Elliott. I’ve never been so absorbed in anyone. I think I gave myself to him because of the other things I was supposed to belong to. I woke up one morning and felt everything that was holding me down. I put on Elly’s little pink dress and leather jacket and I looked in the mirror and for a second, I was no one and no one’s, and in that moment I wanted to see Elliott more than I had ever wanted to see anyone in my life. I called him. Miraculously, he answered.
“Are you home?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“Are there people at your place?”
“I guess so. A few people. I can get rid of them if you want.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“You don’t really have to get rid of them. Can I come over?”
I got there. You don’t know. You can’t imagine Elliott’s apartment, which is beautiful. Try to see clean white floors and crisp white walls. Picture women that look like women. And then imagine Elliott sitting at the center of them. Imagine that he has flaxen hair curling around his temples and slender fingers resting on my shoulders. Imagine that his eyes are darker and deeper than anything I’d seen before.
The next day, Adam asks me. I go over to his house, ill-advisedly and really only because I would like to have breakfast with Elly, and he says, “An adjacent sir?” And I say, “Excuse me?” And he says, “It’s not an accusation. Just, was there an adjacent sir?”
And I say yes.
Elly and I go for breakfast. You cannot understand Elly at breakfast. She wears a tiny, white woollen tank top. She does not see that she makes men salivate. I want to shelter her with my own body, as if she was my little sister.
She orders pineapples and pork belly. I know, at once, that she should be allowed anything that she wants in the world and that I should somehow protect her from ordering pork belly and pineapple. She eats these foods across the table from me and I want to hold her. It feels so mundane. To want to hold someone should feel more intense, more personal. I want to cover Elly the way I want to cover my little sister. I want to possess Elly the way I wanted to own a rainbow unicorn when I was twelve and collected Beanie Babies.
Is it me, or is it her?
He is in my mind. On Monday night, one of my friends invites me to a poetry reading. I read a quote once, which said that the number of people who write poetry is equal to the number of people who read poetry, and I have always taken this statement to heart. But he compels me. I know that Elliott will be there. He doesn’t disappoint. I arrive and somehow, without motion, one of his arms is around me. It feels like the core of everything that has happened to me. I feel the thick trunk of his limb against the small well in my back, and I know that he knows how it feels on me. Later that night, we lie on his mattress, low to the floor of his apartment, which is beautiful. I could have held out for longer. I could have seen that the crinkling at the corner of his lips, the way his thick forearms folded around me, that the darkness in his home didn’t mean anything. I knew, but I could have seen. Finally, his forearms rest steady around my shoulders and his lips rest in the place where my ear meets my neck. I could die happy. I know it’s a ridiculous thing to say. It doesn’t matter what I think.
I meet Elly for drinks again the next night.
“Adam’s upset,” she says.
“He said it wasn’t an accusation,” I say, but really I’m staring at how half of her collarbone is tucked under her sweater like she’s a spy and it’s a secret on a folded piece of paper. It’s painful to sit through conversations that should be sex.
“What wasn’t an accusation?”
“The adjacent sir.”
“I don’t understand you two.”
I don’t understand us either. “He’s very smart.”
“He’s a hermit.”
We put our arms around each other. Girls use turning each other on as a way to display sexuality to other people, like if you had two fighting robots and you made them fight each other to show off their punches but only one was for sale, but aren’t we prettier and softer? Do you see us? So that isn’t really a good analogy.
We’re at a party, we dance and men buy us drinks. A pianist dedicates a song to us. It feels more important than it is, loud echoes in the long tunnel of time. We are dressed up and she looks beautiful. I look beautiful too. It’s a shame that our beauty can’t be closer together because that would lend it an eternity, and instead it will only exist for tonight, until we take our makeup off. I want her to be mine but I don’t want to own her. Adam wants to own me but he doesn’t want anyone to think that he wants to own me.
