I hear a change in their breathing and I do not look around but keep my eyes on the screen upon which the opera Le Nozze di Figaro plays, Marianne Crebassa as Cherubino singing Cherubino’s most beautiful aria, Voi Che Sapete, which, in the world of the opera, he has composed himself: a little song for the Countess, one of the many women with whom he is in love, but it being a trouser role, Marianne Crebassa the mezzo sings it to the beautiful countess (I don’t remember her name—Marianne as Cherubino is who is important here) looking like a young boy, which Cherubino is, really, a young boy who is asking for all the world if the Countess, or Susanna, who is also in the room accompanying him on guitar, can tell him if what he is feeling is love. He thinks it may be.
We have spent nights together like this more often than not, now: if we both have a free evening we will be on the futon, which is unfolded, our spare pillows taken from each of our beds behind our backs smushed together and our knees not touching under the Noah’s Ark themed blanket from their childhood which has made it, somehow, all the way here, all those pairs of animals.
The size of the blanket is important: it is only big enough to cover a child, which means that if we are to share it, and if we are to both get adequate use of it, we must be a certain degree of close to each other. We can’t sit on opposite ends of the futon like we used to when it was still summer weather and it was new just to be on the futon together, like that choice of seat was a declaration of something and only to be used sparingly.
Their breathing changes; I do not move my eyes.
My knee moves to where their knee has sat all this time under the blanket. I have felt it there, the heat of it radiating enough even though we have not touched that I know exactly where in space it sits, and I am sweating under the blanket which I don’t need for warmth when I am next to them.
“Do you want a graham cracker?” they ask me. Our knees are touching.
“Um,” I say. “Yes, I do.”
The smallest of touches occurs between the smallest of our fingers as they hand it to me, our pinkies, and we are holding the graham crackers like they are teacups and we are at tea in Mozart’s time. Perhaps we are in Salzburg—perhaps we are in the darkness of the audience, and Marianne is singing so close to us that her sweat, her spit, reach us and we are made part of the aria though we are not ourselves singing.
Non trovo pace notte ne di,
Ma pur mi piace languir cosi.
We are in Salzburg and we sip champagne at intermission in the theater’s lobby where the lights have come back on. It is the end of Act II, the act in which Cherubino sings Voi Che Sapete to the countess. Maybe the champagne, maybe Cherubino’s purple tracksuit, maybe the traces of Marianne’s bodily fluids which have soaked into my skin, I don’t know what it is—or else my own fantastic want helps me take their hand and bring them with me into the single stall gender neutral bathroom.
“I’m in love with Cherubino,” I say.
“I am not Cherubino,” they say, smiling at me in the mirror.
“Do you want a graham cracker?” they ask me.
I haven’t been able to eat enough since the breakup. She, who used to be the person I thought I would buy a couch with, texted me earlier today to ask if I had some books of hers that she couldn’t find. I did have them. We will meet, in a while, to exchange these things that no longer belong to a mutual life.
Meanwhile, we—they and I—sit on the futon we got for free in the aftermath of Le Nozze di Figaro and they are offering me a graham cracker. I take it, begin to break it along its seams.
“How are you?” they say, and the look they give me means how are you feeding yourself and have you had enough and are you okay and do you want to say anything to me and if you don’t that’s ok, but I am giving you the option now, if you need it.
There are many things I would like to say to them and don’t, all the time.
“Do you want to know what’s making me feel craziest right now? Crazier than the rest of the things making me feel crazy?”
“I mean, everything makes me feel crazy right now. Everything in my life is crazy. But what’s making it all worse is that—you know T can make you really horny?”
“I do know about that,” they say.
“Well. I’m past the point of not being sure if it’s the T or if I’m imagining it. I’m definitely not imagining it. It’s way too much to be imagining it. I’m just—I just broke up with my girlfriend, and now I’m horny all the time—it’s not a good time for me! I don’t need this right now! It’s everything on top of everything and on top of that everything fucking. Turns me on!”
“Oh no,” they say, laughing. We are both looking at the laptop screen, which is now dark. I can see their face reflected there, though the angle is such that I cannot see my own.
“What do I do?” I say, and I think my desperation comes across, because they make a face like, poor thing, the same face my mom would make when I was sick as a kid.
“Have you thought about using your imagination?” they say. “I’m a big fan of fantasy as a means to satisfaction.”
It is impossible to say that in my imagination, we are the thing that brings me satisfaction, we, they and I, that I imagined this before the breakup, even, that I have spent long hours pondering their fingers and the many things they are capable of which include the quick and sure typing on a computer keyboard to search for a particular person singing a particular aria, or julienning ginger even though mincing it would be much easier and achieve the same result, at least as far as the taste of the dish.
