I can't help myself anymore. The moment you leave the room I'm dodging in and out of your things. Looking, always looking for more of you than I can find.
I am sitting in your La-Z-Boy and rocking and holding my breasts tight, squeezing tight, hoping it will be enough to keep me from betraying myself. I can't rifle through your things indefinitely. Someday you will know and you'll wonder who I am. So instead I sit and rock and squeeze myself. Your chair is brown and there are a few cigarette burns in the arms. For some reason these little marks of incorrect behavior make me feel giddy and uncouth. I know there are nickels and pennies and golf tees underneath the cushions. I also know that you don't know that there are little kernels of popcorn and toe-nails mixed in with the change and remnants from golf outings. I know because I put them there when you weren't looking. While you watch hours of endless men in bad shirts hitting tiny balls, I pick at myself mercilessly and slip the remnants underneath. Filthy habits: I'm full of them.
You are in the shower. I know this because you told me you were going to take a shower and I can hear the water running and your radio playing. All this means you are in the shower. When you said, time for my shower, I ran as fast as I could into your room and watched you undress. I asked if I could touch your chest and you said hurry and I did touch your chest but I tried not to hurry. I disobeyed.
I am holding my breasts. You like to call them tits and I like it too because it excites me. I think about how you might touch them and I hold them the way I think you do when we are alone and I hope this keeps my bottom firmly on the La-Z-Boy. I am hoping to excite myself until you walk out of the shower and have a towel around your waist. (The blue towel that we call Big Blue.) Instead of going into the bedroom as you always do, you will instead come into your living room and see how I hold myself and excite myself. You will think nothing of dropping Big Blue. You will think nothing of letting Big Blue land on your beer stained carpet. You will walk to me naked and take over the controls.
I look up because it comforts me. I can see the scrapes where you got careless with a three wood. The scrapes are long and dull and gray. When you made them your buddies stood around and laughed and smoked and drank a little more. At least that's your explanation. I wish I could have seen it. I can just see you waggling and swinging and drinking. You really stole the show that night, that's what I think. I can just see you holding court and laughing and swinging and scraping and laughing even harder. I'm sure you were wearing your giant sombrero. I'm sure your friends all took turns trying that sombrero on for size. I'm sure you were proud when you went to sleep that night. Friendships are important you say to me and I know how you must have replayed the scene over and over before you slept. You especially like the parts where they laughed so hard they turned red and said, I can't breathe, I can't breathe. Moments like that make you feel like someone.
We watch television. We watch movies. We tape favorite programs. You read the sports page. I play solitaire on the computer. We do talk, we do. Endlessly. I yell loudly when you tell me to be quiet during the local news. We fuck. But, not as much as a person in a movie would. We laugh. We love each other. We don't drink or do other crazy things. Not the kind of things you used to do. Sometimes, I'd love to see you drunk. The smell of alcohol on your breath would really turn me on. I swear it would. And you have no idea how crude I can be. I wonder if crudeness would intrigue you.
How easily you trust me. I look through everything of yours. Papers, phone books, and old cardboard boxes. I look and look for all your hidden things. I'm sure you have secrets and I want to know them. I've seen scraps of paper and old letters and yellowing journal entries and nothing ever surprises me like I wish it would. I'm so sure that you have something amazing hidden underneath the surface. (You do. I know you do.)
My pledge is to you and to your eyes which are blue and wide and the same color as the sky on certain clear days. And my pledge isn't even just to your eyes—they are blue and a cliché, but also to your hands, which know how to squeeze and grip. And I pledge, as I sit here in your La-Z-Boy while you are in the shower, not to scurry about your rooms looking through your things no matter what torture it is to me. I pledge I will shove my ass deeper into these cushions in order to hold myself back. I will not snoop. I will be moral. I have ethics. Bullshit. I'm not even close to what I mean to say.
You're in the shower and I know you are naked. The idea of your nakedness makes me scoot myself deeper into your La-Z-Boy. I imagine I'm a mistress and you are madly in love with me and I am your mistress and I sit in your Lazy Boy and hope that your wife doesn't come in, all the while scooting and scrunching my bottom, my posterior, my ass, down deeper, deeper, past the nickels and pennies and golf tees and finally into some dark hole that is my life with you. My mistress life with you. I hold my tits upright hoping you will emerge at any moment. I squeeze my nipples and wait. I hope this is enough to keep me still and seated and trusting.
I am not a mistress and you are still in the shower and I am still sitting in your La-Z-Boy. I love feeling your phone book as if it is your chest. I love to hear the shower running and seeing the names of women that shouldn't be written in your handwriting and are; plain as can be: Diane, Jane, and Linda (etc., etc.). What are they doing in such a personal book of yours? That was a long time ago and very far away but still if they are gone why are they not gone and be gone and not linger on in ink. I look at those pages, those hastily written birthdays and dates to remember, and I am awed by the forces of time and the forces of love and the strength of ink. (Ink will outlast us all!) I do not want them to leave exactly. They are a mystery.