Elly and I fall asleep in our underwear in her bed. In the morning, in the first cold, thin light, I pick myself up and take myself into Adam’s room. They live in the basement of a normal person’s house. Adam’s room smells bad. There are crumpled pages of writing on the floor. There’s a half-finished painting tacked to the wall. Over to the side of the room is a wooden door on a set of hinges that have almost given up. The room on the other side is so cold and dark and damp that it seems to go on forever and there is no floor, only gravel like the inside of a mine shaft. When Adam doesn’t want to see anyone else in the world, he pisses and shits in this non-room. I know it because when I was sick at a party and didn’t want anyone to see, Adam shepherded me into this room like I was Anne Frank hiding from people who thought I was a rodent, and he let me puke into it, on top of his piss and his shit. I puked up figs and red wine so that it made a purple splatter. Then I fell asleep in his bed, both of us hiding from the party. Adam is sick but he doesn’t think that he’s sick. He thinks that everyone else is.
Adam’s arms open to me because they are not under his control. He is asleep even though they aren’t. They are vague, misty plants on the sea bottom and I am the currents of the ocean. I wait for him to wake up. I wait patiently. Purposely, out of respect for him, I don’t think of Elliott while I wait.
I feel him wake up behind me. I feel him want to ask where I was last night.
“Elly and I went to a party. Her mentor was receiving an award.”
“I thought I was her mentor.”
“You’re her roommate.”
“Why did you sleep in her bed?”
“I was worried she would be lonely.”
“You wanted to sleep with her.”
I don’t answer. I wait for him to turn me over and kiss me. I wait with every piece of my matter. I wait patiently. He makes me wait because he is uninterested in me sexually. Sometimes he remembers that sex exists and when that happens I happen to be the woman closest to him. Then he fucks me and forgets again.
Elly and Adam have never had sex because he thinks that he’s her mentor and because she’s too good for him.
I make Adam and Elly breakfast in their small, dirty kitchen. Elly is hungover, her hair hanging over her face which hangs over the table which hangs over her body which hangs down to the floor where the ends of it weigh down the tiles. Elly and Adam’s basement is in danger of floating away except for its secret rooms which anchor it down to the bottom of nowhere. Elly picks at her food while Adam gobbles his. She’s so beautiful, even when her face is empty and her belly is full of leftover liquor.
We lie on the couch, all three of us, and watch movies all day. Nobody is doing any mentoring today.
It gets dark and Adam and Elly are asleep on the couch. I pick myself up again. I was lying between them and they were both leaning away from me so now there is a chasm like a V between them when I walk away. I go straight to Elliott’s because it makes me feel dirty. I am dirty. I carry my dress from last night in a plastic bag and I wear a pair of Elly’s shorts and a t-shirt of hers that is too small and doesn’t cover all of me. All of Elly’s clothes are too small and they don’t cover enough of her, which is as much as anyone wants covered. I’m almost all the way to Elliott’s house when I remember how much I hate to let him see me looking like a normal girl. I put my party dress back on in the bathroom of a Starbucks. I sweep my hair up. I put Elly’s clothes in the plastic bag. People stare at me on the street because I am wearing a long red dress and my cleavage is exposed. Sometimes I enjoy their stares but it’s seven o’clock on a Tuesday night and I wish I hadn’t given anyone a reason to look at me. I worry about things as I walk. I worry about money. I worry that Adam’s mind is disintegrating and that I will show up in his basement one day and the part that used to hold me will have eroded. I worry that I’m a pervert because I can’t stop thinking about Elly even though she’s my friend.
So when I get to Elliott’s and he has those limbs that are so heavy that they press all the feeling out of my body and the noises out of my brain it is such a relief that I could almost cry except for that even tears are gone because wow he’s like a giant and each part of him was carved by a Michelangelo just for me. Elliott gets out of bed at midnight and he makes me breakfast. It feels like I ate breakfast just hours ago with Adam and Elly and that feels like a cheating kind of breakfast. I wish he’d made me dinner instead. I, of course, don’t tell him. I eat the eggs that taste grey on the back of my tongue. Elliott is so big that when he sits at his dining room table he has to hunch over it and he makes it look like a doll’s furniture. He has turned on just one light in his whole beautiful apartment so that nothing might exist in the dark outside of us. The thoughts start to come back and I wish that we were having sex again.
“How are the eggs?”
“Yum,” I say.
Elliott nods as if he was inspecting a piece of equipment and the right lever has just clicked into place. Elliott gobbles like Adam. Neither one has ever been told that they shouldn’t enjoy food.
“Are we in love?” I ask Elliott.