We leave the conversation. It is time for bed. In the bathroom, we brush our teeth side by side, staring at each other in the mirror. I have never been sure what is an appropriate amount of eye contact to make: at times, I look away too quickly, and at times, I stare beyond what could perhaps be termed “regular observation”. On the other hand, they keep the eye contact as long as I do, until we both break off, giggling through our toothbrushes.
I have trouble stopping myself from imagining them as Cherubino, because it is so easy to mix the feelings that I have for them with the feelings I have for Marianne Crebassa, with the feelings I have for Marianne Crebassa as Cherubino, whom she has played multiple times, two of which, in particular, evoke the same nauseous, teeth-chattering feelings as I feel when I look at them speaking to me.
But imagining that they are Cherubino moves me away from the reality of them as a person whose own feelings and desires I must not forget to take into account.
And if they are Cherubino, does that make me the Countess? That my husband is no longer interested in me, that he favors the young maid Susanna who is engaged to be married to Figaro? No, because it was I who engineered my breakup, I who decided things weren’t right enough with us. And I am not a Countess, not a wife, not a woman.
But is it really any better to imagine us together, them as them, and me as me? Any way that I imagine it means that I am creating something which is not real, which is not true, unless one can call it true only because I want it so much. That, at least, is true.
What if I came and knocked on their door after they had gone to bed, after I thought the day’s possibilities were over? I knock; I wait; perhaps they have fallen asleep already, or they are wearing their noise-cancelling headphones with another aria playing them to sleep.
They answer, “yeah?”
“Can I come in?” I say. My hand, the one that knocked, is shaking.
“Yeah,” they say again.
I open the door, which makes the familiar creak that I half-listen for in the mornings. They are sitting up in bed, under the covers, knees folded up so that I can only just see their head poking out beyond.
The ability to speak has fled me.
“What’s up?” they say. They close their laptop, which had been open, propped against their legs.
I am silent. They look at me with some concern, wondering, I suppose, if I am about to burst into tears, something which I have been prone to in the recent weeks since the breakup.
“Are you okay?” They try again.
“Um,” I say. “No.”
“You know how I say I’m in love with Cherubino?” I say at last.
“Yes,” they say.
“It’s not really Cherubino,” I say. “It’s you.”
They stare at me for a long moment, and I, who have said the thing that I have had to close my throat down from saying for so long, am at last emptied, and can wait in peace. My part is done. It is their cue.
“It would be easier,” they say at last, “for it to be Cherubino.”
In this version, we are both Cherubino. Gelo e poi sento l’alma avvampar, they sing, and I sing back, E in un momento torno a gelar. This arrangement is like Danny and Sandy in Grease singing across the high school campus from each other, We made out under the dock, and We stayed out til ten o’clock. There is a certain amount of innocence involved in Cherubino’s aria and Summer Lovin. And we are not teens trying to understand what feelings feel like for the first time, but we are parsing out what could exist if we let it—if there was no context, and if everything was allowed to unfold.
Cherubino is the type of person who, if asked if they would fuck their clone, would say yes without a second’s pause. Which is what works so well about making us both Cherubino. Because Cherubino never fucks the Countess or Susanna—he flirts heavily, he sings passionately, he wants, he wants, he wants so many things. But if the Countess let him progress beyond carrying her ribbon as a talisman and stroking her cheek, Cherubino would have no idea what to do with himself, or her, he would be floored, as one might if the person one had had a summer fling with turned out to go to the same high school as you and you therefore had to see them, be near them, in mundanity and cheer routines and shop class.
Quello ch’io provo vi ridiro, they sing, as Cherubino, and I, as Cherubino, sing back, E per me nuovo capir nol so.
Cherubino has never known mundanity. Opera has never known mundanity.
And so Cherubino fucks his clone. Cherubino I, and Cherubino they, strip those satin jackets in synch, those waistcoats, those heeled beribboned shoes, those tall stockings, those breeches, until we are nothing but Cherubino staring at Cherubino.
Cherubino does not speak. Cherubino must only sing arias, or be silent. But Cherubino’s great talent is those wordless gestures which convey that he is not another fuckboy; rather, he is just a boy, whose first and most important partner is himself. A boy who delights in the game of love, but, when confronted with it head on, knows he is safest with himself. He shivers; he shrugs his shoulders; he twists his fingers in his other fingers, so that to an outsider, it may look like the two Cherubinos are holding hands.
Cherubino I and Cherubino they mirror each other’s movements as we reach for each other’s chests, each other’s groins. We do what we have done to ourselves countless times, and this is only one step beyond doing it to ourselves.
The two Cherubinos sing Voi che sapete che cosa e amor in ecstasy to each other at the same time.Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash