ISSUE TWELVE | SPRING 2019
You say you love him. Again and again, like it means everything. To you, the words themselves are dense like ripe fruit. They stick.
What leverage is left? How’d you lose the last of it?
* * *
It starts with a text:
Why was the toilet clogged
You text back, idk. gross
This is the beginning of a fight but you’re sure he doesn’t realize it yet. You can get ahead of the story. You mount your bike and ride down the main road toward Pete’s at full speed. The potholes and bumps can’t stop you. You’re sore. You’re thirsty. It’s early spring. Clovers popping up. The air is thick with humidity.
This might not work. He can’t possibly fall for your shit this time. Does he ever?
The gray clouds overhead give you an uneasy feeling. You haven’t figured out what to say yet. You take a detour. Cut through the lot behind the Pittsburgh Paints that just closed to get to Alyssa’s. You lean your bike against the craggy old tree in the yard. The grass at Alyssa’s seems perpetually yellow, patchy. There’s always a hose kinked up and dragged halfway across the lawn and the shrubs running along the front of the gray tin-box house have been nothing but dried old twigs for as long as you can remember.
dude im outside can u smoke me up, im having A Day
Alyssa lets you in. Her dreads look especially grimy today, like a real rat’s nest. You’ve thought about saying something about her wearing them but the second you do the free drugs stop flowing, you know that. It would be a whole thing. She’s one of those white girls. A Coexist bumper sticker kind of white girl. Essential oils and Bernie Sanders and a lot of that I don’t care if you’re black or white or purple stuff.
“What have you been up to, girl?” she asks. She tugs at her stretched earlobes and then smells her fingers. It’s unclear whether she realizes she’s doing it so openly. Her eyes are red which means she’s either high or sad.
Can she just roll you something. Can she pack something, whatever. You can throw a quad in next time there’s a party.
“What parties?” Alyssa says as she walks the two of you down the narrow cat-piss smelling carpeted hall to her room. “Mom’s always here lately. Child support putting her up above the poverty line now, she doesn’t even work forty a week.”
You sit on the mattress on her floor. Alyssa grabs a purple glass pipe off her dresser and takes a hit. She laughs to herself. “Bitch spends all day in bed watching Law and Order and smoking.”
You’re supposed to laugh. You don’t. You offer to Venmo her real quick. You’re nervously chewing a strand of your jet black hair, staring at the half-smoked bowl in her hand. She hands it to you.
“It’s cool, I got you. I haven’t seen you in a minute though.”
The room fills up with smoke. It’s begun to rain. Alyssa starts talking about her little brother, where he’s been. He checked out of rehab recently—you had no clue he even checked in. He’s okay, but being sober sure ain’t what he wanted it to be. You didn’t even know he wanted to be, you stopped taking his calls the last time he ODed. Just a couple years ago all three of you were in high school together and you were sucking his dick in the back of Alyssa’s beat up old Pontiac Sunfire, the both of you fucked up on screwdrivers and Alyssa’s mom’s pain meds. In the middle of it he looked down to say he felt like he was on a rollercoaster and you weren’t sure if he meant the spins or the blowjob.
You thought that was as safe as you would ever feel with someone, and you are so sad that you were right.
“He’s still trying to find a job. He can’t work kitchens anymore, there’s always coke being passed around,” Alyssa says. She takes a hit and stares blankly out the window as rain pummels the thin glass. “You should give him a call sometime. I bet he’d like that.”
You can’t do this. Too much talk. You start straightening up, checking your phone. “Pete gets real bitchy if I keep him waiting,” you say. “Especially when he wants to talk.”
“Are you sure?” Alyssa says, gesturing at the window. “Dude it’s pouring out.”
“I’ll be alright.”
Alyssa walks you out and hugs you goodbye. She shuts the screen door but stays behind it to watch you go. She’s always done that. Any time she drops someone off she waits to make sure they get inside safely, too. You always saw it as some bullshit affectation. Like she wanted you to know she’s that kind of person more than she wanted to know you were okay. But maybe you’re just an asshole.
You walk over to your bike and stand there for a second, letting your hair get sopping wet as the two of you watch each other.
Alyssa waves with a weak smile from behind the screen door. You’re sure there was something else you should have said or done.
* * *
The door is locked and the spare key isn’t under the mat. You’re jiggling the knob and knocking hard. Kicking the door with your combat boots. The rain’s letting up to a drizzle but it’s freezing. Your clothes are soaked right through, clinging in heavy slabs to your numbed body.
It occurs to you that this is not your home. You have been staying here every night for a year and you still don’t own a key. Whenever you go anywhere he makes you leave the spare under the mat. He lets you know that when he gets home before you he checks to make sure you didn’t take it with you.
You hear the TV in there.
The TV turns off. You keep kicking. You keep pounding.
A text: I fixed the toilet.
You reply, good job. open the door
There’s a thud. He’s thrown something. Sometimes he’s such a baby. A big thirty-six-year-old baby with a 401(k) that likes to choke you during sex.
