Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Haunting

The gray sky is dimming as I make my way downtown. There’s no traffic and I don’t see any other pedestrians for the next couple blocks. The cemetery a couple streets over recedes into the shadows of myriad weeping willows. I do my best to ignore the bite of the chilly mist that surrounds the funeral parlor, the result of water from lawn sprinklers quickly evaporating in the thick southern heat.

Downtown is busier, with a few people wandering from bar to bar beneath the glow of string lights hung above sidewalks. I make my way to my favorite bar, though truthfully it is only my favorite on Sundays when it is half empty. A couple bucks plus tip buys me a PBR and a shot, and I make my way to seats in back that were plush once upon and time but are now too stiff for anyone sober to relax in.

My phone rings, but I can’t hear it over the house band. It vibrates for a minute, then stops. Then, three quick, pulsing buzzes as texts roll in. I know who it is. I decide I don’t need to text back.

Halfway through my beer the shot floods me with warmth, and my mind swirls like froth against glass. I look to the colorful chalkboard advertising the week’s drink specials. I can’t decide if it is crueler to overcharge for drinks or undercharge for them.

Another buzz in my pocket. I contemplate calling, asking her to meet me. I decide against it, for now. I think of the mist around the funeral home. There are no ghosts but for those we make in indecision.

The bubbles in the beer make me feel the three I had before I made my way down. I finish the last swallow, and take a moment to let my mind settle, focusing on the rich brown wood and making an effort to not lose myself in the twinkling lights outside above the sidewalk.

Finally, I get up, and outside the wind has picked up. A few drops of light rain spatter against me. My phone buzzes again, reminding me I still haven’t answered her texts. In the distance, the swaying branches of the willows against the streetlights make it seem as though dark figures move between the headstones.

I take out my phone, swipe my thumb across her name. Block caller? Yes, please. What else when there’s nothing left to say?

I make my way down the sidewalk, intending to stretch out across my backseat. The air pressure drops. A storm is coming, but I will be sheltered when it lands. The willows are still. I pass the funeral parlor, and the mist has already blown away.

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Swill

 

By the first beer we’re all talking about the women we’re trying to see. Darius has feelings for a friend who might be moving back in with her ex. Kevin keeps fantasizing about his manager, who’s a good ten years older than him but he’s always had a thing for older women. I stay quiet till we drain the next round, then start in on what me and a woman I saw a couple weeks back got into. I keep her name out of it even though that doesn’t minimize the disrespect. By the fourth set of bottles we’re not holding back on pent up resentment. Fuck bosses who make five times what we do. Fuck petty supervisors who retaliate with increased workloads. Fuck her for not texting back. Fuck her, fuck him, fuck me.

Kevin gets up to open another twelve pack and Darius gets up to pee. I lean my head back and the beer swirls around in my skull. Kevin’s gray cat jumps up in my lap and kneads my chest without his claws. I let my head droop forward and he nuzzles me. His innocence lightens me. Kevin cracks open a can of cat food and the animal gorges while he walks back over with the next couple rounds. Darius comes back from down the hall and drops down by me. We each take a couple shanties and call ourselves beautiful delicate flowers for enjoying the grapefruit notes. Round five finds us laughing about anything crude we can relate to human bodies. Our bodies, women’s bodies, then darker, then much lighter, because when brotherhood glows in the shine of alcohol we are transparent in our bodies and our manner.

The sixth round there’s more talk of fucking. How we want to fuck, fuck her, fuck him, but no, fuck man, really. I kinda wish she would text. No, but really, I really do kinda miss her, man. No, but yeah, she was fun to be around. Fun like funny, you know. No, I really don’t miss her, she sucked, but her, yeah her, yeah, no, she was pretty cool. Yeah, I messed things up. Not her, the other girl. I don’t miss her, I miss her. More beer and the talk turns to movies and comedy specials and somehow they come up again, the ones we miss. Yeah, I was kind of the bad guy there. I don’t why I get so jealous. She was better than me, goddamn she was. Is, not was, she’s still out there, living her life. Lucky she got out when she did, right? Lucky you got out when you did, bro.

