A Feast of Peonies



Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 109 in 2004.

You feel your legs begin to twitch under the covers.

You open your eyes. It's light outside, but very little of the light is getting past the room-darkening shades. Nothing around you looks right. Your balance is off, and your head swoons. You look at the clock. It's in the wrong place. 5 a.m. You take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Then you feel the hangover right behind your eyes. What did you drink last night? Oh shit! Tequila shooters. You try to remember if you smoked any shit. It's gone. The whole evening is gone.

You feel a stirring next to you. You turn slowly to see. Yup, there's somebody there all right, huddled under the covers like dirty laundry. You ponder whether to leave her there asleep, or wake her up. She clears her throat. Damn, she has a deep voice. You peek under the covers. The girl is creamy white like she never gets out. She's lying on her stomach. She sure has a skinny ass. And she's small. She has a body like a little boy. A mop of brown hair covers her face. She rolls onto her back. The bitch has a dick!

You resist the impulse to shout. You don't want to wake her . . . him . . . it up. You vow never to drink tequila again for as long as you live. Ok. You've got to think. Maybe there is a reasonable explanation. Maybe nothing happened.

He rolls over and slowly opens one eye, then both eyes, then smiles at you.

"Hey, baby," he says. His voice is still deep, but now it has a whisperyness to it. He wants to sound sultry. He has a Puerto Rican accent. "Did you sleep well?" He smells like a man.

"Who are you, and what the fuck are you doing here?"

"I live here," he answers, his smile still radiant. You wonder if his too even front teeth are real.

"Ok, then what am I doing here?"

"Getting ready to play mama, I hope."

"I don't do the mama thing," you inform him.

"That's not what you said last night."


"What exactly did I say?"

"You said ok."

"To what did I say ok?"

"I said I would suck you if I could fuck you. You said ok."

"I did?"

"You did."

"Did you do it?"

"I did it."

"I don't remember."

"Ok, I'll do it again." He moves towards you.

"No," you say, clutching at the covers. "I mean I don't remember saying ok."

"Well, how else did you get here?" he asks. "You don't think I knocked you out and dragged you kicking and screaming, do you?"

"I'm not a faggot."

"And your point?"

"I'm not going to play mama."

His smile fades as he ponders a moment. He sits up demurely, and adjusts the sheet over his folded legs. His long fingernails are lacquered bright red. The mop of brown hair is long on top and sculpted down to a fuzz around his ears and the nape of his neck. You try to remember if you've seen that look on magazine models recently. His full lips are still tinged with the red lipstick that had been on them last night. He has a small gold ring through his left nipple. Didn't that hurt? Both his nipples are surprisingly pointed and pink.

You ask, "What's your name?"


"How old are you?"

"Old enough that you don't have to worry." His eyes are a deep green.

"I want a number."


"Ok, Phyllis, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to mislead you, but I am not gay."

Phyllis ponders a moment longer. "Ok," he says, "then you fuck me so I can come."


Before you can say no, he flips around and onto his knees. He slides his knees apart on the silk sheet as he arches his back presenting his rectum like a little pink flower. The dark hair running from his scrotum to his tail bone approximates the shape of a pussy. Maybe this won't be so bad. Is this what Reggie saw?

"Wait a minute," he says. He reaches for a small bottle of scented oil from the bookcase that serves as a headboard, and slathers oil on his rectum. He smells wonderful. He reassumes the position, and pokes his finger in and out of it a couple of times. "Ok," he says, "I'm ready."

He cups his dick and his balls against his stomach so you really can't see them. From that angle, if you imagine it right, he looks a lot like a woman. His rectum looks just like a woman's rectum, and your dick gets hard. You cozy up behind him and rub the tip on the flower. It feels like a woman's. He braces himself so you can push it in. You push the head past the rim and he purrs. Using slow movements back and forth, you work it all the way in. You close your eyes. He begins to rock his pelvis in and out, and you rub his sides from his armpits to his hips. He feels just like a woman, but different. Not as soft. You reach around to caress her breasts. They're small. The nipples are firm. You flip the little gold ring up and down a couple of times. You run one hand down her stomach to her pubic hair. Her dick is hard and pulsing. It has oil on it, too. You cup the head and rub it slowly. Her rectum contracts like a pussy. You let your fingers ripple back and forth over the rim of the head. She sits up resting her weight on her arms, and you stroke her like you would stroke yourself. She's small, scarcely five inches. She comes and fluid spurts into your hand. Pulling her body flush against yours, you come and fluid spurts into her ass. You nestle your face into the side of her neck. She rubs her face against yours. Before you can catch yourself, you kiss her on the cheek. She twists around, and you kiss her full in the mouth. She gives you her tongue eagerly.