During therapy about six months ago you compared white men to dogs. They’re too stupid to even realize what they’re capable of, you said. Like when a big dog thinks it’s a little dog and knocks everything over trying to jump into your lap. The therapist asked how you reconciled those feelings with your relationship to Pete. The therapist asked if you ever considered that his actions were intentional, not incidental.
That was your last session.
It was clogged full of rubbers, says Pete’s next message. You’re not getting back in here.
Duck off or I swear to god I’ll call the cops
You pound on the door again. You run to the side of the house, to a window where you can make out his figure from the back—“What about my stuff? Pete!”
He texts, What stuff? U don’t own shit, when’s the last time you paid for anything
He’s right. All you’ve got in there are ripped up band shirts and thrift store flannel. You only own one pair of shoes, the ones you’re wearing. The phone is his. Even the bike is his.
Maybe he’ll calm down in a few days. Maybe he won’t shut off your phone again. You can explain, you always do. You have problems. But you love him. Your parents just didn’t teach you how. That’s what you’ll say. You love him. You’ll learn. You’ll promise.
* * *
Your grandfather’s drowning in his own lungs. He’s on so much morphine, he doesn’t know your name.
The nurse keeps a close eye on you. Whenever you think you’re alone, as soon as you start to relax, she magically appears. Whenever you leave the bathroom, she’s just around the corner. Maybe she doesn’t believe you’re one of his. You haven’t explained that you’re adopted and you’re not sure anyone else has. You never know how to start that conversation.
You don’t look like anyone you know and you’re always explaining yourself.
Your mother is out of town on business, the nurse says. She never mentioned you.
You say, “Sounds about right.”
You say, “I don’t even know what she does for a living.”
You don’t understand why anyone would fly all the way to Korea to buy a baby just to give up on it.
You don’t understand why anyone would fly all the way to Korea for you.
This wasn’t supposed to be sad. It wasn’t supposed to be about you. But the nurse offers you the last cup of pudding.
“What, is he gonna to miss it?” she says, pointing at your grandfather with a hooked thumb. She looks you up and down. “You could use a little fat and sugar.”
* * *
“I love you,” you say into the phone.
Pete is breathing.
“Please say something. I love you. Let me fix it.”
You are standing in the hall outside the room your grandfather is dying in. Pete calls your name for the first time since Thursday. “Catherine,” he says, “you’re a fuckin mess and it’s not cute anymore.”
“I know. I’m a stupid piece of shit. But please I’ll do anything. I love you.”
He laughs dryly. “It’s like you wreak havoc for a living. Do you know how hard I work? Like, actually work, not the pathetic little side gigs you do? I feed you, make sure you don’t puke it up. I send you to therapy, I pay for your meds, I pay for your phone, I even give you spending money. And for what.” His voice is a cruel staccato. He doesn’t even sound angry anymore. It’s gone beyond that.
“You’re a black hole. You’re like the Bermuda Triangle. You destroy everything you touch.”
You lean back against the wall. The phone is hot against your face and your hands are shaking. You think about the sheer power of a black hole’s gravitational pull. The way it rips apart celestial bodies, its titanic capacity for hunger.
“Just give me another chance,” you say.
You think about the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon—there’s actually no great mystery to it. The region is a heavily traveled shipping lane and the phenomenon nothing but statistical saturation. Math.
“I’ve given you plenty.”
You think about the icy logic of its destruction ascending to mythology, how people project chaos onto what is actually quite simple because the natural order of things is too brutal to accept at face value.
“I can get better. I’m getting better.”
You think about how big an airplane is and how big the ocean is that one can just vanish inside it.
“No. You’re much worse,” Pete says.
He hangs up.
The ocean doesn’t need excuses. The ocean explains nothing.
You stare into the grain of the hardwood floor wondering what exactly you could have done different, and when, to prevent all this hurt. Before the reckless Tinder dates and the drugs, before Pete, before Alyssa, before high school, before, before, how far back would you have to go?
You slip back into your grandfather’s room. There’s a certain calm to the rhythmic noise of the machines. You don’t know how any of it works, but you do know that they’re keeping him alive until someone decides they shouldn’t. It’s comforting to know there’s an end in sight. It also terrifies you to know that the end could come before anything nice ever happens again.
A flaccid IV bag drips morphine into your grandfather’s bloodstream as you run a finger down the papery, sun-spotted skin of his arm. His fingers flutter for a second. He blinks. His milky blue eyes are staring straight up.
Does he see you? Does he know your name right now?
You take his hand in yours, cradling it like a child, and softly rest your face against his palm.
His pulse is weak through the thin skin of his wrist. Weak and frayed. A low whisper. But it’s there, tapping away at you like a gentle reminder.
Let me in. Let me in.
“I love you,” you say.
sŭng is a writer and interdisciplinary artist from Korea. They are the author of What About the Rest of Your Life (Perfect Day Publishing) and Flowers Are for Pussies (Ghost City Press). Their work has appeared in Rattle, Kweli Journal, Contrary, The James Franco Review, The Wanderer, and Crab Fat Magazine.
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