Hannah #1 was my wife. She got tired of being married to me and asked for a divorce.
Hannah #2 was a girl I met on an online dating site. We were both interested in origami, dream interpretation, and the Mexican-American War. Or at least, she was interested in those things, and I pretended to be, because she had the most attractive profile pic of all the women who hadn’t included “alcoholism” in their list of interests and activities.
On our first date, we went to an arcade where you could play classic video games for a quarter. She spent the night evading ghosts, smashing barrels with a hammer, and rescuing princesses. I mostly fell down pits, which resulted in a crappy little song and me losing one of my three lives. I said, “Are there any games where you get rewarded for falling down the pit?” She laughed with a little snort, and we made out leaning against Ms. Pac-Man. Her kisses tasted like watermelon bubble gum.
On our second date, we went to a foreign film about a woman who explores her sexuality by fornicating with various grocery store employees. Every time a pair of breasts appeared on the screen, Hannah #2 said, “Jug alert!” Afterwards I took her home, and we made out on her front porch. This time her kisses tasted like popcorn. She revealed her French kissing technique, which consisted of tagging my tongue with her tongue and then swirling it around really fast. It was a PG-13 version of duck-duck-goose.
On our third date, we drove to the Oregon coast and walked along the beach and came across a dead seagull, which we dissected with a hunting knife Hannah #2 had in her backpack. We excavated two bottle caps, a tape dispenser, and a functional cigarette lighter. Later, I found a piece of driftwood and, in a romantic gesture I’d learned about in movies, used it to write Hannah’s name in the sand.
I pointed to it, and she said, “Oh.”
I asked what was wrong.
She said, “Who’s Hannah?”
I said, “You’re Hannah.”
She said, “My name’s Rebecca.”
Hannah #3 was a stripper who saw a therapist in the same office as the therapist Rebecca recommended after my failed and somewhat creepy gesture on the beach. Every Tuesday at 4 p.m. we sat next to each other on a black leather sofa pretending to read magazines while secretly trying to figure out which of us was more screwed up. I suspected her and she also suspected herself.
One day our appointments ended at the same time, so we went to a bar and got drunk. Since the only thing we knew about each other was that we were both in therapy, we talked about our problems. I told her that I was still in love with my ex-wife and kept accidentally calling other women by her name.
Hannah #3 asked, “What’s her name?”
I said, “I’m not ready to get into that yet.”
She said her biggest issue was having unprotected sex with drug addicts and then getting abortions and trying to kill herself. I asked how many times that had happened, and she said, “I’m not ready to get into that yet.”
It was time for her to go to work, but we weren’t ready for our date to be over, so I followed her to the club and sat at a booth in back and watched as a roomful of men paid a dollar to peer into Hannah #3’s vagina like it was the eyepiece of a telescope. Then her shift ended and we went back to my apartment and drank a bottle of champagne in the bathtub and had unprotected sex.
In the morning, my phone started buzzing. It was Hannah #1 asking if I was available to Skype with my 8-year-old daughter, Olive. I said sure and took the computer into the other room.
My head was throbbing and I was pretty sure I’d just impregnated a suicidal sex worker, but I pulled it together and asked how everything was going.
Olive shrugged and said she didn’t know. Then she pressed a piece of paper against the camera and said, “What’s this?”
I said, “Honey, it’s too close to the computer. Pull it back a little.”
She pulled it back and said, “What’s this?”
It was a drawing of a horse. I said, “It’s a horse.”
She said, “Nope.”
I said, “Donkey.”
She said, “Nope.”
I guessed ten more times and all my guesses were wrong.Then a voice behind me said, “Look at the wings, silly. It’s obviously a Pegasus.”
Olive removed her drawing from the laptop camera and made a face. “Who’s that?”
“I’m Hannah,” said Hannah #3.
“That’s my mom’s name,” said Olive.
“Oh is it?” said Hannah #3.
“Why don’t you have any clothes on?” asked Olive.
I turned around and sure enough Hannah #3 was totally naked. Also, she had a lit cigarette in her mouth.
I folded the computer screen down and told Hannah #3 to go put some clothes on.She rolled her eyes like I was ridiculously old fashioned and possibly a fascist.
I opened the computer, and Olive asked, “Is she your girlfriend?”
I said, “No.”
She said, “Why not?”
I said, “We just met.”
Olive thought about this and said, “She’s right. It’s a Pegasus.”
Hannah #3 and I walked to a breakfast place down the street, but the line went around the block and merged with the line of another breakfast place, so we bought eggs and bacon and kale from the grocery store and cooked breakfast at home.
When we were finished, Hannah #3 said, “Hey, let’s go to the beach.”
I said I had a bad track record with beaches.
She suggested the hot springs instead. We hopped in her Jetta and drove 80 miles to the Mt. Hood National Forest and hiked five miles into the woods and sat in a hollowed-out log that slowly filled with geothermally heated water. Everything was wet—floors, walls, the trough that delivered water to our tub—which made the wood black and the moss psychedelic.
Hannah #3 said, “I have the same number of tattoos as I’ve had abortions.”
I started counting. She said, “I’ll save you the math. Seven. Are you disgusted? Do you wish you weren’t in this tub with me?”
It started raining. The rain felt like cold fingers trying to play the piano on our brains. I shook my head no.
She said she wanted to do this exercise where we stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes and then fall in love.
I positioned my legs over her legs. We stared into each other’s eyes, but pretty quick it became apparent that you can’t stare at both eyes at the same time. You have to pick an eye.
I said, “Wait, are we doing the left eye or the right eye?”
