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Lifesavers

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When I met G I knew he’d figure in my life heavily, but I had no idea if our association would be sad or happy, ultimately—and I still don’t know which it will be, ultimately.

https://www.guernicamag.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/bayblanket-Top-min.jpg
Kim Dorland, Bay Blanket #3, 2014. Oil and acrylic on linen over wood panel, 72 x 96 in. © Kim Dorland.

I feel stuck and gross, missing G, the married guy I fell in love with stupidly. I’m staring at my Gmail Draft Box trying to work up the nerve to send him the email I wrote, or to delete it. To do one or the other. This sad email, which may never be seen by anyone, is symbolic of my love. Then again, everything in the world is symbolic of something.

*                      *                     *

I recall a name from years ago: Arthur Head. This is a real person, but since I never met him, he was always (for me) just a symbol. The one he was a real person for was Susannah, from my old job at the corporation. She liked to tell stories about Arthur Head to me and our friend Katie, to ease the boredom of work.

Susannah worked in the call center, I in the mailroom, and Katie in lobby reception. When it was time to leave for the day, Katie and I would walk up to Susannah’s station and, while she still had her headset on and was talking with some client, tease her. I’d slide in next to her, pushing half her ass off the chair, and grunt into her hair, “It’s me, princess. It’s Arthur Head.”

Katie would jump up and down in front of us and go, “I’m Arthur Head! I want to be your boyfriend now! Will you marry me?”

Arthur was a boy who had been obsessed with Susannah at art school. He used to draw pictures on notepaper of her as he thought she might look naked. He’d dip these in the campus fountain until the ink ran and the notes turned to pulp, claiming the water was symbolic of the tears he shed for her. Then, Arthur would wad the wet, disintegrated notes in his fist and toss them at Susannah’s dorm, just below her window, making bits of wet paper stick between the bricks.

After work, at the lounge where we drank, Susannah would sometimes confess that she wanted to fall in love with a pairs figure skater, a man who could make her fly above a sheet of ice and land safely. “Not that I’d ask him to throw me,” she’d clarify, sorrow radiating from her dark eyes. “I’d just want to know that he could, if he wanted to.” She added, “He doesn’t even have to want to.”

Katie would pretend the salt and pepper shakers were Susannah and the man. She’d make the pepper shaker toss the salt shaker in the air; the salt shaker tumbled from the glass tabletop to the carpet. “Yes, Barry, do it again!” Katie said, in the voice of the salt shaker.

I frowned at Katie and said, “Stop that. We’ll get kicked out of here.”

“Oh?” said Susannah. “Should we stop writing on the napkins, too?” She and Katie gave me a hard glance. In front of me was a cloth napkin that I had been writing on with a felt-tip pen. It said, I’m aching for your sweet sweet pot-o-butter (vagina).

I muttered, “Do as I say, not as I do.” That was an adage I used often back then. My friends had come to expect it from me.

*                      *                     *

When I met G I knew he’d figure in my life heavily, but I had no idea if our association would be sad or happy, ultimately—and I still don’t know which it will be, ultimately. I do know that I can see G very clearly, even though we’re apart. I can imagine him at the edge of his bed putting his shoes on, lacing himself in tight, pleased to feel the shoe’s instep cradle the arch of his foot. I can see the light that comes into his windows after a snowfall, into the windows of the house he shares with his wife, J, and I can see him, shoes on now, walk past J as she lies on the couch with a magazine. He tweaks her toe without looking at her, feels the soft weave of her sock, and leaves for work. I can see J’s feet crossed on the armrest of the couch as if they were mine. I can see the back of G’s head, retreating; his purposeful walk. He bangs the door behind him thinking That’s my house I just walked out of. My house, with everything precious of mine inside it.

If he loved me, he would not think that. But if he doesn’t love me, why am I so sure I know what he is thinking?

*                      *                     *

Along with Susannah and Katie, I was fired from the corporation a long time ago. Since leaving, I’ve become a real mail carrier. I walk a city route. Where I used to consider when to admit vendors through the loading dock, and on which floor each executive sat, I now consider trees; curbs; keyholes and keys. I wonder if G ever thinks there could be something precious to him outside his own house, and if that thing could be a girl who is a mail carrier, wheeling her mailbag in front of her, wearing a rumpled blue uniform. If he can see her walking, looking at the ironwork on the outsides of apartment buildings, thinking of him.

There is a certain van, a big red Econoliner, that I have come to associate with G. It belongs to a company named Sacco Brothers Heating. The van is solid, jaunty and cool, dirty but not filthy. It looks like the kind of van that would be fun to drive, once you got used to the way it handled, which was maybe a little rough. Plus it would be fun to ride up that high. The van is tall.

Whenever I see the van, I inspect it to make sure it is parked all right, close enough to the curb that its mirrors won’t get clipped. If the van is on the uptown side of the street when I see it, this means that G is happy. Downtown side, sad. Every now and then, when I pass it, I drag my finger along the paint and clear off a line of dust. There is a pair of plastic handcuffs—flimsy, neon green—that hangs from its rearview mirror. The handcuffs are only a joke.

She put on her coat and walked out, leaving him standing there in a corner of the café with a syrupy cock and no one to suck it.

In one of Susannah’s anecdotes, Arthur Head once cornered her during the afternoon lull at the coffeehouse where they both were baristas. The way Susannah told it, Arthur was so in love with her that he said he had to show her his cock. (“He definitely said ‘cock,’ not ‘dick,’” she was careful to note.) “I need you to see my cock right now,” said Arthur Head, and then he showed her. Next, he took a bottle of hazelnut syrup off the counter and drizzled syrup on his cock. On the topside of the shaft of it.