I am not looking through your phone book. I am sitting very still trying to hold my urges in. I squeeze my legs tight, fearing such desires will dribble to the floor in plain view. Instead I picture myself as your mistress and how your wife runs away to the country to see her mother and sob over the playboy you have become. All the while I'm in her bed and caressing soft yellow sheets and wearing a lavender pajama set. At night you let me fall asleep and then wake me with the feeling of you against me. You make oatmeal in the morning and we talk about all kinds of things. Especially things like sex and politics. You sputter horrifying ideas that leave my mind as soon as they are spoken. I agree completely. I nod. I say: Ah yes. How I'd love to fuck you. Mmm. This oatmeal is delicious.
I imagine all of this in hopes of distracting myself from doing the things that I know will loose you, will lose you in the end. After all obsession does not flatter a figure. Obsession isn't a turn-on, not now, not since the last Hollywood Hoorah. My god! I'd love to rifle through your mail.
And you are in the shower and the water is lukewarm I'm sure. And your chest is nice and wide and hairy—for some reason all that hair has always excited me. And you are mine and I know you and you look at me in the morning and you say—"I love you. I love you. I love you." and I respond sleepily by batting you away. The sweetest part of our ritual is how easily you take my incorrect behavior. How nice for me. I can do as I please and you still smile and still have a nice hairy chest and that's all that matters.
Of course not. I'd be a liar. I'm a big liar if I said that a big hairy chest is all that matters. Remember how I'm trying very, very hard not to get up and scramble while the water's still running. Get up and scramble for the pictures I know are hidden on your top shelf. (I shut my eyes tight. Just let me be good. Let me be still. Please.)
You have told me wonderful stories. Drunken stories with bottle-rockets rocketing up the stairs of a house. You said: “Yes! We shot bottle rockets inside the house!” Inside. Inside. I couldn't believe it but I knew that I loved you because you were standing outside and the wind was blowing and you held your hands in a certain way. Bottle rockets were everywhere where you were young. You shot them out of cars while you were high and watched them scatter from the rearview mirror. Once they sparked and flew into the rotating lights of a cop car.
(Never in my life have I been caught drunk with fireworks. I haven't been arrested. I haven't exceeded the limits of sobriety and good judgment.)
Drinking with the guys isn't the whole story of your youth. I know this. You are tactful and kind and hide other things away from my view. I get into everything. I've seen the pictures. The ones in the box on the top shelf. They are all beautiful and young and make my toenails curl. Of course you should have a past. If there weren't others I would need to be concerned, or so that's what they say on the radio.
I can't think of anything more exciting than discovering your previous life. The blonde and you would drink and drink and make out for hours in the woods behind her parents' house. We don't drink very much. Not often. We don't make out for hours. Instead we talk about all sorts of interesting things, but really talking can't hold a candle to liquor-sodden kisses.
We talk and we laugh. We don't tell jokes often but we are silly. I pretend I'm a kitten and you pat my head. Once, you taped me snoring. So, we don't tell jokes but we do have a good sense of humor.
I know the one with dark hair moved back to Portland. But what if she found her way back to where you are? What then? Would she come to your door with a suitcase in hand? Would she call twenty times a day and not even ask if someone has taken her place? Or what if you are summoned to Portland. Not by her but by a job. You have to go or you are fired! You have to go to Portland. But, how could I? I hate Portland. The buildings are dirty and the people there insist that it's clean. I disagree with Portland.
The water is still going. You take long showers and you don't like hot water, which I don't understand. That's why I sit here and wait for my turn. I wish, at times, we could take our showers together. I'd love feeling you rub soap on my back. As it is now showers and “us” are incompatible. A pity.
I'm still holding my breasts but not in any sort of interesting way. My hands clutch at my own body as if I am worth nothing more than an absent-minded gesture. I sit and rock and gesture absently all in the hope that I can overcome an urge to tip over all of your things upside down and shake them and find the crumbs of your life that you haven't yet told me about.
I look in front of me at your wall. There is a large map and I trace it often looking at all the places you have been. I want to see these places. You tell a story and I say, will you take me there? You laugh. You say, “Sure, sure.” The walls I look at are your walls because I don't live here. However, I have several drawers and hangers that I have taken hostage. I see the way you look nervously at my ever-increasing bundles of clothes. I pretend to be understanding, cool and terribly independent.
