April 18, 2024 Short Story

You, Me, Magnets, and Methamphetamine

You, Me, Magnets, and Methamphetamine Artwork by DALLE
Anytime he sees a magnet, he runs his finger over its surface and glances at me. A boy showing off his toys and tricks. It sticks. I’ve seen pins, lighters, and souvenir sombreros dangle from his magical magnetic finger as I dangle from his side. We’re all drawn in by an incredible, invisible force he carries inside him. He tries to flick off the magnet, but it clings, lingering, wondering, “You’re sure about this?” before crashing onto the floor.

I’d been listening to the Beatles and eating fruit that first morning, which always makes me bouncy. My gait was caught somewhere between a stride and a strut as I headed towards the coworking office in my Dr Martens platform sandals. I felt tall and happy, over-highlighted cheeks matching my glow. I wasn’t looking for anyone when I passed two men smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk, but I couldn’t miss Goose’s dark, curly hair and thick mustache. It’s hard to walk past a good mustache. He didn’t appear to be any of the things that he actually was; he didn’t look like a Russian, or a Muslim, or a refugee, a husband, a father. But I was lassoed with just a glance. We locked eyes, I swished on by, and by sheer fucking force, I turned around to see him still staring my way. I hesitated. What was I supposed to do? Ask for his number? Address the palpable sexual tension on the street? Instead I smirked, mostly at myself for romanticizing strangers on the sidewalk, and continued on my way to work. 

He and Teddy walked into my office a few minutes later. “Ah,” the receptionist said. “Emily, meet our new volunteers from Russia.”

And he smiled at me while I smiled at him, because we both already knew. 

I remember seeing the news about Russia invading Ukraine. Dakota and I were staying with friends in Phoenix and marveled at Putin’s audacity. What would the US do about it? Send foreign aid? Accept refugees? For a while, it was all we could talk about each evening, gathered around the television. Social media was a convoluted mess of Ukrainian flag filters and virtue signaling. Protests broke out. Gas prices soared. But time has a way of numbing news. With time, profile pictures returned to normal, protestors packed away their signs, and gas became (kindof) affordable again. With time, Dakota found a new, Colombian girlfriend. I fled from Australia to Thailand, France, eventually Mexico. Anywhere to drown out the sound of the album he’d released about our breakup. Goose had real problems. Persecuted and interrogated by Putin’s regime, he fled with his wife to Turkey. Fearing he’d be sent back to die for a war he didn’t believe in, he came alone to Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. His wife waited in Turkey with their son. He found a gig at a coworking hostel in Mexico City, where he definitely wasn’t anticipating an affair with an existentially anxious American still singing her ex’s songs.

Goose remained guarded as he shared his story with me. The religion, the marriage, the war. He’d been brought up culturally Muslim but devoted himself fully to his faith as a teenager. (I had too, as a young Christian in the Bible-thumping Midwest.) He’d had an arranged marriage because it was the right thing to do. He hadn’t even seen her face until pledging himself in this life and the next. (I nearly married my boyfriend at 18 because I was taught that was God’s intended plan for my life.) He’d been brought up as a minority in a country that hardly wanted him there. When war broke out, he vocalized his anger against the government and was imprisoned and tortured. (I’d grown up in safe, stuffy middle class America, where my freedom to speak out was available to me but discouraged. That’s because I grew up in a cultish community that only wanted religious and political freedoms to apply to themselves. I left at 22 and never looked back.) His world was entirely different from my own, yet I understood him. He carried strength humbly. He listened to me. My religious scars, my relationship scars, all of my scars, which seemed so silly compared to his, but he called me strong too.

“I do love my wife,” he promised. I knew what he meant.

“Don’t worry, I’m not looking to date anybody right now,” I reassured him. And the attraction settled for a friendship that yearned for more. 

Our eyes often said what our mouths couldn’t, that is, until he started drinking the occasional beer and sending the occasional drunk text. Muslims don’t typically drink or go to mezcal clubs. But we clinked shot glasses at the mezcal club and made eyes, while I danced alone. On the walk to the Uber, he slipped his arm around me. His voice a hoarse whisper, barely audible over the Reggaeton and our laughing friends, “You know, if I wasn’t already married, I’d marry you.”

