We called her God because she wrote a poem about how Caleb Newton ejaculated prematurely the night she slept with him, and because she shared the poem with her friends.
Caleb was the president of our fraternity. When he worked our booth in the dining commons he fund-raised a hundred dollars in an hour. He had the plaintive eyes and button nose of a child in a life insurance commercial, the carriage of an armored soldier. He was not the most massive brother, but he was the most a man, the one who neither played video games nor rejoiced at videos in which people were injured. His inclination to help other brothers write papers and refine workouts bespoke a capacity for fatherhood. I had seen his genitals, in the locker room after lacrosse, and they reminded me of a Volvo sedan in that they were unspectacular but shaped so as to imply solidity and soundness. One morning when we were all writhing on the couches, hungover, he emerged from the bathroom in a towel, attended by a cloud of steam. We agreed that the sight of his body alleviated our symptoms.
“If you use a towel right after Newton uses it, your life expectancy is extended ten years,” said Stacks Animal.
“If a man kisses Newton, he’ll turn into a beautiful woman,” I said, and everyone stared at me, because it was a too-imaginative joke.
But Newton threw his head back and laughed. “You guys are fucking funny,” he said. “That’s why I don’t feel hungover anymore.”
The putative reasons we named him Nutella were that it sounded like Newton and that he was sweet. But I wondered if it was really because when you tasted Nutella you were there. You were not looking at yourself from afar.
Nutella was never angry. When we discovered the poem and declared its author God, we knew he wouldn’t object. He understood that it was a compliment to him as much as to the poet. To make Nutella lose at something, to deprive Nutella of control, God was what you had to be.
We learned of the poem’s existence from Shmashcock’s girlfriend, who was roommates with Melanie. (That was God’s real name.) She told Shmash what the poem was about, and when she went to the bathroom he took a picture of it, and though it was untitled, he mass-texted it to us with the caption On the Premature Ejaculation of Current Delta Zeta Chi Chapter President Caleb Newton.
It was the only poem I’d ever liked that didn’t rhyme. I read it so many times that I memorized it by accident:
Who is this soldier who did not hold his fire
When the whites of my eyes were shrouded
In fluttering eyelids?
I thought I knew you
Knew you were the steady hand on the wheel
The prow itself
But what kind of captain are you?
Scared sailor with your hand on your mast
Betrayed by your own body
As we are all betrayed
On your knees
Begging my forgiveness
With the muscles of a demon
And the whites of your eyes
As white as a child’s?
Behind the counter at D’Angelo/Pizza Hut, I whispered, “With the muscles of a demon / And the whites of your eyes / As white as a child’s” for twenty minutes because it was the perfect description of Nutella. It was as if somebody had snapped a photo of him and enlarged it until it was the very wallpaper of my mind. I loved Melanie for writing it. I also felt I was her secret collaborator, for in my head I was contributing lines. I added:
Whose hands are these?
One moment swift as a gray river
The next as still as stones
Because that was another thing about Nutella. He was a war elephant on the lacrosse field and yet capable of quietude and stillness, reading econ on the porch, his phone facedown on his knee, casting light on his groin when he received a text.
While I refined my supplement to the poem, I prepared a Santa Fe Veggie Wrap. The process demanded that I empty a plastic bag of frozen vegetables into a small plastic bucket and place the bucket in a microwave. I neglected the microwave step and emptied the bag of vegetables directly onto the wrap, with the vegetables still cold and rigid. I realized what I had done when I laid the sandwich in its basket, presented it to the girl who had ordered it, and saw the gleam of frost on a carrot rod.
Evgeny called me into the management room, which was a yellow closet straining to contain Evgeny. He said that if I kept dreaming my days away I would wind up like him, a lover of art and philosophy. He pointed to his face, with its little black mustache. I promised him that from now on my motto would be No more spacing.
I took a pizza order and thought of all I was doing to enhance my employment prospects. Majoring in business, minoring in math, seeking internships related to data mining, building networks of contacts through Delta Zeta Chi, Campus Republicans, and Future Business Leaders. I dreamed of a consulting firm that Nutella would one day helm, staffed by brothers, known for underpromising and overdelivering, with an insignia depicting a clockface in the talons of an eagle. This would represent efficiency and superior perception. It would be pinned on each brother upon attainment of the status of partner, by Nutella, with live chamber music in an acoustically flawless atrium of recycled glass.
When the pizza emerged on the other side of the self-timing oven, I saw that I had neglected to sprinkle on the cheese. I used American slices intended for subs, room temperature, in the hope that they would melt on the freshly heated pizza in the course of delivery.
That night, Shmash read the poem aloud in the living room as Nutella covered his face and grinned.
“Like you all have never detonated early,” he said, as if it was a dashing crime. As if this thing that we had all most likely done, and been ashamed of, was the least shameful thing in the world. I felt that all the brothers would have stormed North Korea for Nutella then, with a battering ram of wood and stone.
