Later that evening, between lip bumps and tongue flicks, the fun just beginning, is when you tell me something that is meant to be an in-kind welcome back but is actually a black-and-blue burden, a perma-hurt, the one thing I never asked you to share – what you call a secret. Just between the two of us? is fair warning before you spill a wet image across my conscience that dries before I can scrub – it sets. There is no taking back what you said, that’s how a confession works, a top freed to spin in perpetuity is how I think of you now, a gyroscope finding its orientation, unaffected by tilt or rotation, interruptions. Bumps in trajectory, they do not change your center. Silly to ask if, over you, did I ever hold sway? Might a wiser question be: if I lay you sideways, are you still the same person?
From down here, a comes-with carpet knee-burning, a close-up look at your I’m-a-man-now shoes, to go with your I’m-a-man-now job, your I’m-a-man-now apartment, the place we head after the thing with reservations and big menus happens. Spoiler alert: athletic socks with brogues, you’re not fooling anyone. Nike swooshes and Ted Bakers, you must be new to Adulthood, welcome – collapsed arches and grievances await. You’re still half-formed, not quite there yet, copping 30 like an anxious kid in a store-bought Halloween costume, a collection of plastic accessories short-selling the concept, the finishing touch on your last-minute project: a futurewife. This is where I come in. My biggest fear: that I’m okay with it, now.
What a relief – the Doomsday Clock, have you heard? It’s been moved back. Wait long enough and science decides for you.
I get ahead of myself.
7pm was me used Nissan adjacent, January legs freezing, you’ll get the door said like that anthropological extinction called a gentleman, but don’t get to thinking he’s some kinda knight reborn – the exterior handle is broken, still. Sorry, I’m getting it fixed, swear, is what passes for an apology long overdue, muffled mouth sounds through a stuck-closed window, six months later and still stuck-closed, another damage yet-to-be-addressed, you passenger seat across-leaning, arm reaching to the me-side door of your only-on-the-weekends hotbox – two days from seven, you’ve cut way back – and you pop it open, my door from the inside, your escaped winter-clear voice hollering climb in! climb in! like I’m one of your bros – Tommy or Stu or that asshole Randy, are those still your friends? – a crumpled McDonald’s bag and some kind of electronics charger my seat occupying, a manicured nail to them attention drawing, in the manner of a baby clearing his highchair is how you take care of it, everything floor-bound, an open ketchup packet still hanging on, torn and oozing stain potential, you not even noticing, ignition starting and radio fussing, me picking it off myself, flicking it into the dark, littering, my new bodycon dress bought specially for this we’re-back-on occasion, $29.99 at H&M, I loves me some Mother Earth and all but damn, baby ain’t getting her fresh togs dirty.
Wait. Hold on a sec.
A piece of loose mail, a Shoprite circular leftover from Thanksgiving (!), is what I quick-grab off the backseat pile of outdated ephemera, something/anything to shield my hovering butt from the tomatoey splat beneath, red blotch on a backside a sure-fire date ruiner, lay it down before I sit, paper shield like do-it-yourself chivalry, the action recalling a gesture I’d in-old-movies seen, a man’s jacket thrown over a puddle, an offered hand to aid the step-across, what was done for a Lady.
Paper, traditionally given as a one-year anniversary gift, the good news is, so much paper is the disorganized life of a high school history teacher, ratio of first-year salary to first-year desk clutter being what it is, a little to a lot, plus the backlog of delayed mail sorting, coaching fencing and archery no free time allowing, with chores not being income supplements, gone to the wayside went non-essentials, to-do’s like car repairs and girlfriends, things getting worse before they get better, the carrot I chased in four-inch heels, eyelashes so curled they bent over themselves, if there’s one thing I know – which is so very little – is that we’ve got that base covered, the one and maybe only base we’ve got, if we’re even anywhere near the playing field, for no GPS exists to track the state of a relationship, paper.
To clarify: from a reality show to reality, is our engagement, the furthest thing.
To underscore: my address, he had to ask for it, my street and apartment number not remembering, last time we did this – pretended we were a couple – two marking periods ago, plus an August of unaccounted-for Whatever, a “family trip to Niagara Falls”, I’ve yet to see the pictures.
