Read something and write the first thing that pops into your mind.
He whispered this thing in his sleep and I ground my teeth. I can’t remember what the word was now, thinking back. Angelina or Jasmine, maybe; probably. It had the curl and frill that bitches’ names had. Francine possibly. I didn’t know who she was, but it didn’t matter; we weren’t dating or married or anything really, he and I.
He grinned slow, lazy and rolled onto my side of the bed. His fingers knit in the pillow case under his face. I sat on the chair across from him biting the inside of my cheek, trying not to think. I didn’t want to cry or maybe I just wanted to break that vase over his head—end it all. That particular vase was a gift from him and it sat on my night stand, mocking me. The faint glow from the sun coming through my curtains made the white vase glow orange. Recently picked flowers, jagged and plucked by hand from wherever, casted a long shadow over the dresser. He probably stole it out of someone else’s garden, staggering through decorated lawns to my home. He brought it to impress me. Or maybe to apologize. His green, droopy eyes opened in that idle way it did after he’d been awake a while but didn’t want to get out of bed.
“Come here.” He demanded.
He never asked for anything; he mandated it. I followed along behind him when it was harmless, but yesterday, he got drunk and climbed into my bed. He felt me up under the pajama top that my mother bought me. It had little cartoon pineapples on it.
“How’d you get in?” He smiled and rolled over to give me his back, when I asked. I reached over and tugged on his ear. Instead of jolting he grabbed my arm, “Why are you still here?”
I yanked back, and he didn’t resist. The spot where he’d touched me was warm with sleep. This was probably how he liked to ensnare women. He probably liked to hold—I had to do something with my hands to stop myself from thinking. I looked to the vase and past it, to keep myself from throwing the vase out of the window and screaming at him. I picked up his jeans, crumpled up next to the night stand, then his keys and wallet and I tossed them into the bed. He turned onto his back.
“If you have a hangover y–”
“I don’t have a hangover–”
“You can take the medicine in the kitchen as you get out.”
I folded my arms at the foot of the bed, and he looked up at me the way he did when he thought someone would see it his way. He swung his feet off the bed and started to put on his jeans
“You don’t make any sense, Elma.” He was taking his sweet time putting his feet into the pant legs. I already had my back to him. I was picking up the same item and putting it down in another place, pretending to clean, to keep from thinking. Does the candle go on the dresser or in the bathroom?
“He was a loser, wasn’t he? Only a loser would—”
“Fuck off, Jack.” I said over my shoulder, slamming the candle on the dresser, “Give the fucking key to me.” He rolled his eyes, sighed, and made a huge production out of removing the key from the link. He tossed it to me and I flipped it over in my hand
“That’s my key so now we’re even.” I looked at it for a moment. If he wanted to give me this then why—I clamped my eyes closed. This is just what he does: entraps. I threw it across the room to the pile of laundry.
“Why do you ever come around with these stupid stunts to get my attention? You obviously couldn’t care less about me.”
He shrugged his shoulders at first. With hands heavy on his knees, he stood up like an old man might. He turned to me as he tugged his pants up over his grey boxers and buttoned them. I looked at the ground on my right and fiddled with the hem of the pineapple pajama. I could feel him standing close to me. I could stare him down forever, but I knew I shouldn’t.
“Believe it or not I might actually love you.”
And then we both laughed. I looked up at the crinkles at the ends of his eyes instead of at his mouth. He was young somehow with lines like that one his face. Maybe he smiled too much or used his mouth to please too much. Maybe he was too full of shit. I turned out of the room and into the kitchen. He followed. The kitchen was painted blue because he thought orange was too gaudy. I went along with it because it seemed innocent enough at the time. When I see it now—when I dwell too much on things that have been long gone—I remember he shouldn’t get to make decisions in a home that doesn’t belong to him. I poured a glass of juice and put an aspirin next to it.
“Then get out.”
His lazy eyes were on my back, as I put the juice back into the fridge and the air got heavy with silence.
