Tag Archives: relationship

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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Seal

lips

 

Tori looked so picturesque that Zach cursed himself for not bringing his camera. She’d called at two in the morning, needing a ride, and then begging off and telling him he could go back to sleep. But she was downtown, and it was a two mile hike uphill to her dorm at Vandy. He was pulling up beside her three minutes after leaving his trashy-chic studio loft near Five Points.

Her black skirt swished a half-beat before the rest of her body followed. Her red hair seemed to absorb the glow of the bar front neon. He would have honked, but the familiar rattle of his old Wagoneer gave him away, and she waved to make sure he could see her. Of course he could see her.

“Tell me again why we’re not dating?” she sighed, climbing in and leaning back in her seat.

“Your giant, giant boyfriend, mainly,” he told her. He pushed in the cigarette lighter below the dash. He didn’t smoke, it was just something he did. Some folks touched their nose. Others tugged their collars. He played with the cigarette lighter in his truck. “Also,” he added, curling his fist and lowering his voice, “my art is my true love.”

“Oh, Jesus. What do you call it when someone cliches a cliche? Hypercliche? Megacliche?”

“I’m a barista and a photographer, living in a studio apartment above a pizza joint. I am the Voltron of cliches.”

“You’re not too cliched! Didn’t you sell something recently?”

“Sure did. From that gallery there.” They passed by a tiny storefront, the picture window covered in white blinds. In huge Veranda font the numbers “465” were stenciled in black. “Dude bought a picture of mine for a grand.”

What? Hell yeah!” She punched him on the arm, and he added to his cliche gestalt by pretending the punch hadn’t hurt. “How are you not more excited about that?”

“Well, it might not happen again.”

“Oh, Jesus.” She shook her head. “If you’re gonna be broody I think I’d rather walk.”

“I’m not broody. I just don’t wanna get too comfortable with the idea I can live off my photos.” He’s in a good space now, but when he worked two grueling jobs just to survive, he’d sometimes wake in the middle of the night unable to breathe. But things evened out for him. He starves now, making coffee and hustling photos, but at the price of finally living.

Ben Folds was playing in his stereo.

And all this wanderin’…

Got you nothin’…

“So I guess I’d be the chipper one.”

“What?”

“When we’re together. I’ll clearly have to be the optimistic one.”

“Yeah.” The lighter popped back out, and after a beat he pushed it back in. “But we won’t be together.”

“Yeah,” she nodded.

You were ready to…

But never could…

“So was it a bad fight?”

“Not really. Just…” she sighed, “a stupid one.”

“So you’ll call him tomorrow.”

“Guess I gotta.”

“Yep,” and in the flash of a street light he could see her smile at him, “now that I’m gonna hold ya accountable and all.”

He pulled up to her building. The campus police call box by the door flashed blue and red in the still night. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You’re a lifesaver, man.”

“Cherry flavored and everything.” And he smiled after her as she climbed out. He caught himself a little too late watching the swish of her skirt against her thighs as she went in.

“Come on. Get your head on straight.”

At a light, he caught his reflection in the rear view mirror, saw the faint pink imprint on his cheek where she’d kissed him. He snapped a quick pic with his phone, and back at home he toyed with filters and exposure until her lipstick was a steel-gray print, framed by flecks of stubble along the slate white board of his cheek. He printed a copy, then scribbled along the gloss with a permanent marker. Once the words had soaked in he made two more prints, one to hang, one to hustle. He could easily get thirty bucks a copy for this print. He was gonna try for three hundred.

Are…

You…

Happy…

Wanderin’?

He texted a woman he knew, but she never responded before he fell asleep. Beside his whirring laptop, the corner of the print hung over the edge of his desk. It wafted in the eddy of his ceiling fan. Across the gloss, beneath Tori’s steel kiss, was the title, scrawled in black ink.

“Seal.”

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Abort

abort

 

Karen and I are drinking dirt-cheap beer and laughing through a season of “It’s Always Sunny” when the connection in my TV goes out.

“No worries,” I say, standing and facetiously beating my chest. “I shall fix this! Come citizens! Follow me!”

We’ve pounded our way through a twelve pack, so we both kinda stumble down the hall to my room, where my laptop sits charging on my desk. I open it and bring up Netflix, and soon the Paddy’s Gang start their antics right where they left off. She and I drop down on my mattress and watch through a beery haze.

I’m drunk enough I actually don’t notice her hand start to move between the snaps on my shirt. Honest to God, I don’t actually catch on to what’s happening until one snap pops, and when I look down her cool palm is running its way across my ribs.