The second twelve pack is gone and the room spins, and in flashes I see the faces of the men I think of as brothers, wonderful and terrible men who love and hate wonderful and terrible women but when we’re honest, they’re mostly wonderful and we just can’t stop overemphasizing the moments when we deal with terrible people. I see people I hurt and people who hurt me and sometimes I can’t tell any difference. Time must have passed because now Kevin is passed out and Darius stares blankly at an episode of Dragon Ball Z. I follow the action on screen but the whirl of punches and kicks overtakes the room and I am lost in it until at some point it is morning.

Kevin is gone, probably in bed, and Darius has sprawled across the floor, using his jacket for a pillow. Kevin’s cat sleeps in my lap. The tips of his claws are visible. I pet him and while he doesn’t wake up this creature that can do harm but doesn’t begins to purr. In this rare moment I am able to tell the difference, and at least for now I do not lash out when I should embrace.

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Mill

mill

I’m by my favorite window, the one that overlooks the watermill that still spins. Most people assume it’s purely decorative but the owner of the brewpub actually uses it to grind the barley he makes his beer with. Out on the water the wheel is all stained and ancient oak; inside it is a sleek steel dancer moving lubriciously through its steps.

I’m honestly surprised when I see her come inside. She’s with two friends of hers, and they seem overjoyed at the sight of the place. They’re used to the bars south of town, depressing little one-rooms that have been slowly decaying since 1987. Dive bars that make other dive bars sad. I look to my beer, hope they don’t notice me in the back. Ten o’clock rolls around and the lights dim. Outside the water wheel is cast in moonlight as the light vanishes from the windows.

After several minutes I begin to relax, confident they didn’t notice me. Stupid. While the wheel glitters in the cool moonlight I hear a glass set down across from me.

“Hey,” she says, over some artificially green drink. What she thinks is a margarita, and what she doesn’t know is all the owner will serve you unless you ask for an actual one. Dive bar margarita. I sip my beer and take my time.

“You been alright?” I’m not really interested but my empathy won’t let me just brush her off entirely.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She fingers the salted rim of her glass. “I’m better.”

“I’m glad,” and I am. If my own breakdowns are anything to measure by, hers can’t have been fun. That’s all I say, though. “How’s school?” she finally asks.

“Won’t start till August,” I tell her. “What about you?”

She’s quiet a long minute again. “Withdrew. Just…too much right now, y’know?”

“Yeah. Makes sense. You signing up again next semester?”

She never answers. She doesn’t even sip her drink. Outside the wheel breaks the water in massive splashes. The mill grinds away at its load.

“I missed talking with you,” she says quietly.

“I missed talking with you too.”

“Are we…I mean, are we okay?”

I start hurrying through my beer. Lucky my tab’s already closed.

“No word. No nothin’.”

Halfway through the glass. The ale is lightening my mind.

“I know. That was shitty of me. But I don’t talk to pretty much anyone when I’m like that.”

Last few slugs and the glass is empty.

“I think you just don’t talk to me. Or…” I wave my hand. “Didn’t talk to me.” I start sliding out of the booth. “I gotta head out. Early day tomorrow. Tell your friends I said hey. Unless they don’t care then…” I smile and shrug. She doesn’t seem amused. I still don’t really care.

I walk out and make my way back. The river is a rushing and gasping thing against the wheel. The spring might turns disarmingly cool within the mist surrounding the banks. The water is shattered as it crashes against the wheel, but it is calmed and remade when it passes through.

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Ember

I’m on my second finger when I feel the medication finally begin to balance out. It comes over me as I knock back the last splash of whiskey. I can feel myself again, blooming out of the hole that sat inside me for the past few weeks. My heartbeat increases and my arms tingle. It’s sensation as well as relief; there is no time in my life more dangerous than when I am not feeling anything at all.