Nissan halfway down the block, me hemline futzing, knees jammed against my boobs, low bucket seat not doing my long legs any favors, from the driver’s side, no shame, it’s, So how do we get to this place?, this place being the out-of-your-league restaurant you invited me to, Friday last, paycheck deposited and mood aspirational, brain awash with New Year possibilities, the survived holidays a nonstop parade of futurewife prospect inquiries – Nan: whatever happened to that Jennifer girl; Aunt Rhoda: she seemed so nice – the season of You Finding Yourself finally coming to an end, me left waiting – braless and in sweatpants – for the nail-biting/heart-rending/vomit-inducing conclusion, What Has Josh Decided, vis-à-vis Us, announced with not so much fanfare, not so much glitter and rainbows, not so much haibun and sonnet, as a one word text message: sup?
He’d been doing some thinking – maybe he should be taking dating more seriously? maybe he could take me out to dinner? maybe we could get reacquainted?
Getting reacquainted = wanting what you had, before you knew you had it.
If you have to ask the price of a thing, it means you can’t afford it, my mother’s words, I think of them now.
Our specials this evening: lump crab cakes, something something mornay, the rest I don’t hear, the terror of doily-arranged butter-pats all senses consuming, butter-pats disturbingly composed, right-angles squared on a silver tray, a tray that needs to be polished, will always need to be polished – who do you think does the polishing? A white-napkin basket roll-bounteous, too many rolls for two people alone – when dinner is over, where does it go, the bread? With half the world starving –
I’ll have the mango salad appetizer.
Do not be deceived: dropping to my knees is how I come up for air. A fork pelting a restaurant floor, I’d call that a happy accident, me counting to three-one-thousand before I reascend, only to hold my breath again. On all fours and under a table, is the position I like best in social situations. It’s where I can breathe – the atmosphere is different down there, under a skirt, isn’t it?
For me, the arugula-apple-fennel with juniper vinaigrette.
Adulthood is not a basement mattress, wall-shoved, your revelation between crunches of oil-drizzled crostini, unfolded swan catching your crumbs, you going on about the public school system in an affluent community, your steal of a place in Hackettstown, your at-last liberation from a messed-up family. With two Master’s degrees, the pay scale is decent but the kids are coddled/can’t write for shit; $980/month gets you off-the-street parking, hardwood floors, and utilities, they’re included; you find things right where you left them – utensils and ingredients – no mother/sister yelling, you can cook in peace. Oh, did he not tell you? He cooks now. Mint in his countertop hydro-garden? Growing like crazy – at this rate, he’ll have to start freezing it. Oh and. Cat adoption? Is not out of the question.
[1 hr. 20 minutes later]
Me? Oh, I’ve been listening to my eggs shrivel and entertaining death-thoughts again, took up knitting.
Awesome. Can we see the dessert menu?
Half-eaten sorbet and polished-off crème brûlée, me and you finished, your Amazon Visa and John Hancock sealing the deal, means I’m retrieving our going-out coats, turning in tags 49 and 50, tipping the jar with extra apology, telling the French twist hairdo we had a lovely time, really, overcompensating like I always do, the world’s worst pretender, my already-gloved hand flat-pressing the glass exit, Nordic blast face-lashing, hair-whipping, me leaning into night’s cloak, steady moon a cool compress against stinging eyes, and where is Mr. No Flowers – his not even bringing me flowers just dawning on me – but back inside, his sweet time taking, an old college buddy him having bumped into, the lit-up lobby now laughter-logged, how magical is his life, Josh’s, how the pieces fall into place perfect, my wanna-leave heels protest-clomping down the sidewalk, objecting to this never-gunna-change situation: the XY timeline evermore forgiving, as in sports, do-overs a given.
What little control I have left, is me fist-stuffing this doggy bag into the nearest garbage can I can find, thwop.
Oh the guilt.
