Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fiction Thursday: Cloves

I should have known better.

We were walking through campus, going back to our cars. It was a Thursday, which was supposed to be our day. I asked you where you wanted to go for dinner, and you just shrugged and looked away before telling me that you’d rather head on to your father’s house. It was just one more in a month long series of dropped plans. I didn’t know at the time how to tell you that that particular phrase, said on that particular day, stirred up a sense of disappointment that was instantly overwhelming and painful. Like a blow to the knee-caps.

I asked you if you were sure, if going to your dad’s was what you really wanted to do. You said yes. I asked if you’d be coming home later, to our home. No, I’m tired, you said. You had spent the last few nights at your father’s house, alone. You had said it wasn’t anything personal, that you just needed some space; some time so you could clear your head and work on your projects. And I believed you, because you explained it to me over an elaborate dinner that you cooked. You provided for me. That meant you cared for me. Even though I knew that dinner didn’t change anything. We both knew our home was no longer home for you.

That day, you decided not come with me. I didn’t know it at the time, but you didn’t go to your father’s house, either. You went over to her house to evaluate her first editions. Then stayed for a glass of wine. And a cigarette. And for the rest of the bottle. It was the day that you stopped being with me, all but officially.

I remember her. I remember sitting behind her in class, reading her sappy yet incredibly vulgar tales of the girl who used her mother’s death as justification to live as a whore. The stories the class just ate up. How she bragged about her connections at the Iowa Review. How her notes were never critical, just comments like, no character would store food that way, or listen to that type of music, or drive that car. Her arrogance. Fucking cunt.

But that’s what you liked about her. A girl who, after reading two sentences of your first draft, would tell you that it was shit, and that you would never amount to anything as a writer because your main character wore his t-shirt tucked in. And later in bed, she’d be as submissive and depraved as the girls in her stories. A strong person who longed to be humiliated—just like you.

That day, you never looked me in the eye. We stood in the court yard, your eyes pointed in the direction of your car. You had spent a lot of time looking away from me. Mark, I asked. You turned your head, met my eyes and smiled. That smooth smile with swagger that made me swoon. But your eyes weren’t in it. And your complacent stare lingered with mine.

You kissed me, rubbed my cheek, then turned around and left. Without a hug. Without saying goodbye. I had to create sentiment out of that final look, that final kiss, so I did. You meant that much to me.

Have a good night, I said to the back of your head. But I wanted to say more. I needed to say more. Needed to grab you by your too-expensive-leather messenger bag and pull you back onto the tracks with me. I wanted to say that I knew you wanted to leave me. That you needed to leave me. I wanted to tell you to get it over with already.

But really, I wanted you to tell me I was wrong. That you wanted me. That you would only ever want me.

But really, I wanted you to mean it.

You came home for lunch the next day wearing the same clothes. You headed straight for the kitchen with a hearty hello, attempting the cheeriness and capability of the well-rested. But your uneven walk and sore throated voice betrayed your hangover. I sat on the couch and watched you amble from the fridge to the pantry. I got up and walked to the kitchen. I wanted to be close to you. I wanted be touching you. I had been without you for so long. I wanted you to want to be near me, too.

You gave me a hug, a bigger hug than I was expecting, and I took all that I could from it. I buried my head in the crook of your neck and shoulder. I wrapped my arms around you until I could grab my wrists and I pressed my entire body into you. You gave back just as much. I felt your hand move to the back of my head, your other arm wrapped around the middle of my back. I was cradled in the comfort of this moment. The familiarity, the security. I clung to it.

Until I recognized that new clove and cotton scent on your sweater. It was the same scent that nauseated me whenever I sat next to her.

And I remembered the day before. When I showed up later than you to class. I saw you two standing outside the building, smoking a cigarette, but standing apart from the other smokers. Her with that insufferable clove. You two were laughing. And you had that wink, the sarcastic grin that showed whenever you were working a girl. Every player has his tale. You pulled out your phone. She recited as you made an entry. And you both nodded with excitement as you talked. As I walked up, you looked at me briefly, smiled, and said hey. And she said she had to leave. You followed her and I followed you into the building.

I knew at that moment, as I watched you watch her go up the stairs, that you wouldn’t be coming home that night. The plans that I had anticipated all week would be canceled. The plans that had fallen through for various reasons for the last few weeks. I knew that I would go home, to our home, without you. I could feel the edges starting to show.

I broke the hug. I let go and then I fell. I fell a hundred stories. I imagined you in her place down town, as I went home. Me, watching TV alone as you two laughed at each other’s stories on her spacious balcony. Me, putting day old macaroni and cheese in the microwave as she dished out risotto and blackened chicken. Me, sending you yet another un-answered text message as you two played Zelda on her XBOX. And finally me, falling asleep with our dog as you ran your fingers through her tangle-free hair, marveling at the color and softness, you running your fingers down her smooth bare legs before going in for that kiss.

I backed away, trying to find the ground that seemed to be falling out from below me. Or maybe I thought distance would make that scent disappear, and erase those images from my mind. But it didn’t. The more I looked at you, the less I could make myself believe it couldn’t have happened.

Where were you last night? I asked you. You gave me a skeptical look. I crossed my arms, steeling myself. At my dad’s… I told you, you said. I backed up, trying, in your face, to find you. But you were hiding behind your smirk. Behind her smell.

No, where were you, I asked you. I could feel my hands shaking, preparing for your response. Please, don’t lie to me, I begged you. I watched your face change shape as you thought of what to say. Your increasing hesitation made my stomach harden. Finally, you looked me in the eye. You touched my hand, and said

There’s nothing going on. I was at my dad’s.

and you smiled. The same smile that used to win me over. The same smile you gave her before class the day before. You walked away, to the bathroom.

I lost my breath. I was furious, but I believed you. I wanted to believe you. I took that hug and your smile and I believed it.

But now, as I look at these photos on your laptop, it’s all very clear to me.

There you are. With her.

Your arms wrapped around one another, her head against your bare chest, auburn hair spilling onto your face. She’s looking down and laughing with her eyes closed. You are looking up at the camera you are holding with your outstretched hand, your blue eyes beaming.

I recognize the bare, painted cement wall behind you two. And the pattern on the pillow case peeking in the corner. Our old apartment.

That agonizing recognition: I should have fucking known better.


Kim said...

Wow. Just WOW. A Thursday well spent.

Jennifer Wyatt-Murphey said...


Katherine Goff said...

:( Really well-written!

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