Too Far, Eugene
"Too far," she said. "You went too far." This is what she said to him, before the one thing and after the other, to which he replied, "How could I go too far when I don't even know where too far is?" This is the joke. He used to say the same thing in grade school, like when some bully would come up to him and call him a name, call him faggot, like "Hey Eugene, you're a pussy," or douche bag or any other of the names kids call other kids, and he'd say, "Oh really? How can I be a pussy if I don't even know what a pussy is?" That was the joke, immunity by way of ignorance.
Days before, between a couple and several days before, they were lying in bed, post-coitally crippled, Eugene thinking about cherry blossoms and streetcars named Desire, the plural possessive of Narcissus and the song of the bowerbird, when all of a sudden she said, "I just think Sidney is so great."
"I don't think Sydney is great at all," said Eugene after momentary contemplation. "For one thing it's winter there right now, and for another their toilets flush backwards. Just think about what that means for a second."
"Not Sydney the city," she said. "Sidney the man. My friend Sidney."
"Oh," said Eugene. He didn't have much to say about Sidney the man.
"Are you jealous?" she asked. "Are you jealous?" Days later she asked, after Sidney had taken her out to lunch. Eugene had gone to the mall to buy some socks because he needed socks, because just that morning she'd pointed out the elastic in his socks had become all stretched out and kept slipping down around his ankles. "Quitters," she called them. So he'd bought some new socks from a woman in the store with the most enormous breasts he'd ever seen in his life, and even though he didn't find them attractive so much as he was concerned for her lumbago, he couldn't help staring at them, her enormous breasts. He imagined describing them to Stella as pendulous, as having a second life divining water hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth. She asked him cash, check or charge and he said check because he didn't really know what he was doing staring at them, even though he had plenty of cash in his wallet and the socks were only ten dollars, and when he finally completed the transaction after writing out the check, laboriously as it was with him rapt by her dowsing bosom and with a line formed behind him now and then picked up the socks and walked out of the store, that's when he saw them.
Of course he didn't know it was them sitting at a table in the food court so much as he knew it was her, saw her and recognized her of course since he'd just seen her earlier that morning, after they'd each woken up in her bed and he'd seen her then, but didn't know that was Sidney. Just a man, it looked like. Could have been Sidney just as much as anyone. She saw him and he waved and she stood up and walked over and said, "What the hell are you doing here, Eugene? Are you following me? I can't believe you're following me! What the hell are you doing here?"
"I was buying socks," he said, lifted the bag up for her to see. "Remember just this morning when you noticed the elastic in my socks was all stretched out and you said I should buy some new socks? That's all I was doing."
"Well," she said. "Sure, yeah, but why'd you come here for socks? There's a lot of places to buy socks so why'd you come here of all places where I was if you weren't following me?"
"Happenstance?" he shrugged. "Coincidence? Is that Sidney? He looks antsy. He looks shorter than I thought he would."
"He's not short, Eugene," she said. "He's sitting."
Later that night Stella brought Sidney home for dinner because, she said, she thought Sidney likely had an exceptionally large and attractive penis and she wanted a look at it, which isn't at all true except for in Eugene's imagination. Eugene forgot to change into his new socks and wore his old socks with the stretched elastic that kept slipping down around his ankles, and during the dinner that Sydney cooked and was actually very good, Eugene kept having to reach down to pull up his quitters and that's when he saw them again, their hands holding under the table, their spooning feet. Neither of them was wearing socks.
He was very tan, Sidney was, which would have made sense with him having come from Australia only he wasn't actually from Australia, that was just his name. He was maybe, almost, too tan. Not the kind of tan you get working out in the fields or going on long, rugged hikes in the wilderness but the tan of a day trader, the tan of a man who could wear blue button-up shirts with white collars with very minimal scorn. Eugene didn't tan. Eugene burned.
Eugene was thinking, right before he went too far as she said, of very little. Apparently this is how you go too far: feeling instead of thinking. Acting instead of reacting. He guessed, he thought, this is where acting and feeling get him: too far. Felt comfortable, which he guessed was the first component of going too far, not how he expected to feel, expected to feel awkward, which is to say uncomfortable and not comfortable like he felt, like when you're telling jokes among friends and everyone's laughing, every word out of your mouth is the funniest goddamn thing they've ever heard in their life and you're golden, you're loved, and then suddenly you make a joke about dieting and the Holocaust and suddenly they're not your friends anymore. Suddenly they're an overweight guy sitting next to a Jew sitting next to a German and they're all staring at you and they're not laughing, and it was probably kind of like that, like too far, even more inappropriate than that.
"This is a delicious meal, Sidney," said Eugene. "Really delicious. Did you learn how to cook in the outback? With the Aborigines?"
"I'm from Wisconsin," said Sidney.
"You'll have to excuse Eugene, Sidney," said Stella. "He thought you were a place."
Eugene wished he had a fatal disease. Or else he wished he had just been mauled by some ferocious beast. A wolf or a leopard or at least a very large and ferocious rodent. A wolverine would have been wonderful not only because they have large claws and are ferocious but because their very name sounds terrifying. A brown recluse spider, on the other hand, would not have been wonderful, not only because they are small and not at all ferocious but because they have no claws and their bites form into abscesses and necrotic skin, which do not elicit sympathy and awe so much as pity, and revulsion, which right now he felt he already had in spades.
"I bet you have a large penis," said Eugene then. "Exceptionally large. Stella thinks so too. You can tell by the way you carry yourself. And even though we both know a large penis does not a good lover make, I bet your large penis only complements your lovemaking. That's complement with an e, of course. Not like your large penis is constantly complimenting your lovemaking, like, 'Oh Sydney, you're doing a tremendous job! Oh, I like what you did there with your hip!' That would be ridiculous, and also very distracting to your lovemaking.
"Do you ever confuse the two, Sidney? Compliment and complement? Because I used to, all the time, and then I came up with this, what do you call it, mnemonic device, see? If you give someone a compliment it's spelled with an i on account of it's good for the ego, like your giant cock has to be good for your ego. But if something complements something else it's spelled with an e like it compleeeeeeetes it."
After dinner Sidney pulled out his acoustic guitar and played a couple of old blues numbers and after he was done Stella told Eugene it was time to go.
"But," he said.
"Goodnight," said Stella.
Outside it had begun to rain, cats and dogs and more dogs, and Eugene stood beneath her window and shouted up her name. "Stella!" he shouted. "Stella!" Across the street the doorman sniggered. Finally she came to the window, lifted and shouted back, "Go away, Eugene! Go away or I'll call the police!"
"I forgot my socks," he said and she slammed the window back down again and drew the shades. He didn't suppose she was going to collect his socks. Across the street the doorman sniggered. In the distance Eugene thought he heard the sound of sirens.