She couldn’t stand the recesses of his mind full of the secrets that only they knew. How the full bloom of a lilac bush presented him pause, the lines of his face smoothing from that blank posture of remembrance. Or how his entire body contracted from her just a little when he’d hear Band of Horses on the radio. She was always trying to convince herself that he wouldn’t leave again, but his love wasn’t the kind of thing you settled into easily. So she did her best to wipe his graffitied heart clean of Her.
They’d met years before, when she was finishing high school and he had his arms around another. Beauty captured him. Her uniqueness given to rapture - big, animal eyes, high cheek bones, a long rounded nose, a perfectly delicate gap between her whitened front teeth. Protruding collar bone exposed through her tiny crop top - like the peak of a mountain he’d like to climb. Before they’d even spoken, he’d decided to have her.
Personality was a crude afterthought. If she wasn’t funny or intelligent enough, he’d convince himself that those qualities didn’t matter much anyway. So long as her immature heart had a softness to it that could conform and mold to his creative hands, the beauty would be enough to hold.
He tormented himself with her accessibility. She was single, panting after him like a love-starved puppy, but he was six years her elder, which wasn’t much on a numerical timeline, but on a social scale had a difference that could sink them both.
While she read “Of Mice and Men” for her English Literature homework, he was signing his name to rent checks and trying on a proper career. He knew he’d have to ask permission of her parents if he wanted to steer clear of faulty accusations, he just wasn’t certain she was worth it. The way she practically begged at his feet, watching his every move, studying and memorizing his personality the way she did, convinced him of her idolatry. Flattered by his old-fashioned ways of asking permission to date, she gave him her dad’s phone number. In her hungry teenage heart, she never once thought his act was less of a consideration and more of a self-preservation. Over a few cups of coffee and an antiquated ritual, she was given to him with an exchange of instructions of care and a firm handshake. The dad-test was passed, the rumors would be kept at bay, and his daughter was free to love a man she didn’t know.
He dove into her and didn’t come up for air. Her grace was his poetry. He made kingdoms from her thoughts. Lovely poems formed, but it was by her very blood that they were assigned to paper. He dipped the bucket down and drew what he could from her. Parasitic, he sucked all of the goodness and magic from her. She was less of a lover and more of a muse. A totem of inspiration to keep his art coming. He was the potter and she, his clay. He wet his hands with her willingness, and molded her the way she'd serve him best.
It didn’t take much for the beauty to dull and become muddled like the stickiness of syrup from the counter where they breakfasted. He was perpetually annoyed with her insistence for his vulnerability. She was drawn to his mystery, but with real moments, when transparency and selflessness meant something, he’d retract, find something to busy his hands with, siphoning her essence through a dismal colander - catching what he could use, dumping the rest down the drain.
He wanted love on his terms, kneaded and forged by his hands, and when her cracks no longer served him, he lumped her back into a ball and threw her with the scraps of every other lover.
I accidentally saw him one day. I was out shaking the dust from my rugs, he was circling his car after having gotten groceries. He walked clockwise around his car, knocking three times on each window, looking under each side of the bumper, would push each already-closed-door with 3 hefty pushes, and end this mad routine with a deflated sounding "boop."
He was my neighbor, this oddity. Wiry, restless hair - like the nest of a bird, except where the eggs should lay was a hollowed-out bald spot. His clothes were threadbare and stained, his shoes rotted from the toe to the sole. One would expect a better kept man for someone bound by such rigidity. After each lap around his Toyota - the knocking and noises - he'd carry another brown bag in from the grocery store. Even when the bag was light and under packed, it was one bag only, carried in his left hand. He'd shut the door, remotely lock them, the lights flashing on and off while he hit the clicker 3 times. He dawdled into his apartment, shut the door, only to open it seconds later to repeat the same process for the next bag.
It was an excruciating and fascinating thing to watch. Like a large and doting Ibis, he was. A squat body with only an illusion of height from his ghastly long legs, and his face that was forward heavy. It was like gazing on the wreckage of an accident. Out of privacy, you wanted to turn your head, but the curiosity kept your gaze tight and steady. I grabbed my rugs and was ready to head inside, to get away from this man bound by threes. I could walk in, throw my rugs down onto the semi-clean floor, and never think about it again. He however, had to put all of those groceries away.