She comes into the kitchen, sipping water, and I can feel my personality slip away. This is how it goes when the meds start to stabilize. The real me inside wakes up in spurts, his eyes fluttering open until he dozes off again. The emptiness returns, but it’s not so bad now that I know I am at least floating to the surface. In a day I’ll feel like myself full-time again.

“Should you be doing that?” she asks me, and I give her a confused look until she nods to the empty glass in my hand. The bottle of Canadian Club sits open on the table.

“Well I’m not doing it anymore,” I tell her, setting the glass down. I recork the bottle and look back over to her. She’s leaning in the doorway, staring at the floor. She’s crossing her arms, hugging the half-full glass.

“Something bothering you?”

She gives a small shrug. I can barely make out a pout on her face. “I’ll be alright,” she murmurs.

“What’s going on?”

She looks up, takes a deep breath, and leans her head against her shoulder. “You-know-who called.”

“He still challenging the prenup?”

She answers by not answering. “I’m sorry,” I tell her, and she looks up at me. Now it’s her turn to look confused.

“Why?”

“What do you mean ‘why?’ He’s being a bastard and he’s hurting you.”

“But it’s not your fault.”

“You know that’s an expression of sympathy, right? Not an actual apology for causing your ex’s behavior.”

She sighs again. “Is it necessary to be a douchebag right now?”

“It’s not. So, y’know…bear that in mind.”

“Whatever.” She crosses the kitchen and refills her glass. I turn to her, think about saying something, but nothing comes to mind before she walks by and heads outside to smoke. This whole time, she’s only looked at me with her nose wrinkled and her brows furrowed.

I uncork the bottle and pour another couple fingers, then sit in the easy chair to sip. After about ten minutes she comes back inside, smelling of cigarette smoke. The scent makes her self-conscious, but I’ve always found it provocative. She takes a look at the empty drink in my hand, but doesn’t look at me. She passes, setting her empty glass on the table, and disappears down the hall. I hear the door of the bedroom close. I get up, step outside. I can still smell the faint scent of smoke where she stood. Her lighter and cigarettes are still on the railing. I take one, light it, and take a deep breath. The air is cool and damp from the rain an hour ago. The night smells of sweet leaves and mist.

When I’m done with my drink and my smoke I head in and make my way to the bedroom. When I walk in she’s in the half-bath, tweezing her eyebrows. I make my way to her and kiss her neck, but she jerks away.

“Watch it!” she snarls, and I step back as though she were an angry cat.

“The hell’s the matter with you?” I ask her.

“Can you just give me some goddamn space? Jesus!”

“Alright. Fine.” I hold up my hands in surrender and make my way to the bed.

“Jesus,” she mutters, “do you have to be such a fucking pushover right now?”

“Just cuz you’re pushin’ doesn’t mean I’m knocked over.” I unbutton my shirt. “I get you’re upset, alright? It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine!” She slams the tweezers down. “Why do you always say that? You don’t have any idea how fucking hard this can be.”

“You’re right,” I agree, “I don’t. I’m sorry.”

“Stop fucking saying you’re sorry!”

I toss my shirt over a chair. “Fine. Whatever. I’m going to sleep.”

“Fine. Whatever,” she mocks. She turns back to the sink and picks the tweezers back up, then slams them back down and grabs her toothbrush before shutting the door. I stand by the bed, looking to the shirt I tossed over a chair. After a moment I reach out, take it, put it back on

When she steps back out I’m pulling my shoes back on. “Where are you going?” The annoyance is layered in her voice like shellac.

“Out. Away. Whichever.” I get up, grab a hoodie.

“Jesus. Now you’re mad too.”

“No. I’m not.” I slip the hoodie on. “But you did win my contempt, so…congratulations, I guess.”

I step out into the hall, then feel her hand on my shoulder. “Hey, wait.” And now there is softness in her voice, forced into place as though with a pry bar.

I turn to her, suddenly very tired. I must look ragged, because she seems a little shocked. It’s the first time tonight she’s taken the time to look me in my eyes.

“Moment’s over,” I tell her. “I’ll be back.”