“Whoa,” I say, sitting up and moving back a bit. Karen’s fine and all but, uh, this isn’t us. We aren’t…

“Oh, what?” she says. She’s smiling, her lips a darker red than I can remember ever seeing them before. She scoots closer as I scoot farther.

“I..we aren’t…”

“Oh, fuckin’ come on,” she says, rolling her eyes, and now she’s working down the strap of her purple tank top. “It ain’t like it was never leading to this.”

She’s pressed against me now and in the warmth I become so much more aware of her than I ever have been before. The crotch of her jeans scrape against my fly, and my heart rockets when I realize that soon, very freakishly soon, my skin will be pressed against the skin wrapped so tightly in those jeans.

She looms over me, wolfish grin and locks of distressed brown hair. The curl of her right eyebrow mimes the curl in her sneer. Porcelain white teeth threaten to eat me alive in the most comforting way imaginable. She pulses then, in a deep red light.

I look up and see the big red button, flashing bright. It reads: ABORT For some reason, I slap it.

And I wake up.

It’s Thursday morning. Practically the start of the weekend for me. Landscaping work is tight this time of year, so I wake without the usual strained aches of hard labor. Four crushed cans of Old Milwaukee litter my nightstand, and my laptop hums by my feet. Netflix tells me it has timed out due to inactivity.

I sit, still in the jeans and white tee shirt I fell asleep in. I rub my eyes and mutter “Aw, shit” over and over to myself.

***

Karen and I are drinking cheap drafts at a little hot dog place we tend to favor. Shamefully, I’m in the same wrinkled clothes I woke up in, because when you landscape for a living your perception of clean and dirty is fundamentally altered. She’s got on a brown sweater and tight jeans, the tightness of which I don’t think I would’ve noticed before last night’s dream. I drink a little faster when the memory comes to me.

“Ugh,” she groans, nudging a loose plastic stool on the eating station beside us. “Fucking seventy degrees in the middle of goddamn January. Someone needs to tell fall it’s time to give it a rest.”

She pulls off her sweater then, and underneath she’s wearing a deep purple tank. I almost spit my beer back into my plastic cup.

“You okay?” she asks me, loose hair cascading over her brown eyes as she looks at me.

Oh, goddamn it. God. Damn it.

***

Later we make our way back to my house, and Karen helps me swap out my engine mounts, which means that we actually have to lift the motor up and out. Before heading over we’d loaded her engine net into the bed of her pickup, and now with it set up in my driveway she and I curse and hiss and finally have the block loose enough to haul into the air. While she locks it in place I slide an engine stand underneath, then grab the mounts from the trunk.

When we get everything swapped out, we lower the engine and hook it back up, Karen complaining the whole time. “Goddamn motherfuck,” she groans, “why’d you ever buy this fuckin’ bitch, anyway?”

“Bitchiness is an appealing quality to me,” I answer back, pretending not to notice her shaking cleavage as she wrestles hoses into place.

When we’re done it’s dark. We’re sweaty and scratched up, and our skin and our clothes are smeared in grease. “I need a fuckin’ shower,” she says, grabbing a beer from my cooler and wiping grease from her wrist on the ass of her jeans.

“Go for it,” I tell her, lugging the cooler inside behind her. “Least I owe ya is some hot water.”

“Yer goddamn right you do.” She shotguns her beer and tosses it in the cardboard box I use for recycling. “Won’t take me fifteen.” And she disappears down the hall.

I sit in my threadbare recliner and keep drinking, and I guess I fall asleep ’cause I feel someone running their hand against my face. I have to blink for almost a minute because I can’t make out who’s standing in front of me. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when I finally see it’s Karen, ’cause really who the fuck else would it be?

What does surprise me, though, is how comfortable she is standing around naked.

Her hair is dripping wet, and without thinking I reach out and put my hand to her hip. Her skin is soft from scrubbing and cool from drying, and she sets her hand against my wrist and moves it lower. Her leg is so smooth I have the weird impression she’s melting from the heat of my hand, like cream. Her skin is deep brown and sun-kissed.

She leans down, her mouth open, and her lips are so close to mine I honestly don’t know if they’re touching or not. My mouth is open too, more out of shock than anything, and I can feel her breath coming and going across my tongue.

There’s a shimmer of light from behind her, and I look over her shoulder and see a massive insect’s wing wafting behind her. There are two of them, one on either side, and I look to her side to see a second, smaller pair below them. They shimmer with pulses of what seems like sunlight, and as they flutter the sunlight drips through the air like rain against a window. The liquid light spatters across my carpet, soaking deep into the fibers, and after a moment little hands reach into the air. Smaller Karens stand, emerging from where the light splashes. These Karens also have wings, pulsing, dripping, sunlit wings. It occurs to me that, if I keep watching, even smaller Karens than the ones I see will begin to appear. She is flooding my home, soaking it in shimmers.