“That girl is a god,” said Buckhunter.
“No,” said Five-Hour. “That girl is God.” And that was how it started.
* * *
We spied her at the dining commons the next day at lunch, by the tray carousel.
“God,” shouted Five-Hour, and then we all shouted it.
She stopped and squinted. Her friends took up defensive positions on her flanks.
Shmashcock moved his arms up and down. “You are God for writing that poem,” he said.
“God,” we all said, and moved our arms.
She looked at Nutella, who was smiling.
“Yeah, that’s me,” she said. She kicked at Stacks, who was on his knees. “I guess you guys can worship me.”
That night she came to the house with Nutella to hang out with us. I didn’t know the nomenclature for her clothing. She wore black tights that went on her arms, green tights that came up to her knees, and a headband with tiny teeth that made the hair that passed through it poofy when it emerged on the other side. A wrist tattoo peeked from the lace at the end of her left arm tight. It was a picture of an old mill, a rectangular brick building. It represented Lowell, she said.
“The Venice of Massachusetts,” said Buckhunter. His tone was that of an Englishman in a paisley monogrammed dressing gown, smoking a pipe.
“It’s got canals,” she agreed. Buckhunter cracked his knuckles and made an assertive sniffing sound.
What people often failed to realize about Delta Zeta Chi was that we were like Native Americans, in that our names referred to aspects of our personalities. Buckhunter was so named because in matters of girls he had the opposite of ADD. If a girl wandered within a certain radius of Buck, she robbed him of his faculty for reason. He couldn’t assess her reactions to the things he said; he couldn’t see or hear her clearly. He wanted it so bad he never got it. That was his tragedy, to be cockblocked by his own erect cock.
Like many girls before her, God said ha ha to Buckhunter, smiled disingenuously. I got her a beer and asked her questions. My name was Oprah because there were books in my room and I asked questions.
She wanted to work in public relations, she disclosed. She liked the Batman movies but not the X-Men movies. She was into Nutella as a friend.
God and Nutella made sandwiches in our kitchen. They were like two old men who had been in a war, or in a drag-out fight that neither had won. The poem, I supposed, had scoured away all pretense. Whereas the other girls who’d hooked up with Nutella, the ones who wanted him after the hookup and tried to date him, he treated with politeness and indifference. They were undead bumping their foreheads against our windows. They were the opposite of God.
After God and Nutella ate the sandwiches, they made carrot-ginger cupcakes for our midpoint-between-spring-break-and-summer party. In the course of so doing, they killed many ants in the kitchen and the velvety reef of mold in the sink. I offered to help with the cream cheese frosting because I was a frosting intellectual. Nutella argued with God about welfare entitlements versus the free market as he held a mixing bowl steady and she washed it with the rough side of a sponge.
That night God gave Nutella a spot while he did a keg stand, holding his calves above her head, her arm tights, now Easter-egg blue, taut against her forearms. God, we shouted. There were girls at the party so hot, their cheekbones so sharp, their heels so architecturally adventurous, their eyelids so thick with dark paste, they might have been the focus of male attention at a mansion with an in-ground pool. But these girls were not encircled by the brothers of our white ramshackle house. Only God was encircled.
We took turns dancing with her until Shmash asked if she wanted a beer. She declined, pivoted her way across the dance floor to Five-Hour, and humped the air near his leg. She said something in Five’s ear and he said something back, and soon they were multitasking, their heads stabilized to enable conversation, their lower bodies humping on, like the abdomens of dying wasps.
Five and God went upstairs, Five leading the way, and we all watched Nutella. He threw his arms around me and Shmash and Stacks, and the blond hairs on his forearms were short and dry. His elbow slid around my neck and it was like rolling on a fresh-mowed August lawn.
“I want you guys to know,” said Nutella, “that everything is completely cool. Five is the best man for the mission.”
We did three Delta Zeta Chi owl hoots, and the sound was soft and Celtic against the human grunts and synthesizer belches of the music, and I wished the final owl hoot would never fade, our eight arms seized up forever around our heads, our huddle rotating slowly, as all huddles do, the faces of my brothers spinning in the black light. I remembered the day my mother took me to the Boston planetarium when I was seven, how the constellations maypoled around a void.
* * *
I always woke up earlier than anyone else in the house the morning after a party because I was protective of my abs and therefore drank less beer. That morning I descended to the kitchen to make breakfast and there was Five-Hour, with the shades pulled down and the song from last night’s dance with God tinkling from his phone. He poured hard cider on his cereal.
“No matter what happened last night,” I said, “some chocolate chip pancakes will taste better than that.” I took the bottle from his hand and poured the cider and the cereal into the almost-full garbage bag sitting on the floor by the sink. I raised the shades. I mixed batter and chocolate chips.
“Help me,” I said. “Slap some butter in a pan.”
Soon there was the crackling and the smell.
“Big night?” I tried.
Copyright © 2020 by Benjamin Nugent