He was a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, shell of a man. Introverted, even more than I. Eccentric, withdrawn, mysterious in his own rite, and one of the sweetest people I’d met. We were roommates. He was one of several. I overlooked him for months because of his awkwardness, but I began to see the stars around him as we worked on the New York Time’s crossword puzzle every Sunday afternoon. As he was scratching his number 2 against 4 down, I was drinking in the child-like nature he possessed. The world had been cruel to him too, but his eyes still lit with hope.
“Your turn,” he chuckled as he passed the paper to me for the next answer. He put his hand up under his chin, and I smiled when I saw the contrast of his pale skin against the stain of black newsprint on the heel of his hand. He had no clue. He never really did.
He was safe. He didn’t ask questions about the things that didn’t matter - about things of the past. He lived for what was, and I could hide well within that. For the first time, I felt a little more human. I didn’t love him, in fact, this was so very causal that I almost felt like I was using him. I wanted to slurp him from a straw – taste what goodness I could – all without letting him stain my lips. His intentions were much different from my own.
We spent the night at home. I was having a glass of wine and crocheting while he read some obscure science-fiction book. After a small pour of merlot, the room felt like a planetarium. White trails shooting around and about the ceiling, everything spinning into a blurry mass of confusion. My meagre glass gave the illusion that I had been black-out drunk. Revolving in my living room, the rising vomit touched my tongue - bitter, pungent, it went back down. Blue-eyes came to me, held me against his chest and reassured me that I was okay. I eased off the alcohol and fell into him. The following days were filled with excruciating abdominal pain. I figured it was the endometriosis - that gnawing disease that fills a woman’s insides with scar tissue, rendering infertility in some cases. I was never really disappointed with this diagnosis. It really served as a get out of jail free card for my reckless lifestyle.
My pain-management plan consisted of my getting a monthly injection of synthetic hormones into my hip. I quit those after 5 years of asking for a better solution. Birth control typically renders women incapable of having children for a short period of time. For me, they said if conception even was possible, it would take a good year, possibly more. So when I went to a new clinic and they said that pregnancy tests were protocol for new patients, I surrendered my urine care-free.
I watied in that confining office, on the pregnancy test I knew would be negative. Ten minutes later I found out that my life was being recreated; like origami, I unfolded with the news that I was with child. A child I would love, and that wasn't his.
Breaking the news to Blue-eyes wasn’t easy. It felt good to let him know he had no further obligations, even though that's exactly what he wanted. Because he was good. Although he would’ve been a nurturing father, I can’t say I wasn’t relieved still. The fragile strings of my heart didn’t want to make him a more permanent fixture in my life. He was a short-lived sanctuary; a place where I felt safe for a while, where I felt redeemable. But I didn’t love him. So with a snip of the scissors, he fell from my life like a quiescent puppet - broken, used, and utterly disappointed, still donning that empty plastic smile.
the black and white alternation of tile
stiff, red vinyl seats
enough to make this crappy diner loathsome.
the food was cheap
and always so warm.
"more coffee" he barked -
more of a command than a question
as he overflowed the awkwardly small-handled mug
without my concession.
my "thank yous" fell to the floor
he rushed to check the grill -
flip, turn, prod, push.
he was a broken man
one who didn't smile,
whose elusive mind was elsewhere.
this unpleasant diner was his
the smoke-stained walls and offensive air
solidified ownership like a deed.
sun up or down, it was always his face behind that heavy door.
he seemed so empty
like the fragile shell of a used egg.
I would say funny things
drip with gratitude
compliment his cooking.
he never said thank you
or seemed to know I was even speaking.
his agony and mystery
what moments empty a man to bone?
the homeless man in the corner booth was there every night
like the hand of a clock
he was predictable and always moving.
I saw the repetitions of his dirt-stained hands.
pinching thumb and pointer finger
up and down, repeat.
sliding from my gaudy booth
the vinyl squeaked a little as I moved.
I carried my plate to a table closer to him.
he was filling coffee filters
pinching the crimped sides with gritty fingers
gently placed on the table
premeasured scoop dug into the heaping grounds
dumped methodically in the middle
new filter stacked on top of the last
stacks of 8, new pile.
Empty walked over to him
asking genially if he'd like a refill
the old man nodded.
this broken man -
primitive and boorish
gruff and withdrawn
had a heart after all.
he employed the hands of a man who had nowhere to lay his head -
to keep him warm
and to serve his dignity back to him
on a silver platter.