“Yeah, I guess I’d marry you too,” I replied nonchalantly, unsuccessfully ducking a tree branch and feeling the leaves whip against my face. “Ouch, fuck.”

“You deserve that,” he muttered.


“For being a hot little blondie.” 

He sounded bitter, and I knew his jihad. Every day he was fighting his desire for me. I was Eve waving the apple in his face. Taste me. Taste me. I dug my head into his chest and pulled him a little closer before he laughed, “You know, I’m allowed to have two wives in my religion.”

I pushed him into the next tree branch. “You deserve that.”

I was feeling pretty low in Bar Americas the next night, so I took a tequila shot and promptly cried in the bathroom. I still missed Dakota. My jihad. He’d been the one who helped me rebuild a sense of self after leaving Christianity. Sometimes I struggled to see who I was without him. Sometimes that left me crying in bar bathrooms.

Goose walked up to me with an empathetic, longing gaze, arm outstretched like Jesus on the goddamn cross. A little white tablet nested in his palm. My vision was hazy, blurred by tears and a drunken stupor. “Here, take half,” he insisted. So I hastily popped the whole thing in my mouth, not even knowing what it was, and Goose hurried me to my apartment before it hit. When it did, we were in my bed. Naked, on ecstasy. My ears rang, pupils dilated. The room spun around me, but I felt only pure, ecstatic joy. Finally kissing him, knowing him like I’d always wanted to. I couldn’t imagine a more perfectly built man, entirely masculine, entirely gentle with me. I held his head in my hands, tracing the ringlets of each precious curl, and told him more times than I could possibly remember, “You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” I meant it. 

I was drunk, high, and absolutely reeling. Which is why I didn’t hesitate to snort the substance he crushed on my nightstand. I trusted him. Probably too much. I’d never snorted anything before. It momentarily tickled, burned, as all my muscles tightened, then relaxed. I snapped up, sitting on his lap as the meth worked its way through me. I felt impulsive, wired, and unable to control the thoughts spilling out of my mouth. Naturally, I resorted to religion.

“Hell is a horrible and cruel concept derived from Greek mythology. Any god who would choose to send people there is an asshole.”

“All my life I had to suppress myself for religion. I didn’t know who I really was. How could I ever follow your Islam and still feel like myself?”

“Yeah, life’s depressing as an atheist. If there’s no creator, there’s no point to any of this. I have to choose every day to delude myself and find beauty in it regardless.”

Patiently, lovingly, Goose heard me and held me, answering my questions and defenses until light filtered through my bedroom door, and he put his clothes back on. He kissed me goodbye, just before I took a Xanax and fell into a deep sleep.

For days I couldn’t eat or sleep right. But it didn’t matter because he was there, showing up every evening with energy drinks or flowers or cigarettes for me to bum. Sometimes we’d just lay in bed, reading the Quran. It wasn’t even about the sex, but the sex became a drug too. Simultaneously animalistic and intimate. I’d watch the sweat beads race down his body onto mine, like raindrops on a window. I’d watch his eyes take me in and roll back in pleasure. Once I even cried, in awe at the way our bodies reflected our sacred chemistry, and scared at how badly it would pain me to say goodbye when I left Mexico. I didn’t hesitate to tell him I loved him. The lasso had already been draped around my neck, but it closed in tighter, threatening to choke me. Good thing I’m into that sort of thing. Good thing he loved me too.

Does anyone ever intend to fall in love with a married man? It’s a weird feeling of chosenness. He’d choose to risk his reputation and security for me. He’d choose to love me when he’s not supposed to. He lets me in on his secrets because I am one. But he’d also choose to drop me off at the airport, tearful goodbyes, before calling his wife and son, saying he hopes to see them soon.