She feels your dick slip out of her, and, careful not the kick you, she turns around. Her toenails are lacquered the same shade of red. That color would look great on a car. Positioned by your right leg, she leans over and slides your dick into her mouth. You lean back and rest your weight on your arms. You spread your knees. She cups the base of your dick and scrotum in both hands, and works them up and down to the rhythm of her head moving up and down. You come again and she swallows.

You roll to one side and drift into sleep.

The sky around you is green as are the grass and the trees. You eat the grass and your stomach begins to ache. The ache gives over to an irresistible urge to take a shit. You squat behind a tree and push out a foot long piece of shit. You wipe yourself with a leaf from a nearby bush, and drop the leaf on the ground. From the spot where you dropped the leaf, the grass begins to turn brown. The trees begin to droop, and their leaves turn brown as well. The sun is setting, and the red rays from the sun turn the sky brown. You look down at yourself, and there are maggots crawling from your dick.

You wake to the smell of food. Curry maybe? You look around the bed and see your clothes on the floor where you must have dumped them last night. You feel the need to cover yourself. You reach for your pants, and, pulling them on, you look around the rest of the tiny room. Your head is clear now, too clear.

The bed isn't a complete bed, but merely a mattress on the floor. The six-foot bookcase at the head is filled with college textbooks, novels, photography books and knickknacks, candles, incense burners, figurines of Shiva Dancing and Buddha. There is another figurine, twice as big as the others. It has a garland of skulls around its neck. There's a picture of a couple holding a little dark haired child. The woman is looking sternly into the camera, her mouth set, her eyes sharp like the eyes of a wolf, a wolf that knows everything. You have trouble looking at them. The man is mousy. His head is turned away, and he stares off at something or nothing on the ground outside the picture. The child - it isn't clear whether it is a boy or girl - is being held up by both of them, but it is staring up at the woman. It's probably Phyllis. He has his thumb in his mouth.

A well-worn chest of drawers occupies the opposite corner. A large round mirror hangs on the wall above the chest, and the window next to the chest looks out onto a backyard that serves as a large garden and a parking lot for four old cars. There are a couple of throw rugs on the floor. The door just at the foot of the bed is closed.


You slip into your sandals and stand up to pull on your t-shirt. You look at yourself in the mirror. You can't even look at your own eyes.

Compared to Phyllis, you are tall, six feet two to be exact. And you are heavy, a hundred and ninety pounds. You carry more of it around your middle than you would like, but you've been too weak to change your lifestyle enough or long enough to get rid of it. Your legs and arms are long and muscular, so you give the appearance of being in better shape than you are. In fact, except for your mid-section, you look like an athlete. You don't deserve this body. Your skin is as dark as black soil, freshly turned. Your face used to be lean and long. But now it is oval-shaped from the fat, and your nose is short and bony like a fish head. Your lower lip looks bigger than your upper lip because you have a pretty severe overbite, and your eyes are heavily pigmented. You've never been referred to as handsome, but you have been told that your face has character, whatever that means. You wear your hair in a thick bush. You force a wide smile that flaunts a gold-capped upper incisor. The left one. Maybe it's the stark contrast between your pearly white and gold-capped teeth and your uncompromisingly black face that people find so interesting. You don't deserve this face, either.

Phyllis opens the door and looks in. "Oh, you're up," he says. "Are you hungry?"

"No," you lie. "I've got to go." You avoid looking at him.

"I'm a good cook," he says, "and I've just warmed up some lamb stew and rice."

"I've got to go," you say again.

"Will I see you again?"

"Probably not."

"What's your name?"

"You didn't even know my name?"

"You didn't know mine until after we were in the bed naked."

Some people find you intimidating, especially when they hear your name, Ashanti Ra. You take a deep breath, and you can feel the power of your name filling your body. People think it's a taken name like Kareem Abdul Jabar or Mohammed Ali. And they think that you are dangerous. You don't deny being dangerous, but the name was given to you by your parents, both of whom died in a car accident in France in 1947. You were seven at the time. They were both poets who lived in Greenwich Village, New York, for years before it became fashionable. They were well-traveled as well. If your name is any indication, they spent at least some time in Africa. You breathe in again to feel the power.

As a rule, you offer your name with a mitigating tone of voice that puts people at ease as they ponder its origins. This time, though, you spit it out like a barb hoping it will sting and offend.

"Ashanti, Ashanti Ra."

Phyllis ponders a moment, then says, "Ashanti and Phyllis. I like it."

"There ain't gon' be no Ashanti and Phyllis," you tell him.

"Why not?"

"There just ain't, that's all."

"Are you ashamed of me?"

"No, why should I be ashamed of you?"

"Are you ashamed of yourself?"

You pause, about to answer, then shake your head no. You look away.

"It's tough being honest," Phyllis says, "especially with yourself."

Again, you pause.

"Let's sit down and eat something and talk. Fifteen minutes is all. After that, if you want to leave and never come back to come with me again, fine."