“May, the Jewish girl.” That was the word. That’s right. I did know her, “She saw me at the party and she was hot believe you me.” I smiled thinking back to when May used to be called Vivian. She had brown hair and was always in the pleated kinds of skirts. See, at the time I had a thing for pleated skirts so we got to second base at one of her friend’s birthday parties, “Goin on and on about some guy so I did what any gentleman would do.” He was talking and as usual I didn’t understand why he ever told me any of these things. I could guess, but I didn’t want to, “I pulled her hair back like this—oh by the way she dyed black.” His step sister, Joanne, had black hair. She pulled it back like that, “Eyebrows and puss too! Just the way I like it—and then I just—”
“Please, Jack. Get out.” I knew a thousand things I could say to him to hurt him, and they crossed my mind, but I didn’t say them, “One of those guys at the police station owes me a favor.” I traced the wood lines on the counter with my finger
“Because you sucked his blue uniformed dick?”
He was mad now. Something about being okay without him made him volatile. I was mad too. Livid, even. Something about him talking about me having sex with other people made me crazy.
“Yes and he fucked like a firefighter. He might have wanted to be a firefighter once, but he’s a cop now.”
That made him smile, but he didn’t put on his shoes. They were neatly placed under the coffee table. I stared at them and counted the ridges on the side.
“You’ve got to admit what this is sooner or later, Elma.”
I stopped talking. He never listened when I—whenever I bring up anyone he would—I focused on counting again. He eventually left. His ego could only endure being ignored for so long. I called the lock smith for my building and they said they’d change them by Tuesday. He likely wouldn’t be back for a week.
I needed a shower. The water slid through my hair and onto my scalp and I tried not to dwell, but there was nothing to distract me. There was only me, naked in there, with the white walls and white tiles. I had counted the tiles before so I knew how many there were. I tried tracing them with the tip of my nose, but it had already started, rough and coughing like. I curled over and slammed my fist on the porcelain, choking and dribbling into the shower head. I hated him so much. So much.
“I think about you all day, Elma.” He whispered into my ear when he climbed into my bed. His arm were strangley warm as they slid over my stomach to grab hold of my chest. I knew it was him. He had broken in before. He rubbed his briefs hard into my back. It woke me up properly. I turned around, head now niched in the crook of his arm. The room was dim and only street lights from way off lit the room through the curtains. He smelled like whiskey and lemon juice. Our breaths were mingling. He always had this way of staring into my eyes without saying anything. He pulled his hand back from under my shirt and just stared at me. He inched in a bit closer.
“If you kiss me, you bastard, you better marry me.” The words came out. I almost took them back, but his eyes searched my lips and then back up to my eyes. He kissed his teeth.
“Don’t be so stingy.” He shook playfully and I rolled my eyes.
“Stop fucking around then.”
“I’ll marry you if you say you love me.” He stopped shaking, speaking suddenly. He was serious now. This was the game we played. Let’s make the other do something they hate.
“I’ll say it if you are honest to me for once.”
“I don’t love you, Elma.” Our noses were touching now.
“Then why are you here?” I knew this, but I needed him to—he was making this so hard on me.
“If you know the answer to your question, why do you need me to say it to marry you to kiss you?” And then he kissed me soft and innocent like a child just learning.
“I want a winter wedding.” I said, taking his arm to wrap it around me.
He called me later, after my shower. I dried my hair and my face, swollen now from crying. I crouched in my chair, biting my cheek. Blood flowed into my mouth. The phone vibrated and I knew it was him calling to say something awful. He would say something that will make me count the drops of water plopping from hair. I answered.
“I’d marry May before I ever marry you.” were the first words out of his mouth.
I laughed to myself. He was right.
“Why don’t you crawl back up into Joanne’s vagina?” And then I hung up and regretted it.
He was back at my place the next week. When he knocked on the door I knew he’d tried his key and that made me feel dark, smile, and count my steps to the door. He looked like he’d gotten into a fight. His once straight cropped, black hair was matted and covered in sweat. His knuckles were bruised or bleeding and his shirt color was stained from yellow to orange. I couldn’t stop myself quickly enough so I looked concerned and he smirked.