Some people probably intend to fall in love with a Muslim man, but I didn’t. I’ve been burned a few too many times by religious zealots, but Goose prays five times a day, has to shower after sex, and prides himself on his wife’s chasity. She’s young, submissive, and covered from head to toe, only her dark eyes peeking out from the veil of her niqab. She’s his secret too, but in a very different way. 

Yet he walked down Roma Norte streets holding my hand. My long, blonde hair bouncing with me, tangled from sex and Mexico’s hard water. I wore my mini skirts, and I laughed really loudly, and he admired me like a prize he’d won. But Goose only tolerated my liberality, my independence, my ass out in public because 1. He’s an admittedly “bad” Muslim, his response when friends asked why he drank beer. His high school dropout, drug-dealing past makes him mysterious and aloof. He doesn’t come across as a mosque-going, beard-growing, jihad-fighting Allahu Akbar type. He is though. Still he gets tattoos and covers them up, drinks beer then asks for forgiveness, fucks me and scrubs himself clean. He feels things, he makes poor choices, and he keeps going. To me, that’s the most authentic version of religion. And 2. He won’t make me any promises. Just the “in another life” ones. “In another life, you’d have flowers every week.” “In another life, we could just stay here in Mexico together.” But in this life, the one I’m stuck in, I’ll never meet his parents or watch his beard turn gray. I would. I would overlook everything I’m not supposed to because I’m the magnet attached to his finger he plays with before discarding.

I think, I know, he’d been able to justify everything because Islam permits him more than one woman. “Cheating isn’t really a sin,” he explained. “Adultery is the issue.” Showering and praying nullified his nagging conscience. I have a standing offer to become his second wife. I’d rather he divorce her, but he won’t, because she’s his for eternity, and I’m supposed to be going to hell. 

But would he take ayahuasca with her? It was his idea. Goose made me want to explore every version of myself. I think he enjoyed peeling back the layers of my consciousness with me, knowing my mind in its strongest and most vulnerable forms. So I contacted the shaman, and within days we were in the back of some guy’s truck speeding through Jalisco mountains for my first experience with DMT. The cabin was the perfect setting for the ceremony. Singing and chanting guided my trip as I drank the thick, bitter substance and felt my stomach churn. An internal fog cleared. I knew myself fully, feeling my mortal connection to the earth but also an immortal guide who loved me and was me. Goose embodied Dakota, as I held him, traveling through memories and time in my mind, and said the goodbye I never got to say. When Goose looked me in the eyes, I knew him as I knew myself. He held me until my trip waned, hours later, ushering me into blissful sleep.

I call him Goose because it’s my favorite nickname I’ve ever had. People used to call him Goose in school. I like that we’ve had the same nickname. Ayahuasca taught me that we’d been cut from the same source, and that bundle of mystical bullshit is what I recognized when I passed him on the sidewalk. He was like me, and I was like him, and so we were both Goose.

Before leaving Mexico City, I’d memorized every inch of him. I used to kiss his closed eyelids before bed. He’s growing his beard out now, and his hair’s long enough to pull into a half ponytail. One of his arms is decorated in black squares, tattoo blocks covering old tattoos he later deemed haram. One of them is a verse from the Quran. Another is a lobster. Across his other arm, “Truth” is etched in a permanent scar.

Truth. What kind of truth do you want, Goose? The truth that God is one? Or the truth that you cheated on your wife with me? The truth that she would leave you if she knew, but I know everything and would stay? You’ve done a bad thing with me, but I still think you’re good, and that’s my idea of religion. Please remember me when you look at your arm. There are many truths of which I may be ignorant, but the truth that you and I together are absolutely beautiful is a truth I would stake my life on. Maybe even go to hell for. Let God be the judge of the connection that he gave us. And let the truth set us all free.

The leaves on the trees shrivel up and die, and I walk Oaxaca sidewalks a little slowly. It’s too chilly now for platform sandals. I still listen to the Beatles and eat fruit for breakfast, but Goose isn’t there to catch my eye or offer me a smoke. I settle back into the cold and my ways. I plan my next destination. And I die a little inside too, fragile like the falling leaves, but that’s how beautiful things are reborn.