The pictures are in a cardboard box. They show you and other women standing very much in the same way that you and I have stood with our arms around each other in front of pretty houses, and flowers and mountain ranges. I can't understand why they are still here. Shouldn't the pictures be somewhere else—disappear—leave—go away—to the places these women have gone?
I can hear the shower stopping and the water from the faucet beginning. I know what you do next. Lather and shave. Listen to the news and sports and people raving about the injustices of life. Ten minutes. That's how much longer I have to plunder your things. Ten minutes of radio and then you are here again and life resumes. Why does that radio fascinate you so? Injustice bores me. What I want to know is if there is a woman calling you when I'm not here. Does she tell you how she'd love to rub up against you and kiss you and put her mouth all over you? What if you sit in this chair and handle yourself to the accompaniment of her moans. How disgusting. How could you? I haven't found the evidence yet, and it's getting harder and harder not to look.
I picture you saying I love you I love you to the one with brown hair. Did she cry like I did? Did she believe you? Did she insist that you rub her back during movies?
My hand is limp. My breast feels like an old shoe. Maybe if I just check today's mail. Just to make sure things are the same, no new evidence to accrue. What if I jump up and look at your telephone bill and the water stops and you surprise me! What if you find me with handfuls of your old flames? Oops. Would I say, oopsie? I doubt it. I would stammer and turn red and try to say things like: Do you have a pen? Do you have the time? Do you have a closet full of women and desire that I don't know about? You'll yell: What are you doing? How could you?
You'll mostly yell: “Why? Why? Why?”
I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. Look at me! I'm sitting in this chair afraid to move because I don't want to violate you any more than I have. What should I say? Shall I count the reasons I've betrayed your trust: I'm a psychopath. My dog died when I was six and my mom threw her in the trash? My dad was never around. He was around too much. My dog never died and I'm freaking out. I love you. I'm afraid that I don't love you. I want you too much. I don't want you anymore. I'm in debt. I have an addictive personality. A disorder. I'm disordered. PMS? I should be on medication. Curiosity killed the cat. I watch too much/not enough television. I am afraid that you are going to leave me. What do you think? Could one of the above satisfy? No? Okay. How's this one: I'm afraid that I will die if you leave me? Yes. But don't forget the opposite could be true. Are you sure that's what you want my why to be? Okay. But, maybe my real fear is that you will stay.
I'll turn to you when you catch me with old letters and say: Do you really want to know why? Does it matter?
I know you'll say no. You don't want to know why. You just want me to believe that you love me. You want me to stop looking for things in the past to prove something about the future. You want me to stop suspecting what I'll never find.
I have a few whys for you too. Why am I not your wife?
I can just see you trying to answer that one. Out the door with you and to the fairway. Should I ask something a little more humane? Should I ask why you never recycle the papers before they are a five feet high?
(Remember when we rolled around on the floor and almost tipped over that stack? I do. I was terrified. I didn't want to die under last week’s headlines.)
I twist myself and look behind the chair to the kitchen table and its mass of old mail. I love shuffling through it. Making sure none of the old pictures are making a house call. Today, I will stay seated. I will mind my own business. I don't want to. I don't want to mind my manners.
You told me about driving your car just as the acid was taking hold. You drove out to the farm and all your friends were with you. And the sky looked too clear you told me. And things were starting to move inside you. Rushes, you said. I listened and listened knowing each word was a clue of some sort. If I could remember them all I could have you. Right?
How did things look to you then? You say "clear." I can't quite see that? Do you mean there were no clouds in the sky? Or could you see what I've always wanted to see? Could you see the things in-between the grass and the sky and your face?
I'm a normal girl. I'm not crazy. I love McDonald's. I love watching all the newest shows in September. I brush my teeth. I preen. I fuss. I cry. I want to have true love and make it work for me. I read books about love and try to trust in love and try to communicate with loving, soothing tones. So when you discover me looking in your drawers and trash don't say that I'm nutso.
Instead understand. Tell me how relieved you are. Tell me that you do the same. Tell me that when I take my own showers that you are quick to rush over to my bag and look through all my relevant papers. You follow me to the supermarket. I thought so. I was hoping.
If I were your mistress I would be sitting here happy. Jiggling my butt, waiting to fuck you again and then ready to go home and feed my poodle. If I were your wife I'd be so unhappy I'd be happy. Always wondering what is for dinner or for breakfast or what day is your vacation again? A Thursday? Oh, no Tuesday? Oh, how unhappy.
But, instead I sit tense, in-between worlds and extremes. I'm no bride. I'm no whore. I'm just some girl that wants to know everything and wants to stick my fingers into you so deeply that we are stuck.