She laughed and I laughed and then she started sobbing and then she got a bloody nose and her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she started having a seizure.
I said, “Hannah?” but she couldn’t hear me because she was swallowing her own tongue and her head kept hitting the side of the log. I got out of the tub and screamed for help. A bunch of naked hippies asked what was wrong. One of them was a midwife. She took Hannah’s pulse and said we needed to call an ambulance. A kid with dreadlocks said he used to run track back in high school and took off with somebody’s cell phone to find a place where he could get reception.
I held Hannah’s head as she threw up on herself. Blood dripped from my elbows onto the planks of the mossy timbers. Hannah’s seizure stopped, but then she started shivering like she was covered in snow. The midwife collected towels from the other nudists and wrapped her up like a newborn baby. She asked if we were on drugs. I said we got drunk last night and had mimosas this morning and each drank a kombucha on the drive over, but otherwise we were totally sober. The midwife’s hair was gray and her pubic hair was gray and she tried to get Hannah to drink water from somebody’s Nalgene bottle, but Hannah’s teeth were chattering too violently and the water spilled down her chin, making rivers of skin on her blood-caked neck.
Hannah #4 was an ER physician at the hospital where they life-flighted Hannah #3. She put on scrubs and rushed into the operating room and tried to stabilize Hannah #3, but her EKG looked like the equalizer at a Slayer concert. They pushed a tube into her esophagus and tried to suck out whatever drug was making her heart beat 240 times per minute, but it was too late—her blood had turned into Play-Doh.
I wasn’t family, so Hannah #4 couldn’t give me any details except that my girlfriend was dead. She sat across from me and placed her hand on my hand. She was extremely skinny for someone whose job it was to save lives. The flesh had withdrawn from everything but her knuckles, which were the size of golf balls. Bright blue veins stuck out like earthworms that throbbed every time her heart beat. I thought about the worms that would crawl through Hannah #3’s dead body when they buried her in the ground, and I started crying. I wasn’t in love with her, but she was fun to hang out with, and I didn’t want anybody to die ever.
The doctor asked if I had any questions. I said yes. Was Hannah #3 pregnant when she died? Was there a zygote inside of her, still alive, rapidly dividing like the last person dancing at a party who’s too drunk to notice that the music’s stopped? And if so could we save it somehow? Could I take it home in a petri dish and feed it from an eyedropper like we did with the baby kitten Hannah #1 and I found in the barn the year before we were married?
That’s what I wanted to ask, but all I said was, “Do you know where the bathroom is?” Hannah #4 pointed down the hall.
I locked myself in a blue metal stall and vomited three times in rapid succession. It was the breakfast I’d eaten with Hannah #3 back when she was alive: little bits of eggs and bacon and kale that still had frilly edges. I wiped acidic strings of saliva from my mouth, and right then my phone started buzzing. It was Hannah #1 sending a flurry of text messages. Things like, ON WHAT PLANET IS IT OKAY TO HAVE A NAKED WOMAN SKYPE WITH OUR DAUGHTER? and I’M GOING TO REPORT THIS TO CHILD SERVICES!!!
I flushed the toiled and looked at myself in the mirror. My eyes were red-rimmed and veiny. My arms were covered in dried nose blood. In my confusion leaving the hot springs, I’d grabbed the wrong clothes; I was wearing a Grateful Dead shirt and Birkenstocks and somebody else’s underwear. I wasn’t wearing pants.
My phone buzzed, and I dropped it in the garbage and wandered the hallways until I found what appeared to be a chapel. There was a crucifix on the wall and paintings of the nuns who’d founded this hospital in 1843. One of them, Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart, had a masculine face reminiscent of George Washington. She was cocooned in a black tunic and wore a wooden cross around her neck that looked like it weighed a thousand pounds. I wondered if her name was Hannah before she became a nun. I wondered if every woman on this blue earth was really a “Hannah” in disguise: one step away from leaving me or having a seizure or giving me an anatomy lesson with her comforting hand or not being Hannah after all.
I thought about praying, but instead I stared into Mother Joseph’s eyes. I didn’t pick an eye. I just looked straight ahead until everything went blurry and her eyeballs floated right off the canvas and I started counting. When four minutes had passed, I reached up and lifted the painting off the nail and walked outside in the pouring rain and waited at the bus stop. The bus arrived, and I paid my fare and sat in back, clutching the painting to my chest. There was a sound like a bike pump being pulled off a valve and then we were drifting up a hill past a neighborhood of McMansions built on a slope, every one of them propped up on stilts in a ridiculous act of faith.
I squeezed the painting tighter and tighter. I wanted to be back in the hot tub with my pretty stripper friend. I wanted to be married to my wife again, pushing my daughter on the swing, saying to Hannah #1, “God, we have it good. Don’t we have it good? I love you so much.”
How many more Hannahs did I have to love until Jesus came to the earth and harvested us like root vegetables and carried us up to heaven? I closed my eyes and waited for Judgment Day or my bus stop, whichever came first
Kevin Maloney was born in Portland, Oregon in 1976. He lived for a time in Vermont but currently resides in North Portland. At times a TJ Maxx associate, grocery clerk, outdoor school instructor, organic farmer, apprentice electrician, student teacher, and teddy bear salesman, he currently works as a web developer and writer. He graduated from Johnson State College.
His debut novel Cult of Loretta was published by Lazy Fascist Press in May 2015. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Barrelhouse, The Literary Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and a number of other literary journals and anthologies.
Image from Wellcome Library: https://wellcomelibrary.org/item/b11821401#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&z=-0.7846%2C-0.0297%2C2.554%2C1.2008