We met on Wednesdays. Met on the same floor of the abandoned motel where your fingers first found my mouth and my body opened to yours. You chose Wednesdays for their convenience. You already had a class to teach. You were already expected home late. I had no such excuse and so I made up a series of lies. I kissed the children goodnight and slunk out of the house with the lies on my lips. Nobody ever believed them but nobody ever asked for the truth either.
The motel was ten miles outside the city, ten miles down Jackson Road, just off the freeway, and on the way I'd stop at Phil's for a six pack of whatever import he had on special. You hated American beer; said it tasted like piss. I didn't care either way. I never drank more than one anyhow. I bought them for you, to watch the way your face changed, like aging in reverse, with each bottle emptied. In the beginning I thought this was my effect on you: the loosening of your mouth, the brightening of your eyes. Later I realized it had nothing to do with me. You could have taken the six pack home, sat down in front of the T.V. with her and the effect would have been the same.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I'm making you out to be the bad guy in all of this. You're thinking I titled this story "Chosen" to alleviate myself of responsibility in the matter. But I'm not alleviating myself of anything, Rick. There are no innocents in this story. There are no innocents amongst thieves.
In the beginning things were different, weren't they? In the beginning they always are. In the beginning I thought myself in love with you. I had, of course, confused love with denial. We'd denied ourselves for so long that my want for you felt like love, felt like the biggest love there is. Each time you came over my foot searched for yours under the table. Each time you called I made sure to answer the phone. You were his friend first and I stole you from him. Stole you from him for your resemblance to a boy I once loved who failed to love me back. Recapturing lost youth is a fulltime job, Rick. You of all people should know that.
In the beginning we pretended every little thing was an accident. The way your hand skimmed my knee when you handed me a book. The way I looked to you when I needed help with the dishes. The way we always ended up seated next to each other at a table set for twelve. How we came to find ourselves alone in the car that night. How your hand fell between my legs as you turned the corner. How instead of asking you to remove it I widened my knees half an inch. How the empty motel appeared seemingly out of nowhere and how we stumbled into it, still unsure of what might happen between us. The truth is we always knew what would happen, didn't we? The truth is we knew long before that night. We knew it would happen as the tightrope walker knows a quarter of the way out that his line is slack but keeps moving anyway, believing himself incapable of falling.
"It's okay," I remember you saying as you knelt at my feet, easing my jeans down over the fullest part of my hips and I wondered which one of us it was you were trying to convince: you or me.
You tasted like whiskey. Tasted like the whiskey I later learned you kept in the glove box of your car, something to ease you through your infidelities. You tasted of whiskey and smelled of freshman English, of the girls in miniskirts and carefully ripped jeans who populated the front rows of your classroom. You told me you didn't sleep with them and whether or not I believed you was irrelevant.
Maybe you're right. Maybe I do want you to be the bad guy in all of this. Your version of the facts would certainly differ from mine. Maybe we were innocent. Maybe all of us are. Maybe the only sin is original sin. Everything else is merely poor planning.
In the middle was routine. I arrived first. Carried in the beer. Unrolled the sleeping bag I'd borrowed from my eldest son's closet. It smelled of fish and dirt and the familiar smells comforted me during this time I waited for you, this time in which I questioned everything we were doing. Once you walked through the door all questions slipped from my mind. Once you walked through the door there was only the way your hand warmed my hip as you pulled me to you, the way my clothes fell to the floor as you wetted your mouth on a bottle. The way your eyes trailed me as I danced for you without music, made love to you without saying so.
Afterward, our bodies adhered by a mixture of sweat and blood and ambivalence, the questions returned, the questions varying in pitch and intensity but boiling down to one universal: what now? I left the questions there in that room, unspoken between us. I preferred them unanswered, just as Hank preferred the lies I handed him to the truth. Afterward I would crawl on top of you again, curl myself into a ball in your lap, and watch your face as you finished what remained of the bottles. If we spoke it was only of the books we'd recently read, the movies we'd seen while in the company of another. Once you told me you'd seen a rather depressing film and that the actress in it had reminded you of me. You failed to say, however, whether this was good or bad. Whether you found her pretty or common or unnerving. Whether it was her face or the way she smiled into the camera or wept without shedding tears, her strengths or weaknesses, her wit or lack thereof, that reminded you of me. Instead you changed the subject and refused to bring it up again. That week I studied the movie advertisements, scanning them for names I recognized, faces I could conjure; wanting some clue as to how you saw me, a window into what it was, if anything, you felt for me. But the clues you gave were so few and vague, I never came to any solid conclusion.