I walk out onto the porch, and take another cigarette. I’ll have to buy her more when I come back home. I smoke it halfway before tossing it onto the wet leaves. I stand there, watching it burn to the filter. When I get to my car the rain comes down in a drizzle. The embers of the cigarette hiss as the orange light fades.

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Kickstarter Announcement: Horror, Podcasts, and Serial Storytelling

For the past few months, I’ve been busy scrambling about Central and North Georgia making people scream and cry. 

Don’t worry. There was a microphone involved. You’ll ALL hear their screams soon enough. 

Wait. 

Let me start over. 

Since June I’ve been recording vocals for a podcast project of mine, a horror series currently titled “Fire Call” In it, an agoraphobic woman reaches out for help against an obsessive serial arsonist with a mysterious connection to her past. In her efforts to reach beyond the bounds of her own doorway, she forges a bond with the 911 operator who takes her calls…and who has his own bizarre connection with the psychotic firebug terrorizing our heroine. 

The series was written to be intentionally short and simple. The entire plot unfolds as a series of phone calls, and involves only a small handful of actors. But, despite my efforts to keep the need for a budget to a minimum, production costs have arisen. 

Not exorbitantly, mind you, but still beyond my current capability of covering. Unless I, you know, decide to cut out nonessentials like food, water, and shelter. 

The biggest cost for the project is probably the biggest cost every online creative effort faces: server costs. While I had budgeted for the cover of these costs, the costs of filing LLC paperwork, and the costs of acquiring domain names has really built up, and there is little room for error should an unexpected curve ball, like (more) equipment or software malfunction, be thrown our way.

So to help with these costs, my production team and I have decided to do what all the cool kids are doing: beg for money from strangers on Kickstarter. 

We’re looking at a small goal – $500 to $1,000 – but we’re also looking to the success of the Kickstarter campaign to gauge the viability of this project and another we have in preproduction. Should we meet our goal – or, dare I hope, surpass it – the success will go a long way toward boosting our confidence in our project, and in encouraging us to follow through with producing its sister series, currently titled “Shadow House.”

Since “Fire Call” is a horror serial, I figured there was no better time to announce the upcoming crowdfunding effort than on Halloween. In two weeks, the campaign will launch, with plenty of perks for those lovely and generous souls who contribute, including a special holiday season token of appreciation come the campaign’s conclusion. I’ll announce its launch in a pleading, pitiful blog post, and we’ll see where things go from there.

Either way, this series WILL get made, but a successful funding effort will ensure it will be produced a lot sooner. Otherwise, look for the debut of “Fire Call” on iTunes in spring of the year 3179.

🎙📻😎👍

– The Awful Writer 

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Repeat

repeat

 

Something’s bothering Greg but he won’t tell me what it is. I keep asking but all he does is mumble “Nothing.” I’m still in bed when he steps out of the shower, and I watch him shave through the open bathroom door. A towel hangs loose around his waist.

I’m getting a crick in my back but I can’t bring myself to change position. I breathe deeply to keep myself calm. If I turn over the usual gauntlet will run through my mind. I bite the inside of my lip to keep from examining the headboard ten times, once for each fingertip. I need to bring this up when I see the doc tomorrow.

I reach out to touch his arm when he walks by but he moves it out of reach. It’s subtle but deliberate. He’s pouting, which seems to contrast sharply with the gray at his temples.

The hold on me snaps and I’m able to sit up. “Oh, come on. Just tell me what’s bothering you.”

He grabs a set of clothes with a huffy sigh. “I really shouldn’t have to.”

He heads back into the bathroom to get dressed. This is a pretty new thing he’s done the past couple weeks. He bitches that I don’t touch him, but goes out of his way to keep me from seeing him. I get out of bed, tighten the drawstring of my pants, and go to follow. He shuts the door and I knock.

“Christ, babe, how is this supposed to work? Is it supposed to go away if we don’t talk about it? You know, whatever it is?”

