UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
Deep Deep Red on White
At the end of the hallway, Greg stands with one hand on his forehead. There is a stain on his shirt, dark ink from when a pen exploded in his pocket. You cannot
He has just told you that he is sick of this shit, and that there is nothing left to say, which you know isnít true because you still donít know what shit heís sick of. You are about to tell him this, but your mother calls. You tell her you are taking a bath and that youíll call her back. When you get off the phone he is in the kitchen opening your wine and suddenly you hate him.
You watch his hands fumble with the corkscrew, turning, turning. You are reminded of the way his hands struggle to unclasp your bra, the snap that follows, the heavy breathing.
You pull up a chair and wait for him to explain himself. You sit with your arms across your stomach because the shirt you are wearing clings to your rolls and makes you self-conscious. He hasnít noticed that you are still there, or pretends he hasnít, and this infuriates you.
He lifts the wine glass to inspect it. He always does this Ė holds a wineglass to the light. It looks like he is showing God, see, see? Itís empty. And then he fills it.
You remember the first time you saw him drunk. It was November of 1997, and he had just finished his third bottle of chardonnay. That was before you were married, when he still lived alone on the second floor of a three family house. His friends were over: Brian, the construction worker whose daughter looked like a young Audrey Hepburn; Miriam, the hippie chick that he partied with until she found God and stopped calling; and Ethan, his neighbor from the third floor. You were in your pajamas. He left to get more wine; you stayed home. You thought about telling him not to go, but you chose the path of least resistance. You are good at that.
When he left, Ethan played the guitar and sang an old folk song you didnít know. Miriam threaded her arms through his and sang along. Brian rolled a joint and passed it around. You took it but didnít smoke it because you didnít trust those people.
After a while, Ethan and Miriam went back upstairs. You could hear them running water, dropping shoes. You went to the bathroom to wash your face. Brian caught you on the way out. At first he just grabbed your wrist, but when you smiled at him and tried to pull away he pinned you there in the doorway and tried to kiss your neck. You could have yelled, but you were pretty sure Miriam and Ethan were having sex and wouldnít hear you. You stared at a cross-stitch on the wall, one Gregís mother made him, read it over and over and over as Brianís thick fingers pushed down your waistband and your panties, and up into you. Love is patient, love is kind. You started to cry, but he didnít notice because his face was buried in your collarbone. He smelled at once mechanical and earthy; motor oil and pot. It does not envy or boast. Love is not rudeÖYou were thinking about biting him when the phone in the kitchen rang. He pushed away from the wall.
It was Greg from the police station; he needed someone to bail him out. When you went to pick him up, you didnít want to cry so you repeated that stupid fucking cross-stitch saying over and over and over; Corinthians 1. Love is not self-seeking; it keeps no record of wrongs. You wanted to tell him about Brian, and you wanted him to promise to beat the shit out of him.
The police station was cold and smelled like Pinesol, and you were scared because this was the first time youíd ever been to a police station. You called all the officers 'Sirí and wanted to apologize for Greg, but you didnít because it wasnít appropriate. You signed some papers, and they gave him his things from a dirty yellow bin: his shoelaces, a ring, a watch, his belt.
In the car, you let him have it. You told him that you canít believe he left you with those people. When he asked why, you told him. You started to cry and so did he, and then you just sat there in the parking lot of the police station in your little green Civic with your arms around each other and after a minute, you thought heíd fallen asleep.
When you brought him home, Brian was already gone. He left his wallet, so Greg took his money and bought you a pizza. The two of you sat on the floor in the living room, your head in his lap, and he told you he was so sorry, so sorry. There were sirens in the distance, car doors shutting, and you knew he wasnít thinking about Brian. He was thinking of himself and how he was going to pay to get his car out of the impound.
The cork pops. It sounds like a single gunshot. The kitchen comes back into focus. When he finally turns to look at you, his eyes squint down in the corners and you are afraid of what he will say. He asks you if you have a problem with this too and you tell him he can do whatever the fuck he wants. He says damn right he will, and you bite the inside of your lip because you cannot think of a witty enough retort. He pours your wine, a ruby-red merlot you bought when your parents came for dinner but didnít drink. You know you should have hidden it. He is using the wine glasses you got at your wedding. When he brings it to his lips he stares you dead in the eye and you cannot look away.
In that moment, his eyes locked on yours, a freeze-frame, a still-life portrait, you regret for the first time ever bailing him out. You should have driven home, but you didnít.
You go to the bedroom and open the closet to get your bathrobe, and that is when you notice that all of his things are gone. His shoes, his winter coats, his luggage. Everything left is yours.
You just stand there for a minute with one hand on the light chain, and then you swell like one of those deep-sea creatures and yell his name. When he gets there he stands behind you with your fucking wine and a stain on his shirt, and you donít turn around because you just want him to see this. You just want him to see what heís done to you. You hope you look sad, and deflated and hopeless. He says Ďyeah?í
You turn to face him, and you wish there could have been tears on your cheeks for effect, but you couldnít muster them. You ask him where the hell all of his things are and he tells you theyíre in the car. He came home at lunch to pack them up, because he was serious this time, heís sick of this shit. You ask what shit and he tells you. He tells you a lot of things.
He tells you that you are different people and that you donít understand him. He says he just wants a fucking glass of wine once in while, and what the hell is so wrong with that? He tells you he canít stand how you pick at him. Youíre glad you didnít say anything about the stain on his shirt.
He goes on. Heís given this a lot of thought, and heís sorry, but isnít this what is best for both of you? When you donít answer he tells you: Yes, yes it is. You make a deal with God. If he will let you go back seven years, you will still bail him out, but you will not go back upstairs to his apartment. You will leave him there at his front door. God does not answer you, and so you are stuck with the truth.
He is right. There is nothing left to say. He turns to leave, but clips his elbow on the dresser. He spills his wine. He leaves it there. You scream at him, tell him what a selfish bastard he is, that youíre fucking glad heís leaving, that when he gets arrested you wonít be there to bail him out.
You crawl across the carpet to the stain. It looks black. You take your shoes off, then your socks, and this is what you use to soak it up. Deep deep red on white. You hate him. You scream this.
There is the sound of something crashing. The rest of the wine glasses or a picture frame. You ignore it because you cannot miss something you donít know is gone.
J. M. Patrick lives in Connecticut with a small cactus and a squirrel named Todd. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Smokelong Quarterly, Edifice Wrecked, Night Train, and Noo Journal, among others. She can be found online at www.jmpatrick.org.
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