In December you accepted a position in New York. You never asked me what I thought and I never told you. My thoughts were, as always, irrelevant. You were leaving and whatever we had or didn't have, whatever this was or wasn't, was finite. Rallying against that fact was a ridiculous notion, not to mention a waste of time.
Our last night together you read my body as though it were an atlas spread out before you, memorizing every detail for the long journey ahead. You asked me questions you'd never thought to ask before. "What are these?" you said, running a finger over the two perfect white circles, each the size of a dime, on the inside of my left calf. "Scars," I answered. "From what? From whom?" "I don't know. I can't remember," I said, losing patience with your sudden quest for knowledge. I already knew every mar on your body. I'd studied them while you drank. Taken notes. Already realizing the vagrant nature of your heart.
We left that night without uttering the words we knew to be meaningless, words people throw one another when words are all that's left between them or all they ever had in the first place. The thing is, we never even had those, did we? We were realists, you and I. We couldn't be bothered with handholding or baby talk. We'd long ago forgotten the rules of pretend: "You be the mommy and I'll be the daddy . . ." Instead we left early, a bottle of beer yet unopened on the floor, left behind for the next runaway or adulterer to find; we left the beer and walked to our cars in silence. We parted civilly, undisturbed by our past, present or future. Going guiltlessly into the night.
Of course the thing about this story, Rick, is, it's a lie. We both know that. I carefully left out all the parts that might humanize you and thus incriminate myself in the process. I left out the parts where you called me on a Sunday night or a Tuesday morning, from a bar or payphone or the front seat of your car, and asked if I might meet you, "Just for a minute . . ." Just long enough, you said, to recapture the taste of me in your mouth. I left out the books you gave me, the books in which I found highlighted passages with notes written to me in the margins, passages I sometimes read aloud from your lap while you drank and together we contemplated their meaning. I left out every reference to the future either of us ever made because talking about the future with a married man when you're a married woman is the height of foolishness and denial and self-deception and I wanted to save us both the humiliation.
The truth, however, is, we didn't leave that night in silence. The truth is we sat in the front seat of your car for hours, passing the flask back and forth between us until the sickness in our stomachs matched that in our heads. We made ourselves physically ill with whiskey and confessions until our eyes and mouths shut with weariness and we could no longer remember what either of us had confessed to. We slept that night in your car, upright and rigid, the only night we shared, each alone in our bucket seat. And in the morning, when there was nothing left to say and our breath stank with the remnants of whiskey and nicotine that coated our tongues and soured our mouths, we halfheartedly embraced, with no more feeling than two parting strangers the morning after a one night stand. The feeling, for me, came later, half a mile down the road, alone in my car. Unable to drive I pulled off the main drag and down a gravel road where I parked the car and relieved myself of any and all feelings for you. That they returned sometime later was a great disappointment and no real surprise.
The truth is, I wrote this story for myself, Rick, to ease me through your absence; to trick myself into believing that this is the way it was, that this is the way you were. It was a far easier story to tell, Rick, a far easier story to end. And I'm at a loss now for how to end this. It's a losing battle, I suppose: Putting a neat ending to something that was never properly begun in the first place, that had no distinct middle, that was deprived of an ending. Perhaps my reluctance to end the story reflects my reluctance to end us. Perhaps my fear is that when I'm finished with this story, I'm finished, as well, with you. Perhaps I've convinced myself that as long as I procrastinate; as long as I play with the prose, rewrite the story (as I've done four times now), that there is still hope: for a different ending, for your dramatic return, for us.
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