I knocked three times, and I’ve noticed. I tap the door with my fingertips, too lightly to make any sound, and that’s barely enough to keep myself under control. I don’t know that the Anafranil is working anymore.

“Just don’t worry about it,” I hear him snap.

“Jesus, something’s been bugging you for weeks now. We’re practically just pissy roommates at this point.”

“Yeah, we are.”

I have to swallow, and my eyes get that heavy feeling like I’m about to cry. I don’t usually cry, actually, but I almost always feel like I’m about to. Maybe I should bring that up tomorrow.

“Honey…”

“Jesus Christ!” He whips open the door and nearly shoves me as he moves past. “Do you really have to fucking whine about it so much?”

I shower a little longer than usual, because the need for a systemic pattern rears its head. Goddammit. Is this because I’m upset?

I decide to skip shaving, and when I’m dressed he’s having coffee by the carport door. He doesn’t look at me.

“I’m probably going to be working late,” he tells me.

“That’s fine.” Now he looks at me, like he’s ready for a fight. “I’m going to be out late with Chanda anyway.”

“Of course you are.”

“Wait. Does Chanda have something to do with why you’re such an asshole lately?”

“What do you mean ‘lately?'”

“You fuckin’ well know what I mean.”

He sighs but doesn’t answer.

“What the fuck’s your deal? Do you have some beef with her?”

“Well, I don’t know, Nate. Should I? Is there anything I should be worried about?”

I catch what he means. “Oh, Jesus Christ. You can’t be serious.”

“You’re always around her!”

“She’s been my best friend for fifteen years. What the hell? You’ve been a huffy little princess for weeks because you’re, what…jealous of my beard?”

“I’m sure Chanda would love to hear you call her that.”

Now you’re worried about insulting her.”

“Nate.” He rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “It’s not like, you know…it’s not like you’re not attracted to women.”

“Are you seriously playing that card now? Are you telling me I’m inherently unsatisfied if I’m not cheating?”

He puts his mug down and grabs his keys. “Forget it.”

“How can I?” He shuts the door when I catch up to him, but I open it again and call out: “You’ve been making such a fucking point of reminding me!

He ignores me and gets into his car.

***

The bookstore kills me today. It’s buyback time, and when I’m not helping with the register I help lug the massive volume of textbooks into the back for inventory. We’re going to be working all weekend just to get everything cataloged. More fuel for Greg’s fire.

I prefer it busy. When I’m busy, scrambling to meet the demands of others, I don’t have time to slow down and wait for the same thoughts to force my attention inward. They’re still there, mind you. They don’t call it obsessive for no reason. But they’re in the back of my mind, not the forefront, and there is no time to act on the compulsions they inspire.

I stay until six, when Chanda calls me. “Look up,” she says, and when I do she’s waving at me from the window by the doors. Her bracelets glitter in the yellow light of the student union.

“Heyo! I’ll be out in a second. Coffee upstairs?”

“Sounds good. I’ll head up! See ya in a bit!”

Ten minutes later I’m sitting by the Starbucks kiosk, sipping lemonade while Chanda blows on her tea. She reads me like a billboard and immediately asks what’s wrong.

“Greg. He’s…still Greg, I guess.”

“And that’s a bad thing now?”

“Lately?”

“You think New Greg is Permanent Greg?”

“I think it’s safe to say he’s shades of permanent.”

“So what’s his deal?”

I sidestep the direct issue. “He thinks I’m stepping out, I guess. He gets in these moods if he sees me talking to women. The bisexual thing doesn’t sit well with him.”

“Well you are kinda flirty.”

“Wait, what?”

“Not…not like, consciously. Okay, I mean,” she straightens up, concentrating. Her words here need to be precise. “Okay, so, you come off as flirty, is what I mean, even if you’re not actually flirting. And…and you act differently around women than you do around men.”

The faint Indian accent she got from her parents makes her sound almost English.

“Like…” She pauses, looking up and to the right. She sets her tea down, and raises both hands, palms up. She sits cross-legged in her chair. For some reason the pose makes me think of the Bharatanatyam she danced when we went to her cousin’s wedding. Even now she slides her neck while she considers what she wants to say. The image of her writhing jade choli starts playing in my head. It’s preferable to the day-long replay of Greg shutting the bathroom door in my face.