There’s a different light now, a flashing red standing out against the pulsing white and yellow rays of sunlight. Across the front, the red glowing button reads ABORT. Without wanting to, moving mechanically, I move my foot to it and press it with the toe of my boot.

Fairy Karen’s fingers disappear from my cheek. I’m alone in my dark living room. When I check the time I see a text on my phone. “Didn’t wanna wake ya. I’ll be back tomorrow to grab my motor caddie. Sleep easy. Thanks for the beer. You need more conditioner. – Karen”

***

When Karen comes to get her motor caddie, she’s in canvas cargo pants and a thick flannel shirt that almost makes me think she knows what I was dreaming about. We laugh and drink beer at her place, slugging each other’s arms when we need to shut up or we’ll miss a good part of whatever show we marathon on Netflix. This morning, I dreamed we were lying on our sides in my bed, just looking at each other. The warmth under the sheets told me neither of us were wearing anything. We didn’t touch, didn’t kiss, just lied there with it feeling like we should. Her brown eyes held mine. The side of her mouth curled in a smile. Her right eyebrow was cocked, mimicking the curl of her lip. If I’d moved my head an inch, our noses would’ve touched.

But for the flashing button between us, I could’ve.

It’s Sunday, and we drink a lot. It starts to get dark, and it dawns on me I’ll have to head back soon.

“I need to cool it,” I tell her, waving away the offer of another beer. “Gotta drive back eventually.”

“Oh, fuck that.” She waves her hand. “Just sleep in back. Bobby ain’t due back in town for another couple days.”

Bobby. The boyfriend. I know him. He’s a good dude. A good dude who never makes an appearance in my dreams. In my dreams it’s just me and her.

But I persist, and when my buzz wears off we hug and I make my way back home. When I go to bed the space across my bedspread where I dreamed her is cool and smooth. Eventually, some undetermined time after I finally fall asleep, she’s there again, smiling, eyebrow cocked.

Her expression seems to say the same thing it seemed to say this morning. What happens now?  And this morning, what happened was a slow, regretful push of a button.

Now again we lie and look at one another, the ABORT button flashing between us. Now I drag a pillow across it, and lay my head closer to hers. Now, here in my dream, our noses touch.

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Move In

pretty hair

 

“If you’re worried about whether I have ulterior motives…”

“No, it’s not that, Jesus. I just worry…”

“Worry what?”

“It’s not just me. It’s me and Kat.”

“Kat’s three. It’s not like she’s gonna take up that much space…”

“You know what I mean.”

Jesse swigged his beer and nodded. “Yeah, I know what you mean. But the room’s pretty big and we can set up an extra bed.”

“And Alexa’s fine with this?” Megan knotted her brows. She twisted her wrists about so her own beer sloshed in the bottle.

“I don’t know. Guess she’ll have to be.”

“That doesn’t seem fair.”

Jesse shrugged. “You’re my friend. Leaving you in the cold seems a lot less fair.”

“But maybe more appropriate?”

“You’re sweet, but Jesus, I don’t wanna be a part of any world where abandoning your friends is considered appropriate.” He guzzled the rest of his beer and set the bottle on the porch, sliding a new one out of the six-pack in the same movement. He pried the cap off with a flick of a calloused thumb, offered her the bottle but she shook her head and sipped the one she had.

He couldn’t pretend he didn’t know what she was worried about. She and Alexa got on fine. Alexa was never worried when they hung out alone while she was at work. But having her in the back room? Out of work, so she was always there? Jesse worked mornings, Alexa worked afternoons. He and Megan would be alone together for hours, every day.

Well, not really. Kat would be there. But it wasn’t too hard to distract a three-year-old, was it?

“What are your other options?”

She shrugged. “No fuckin’ clue, man. I mean, I could head to Hawthorne where Kat’s dad is, but…” She sighed, wordlessly admitting she’d nearly prefer to be homeless. She swigged her beer. “No fuckin’ clue.”

“Alright, you’re crashin’ here then. You gotta.” He waved a hand to cut her off. “It’s out of our hands, woman. Until you can get something figured out, alright? I ain’t gonna leave ya to twist in the wind.”

She was quiet a long while. Her oak-brown hair fell over one shoulder and curled around her elbow. She had smooth skin with a tone like honey. He could never tell if her eyes were brown or green, but they were always sparkling. There was a single freckle on her nose, like a pin holding everything together. She was a looker, alright. Not that he ever looked, but others did. His buddy Dave. Alexa. His cousin Kim. And they didn’t mind bringing it up around him, either. Megan was beautiful. Looking at her now, he could easily see it.