He looks very, very surprised but he doesn’t look scared. “What?” he says.
“No,” I say. “No, we aren’t.” I start laughing and he sort of chuckles along but he gives me the look he gives me every time he remembers that I’m crazy.
Elliott sleeps with me because he sleeps with everyone. He has a beautiful apartment and a beautiful body and if you want to wander into it and be on top of it he isn’t really going to say no to you. He tried to get me over the first time, like it was an accomplishment, but ever since then I’ve just come when I wanted to and he hasn’t minded. I sometimes wonder why Elliott wanted me in the first place. I want to make Elliott and Elly meet sometime, want to watch him try to collect her. I don’t think she’d give in.
It always scares me to leave Elliott’s place because he is so tall it makes me ache and I worry that it will be the last time I see him.
Elly wants to go to a lunar awakening. A lesbian named Margaret invited her. Elly isn’t a lesbian but she’s enjoying the fact that this lesbian is courting her. The attention of a lesbian seems more valuable than men’s groping flattery. She takes me by the hand and we enter the night. She looks perfect, as usual. Her beauty wears many costumes, it is mutable and unknowable and that is its perfection. How can anyone think that perfection is static, a state, it’s a condition and it wears every garment at once; tonight she is glamorous. The second we enter the party, even though I have gained passage to the night, I know that I am not supposed to be here, more than I’m not supposed to be at most parties or any party. At the same time, I see that no one will notice that I’m not supposed to be here, or rather that I’m here at all. I’m not tall enough or well-dressed enough or big-haired enough to be anything but unnoticed. I will be part of a night untold, attending a party I wasn’t cast in. Elly is never not here; heads turn as we walk in, she is wanted immediately, even by those who want graciously. Still she holds my hand, her arm trailing behind her. I am an extension of her arm. I concentrate on her blond ponytail and the nape of her neck and observe the party peripherally. I perpetually suspect that I am faking it. I am nervous that the people around me who are in fact nervous about themselves are the real thing and that I have succeeded in fooling them and will be trapped in the illusion, always struggling to catch up to it.
There are no people here who present as men. There are only exquisite female bodies in states of display. They make my own inadequate body shrink inside its clothes, my breasts turn concave and my belly feels like a pack I’m carrying. They are noticing Elly and assertively not noticing me. The moment I’d resigned myself to but also been hoping wouldn’t come comes and Elly lets go of my hand, letting me loose. She goes to be a glittering filament in a golden tapestry and I find solace in a wall. Elly assumes that I am bright and beautiful because she has no reason to not think so without examination, her own world being full of brightness and beauty. She has no prediction other than that I will have conversations without her and be dancing all night, exploring my own plenitude just as hers affords her infinite combinations of conversation and dance and people.
Me and everyone’s nipples are having a party just below the party that is actually happening. We converse in sideways glances. After a little while, I acquire a companion in wall leaning. She is as tall and big-haired as everyone else, she is bare chested and her nipples whisper convivially to me. She literally wipes sweat from her brow and says, “It’s a jungle out there.”
We both observe the fray of flirtations and mad cacklings. Raucousness.
“Here,” she says, illuminating nothing, and disappears expertly into the crowd. She returns with glasses of water.
“Thank you. Do you live here?”
“No. God no.” She sips her water. “Do you?”
“Who you here with?”
“My friend Elly wanted to come.”
“So you’re here with her? Ooooh Elly, little blonde angel. Sure, I met her. You her friend?”
A girl walks by and takes a sip out of this new person’s glass without asking. She has the kind of dyed blond hair that’s purposely bad. She keeps right on walking after the sip. This stranger friend doesn’t register that anything’s happened and keeps drinking her water. It is that kind of party.
“So what are you doing here?”
“I came with Elly,” I say, lamely, unquestioningly accepting that she has forgotten what I said before.
“You just told me that!”
“What are you doing here?”
“You go where Elly goes?”
“So you wanted to be here, too?”
“I guess so. I didn’t say no.”
“Most people don’t.”
She whirls from the wall to face me, nipples protesting the dangerous sway.
“You shouldn’t be here if you don’t want to. Once the ceremony starts, everyone’ll be able to feel that shit. Have you drunk enough at least?”
“We had martinis at home.”