“Like, when you talk with women, you’re very masculine, but then you practically bat your eyes around men.” She leans her head to the side. “You’re all ‘come hither.’ And with chicks you’re like…”

She lurches forward, creep-staring me, and cocks an eyebrow. She drops her voice an octave or two and grunts “DTF?”

“Are you fuckin’ serious?”

She shrugs. “S’what I’ve noticed, anyway.”

“Well.” I lean back in my chair. “Son of a bitch.”

***

Greg’s asleep when I get home. I decide to crash on the couch after my shower, and in the spring heat my mind goes back to Chanda dancing at her cousin’s wedding. Her date…I can’t remember his name now…he’d been affectionate all night, and I remember being a bit surprised at the naked desire in his eyes. When he looked at her, they almost seemed to sparkle in the light of the silver jari in her skirt. He didn’t seem to mind that she danced so much with me. I was already with Greg by then. She and I could’ve fucked in front of her date and the guy probably still would’ve assumed I was just “the gay friend.”

I remember wondering what it was that he wanted so badly from her, from this woman I’d known since I was ten. When I thought of Chanda it was with memories of middle school acne and baby weight that hung on through high school. But when she danced then I saw the fine-tuning ballet had finally worked on her body. She coiled her arms above her head and slid her neck from side to side. Her curling lips were dark like plums, and her stomach twisted like a python.

When I finally go to sleep, my mind is stuck on the image of her lehenga. I see its delicate hem billowing against her ankles, like a sail caught on a river wind.

***

Dr. Hale is a very fatherly guy. Soft voice, direct speech, always encouraging. Ideally fatherly, I guess I should say.

“So how are ya, Nathan?”

“Ahhhh.” I twist my hand from side to side.

“What’s up?”

“My thoughts are turning more obsessive lately. Repeated imagery, mostly. Some anxiety.”

“Any compulsive behavior?”

“Not that I can’t control.”

“Is it getting harder to control?”

“A…a little, yeah.”

“How’s the Anafranil working?”

I shrug. “I mean, I’ve been pretty stressed lately, and you know how bad it used to be if I was stressed.”

He knits his brows together. “What’s been bothering you?”

“I think Greg and I are gonna break up.”

“Why do you think that?”

“He’s mad all the time. He won’t talk about it. He’s been getting real jealous of Chanda lately.”

“Of you spending time with her?”

“Of just being around her at all, really.”

“Now, Greg knew you weren’t exclusively attracted to men when you two got together, right?”

“Oh, yeah. I made a big point of making sure he knew that.”

“Okay. Now, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but have you given him any reason to think you haven’t been faithful?”

“Not that I can think of.”

Dr. Hale is quiet for a minute. “Is there any possibility you’re attracted to Chanda?”

“Hold on. Why are we getting into this?”

“Trust me, there’s a point to it.”

I’m quiet for a long while. The silver jari in Chanda’s skirt sparkles behind my eyes, over and over. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I am.”

He nods. “Yeah, I think you are too. And I think this is a recent thing. Dollars to doughnuts, Greg is picking up on that.”

“Well, fuck.”

“Now remember how obsessive thought patterns can artificially inflate feelings of attachment and attraction? Now, that inflation can become compounded when you take into account existing feelings of platonic affection. You with me so far?”

“Yeah. Her being my friend complicates things. Makes ’em…like, bigger than they are.”

“Substantially. Now, I think you’re surprisingly adept at appraising your own perception. So, bearing all that in mind, would you describe yourself as possibly being in love with Chanda?”

I honestly consider it. Jangling bracelets. The Bharatanatyam.

“I think…I think I might be on the edge of that, yeah. Not yet, but…close.”

He gives me a comforting smile. “Well, there you go, kid. Your symptoms are flaring up because you’re stressed. Love, breakups…that stuff hits all of us pretty hard. And you work in a college bookstore. April is a shit storm for you guys.”