But.

But there’d never been that instinctive recognition. That lurch in the gut that told him when someone was pretty. Megan was beautiful, but somehow she was beautiful in everyone’s eyes but Jesse’s.

And damn, but do people get imaginative when you’re alone with someone pretty.

Jesse’s friend since sixth grade finished her beer, scooted lower into the porch swing, and stuck a leg out against the railing, softly rocking herself along. She seemed to be intensely studying the satin flat she was wearing, shimmering black against the whitewashed wood. “Thank you,” she nearly whispered.

Jesse took off his ball cap and dropped it over her outstretched foot. “No biggie,” he told her, then swigged his beer.

***

Well, how could she say no?

She liked Megan, a lot, actually. They always got along. She loved it when the three of them stayed up late together, drinking beer and laughing over stories from high school.

When all three of them were together.

Jesse was always home by three. Alexa was always home by seven. And Megan, at least for now, would always be home.

Moving her in had been easy enough. Megan’s life was sparse enough she could fit it all into a car trunk. When everything was unpacked and Kat’s bed was put together, Jesse left to grab pizza. Megan and Kat played in the kitchen. Alexa had left to pee, but now she stayed behind and stared into the mirror.

She put a hand against her cheeks, pushing against them so she didn’t look so much like a chipmunk. Her nose was round and looked a little mushed. Blond hair always a little too shiny, oily looking. She ran a finger behind her jaw on either side, feeling for the goddamn whiskers that always tried to grow there. It was the first, second, and third thing she always checked for in the morning, always with a pair of tweezers gripped like a six-shooter.

No one but Alexa saw this being who only came alive in the mirror. This creature that in Alexa’s mind could only just barely be called a woman. This thing that, she felt, she’d managed to hide from Jesse.

Megan was in the kitchen, sweaty in an old tee shirt stained with grape jelly. Bandanna holding her hair back from her dirty face. Movie star beautiful. Suffering but still so goddamn beautiful. Here, in this house.

Alexa touched up her foundation, and heard Jesse come in. Kat screamed in delight. She loved Jesse. Alexa felt something jerk violently somewhere in her heart.

She grabbed paper plates and plastic cups, poured juice for Kat and grabbed beers for everyone else. She watched Jesse toss his hat by the TV and run a hand through his rust-red crew cut. Even so short, it always looked like he was fighting a case of bed head. He rubbed at eyes that always looked a little puffy, like he’d just woken up. His face alternated between pale in tone and red from a swarm of freckles. He scratched at his neck, dotted red from acne that’d held on since he was sixteen.

Kat hugged his neck and flopped backward in his arm like Katherine Hepburn. Jesse hoisted her up and sat her down in Megan’s lap. He untangled himself and moved to Alexa. The whole time, he was moving toward her. They locked eyes, and there was the smile he only ever gave her. She knew this. She’d watched him around others. He only smiled like this, with his eyes and his lips, for her.

Megan and Kat picked at a slice of pizza. Kat told her gorgeous mother about her day at preschool. Jesse held Alexa close, telling her hello with a kiss.

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Presumed Assumption

An admittedly weird quirk of mine is to judge others based on the level of assumption and presumption they live their life by. This is admittedly difficult, as we all carry long-term assumptions, regardless of how substantiated they are. It’s a deep part of our evolutionary behavior; those who carried the most assumptions in our hunter-gatherer days tended to be the ones who avoided disease and predation. But as society grew more complex, and continues to do so, assumption is little more than defective behavior. To live your life in a state of presumption is to live it with an extra set of eyes you inexplicably keep closed.

There’s no real rhyme to how I level judgment, which is okay because my judgment is of zero consequence anyhow. Presumptions as to my level of competency can be hot buttons for me. I try not to, but I lose a little respect for managers who assume I’ve widely misunderstood a simple concept based on a small mistake, likely one made simply because I did not have time to finish a chore before leaving for the day. I keep quiet when men think I’ve said “ma’am” instead of “man,” usually only pointing out their idiocy if they begin to give me shit based on their mistake.

There are assumptions made out of fear, though, and those are a little harder to hold against people. I had one woman break up with me because she assumed that if we broke up we wouldn’t be friends any longer. How do you get mad over something that innocent? Another broke things off because she thought she was angering me. I don’t know why she thought this, but when it came to light I thought to myself We throw away our years based on assumption.

We avoid jobs we assume we can’t do. We ignore degrees we assume we can’t master. We keep our heads down because we assume the light of day is too bright to behold. Loves are missed because we assume the other person isn’t interested. We are safe, we are adventurous, we fail, because we presume things should be the way we make them be.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction