Kirby Johnson

You and Larry

I still remember the look on your face the night you caught me using your toothbrush; it was something like shock followed by disgust. I had been using it for weeks without you knowing and was a little drunk and a little surprised when I turned to see you watching from the kitchen. We had gotten home from a long night at your mother’s and my mouth was stained purple from wine. You were making a grilled cheese sandwich and I was preparing for bed. When it happened you said something like, “Hey is that my toothbrush?” Instead of responding, I pulled down my pants too pee and looked away. I didn’t say anything for the rest of the night. I didn’t want to tell you that I had thrown away my own tooth brush weeks ago. I didn’t want to say that I thought brushing our teeth with the same utensil made me feel closer to you and that sometimes I got excited at the thought of my saliva finding its way from the bristles to the space between your teeth. I liked the idea of always being with you, whether you knew it or not. Plus, it happened so naturally for me, reaching into the cabinet, pulling the red plastic from its shelf once you left for work. The next morning, I watched from bed as you stood in your boxers, and threw the brush away. I later pulled it from the trash and put it in the utility drawer. Our closeness was over. I tried other things like wearing your clothes under my own, then putting them back in the dresser, and licking all of the silverware, but nothing made me feel better. Nothing made me feel as close to you again.

I found Larry on the side of the road late one August. It was hot and his body was small, small enough hold in my hands but heavy when I picked him up and his weight fell dead. When I put him in my glove compartment to take home, his body burned my fingers.

It took weeks before he was comfortable with me. If I was rough with him, if I yelled or moved too fast, he would hide inside his body, taking in his arms, his legs, his head. He wouldn’t share meals or let me clean the creases under his arms, near the base of the shell. Cuddling was even more difficult, and it took close to a month before he enjoyed a bath. I’d sit for hours in a shallow pool of water as he tried to claw his way up the tub, away from me. I kept trying though. I knew he would learn to love me, to accept how close we could be. Once he stopped snapping and trying to run away, we shared the same bed. I liked to feel him walk around the covers at night. He would brush up against my legs, my back, and eventually nestle in a nape of my body. In the morning, I’d pretend not to know where he was and call his name before finding him wrapped in the sheets, ready for breakfast.

By the fall we were spending a lot of time outside. I loved to lay in the grass with him. I would take him to the park and teach him how to dance by scrubbing his butt with an old toothbrush. It was good to have a partner, and, in his own ways, he treated me well, too. I would come home from work, and he’d crawl on my back, giving me a massage with his short, sturdy feet. The massages didn’t feel like much but he knew where to climb; he knew where to press his knobby toes. He needed me, and I would always be there for him. More importantly, he would always be there for me and I made sure he couldn’t leave.

Kirby Johnson lives in Houston, TX.

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