dick.
Which do you want? Kate whispered. She was always doing things like that. Making Mia feel like everything was up to her. It was a lie. Kate would have flirted with whatever brother she wanted behind Mia’s back. Kate had been into men too much. Anyway Nick and Dick’s wives came out from the main house. They both had straw-colored hair and hippie clothes. Kate and Mia drove giggling to Hudson. They drank more and ate a seven-course dinner. They took turns taking a bath at the bed-and-breakfast they couldn’t afford.
Outside her window the moon was viscous and orange. She was grateful she was this fucked-up.
Now Mia drove back toward Manhattan. She could barely see. Between her legs the itch had purpled into something cruel. In the past her yeast infections had simmered down within 20 minutes of taking the medicine.
Her phone vibed. It was a text from the guy, Brent. She thought he hated her. She’d left the very second after he came. She wondered why she’d waited until he came. Why was it not over until the man came? Even if you hated him? She wanted to ask Kate.
The text from Brent said, Wut u into?
Holding the steering wheel with her left hand she opened Talkspace with her right and wrote to Susan Premo.
Do you think there are men who give yeast infections and men who don’t?
Susan didn’t reply right away so Mia wrote, What do I do? I’m driving in a car under the influence. I don’t like myself.
While she waited, she texted Dr. Ruspin.
It’s so itchy I want to kill myself.
Outside her window the moon was viscous and orange. She was grateful she was this fucked-up. She thought how nuts it was that the woman she’d been last week with David was nothing like the mongrel she was right now. In this teal Chevy Cavalier, driving fast and high with the windows open, mascara smudge under her eyes. Absolutely no music on the radio.
A few weeks before Kate was gone, they had a terrific fight. It ended with a brawl outside a bar. Mia threw Kate on the ground and kicked her in the neck. She didn’t know why the neck. Looking down at her friend on the ground, Mia felt like she was looking at herself. She didn’t want to hurt the face. Kate was not beautiful but she was pretty. She’d told Kate the truth about Mr. Hebrides. That she’d fucked him willingly and then told her parents she’d been groomed and coerced. Now Kate lay there on the curb, her red hair spilling like trash, and said, You weird pathetic slut. You ruined a man’s life because you’re a weird pathetic slut.
You’ll never be beautiful, Mia said.
Then Kate said something else, but Mia had to block it out. It was too hard. She thought, That’s it, I hope she dies there tonight. Mia walked away.
She got as far as Christopher and doubled back, running in her heels. Then she took the heels off and ran some more. But Kate was gone.
In the morning Mia brought flowers and doughnuts. She knocked and knocked on the blue door of the most beautiful floor-through on the Lower East Side. The problem, she realized now, was that she thought there was something to fix. She thought they were deeper than they were. Mia truly believed in her heart they could quit their jobs and become waitresses at Mountain Brauhaus. And rent a split-level with yellow grass and get a rescue dog in an indeterminate flavor of gray. For Mia, doing so would have plugged the holes in her heart left by all the things that shoot up holes in the heart. Kate didn’t have a heart. That was apparent now.
Mia passed the Robin Ridge Apartments then. She gagged. It was the ugliest apartment complex the girls had ever seen.
Kate had said, If we don’t find dudes soon, we might as well move in there. Get instant udon from that bodega and drink wine called Vanessa every Saturday night.
Ewww! Mia had said. But inside she felt warm.
She looked at her phone again. Why the fuck wasn’t Susan Premo writing her back! She was paying $196 a month for someone to fucking act like they cared on the phone.
She texted Brent back. She wrote, I have syphilis.
Then she opened up her e-mail and typed David’s beautiful full name in.
You won’t get away with what you did to me.
The problem, she realized—what Kate would have said right away—the problem was thinking there were some men who didn’t give yeast infections. They all gave them. Some were just more insidious than others. The quieter ones were worse. They itched the soul.
Men were all terrible. Kate should have known. She must have known. But if Kate knew that, then why did Kate move to Palmetto Bluff with a man? A man that Mia had never met. A man Kate had said was just some guy from Tinder. A man she saw every other day for months while lying to Mia, telling her she was working or sick or depressed. The whole time Kate had been eating at new restaurants and falling in love.
And Susan Premo and everyone in the world that Mia met from here on out, she would tell the same thing. That Kate had died. Because that’s what happened. The Kate that Mia thought Kate was had died.
In her e-mail to David, she deleted to me. Just as she was thinking how people always say don’t text and drive, how come no one ever says don’t e-mail and drive, just as she was thinking that, she hit something. Like a bowling pin but taller and more formidable. She was beyond high and drunk and so she laughed, because it didn’t seem like a big deal. Nothing was. It was just life.
She looked in her rearview mirror and saw that it was a man. A resident, perhaps, of the Robin Ridge Apartments. She didn’t want to keep driving, but she did. Then she hit SEND and felt truly free, like a seagull or someone who had already died.
From the Summer 2019 Playboy.