“Here.” She takes my hand and dives into the crowd again, this time taking me with her. We re-emerge in the kitchen. It’s quieter there. The bad blonde is leaning against the fridge, talking to a small, bookish woman in red lipstick with an insouciance that matches her dye job. My stranger friend sort of shunts her out of the way and hands her our glasses of water. They work wordlessly, these two. She pulls things out of the fridge and makes us drinks. They are sweet and syrupy and strong. I can taste the alcohol.
“So who are you?” she asks once we’re both drinking.
“I’m Elly’s friend,” I say, again unsure of whether she’s forgotten everything that has happened in the preceding minutes.
“Girl! I don’t even know Elly. What. Is. Your. Name.”
“My family calls me Zip. Everyone does.”
“Okay. I’m Hyla.”
“Nice to meet you, Hyla.”
“Have you heard of me? You might have heard of me. I’m a model. I’m getting big.”
“I’m a writer.”
“Yeah? That’s cool. You get paid for it?”
“I used to have to work retail for a day job, but now I don’t even do that anymore. People say I’ve got a look.”
I nod. She does have a look. Her features are very petite and her jaw is strong, stronger than a lot of men’s. She looks energetic and daring.
“I was born in a park, too,” she continues. “On a park bench. My mom says that I sucked up all the prettiness out of the park, so it didn’t matter that it was ugly anymore. She says I could do the same to the world, if I wanted to.”
I have no idea what to say to Hyla’s origin story.
“This night’s going to be pretty and ugly, too. You’ll see.”
On my way to the bathroom, past a bedroom door ajar, I see Elly’s tiny body poised and drawn, seated square on a bed with Margaret’s head between her legs.
I come back to the party feeling scared and alone and reckless. Maybe angry. Anger is not exactly what I’m feeling and it doesn’t always lead to recklessness, sometimes pointed control instead, but in this case, though I am not feeling anger yet, I am feeling recklessness as a kind of pilotfish emotion. I take another drink from Hyla, who is still in the kitchen, sucking all the prettiness out of it.
The problem then is not that Elly is not a lesbian, nor that I am not a lesbian, because clearly I am not not a lesbian—you have been reading and you know that I want to touch Elly as much as I want to look at her, that when we are sleeping in the same bed next to Adam’s room I fall asleep after her because I am wondering if the night will extend itself and become something else—but now I know for certain that the problem is not that Elly couldn’t want me or even love me but the problem must now be—and I know it, have always known it—that I am obsessed with men, that if I become unmoored from Adam and Elliott and the wondering about them and the waiting for them I will not know where to go next or if I exist anymore. How have I become so warped, how have I been conditioned to care, existentially, about the caring of these men who do not care to the point that it obscures my own caring, my own desire. How has it happened. How did my mother allow it to happen. Surely, she could have done something.
I kiss Hyla with people in white, women-presenting people in white, dancing behind us in front of some kind of flame. I kiss her even though she is a model. I kiss her even though she has clearly sucked the prettiness out of me and may get more of it, the final pale dregs, sucking through my lips. It occurs to me that if I was less drunk or the kind of person to believe that the moon cares about women dancing in white, I would feel a moving power in this ceremony, or maybe I could even convince myself of the power now if I cared to watch, but I don’t, I don’t care about this night anymore. I don’t care about kissing Hyla and I don’t do it for very long.
Adam asks if Elly has come home with me when I crawl into his bed and I say no before we fall asleep. He paws at my breasts but not with any kind of intention. I wonder if I have made the wrong decision and should instead have gone to feel the vitality of Elliott, but that would have been a gamble because if he had been alone I would have felt wanted and felt myself through his lips—you never feel your own skin unless something warm and wet is against it—but if there had been one of the unrealistically-beautiful women there already, instead of me, I would not have been able to handle it tonight, I don’t think. I would have had to ask him to kick her out and then he would have started thinking again about when I asked him if we were in love, a question that was unfair and needlessly provocative since we already both knew the answer to it, and the unseating of the perfect woman would have violated the terms of our arrangement even as that question itself didn’t violate but put into question, opened an addendum that hadn’t been provided for.