“So what do I do?”

“I couldn’t say, professionally or personally. Those are things you just have to manage on your own. Your boyfriend…I think you already have a course of action in mind in that regard, so I won’t add any input.”

“What about Chanda?”

“What about her?”

“What do I do?”

“There’s nothing to do.”

“Should I tell her?”

“I’m a clinician, Nate, not a life coach. That’s a question you gotta figure out by yourself. I…”

He pauses, then puts his pen and pad down and leans forward, elbows on his knees, hands clasped.

“My wife and I were close friends for a decade before we began dating, and there’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that she’s the love of my life. But…I’ve seen plenty of beautiful, loving friendships fall apart because of the presumption that attraction has to be consummated. Some friends can date, fall in love, fall out of love, and be friends again. Some can’t.”

“I would suggest…” and he points right at me, “…that you consider exactly what Chanda means to you. Not how much. That’s a meaningless measurement. Consider what she means to you. The what is important. What space is her best fit, and yours?”

He looks at the clock. “Alright, kid. I wanna see you in a month. I’ll forward my notes, but I still want you to tell your psychiatrist everything you told me. Off the record, I don’t think there’s anything clinically significant to the increase in your symptoms, but see her anyway, alright? From what I understand, side-effects from Anafranil can be sneaky bastards. They like to play the long game. She might wanna do some blood work.”

I have a weird urge to hug him when I leave, but of course I don’t. Still, though, the image of us hugging replays over and over in my head until I get a text from Chanda, asking if I wanna meet up when she gets off work. After that, the only thing I can picture are the white jeans she wore when we met last night for tea.

***

Greg stays out all weekend, fuming. While he’s gone I ask Chanda if she knows anyone who can help me move. She comes over in mom jeans and a baggy tee shirt, her friend Rebekah in tow. Rebekah has a sharp, curving nose that almost seems to pin down her extra-wide grin. She has frizzy blond hair that she keeps tied back.

Abhay swings by once everything’s boxed up, and he packs the U-Haul trailer like he does it for a living. He’s tall and athletic and I try not to feel too competitive. He’s a nice guy, eager to heft the heaviest items and joking around while he works. He never seems to sweat or lose his breath. I can see why Chanda likes him so much.

They’re clearly in love. They’re not engaged but obviously they will be one day. Their families would love it if they wound up together. She pretends otherwise, but tradition is important to Chanda. Both are first-generation kids, both have family hailing from the same province. He gets her in a way I couldn’t.

When we take a lunch break Abhay rides with Chanda to pick up food. Rebekah and I sit on the porch, drinking light beer and arm wrestling. She beats me every time. I want to keep going, long after the break is over and we’ve all eaten. I’d like to focus on anything other than the private jokes Abhay and Chanda share.

***

The apartment looks a lot more spacious now that everything’s arranged. Chanda had to do most of it. Greg was always the housekeeper when we were together.

I get an excited text from her before I head out: “TELL. ME. EVERYTHING.”

Rebekah’s already ordered a round when I find her at a back table. Her hair’s down. It’s less frizzy than I remember it. She has glasses on, thick black-framed jobs. Her huge grin gets wider as we drink. Hours later, while we’re playing darts, I think over and over about us drinking light beer, and her beating me at arm wrestling. I’m still thinking about it that night, when I go to sleep.

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Stitches

stitches

 

I wake up to him kissing my neck and running his hand between my thighs. I sigh and turn my head to kiss him. He needs a shave, but I’m too distracted to tell him that. And besides, I like the stubble. I’m tempted to tell him to let me sleep another hour, but he runs his fingernails along my stomach, and I come alive against him.

Eventually I turn over and pull him close, careful to keep the injured finger clear of his writhing back. Kissing his shoulder, I can see the bruised, stitched flesh, torn and marred, in heavy contrast to his smooth tan skin.

***

I would have really appreciated it if she’d told me sooner I was losing her. I knew we were going to break up, but I couldn’t have gauged how vicious she was going to be about it.