“You changed the locks.” He shoved his way inside.
“You knew I would.” I locked the door and turned around and he was right at my back. I jumped, “Jesus, Jack! What is wro—” He took hold of my face and kissed me. My brain ran off the tracks. Why—why—has he finally—One two three pecks and 4 loooong and hard—He was crazy, but I was laughing and pushing him back to look in his eyes properly. I wanted to be sure.
“I’ve decided that we should get married.” He spoke before I could see, turning on his heels away from me. He was pacing the floor like a man waiting for his wife in the hospital and—I hadn’t seen him this excited in a long time.
“What happened to you?” And he stared at me for a moment too long before he continued
“So I slept this man at a bar.” He started, grinning like he had a big secret.
“Bullshit. You did not sleep with a guy. What’s going on?” My arms hung dumbly to my sides and I balled my fists.
“Slaaappped! I slept him.” He drew out the words and then giggled. He rushed up to me and squeezed my tits like some 8 year old with a toy, “It was these. You were so bitter then the—the fight, and I was being wheeled back to the hospital, but then it dawned on me!”
I watched him as he paced away from me, blood dribbling out of the back of his head. Bruises and scuffs all over. I had to realize this silly man had gotten my hopes up. My eyes stung. I picked up my phone and dialed. When I gave them my address he stopped and turned at me
“What is wrong with you, Elma? Can’t you just accept what I’m saying and marry me goddammit?!” He raised his voice to new heights and his face grew wrinkles. I could feel the neighbors dialing the police. I crossed my arms and tried not to—not to in front of him—in front of anyone except this…man, “Henry has been dead for 11 years, Elma. We aren’t young anymore. Why won’t you let me—” I grabbed his shirt in my hand. It was quite the sight: a man, nearly two heads taller than me and a hell of a lot stronger, being pulled down to face me.
“Did you know that 15 years ago Henry had an asthma attack when I asked him when you’d be getting there?” I was angry, heartbroken, “We waited at that restaurant for hours, Jack. I thought I was waiting for you. He thought that you had given me to him!” I was crying. He saw, “Henry and I dated because you forced us like you force everything! I thought I was—I thought you’d be—I was fucking wrong.”
And I let him go. And for a long moment Jack stared at me without saying a single thing. I wasn’t looking at him anymore. I was looking at my palms.
“Don’t even pretend you didn’t love him.” He said it so softly that it didn’t even sound like it came out of him
“I didn’t love him!” I screamed louder than I wanted. And I could hear the neighbors dialing faster. I breathed hard and lowered my voice, “But at least I didn’t hate him.”
We heard the sirens. Lucky for the paramedics, I had taken the fight right out of him.
He stayed at the hospital for a while. They said it wasn’t serious, but I don’t believe them. I’d never seen him like how he was when he was pacing and kissing me in front of my door. I sat in the chair across from him. The wrinkles were on his face when he didn’t think I could see him. They were gone now.
“I slept with Joanne on the Friday before my parent’s wedding to stop it. They waited forever to tie the knot. I hated the idea of them being together and happy.” I knew this story and he knew I knew it, “Sometimes I think about how shitty a person I must be to do that. They didn’t get married because of me and I was actually proud of that. I think of how scummy I am to be proud of something so awful and now—and now that’s when I think of you. You make me feel scummy, Elma. Every time I see you face. Every single time.” I nodded and took his hand. He grabbed hold tight, and looked away
“About Henry—” He started, “It was us wasn’t it?” His shoulders shook gently
“It was us and you and I shouldn’t be here together, Elma.” I could just catch a glimpse of the wrinkles on his cheeks, “We should be miserable and—”
“Henry was selfish!” I screamed over him, clenching his hand and my eyes, “He did that to hurt us! You said it yourself! He was a—” I was ashamed of the words I said, “And we are—we are getting married this winter.”
He didn’t turn around but he laid down tightly holding my hand. He fell asleep muttering about Angelicas and Vivian’s and I ground my teeth.