Elly’s writing plumbs beneath her champagne bubbles to the sediment floating at the bottom, stuff that can’t be champagne because champagne is too fine and golden for sediment but is maybe actually toast crumbs deposited by someone else or scum left by the dishwasher. Elly finds her scum and surfaces with it in a triumphant fist, twisting it into delightful cherry knots that wow the crowd. I am reading, too, tonight, closing for Elly. We are the same age but Elly is slightly famous, a small fame that has the potential to become large. People think that fame is acquired, built, that it should be measured by the number of people by whom you are famous, but anyone who actually knows someone famous knows that it’s a quality. Fame is the ability to inspire the feeling of knowing in people who can’t actually possibly know you. People who don’t know Elly speak of her as if they are intimate friends. I know but don’t always believe that I am not one of these people. I am closing for Elly.
Adam sits beside me in the audience. He frets because her real mentor is there. I wonder sometimes if I am just a way for him to hang on to her, if he holds on to me because he knows that I am just one more string, strings that keep Elly from floating away like a bunch of balloons. Although I also don’t know if Adam feels his woes as particularly as all of that. I think that he must, rather, feel only a mass of his own sadness. Adam’s sadness comes partly from his age, although he is not really so old, but mostly from the burden of being in charge of the question. The question, of course, is the only thing worth living for. It must be fretted over, must preoccupy thought and word and uttering, must drive the soul forward and sideways at all times. If one does not preoccupy oneself with the question, life is squarely worth living, but of course, not everyone is qualified to preoccupy themselves with the question, and we therefore entrust the burden of it to the qualified. The qualified are qualified only because they are uniquely suited to preoccupy themselves with it, and they take the burden of it upon themselves so that the rest of us can continue to work in the day-to-day machinations of society building and living and maintenance, all of this work taking place, of course, only to sustain the qualified to be preoccupied with the question, the unfortunate fretters taking on the load for blind serfs. Do you understand?
I am not qualified to be preoccupied, probably because of my age, and partly because I am a woman, although Elly, Adam claims, may have been qualified, had she not betrayed him and escaped from under the wing of his tutelage—although she also hasn’t, we don’t acknowledge that she has. He is grumpy tonight but it’s not because she’s not his mentee anymore. The reason Adam’s age (though barely bigger than ours) is a problem is because with every day that slips past, he becomes increasingly aware that he might end without having done his part in answering the question, which of course cannot be answered, and will continue to exist even after the particulars and parameters and more refined questions created by the qualified disappear, crumbling with our world. Then the question will float, unchained, with no one to answer it, and it will lament its unansweredness as it travels, cloudlike, through the cosmos.
I marvel at the depths of Elly. She is really clever, and she has a way with words. She feels deeply and she knows how to make other people feel with her. I forget it because she is so beautiful and speaks so easily. My grasp is loosened on the unkind consolation that smart people naturally have trouble with existence. Margaret is here. She nods at the parts that aren’t really that interesting, except for that all of it’s interesting, and I’m only banishing the parts Margaret nods at to the realm of disinterest.
A bad thing happens when I get up to read. As I walk to the front to the sound of Elly’s applause, I feel eyes on my back that aren’t Adam’s, and when I turn and sit and settle myself, I purposely avoid looking up, but when I have to, to adjust the mic, I see—as I suspected—Elliott standing at the back, as tall and cool and never out of place as he always is, even when he is out of place. It’s nerve wracking, not because of my reading, which I start and finish and do as I would if I were reading to my sleeping mother. It’s nerve wracking because afterwards he comes and places his hand on my back and leans over my shoulder to talk to me, a perfect, towheaded slash. Towhead. Has anyone used that word authentically since Mark Twain? I had to look it up to make sure I knew what it meant. I have resurrected it for him. He likes these poetry nights, he comes to as many of them as he can. Elliott appreciates art in a pure way that most people are incapable of. He writes sometimes, when he feels like it, but even that is just an appreciation of the act of writing. It is part of his coolness. How can the question just slide off his back like that? I can tell, from across the room, Adam hates him, and it has nothing to do with me.
When we get home, we lie on our backs in Adam’s bed. He puts a song on. Adam only listens to songs that are heartbreaking every time you listen to them. I turn over and prop myself up on my elbows so that I am looking down at him. If I could hover, invisible, above him, I would. Above each of them. A large tear makes its way down his face. I watch it reach his temple and disappear into his hair, and imagine that it is mine, fallen from above onto his skin. It is not my tear. If it has anything to do with me, it is only because I am evidence of the question.
