The Quotable

Cornered Like a Sixth Grader

When I awoke you were gone.

2:30 a.m. Usually, that was the time I’d feel the thin point of your elbow poking me in the side and we’d nestle close for one another’s warmth. I didn’t open my eyes totally when I rolled in the bed, rolled into the empty spot you filled on my days; nights: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, when there were no church revivals. I could still smell you – even with no perfume – your naked body scent remained because we made love at about 11:15 and were finished by twelve. On those three nights, the smell of our bodies acts as incense; it helps me to sleep easily.

But you were gone.

My hand didn’t spread across the bed once my eyes opened and I didn’t look any further left where you should have been. I’d focused dead center on the sky, halted hastily by the apartment’s white ceiling where a fan with twenty inch blades held enough dust to break them in half. Initially, I tried not to blink. Even as a young kid you learn that’s not possible; your eyes will water. And I didn’t want that.

When I lifted to sit upright in the bed, I did not use my arms. Just stomach muscles. I was prepared. There were a couple of ideas about things floating around in my head, ideas to be written, floating, yes, Floating; like dead goldfish in a bowl, turning from orange and yellow to some tincture of black. I had to write them down.

You always liked my writing. Sometimes I even wrote things just so you found me attractive. I was no looker: small-nostriled nose, bumps on my neck from shaving – in the company of light and dry peeling skin in winter: a fiction writer’s face. You preferred darker black men.

So, I ran to the desk in the other room and sat down. The chair whistled when I planted. Made me think I was gaining weight.

At almost three in the morning, even in an eventful city like Chicago, random sounds are oft times non-existent. The windows of the apartment were open, especially the big one with the blue curtains you picked, and the one right next to the refrigerator that broadcasts the sex lives of my neighbors, the whiny shrieks of cats looking for mice, the newborn cries of babies who hadn’t learned the American sleep schedule yet.

You said you liked noises without motive. They give the city its uniqueness, its charisma. Unconsciously I listened for them.

And I knew where you were.

I rose from the desk, frustrated because I couldn’t compose anything you’d prefer. Bare feet chilling against the tile of the floor, I walked back to the kitchen sink. It was full of dirty plates; trickles of rice and bread crumbs and wine glasses that still smelled of Shiraz sat on the counter. I grabbed one and finished the small swallow you’d left.

I remembered the argument we had last night. Maybe it wasn’t an argument, more like a deafening debate between politicians with spit spewed and nothing accomplished. But when I saw that empty spot in the bed, with your round head print sunken into the pillow, the blemish I ignored on purpose, but saw anyway as I tried to lift my head further in the air. . . It was an argument.

That thought made me turn around and walk to the closet for shoes, a shirt, a jacket; I still had on my pajama pants. I’d always been told by my father, who fussed and complained plenty, that I should not go to sleep angry after an argument. I figured that’s why you left. Anything could have happened to you in the freeze of a night, alone, leaving my place with hot anger. The door was locked top to bottom. You used your key when leaving. Therefore, you left sober. Coherent. You left honest.

I sat on the stair landing and began breathing as though the world was running out of air. It was easy then to remember the phone vibrating against your pillow as we lay in bed last night. Your voice was low when you answered, crispier than a whisper. I assumed you were talking to a friend because you were trying not to wake me; I’m supposed to be at work each day by five.

That wasn’t the case. I should have known. The replying voice on the other end was deeper than any friend you gossip with on late nights. You told me earlier that he began calling you again; asking you: Do you miss me and saying, we need to be together and I still have feelings for you and we can work things out.

You said I had nothing to worry about with him. That you’d grown tired of being under-appreciated and overlooked. Every time you and I talked about it, just like last night before the dinner you cooked, before making love in bed on my Sunday, you’d say you didn’t care for him, I asked were you sure, you countered with I love you, and I smiled because I only ever fought so long about it so I could fulfill the desire of hearing you say it.

A woman as pretty as you is not supposed to love me. Your eyes form perfect circles, you have small clean teeth with slight gaps between them, dark red skin, and a narrow feminine neck usually circled with eccentric jewelry I cannot afford. And when we lay together on those Tuesdays, Thursdays, Sundays, I’d stare when you thought I was sleeping, you were asleep, and I’d be looking at you on my left. I’d quickly stop. Only women do things of that sort.

There was one time he called and you left my apartment on a Sunday and I didn’t see or hear from you again until Tuesday. At the outset, you acted as though nothing happened. Then you told me you were with a friend because she needed you. You lied. Your lies work well because lies are truths that the listening party decides whether to believe or not. Lies are subjective.

It was always easy for me to picture your conversation with him that night: you said I got a boyfriend, but he said leave him, but he’s nice, but he’s not the father of your kids cause I am, but I love him, then he finished with he’s not the father of your kids. That’s probably what made you answer the phone.

I am not the father of your kids.

After we debated and you gave the I love you that relaxed me, you waited twenty minutes, twenty to the second, and the same statement spilled from your mouth: My kids need their father. I stayed quiet, quiet like a kid punished and put in the corner position of his sixth grade class, mute as though tongue disappeared with ego. In my head I called you stupid and ungrateful and inconsiderate and bitch and unrealistic and unreliable. I called you his. You were his. Always would be.

This time, I couldn’t accept that. So I called you and you said hello and I said don’t hello me and you told me not to be mad and I said you left me in the middle of the night and you said he needed to see the kids and I said at midnight? And you said he just needed to talk. Then you said I love you and I gotta’ go.

The phone felt heavy enough to separate my wrist from arm. I went to the bathroom and began brushing my teeth. At that point I was tired of him seeing the kids, and your talking, but by the time I’d grabbed my jacket and made it out the front door where I still felt your warm fingers on the locks, I’d relaxed.

You said you loved me on the phone.

In that instance I didn’t have to work for it. While standing outside I began hearing the noises from the neighborhood: babies crying because they fought sleep, the overweight couple on the second floor having sex on a bed that sounded as though it was coming through the floor, those cats meowing like an orchestra, the arguing Chinese couple across the hall; arguing in their language which always sounded synonymous with arguing. And I heard me. My voice.

I walked back into the apartment, making sure to leave the door unlocked. You were coming back. Hopefully before Tuesday and I didn’t want you to have to use your keys.

My breathing changed to moderate. I wasn’t shaking nor was my heart pounding at some abnormal speed. I shut the door, pulled off my jacket and shoes, and left them in the middle of the living room floor. The sun was coming up. It was after four in the morning. Time I should be getting ready for work. But, I had these floating ideas which made me switch to the other room and sit down at the desk. The chair didn’t squeak. You were coming back. Because you love me.

I wanted to show my appreciation so I decided to write you something:



Jasmon Drain is 2010 Pushcart Prize nominee and was a finalist in the inaugural fiction contest. She has been published in The Chariton Review, Tidal Basin Review, Foliate Oak Literary Journal, My Story Lives Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review as well as other short stories forthcoming in Ginosko Magazine, and Tertulia Magazine.

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