(Will I do it? Will I rush around looking at everything that is so wholesome about you and not find anything different. Will I give myself another case of guilty diarrhea. Oh, I hope not. I should face your wholesomeness bravely and without complaint. You did the whole drug fun thing and now you're responsible, you’re just like everyone else except you are you. And I can't quite believe how strange that is to me.)
Did I miss all the exciting parts?
Yes. I missed teenage sex with you and I'm so sorry. I wish we had done it in a car, in the woods, or during a matinee. I miss what we never did so much. But, someone else got that thrill. You stroked her pink cheek, her blonde—was she a blonde?—hair. You stuck your tongue in her mouth. That's what is killing me. How can your tongue go into some other wet mouth? And you were inside this teen-age dream many times. Desired this teen-aged dream much more than you could ever desire me.
I know. I did it too. I had my own you back then. He was nice. And we kissed whenever it rained because it always rained and we were always kissing. He touched me and it was unbelievable and the rain went down the windows and I watched the patterns and touched him and marveled at how strange he felt. Yes, I know. I know.
My question for you, love, is do you agonize love, over the thought that I could have loved anyone but you? Do you squirm to think that I could survive without you? Of course not. I didn't think you did. You are practical. You would never drink and drive now. Adults don't. You would never get high hold me down and get inside me without permission.
Did those pictures use up all the best parts of you?
The bathroom door opens. Your head peeks around the corner. I'm no longer holding myself. You smile and show off your teeth. Your eyes are still blue and your chest is still hairy but I, for once, don't make a move in your direction.
Hi. Hello. Good shower? Good shower. What do you want to do today? Anything I say and sink back into the La-Z-Boy. Anything at all.
And really I'd love to go drinking and driving. Let's swig back a couple of Coors. Let's smoke our heads right off! Let's endanger women and children. Won't we be something? How dangerous. What a great story between us. How we'd treasure such rebelliousness. We'll smoke grass or pot or whatever you called it when you were young. (I wouldn't know. I never had such fun.) Then we'll drop some whatever you call it. China White? No, that's cocaine or is it heroin? Never mind. We'll get real high and drunk and reek of smoke and drive out in the country and yell and shoot bottle-rockets and maybe roman candles behind us. We'll leave a trail because we won't be afraid. We might be arrested and beat up and thrown away. There will be a dangerous chase and the cop cars will tip over and spin and explode in a ditch. You'll drive real fast and I'll yell and feel you. You'll grab my tits and none of this will stop until we see the field. You will ask me if I've ever had sex outdoors and I'll say no. The field will be a big field, a vast field, filled with dirt and grass and mice. The sky will be clear and black and smattered with stars. We won't stop until we are in the middle of the field. For once we'll be quiet. You will kiss me and our mouths will be against each other. This will go on for hours. Then we will get out of the car and stand in the middle of everything. You'll say, get naked. I won't complain. It will be warm enough out for such things. We'll get naked, look at the stars, and fuck three times in a row. Wow. Three times. Of course it won't really be fucking, we will be gentle, although saying the word fucking excites us. Then we'll sleep and my legs will be wrapped around your legs and you will keep your fingers inside me for warmth. I don't think we'll dream. The next morning, stone sober, we'll drive home. All the way home, and forever after, I'll know that those smiling faces watching from that the cardboard box on your top shelf didn't use it all up. I think that will almost be enough.
Rachel Joseph has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and a PhD in Drama from Stanford University. Her current academic book project is Screened Stages: Representations of Theatre Within Cinema. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Trinity University. She has three plays forthcoming from Scissors & Spackle, Petrichor Machine and Eclectica Magazine. Most recently she directed her play The Screen Dreams of Buster Keaton at the Overtime Theater in San Antonio, Texas. Other produced plays include And This Before Leaving, The Message, and Blurred.
Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: I’ve often been fascinated by objects and photographs of people I am close too. That detritus of life says lot about a person—both who they are and who they used to be before we met.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did that happen?
A: I always felt a sense of peace in writing. I think the way certain writers live slow, disciplined lives appealed to me.
Q: What’s your writing process?
A: The very opposite process of the slow and disciplined life described above (most of the time). I write in great bursts, very quickly and intensely. Revising is slow and methodical, but happens in obsessive big chunks of time.
Q: What living writer do you admire most and why?
A: I love the poetry and scholarly writing of Susan Stewart. Her scholarship reads like poetry. I love the way she thinks and frames her writing through that thought. Her book On Longing has provided endless inspiration.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a scholarly book Screened Stages: Representations of Theatre Within Cinema. It is a major revision from my dissertation. I’m also adapting a screenplay I wrote some time ago to a play for a production later this year at the Overtime Theater in San Antonio. The play is called The Little Sparrow and is a big wild musical. I can’t wait to see this work come to life. Another play of mine, Stripped, is also being produced this year at the Overtime Theater.