Again, I run to Elliott’s the second I leave Adam. I wanted to go home with him the other night, but knew that I couldn’t. He didn’t display any expectation that I would do anything other than read him a poem and go home. I wouldn’t be surprised if I showed up at his apartment’s door and he opened it and said, “Hey, you’re that girl from the poetry reading the other night. Funny name, right?” He doesn’t. He puts his hand inside my shirt, on the line where my too-large belly stops being my belly and starts being the soft, unseen underbelly of me. He does that while I am still standing on the threshold of his home. It is dark and quiet in the hallway. His apartment is the universe again. It is possession without any interest in possessing. It is the genuine, unconsidered power that the world bestows upon you because you have the right kind of limbs. My soul rears up to him.
Elly and I go for breakfast again. She orders pulled chicken with fat raisins in it, heaped with grainy hot sauce. She eats ravenously. Does she get to say anything? It’s my story, should she get to say anything? I am not feeling reckless anymore.
“Margaret,” I say, and she looks surprised for a second before continuing to eat. She is always hungover. She still looks beautiful.
“The reading went well the other night,” she ignores me.
“Did you go to Elliott’s after?”
“No. I came over. To Adam’s.”
“Oh. I didn’t see you there.” Her face is consciously expressionless.
“I don’t think you were there.”
“Fuck off, Zip.”
“I’m just asking.”
“You’re not asking, you’re accusing. Why do you care?”
“You’re my friend. I just want to know what’s up with you.”
“Actually though. Why does it matter?”
“Why don’t you want to tell me?”
“This is confusing for me and I don’t want to talk about it yet.” She plucks another raisin out of her meat and into her mouth, and then seems to decide that the discussion isn’t over and puts down her fork and looks straight at me and adds, “And you’re not a sexually reliable person.”
It hits me, physically. I haven’t really touched my food yet.
“I don’t say anything, because you’re my friend, but it would break Adam’s heart to really know about Elliott.”
“He doesn’t care.”
“Why the hell would you say that.”
“It breaks his heart to not be your mentor. He doesn’t care who I fuck.”
“You know what, Zip? You’re just selfish.” She goes back to her meal again, and again decides she has more to say. “You want so badly to be loved that you don’t know how to actually love anyone.”
“You know what, Elly? Who the fuck eats fucking piles of meat with raisins in it for fucking breakfast.” I gather my purse and my sweater after delivering this final line and then for once I go home to my house where I live.
It’s quiet here and the sunlight seems to have settled thickly on everything. I have piles of books and a bed and not much else. My grandmother lives upstairs but she mostly sleeps, as my mother did before she died. The women sleep in our family. I move some books out of the way. A lot of them Adam gave to me. I gave Elliott a book that Adam had given me once (even though it wasn’t strictly in the agreement to give him anything) and I forgot to feel guilty until much later, because I’d forgotten that it was a book Adam had given, because he’s given me so many. It’s not an Annie Hall thing, he doesn’t want me to think like he does or really think anything in particular. He’s just shedding them, absent-mindedly. I happen to be there when he’s in the mood to bestow an idea on someone. I guess he used to give Elly books once, or maybe just ask her to read the ones in their apartment. I lie on the bed but when I do I can see clouds of dust rise out of it and float suspended in a sunbeam. I used to love that when I was younger, used to think it was fairy dust and watch it for hours, blurring and unblurring my eyes to make it double and quadruple and then finally snap back into its true, unmultiplied state. I read Anne of Green Gables and when she did it, too, to her flowered wallpaper, I felt understood. I wanted to marry Gilbert Blythe. I reread Anne of Green Gables recently and I felt she was an idiot. Neither Adam nor Elliott (of course not Elliott) has seen this place. Elly has been here, has curled up in this bed with me, but not for a while now. I think of going up to check on my grandma and instead lie still, imagining that I can hear her breath winding through the house. I lay there for a few more minutes, until the air becomes too thick and the sunlight too constant. Part of me stays sleeping in my childhood house and the other part of me leaves without it. Who has time to spare for shed skins.