You try to breathe in the power, but it doesn't work this time. It's like your lungs won't fill all the way up. You don't want to answer yes, but you can't answer no. He'll think you're ashamed and afraid of the truth. You nod your head yes, and follow him to the kitchen.

He serves up soup bowls piled with rice and brimming with stew, brown with chunks of meat and vegetables. He gives you mismatched silverware and a piece of paper towel. The steam wafting up is warm on your face as you lean over to smell the food. It has a mix of pungent smelling herbs that you cannot identify. Curry? Thyme? Rosemary? The smells are comforting, relaxing, forgiving. You dip some of the juice into your spoon, and sip it. The flavors bloom in your mouth like flowers. "This is nice," you say.

"I told you I was a good cook."

You begin chewing rice and carrot and chunks of lamb scarcely listening, but the sound of your teeth crushing food doesn't cover Phyllis' voice.

"I try to be honest with myself," he says. "So I have no illusions about who or what I am. I am a faggot." You cringe and he continues. "I will always be a faggot. I like myself as a faggot. But I don't always like the people that I let fuck me." He pauses. "We talked a long time last night before I brought you home. And I liked you. I thought you were honest, too. Was I wrong?"

Does fucking a faggot make you a faggot? No! Hell, no! "I try to be honest," you say around a mouthful of rice and gravy. "You got anything to drink?" You flip the question off with exaggerated nonchalance.

"What do you want?"

"Ice water would be fine."

"How about some iced fizzy water?"

"Great. So what did I say that you thought was so honest?"

"It's not what you said, rather what you didn't say."

"Ok," you answer. "What didn't I say?"

"You didn't say get the fuck away from me, faggot." He begins wolfing his food, scarcely chewing any of the pieces. It's like his mouth doesn't want to be bothered with food now. It wants to keep spitting words at you.

"Why would I have said that?" The words sound wrong. They convey more than you mean. He could think that they mean that you fuck faggots all the time. You throw down a couple of gulps of water, and stuff more stew and rice into your mouth. Your mouth spits too many words.

"You truly don't remember, do you?" he asks.

"I truly don't remember."

"Ok," he says, "it went down like this. I got to the Latin Club about ten o'clock, and I was dressed to kill. I had on my black dress and my black shoes and my gold earrings."

"I remember," you say. "It was so short, it almost showed the crack of your ass."

"That was the idea. Anyway, I saw you at the bar drooling."

"You did look good." You quickly stuff more food in.

"You offered me a drink and I accepted."

"I remember now," you say, trying to chew more and talk less. "I offered you a shooter, but you wanted something long and sweet."

"I ordered a fuzzy navel, and we talked."


"Lots of things at first. We talked about the band's playing. We talked about stuff we studied in school. At some point, you got your nerve up and whispered that you wanted a piece of me."

"Did I know you were . . . you know . . ."

"Gay? No, not yet. I leaned over and kissed you."

"In the mouth?"

"With my whole tongue, just like this morning."

You don't want it to, but you can feel your dick begin to pulse.

"You took that as a yes, and you said you wanted to fuck. I said I would suck you if I could fuck you. You said cool."


"But I thought you were a woman . . ."

He holds up his hand to stop you. "Then I said 'Did I tell you I was gay?' You said, 'So what?'"

"But I thought you were a lesbian."

"In the taxi to my place, you pushed your hand between my legs, and rubbed me. You knew what you were getting."

"I remember thinking you had an awful lot of skin on you pussy, but I never for one minute thought you didn't have a pussy."

"We came here and went to bed."

"And you sucked me?"

"I sucked your dick," he pauses, "just like this morning."

You belch, breathe in the power, and say, "I'm sorry, babe. I may have said it, but I didn't mean it."

"That's ok, babe, this morning was worth it."

He stands up and clears the table, and you watch as he leans over to sweep a few crumbs in the garbage. He's wearing that black dress again. You catch yourself tilting your head to see under it. You strain to look away, but you can't. As if on cue, he looks around and catches you looking at his ass. Shit! Without changing positions, he turns away, finishes with the crumbs, and places your bowl and glass on the counter. Then with a flourish, he hikes the hem of the dress up around his waist and arches his back. He looks back at you staring at his rectum. He leans forward and gaps his legs. You stare at him, then his rectum, then back at him.

"It's tough being honest," he says.

Still looking you in the eye, he stands up and lets the hem drop. He walks slowly around to your side of the table. His erection pokes out the front of the dress. He doesn't bother to try to cover it up. He turns his back to you, pulls out a chair, and puts one foot on it. With a more exaggerated flourish, he hikes up the dress, leans forward and arches his back, then spreads his ass. He doesn't even look around. He knows what you are going to do. She throws her head back and moans like a real woman as you push deep into her pussy.