We’d been getting along lately, though, so I guess I misinterpreted that as a reconciliation. In hindsight it was pretty clearly just a cease-fire.

She was doing her makeup in the bathroom. She was naked, her hair fresh and dry, and before I jumped in the shower I came up behind her and kissed her neck. My hands slid along the curve of her hip.

“Get the fuck off me!” She jabbed me sharply with her elbow. Not enough to hurt, not in the body, anyway. But enough to startle me back.

“Jesus! What was that?”

“Are you trying to make me put out my goddamn eye?” she snarled. Even curled back across her teeth, her pink lips looked remarkably kissable. Eyeliner gave her a stare like sharp wire.

“Alright! I’m sorry.” I put my hands up in surrender and stepped into the shower.

“Oh, don’t sound so fuckin’ wounded.”

I didn’t answer, just started my shower. After a minute or so I heard her groan. “Turn it down! The steam is gonna fuck up my hair!”

I ignored her. I let the heat scald away my irritation with her. By the time I stepped out, she’d already left for work.

***

When he and I are finished we hold each other, our chests pressed together, me breathing heavily just behind his ear. His hair is sweaty, but when he sweats it’s with a clean, almost sterile odor. I run my fingertips against his scalp, ignoring the slight sting of my injured finger. We both need a shower. We’re clearly not done fooling around just yet.

Every so often he gives me a lazy kiss to my temple. We both doze off a few minutes. When I wake up I can feel him getting ready to go again. When Brittany got her stuff, she stripped the linens straight from the bed and threw them in the car. Soon Bobby and I are tangled in the act of consecrating the bare mattress anew.

***

“Christ, all I’m trying to do is talk to you-…”

“That’s all you fucking do. You talk about things but you never fucking do them. Goddamn, you’re boring.”

“Babe, just…”

“Just get the fuck back, alright?”

“Goddamnit,” I caught the door to the bathroom before she could close it. “Do you want us to break up or what?”

“No! I just want…”

“You don’t even fucking know what you want! All you do is endlessly bitch at me…”

She pulled the door. I tightened my grip, holding in place. Before I could say anything else, she threw her entire body into pulling it closed, grunting in anger and effort.

My finger made a dull, wet sound as it was smashed against the frame.

I remember yelling so loudly it felt like a roar. Brittany covered her mouth against the drips of blood spotting the carpet. She kissed me over and over on the forehead and told me she was taking me to the emergency room. She ran off to get dressed and grab her keys. While she was getting ready, I climbed into my own car and drove away.

I heard her come home from work around nine. I’d locked myself in my room. On the table in the kitchen, I left a note, telling her she had a day to get her stuff out. That’s all it said. Now that I think of it, I haven’t laid eyes on her since seeing her disappear into her room. This room, where Bobby and I are now.

***

When Bobby gets out of the shower I’ve set up a tray with toast and eggs. A carafe of coffee is on the desk I moved in here yesterday.

Bobby dries his hair. “God, I love you.”

He says it lightly, and I pretend not to notice him gauging me with his eyes. Seeing how I’ll react.

Oh, no.

His phone vibrates again. Text from Mark: “Hey babe. Flying back in tomorrow.”

Bobby tosses the towel over the curtain rod. He pours coffee without getting dressed. I take in the sight of him, and run my thumb along the stitches in my finger.

Maybe he’s sincere, but two days into this I’d prefer it if he wasn’t. I never touched him before Brittany left. Never thought of it.

While he stands there I contemplate going to him, kissing his body, going further and further until he’s against the wall and shuddering above me. I think about him trying to do that with Mark, a man almost twenty years older. Always tired, always busy, always out of the house when Bobby gets home. Maybe Bobby does love me. But he also can’t.

Bobby types something into his phone while he drinks his coffee. He winks at me while he sips from the mug. The tip of my left middle finger is deep blue and purple. Between the stitches I can see the skin beginning to heal. The flesh is smashed and shredded, but still it comes together.

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