I see Margaret at a party that I’ve come to with another friend, not Elly. I call Elliott. “Can you come to this poetry thing? I mean, do you want to?”
I have stretched our agreement all out of shape. “Sure.”
I am all over him. I stand very close to him and put my arms around him. I bring him fresh drinks. I speak close to his ear. We have not done that. I make sure that Margaret sees. I convince myself that Margaret cares. Margaret leaves the party before we do and I interpret it as a victory.
“Margaret says that she saw you at a reading.”
“Want to go for breakfast?”
“No. I’ll stay at home where I can mix the fucking food groups if I feel like it.”
“Why don’t you ask him for yourself? Or come over and see him.”
“So, not well.”
“I don’t know. He’s the same.”
I can feel him from behind, pressing himself into me. Willing himself to want me or absent-mindedly deciding if he does. His arms clutch my waist and I wait tensely, as usual. When it doesn’t progress, I whisper, “Adam.”
“We don’t have to do this. I don’t mind if you don’t want to.”
“This is what lovers do.” He actually giggles at this supposed joke.
“But we’re not in love.”
“Then what is this we’ve been doing for so long?”
I can’t answer.
“Zip? Zip, I tell you I love you every day.”
“Literally not once.”
“That can’t be true.”
He says something pertaining to love being a distraction from the question or else love being a facet of the question, which either way doesn’t make sense to me. I get up and leave him and his unanswerable erection behind.
I go over to Elliott’s a couple days later and the wondrous women are there, as well as—unusually—another man, who looks like he is or could be Elliott’s brother. The idea of two of them would have been tantalizing or maybe overwhelming at a time when I wasn’t so confused. I’m still not sure that I’m not a pervert. I feel stupid the second I’ve entered his impeccably furnished living room, where the couches cover vast expanses of the room so as to make Elliott appear proportionate when he is sprawled across them. Have I come to terminate our contract? Surely Elliott is not the type for breakups, preferring everyone he knows to take their turn fading into obscurity.
We stand in the kitchen. I lean against the counter.
“I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” I say.
He looks surprised. “Okay.”
He doesn’t ask me why.
“Ziiiiip,” I hear on my way out, and turn to find a semi-familiar face. “So good to see you again.” Hyla’s nipples wink at me from under her shirt. “How are you doing, girl? I have a campaign coming out next month for H&M. I’m going to be on a billboard above Dundas Square.”
“Not much pretty to be sucked out of that place,” I say.
“The park bench?”
She pulls her shoulders up and the corners of her mouth down.
Elliott follows me out. He kisses me goodbye on the lips in the hallway, exactly how he has kissed me goodbye every time before, which makes me think that he never minded whether or not he was going to see me again. He doesn’t stand for long in the hallway, and I can hear the chatter of his tight little party as the door opens and closes again behind me.
I call Elly but she doesn’t pick up.
I go home again to my proper home, though it isn’t and doesn’t feel like mine, and lie in bed imagining my own funeral. Elliott comes and looks appropriately mournful, though not uncomfortable, fuck him for looking like he is in the right place at the right time, maybe Hyla comes, too, and she tells her park bench story with no regard for who might be truly listening, Elly brings Margaret, on her blithe journey of self-exploration, though—you must now suspect, as I do too—she can’t have been blind to the way I look at her, and fuck Adam most of all because he is telling anyone who looks sympathetic or important that I could have been a great mind if I had allowed him to be my mentor, but at least he still has Elly. And then they will all go home to their basement burrows and their skyward dwellings in pools of light and forget that they never found it odd that they didn’t know where I lived, in fact never noticed that I lived most of the time with them, these people into whose minds and bodies I attempted to be absorbed. I was struggling to effectuate this osmosis without knowing what was being offered for absorption, I will write on the last page of my dairy. I failed to understand that my being absorbed did not guarantee that I would be able to abandon my own mind and body. I fall asleep under the shivering floorboards of my grandma’s breath.
Charlotte Joyce Kidd lives in Toronto with her roommate, who rides a motorcycle and makes great chili. She is originally from Vancouver, which is very beautiful, but is happy to be in Toronto where everything is more comfortably misshapen. She is a regular contributor to wordandcolour.com, neglects a blog at kidcrisisgoat.wordpress.com