Sometimes I take my wedding ring off so I’ll be the only one here. I took a very hot and very long shower today. First I took out the pink rubber duck and plastic fishies; I did this so I could forget I was someone’s mother for a while. Then I got in and turned on the water, inching the lever up closer to heaven so the hottest water would come out, and I sat down. You read about people getting in the shower when they feel especially dirty and filthy, gross and striped with adultery or rape or other sex things. I am not that woman when I’m huddled at the bottom of the shower, folded into myself and slowly growing pink.
When I walk down the sidewalk sometimes I pretend you’re behind me. I can feel it in all the nerves that lace together my vertebrae. They vibrate like guitar strings, and I imagine them bursting out through flesh and skin to wrap around you and pull us together. I walk up and down these sidewalks, swiveling my hips a little, pretending you’re watching.
Once you needed a ride home from work. It was raining the coldest rain on the coldest night, and you’d be soaked through. To the bone. Let me take you, I said, and you climbed into my car. The darkness cloaked the toys in the back seat, and the car seat looked shapeless and lumpy. I balled up my hope for you into a tiny glowing nugget and tucked it back there so the darkness would pour over it too.
You are from Chicago; I almost went to school there. I said I had really wanted to go, that I got postcard after postcard with a sunny lake beach on it lying that the winters are not so bad, but that I couldn’t afford it alone. It was true. Now you live down a street I know, one that I powerwalked down with my baby in her stroller before I knew you lived there. I didn’t ask which house; it’s more fun not to know everything.
Last night I had a dream with you in it, briefly in it, and I told my husband. Telling him made the dream dangerous.
We work in a place where people use their hands to make beautiful things. This means that when I watch your hands and memorize their lines no one thinks it’s out of the ordinary. One of the perks of my job is watching your hands and imagining them on top on my skin. They would scrape at me a little because making beautiful things is harder work than it seems, and your fingertips are rusty with it. This is good; I would like to know where your fingers are. When they scrape and rustle over my hips the whiskery pain cuts through the dreamy haze we’ve made together. I like knowing where they are. Or where they would be, anyway.
You look like the boy who took me to Prom. He had a long face and too-sweet eyes, too. He was full of lies, but not the malicious kind, so I never could scrape together any sort of anger at him. That boy made me feel open and transparent, too, and I liked it, and didn’t, the same as I do with you.
More than once you’ve asked me where I grew up, but I would never tell you that much about it. I can’t tell you about sisters, faded scars on my knees, or the birthmark shaped like Australia on my upper thigh. There are only a few things that are mine, and I don’t want to give them all away with nothing in return.
I walked in the very cold morning air, a stolen hour before packing lunches and signing forms. In the blue-gray cold I pushed up the mountainside, toes digging deep in mud. When I reached the summit, panting and sucking in sheaves of frigid air, they rattled into my lungs and pull them closed. My breath hung around my face. I took off my coat, letting the cold in when I think of you. It laced through the fabric of my shirt and around my ribs. My fingers grew stiff, wrapped up in you.
We got a drink once; the bar wasn’t smoky like bars used to be, but I held a cocktail straw between my two fingers and missed the weight of a real cigarette. There were things to talk about, politics and books, guitar riffs and football, and we stayed late there. The drinks made us sway into each other at the shoulders. When I got home to a breathing, heartbeating house, I checked the mirror to make sure your face wasn’t tattooed across my eyes.
At the bottom of the shower I feel alive. I stretch my soft pink arms up into the water and think about your hands. I am the only person in my foggy kingdom. I make all the rules and I break each one.
About the Author: Laura has just one more class and she'll be finished with a masters of English. She lives in upstate NY for the moment and is always misplacing her coffee cup when she's writing.
Story Song: “Gymnopédie No. 1” by Pascal Rogé