The guilt I feel, for throwing away what could have been someone’s meal, for trashing something that maybe could have been great, for thinking maybe I overreacted – not just now but last go-round too – is maybe the reason why I’m about to swallow pride and other sticky substances, find myself at such tender proximity to a region where heat comes off like no other, where a quite fully formed and not-to-be mistaken manhood tells my face, oh hello, it’s you again, what is thirty-ish minutes post-dessert but us half-naked in the middle of your apartment, me holding your person like a microphone into which I’m about to sing, suspending disbelief for the next ten seven minutes, ignoring the Star Wars figures poking out of unpacked boxes, the Mass Effect poster covering a freshly punched wall hole, the pee bottle bedside (!), all incriminating evidence against A Changed You, sights glimpsed on Le Grand Tour, Le Grande Tour lasting all of five minutes, Le Grande Tour the excuse for you bringing me back here, me okay-fine-agreeing, where a comes-with rug knee-burns, where jaws and joints bear the brunt of false obligations, where for a reason I have yet to understand, and maybe never will, you out-of-nowhere propose:
Can I tell you something? Just between the two of us? Promise?
With drool rills strung between us like telephone lines, with pantyhose running the distance of my thighs, with pants around your ankles like concupiscent cuffs, you chain-ganged to lust, what am I supposed to say, no?
It’s not like you killed somebody.
But also, because this is a night of revelations, and what have I got to lose at this point, here goes: My heart made a tiny leap, a tiny leap to another tiny leap, connecting dots I imagined/hoped had always been there, the thought insta-flashing that maybe this is/was it, the deux ex machina when all is resolved, confusion crystallizes to clarity, this the moment of which poets write, crooners croon, when you tell me you love me, had always loved me – what a fool you’d been! So pack your bag, my darling, our private jet is waiting, we fly to Paris – tonight!
I can go down on myself – wanna see?
And of all the things I can think/say, i.e. why for fucksake would you tell me this/is this your idea of a commitment vow/some sort of test/joke – why must everything in my life be a test/joke?! – of all the things to come crashing down, things to which I will never say “I do”, like witnessing a first-year high school history teacher’s autofellatio, my assumed futurehusband orally contacting his own penis and bringing himself to completion, a feat achieved by fewer than 1% of the adult male population (according to Wikipedia), as if I should consider myself lucky, a prize-winner, that on nights I have a headache/want to watch The Bachelor, all I have to do is yell at futurehusband upstairs, Hey lazybones, do it yourself! – of all these things to think/say, what is the first thing to spit-fly out of my mouth but:
Don’t you have to get ribs removed?
Josh lifts his checkered shirt: a pair of scars, backward and forward slashes, right where you’d expect them to be; like, if I folded this history teacher down the middle, lengthwise, like that butterfly print thingy that kindergarteners make, the two slashes would align, because that’s how the symmetry of ribs works, ergo how rib removal and its resultant scars works, correct me if I’m wrong? He drops the shirt – it falls like a parted curtain over his stiffy, still in my hand. I hadn’t even started yet. Which I guess is the point – a good proposal, from what the movies tells me, is all in the timing. A matter of logistics. He had to get to it before me.
What it comes down to is this: we are in opposite places.
How I imagined this moment was him kneeling, not me.
Also him not being a freak – had I set the bar too high?
Remember when I told you I went on a trip with my family to Niagara Falls? Well, okay, confession time: I actually was in L.A. at an elective surgery clinic, meeting with the same guy Marilyn Manson used and –
It’s okay, I’ll call an Uber.
Mind bleach is pictures of baby animals that brighten your day, erase dark thoughts, wipe out things you were never meant to hear/see. Puppies and kittens, wee elephants tail-to-trunk hooked, mini kangaroos-in-pockets. It is also all the politically incorrect jokes Uber driver Tony will tell me on the way home, home the only place I ever wanted to be, home where I want to go now, bad.
Hey Tony, know any knee-slappers?
Setting his GPS to my address, tuning to a ‘90s Alternative radio station, asking if I’d like him to turn on the seat heaters, as if he can read my mind – and God help him if he can – Tony begins:
Three Republicans walk into a strip club –
Oh, this should be good.
Jessica Bonder is a fiction writer and actor. She has previously published works in The Bohemyth, Vending Machine Press and STORGY Magazine. She has works forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine and Unbroken Journal. She has an author website and is on Twitter.