“Go ahead, lick it off,” Arthur said.

“Actually, I don’t think I will,” said Susannah. She put on her coat and walked out, leaving him standing there in a corner of the café with a syrupy cock and no one to suck it.

“It’s me, Arthur Head!” Katie would say in the lobby, when we met her at the front reception desk to go out to lunch. “I’m in love! I’m in love with you! Let’s go get some pizza!”

*                      *                     *

Katie was disarmingly sweet in those days. She’d sit behind the reception desk singing to herself, or writing notes down in her music workbook. After a guest came in for his guest badge, before he stepped into the black-doored elevator, Katie would sometimes offer him a Lifesaver from her personal roll. She offered candy to the security guards, too, and the guys who worked in food service. The only people she never gave it to were the sales reps, who walked too fast and were always checking their watches, pissed off.

Once, Katie met a bike messenger who was wearing red Lycra leggings, like an evil stork. After she gave him a Lifesaver he gave her his card—I couldn’t believe a bike messenger had a card. She called him; then, after their coffee date, they made out on the subway. “And he was kind of weird about it,” she told Susannah and me. We were all sitting in the park, eating salads in front of the Alice in Wonderland statue.

Katie said, “He put his hand on my knee first, then he leaned in and he was really forceful about it. His mouth was really… muscular.” On her pale-freckled face, her smile flickered, then died. Thinking of Katie, her sweetness and smallness, being overwhelmed by the stork-like Lycra man, in front of all those gawking commuters, filled me with revulsion.

“You can’t keep seeing that dude,” I said, and dipped my seven-grain roll into the puddle of ranch dressing in my plastic salad bowl. I waved the roll in Katie’s face, flinging dots of ranch everywhere. “You hear me? Never see that dude again.”

Susannah smoothed her long hair back serenely, gathered it into a ponytail. She asked me, “Do you say that because of Dunk?”

I bit into the ranch-soggy roll and pushed my bottom lip out at both my friends, solemnly. “Yes, I say that because of Dunk,” I said with my mouth full. Do as I say was understood. Not as I do.

*                      *                     *

Duncan—Dunk—was a sales rep whom I’d made out with a couple of times on the subway, as well as at work in the sales reps’ closet. The affair had not ended well, and when I saw Dunk now a glance of hatred usually passed between us before I threw his mail on his desk.

The most pleasant conversation Duncan and I had ever had was about Susannah and Katie. People in the office always gossiped about the three of us, either because we were arty and anomalous, or because women are just naturally more interesting in groups. Dunk, not a thinking type, had just said, “Hot girls always have hot friends.” He had a face that was too young for his stiff suit and tie, a little button nose and fat cheeks.

“Yeah, I know those girls are hot,” I had told him. “They’re a lot of fun, too.”

“I think,” Duncan had said, fingering my ear, “that Suzy is more beautiful, and Katie is more cute.”

I’d replied, “Susannah studied to be a sculptor. Katie is a musician.”

*                      *                     *

Once, while we were still coworkers, Susannah took me on a tour of the city where she went to art school (Philadelphia), taking care to show me everywhere she’d been and what she’d done there.

“I had sex in this theater during Cirque du Soleil,” she said. “Row L.”

“See that low counter? I had sex on it,” she said, pointing near the back of the coffeehouse she used to work in with Arthur Head. It wasn’t Arthur she had sex with there, of course, but she said he may have been watching.

In fact, Arthur’s apartment was to be the last stop on the tour. I would finally meet him. We were going to eat pasta and drink beers, and maybe watch a movie if there was time. Arthur collected hentai DVDs and thought we might like to see some.

It never bothered Susannah that Crispy couldn’t figure-skate—so she claimed, at least.

Susannah is in a cohabitation now. At this moment they are home together in front of Game of Thrones. One July 4th she hooked up with a video artist named Christine, or Crispy, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair; they’ve been a couple ever since. Christine is into Kubrick movies and sour-cream-and-jalapeño pretzel nuggets by Pretzel Pete, and she likes to shout things like Go big or go home!, semi-ironically. Susannah began calling her Crispy a week after she met her, because her friends called her that and so did other people who adored her. And Susannah adored her. It never bothered Susannah that Crispy couldn’t figure skate—so she claimed, at least. This used to confuse me, but finally I understood that the throwing had always just been symbolic. It was her girlfriend’s love that would carry Susannah and glide her along, even let her take flight.

*                      *                     *

G kicks the side of his house to knock the snow off his shoes. He lays one hand flat against the aluminum siding, feeling it cool his palm through his glove. He kicks the house over and over, harder and louder, becoming entranced by the whap-whap-whap sound. The kicking is very strong, almost violent, and once he realizes this he also realizes he’s enjoying it. He switches to the other foot, sets in kicking again, and kicks so loud that J comes to meet him at the front door. She doesn’t open the door. You idiot, says J, you’re going to scuff the siding all up! Cut it out! Her back is turned to him before he says he’s sorry. She is walking away into the living room.

The email I want to write to G isn’t long or overwrought. I stare at its words knowing they are innocuous. They are: How are you holding up? The danger about this draft, should it become an email, wouldn’t be the words in it. Because I don’t really need to hear his answer. I already know how he’s holding up.

What I don’t know: Is he holding up this way, are things this way with him, because of what he has done with me? Or were they always like this?

However things were before, I made them worse. Maybe, though—I insult myself to say—the worsening was brief, and led to a reversal of badness, a bettering. When he remembers me, at any time in the future, G might think: That girl saved my marriage.

When I flatter myself, I imagine he thinks: That girl wrecked my marriage and my life.

Will I trash this email? I stare at my Draft Box some more. I go into the sentence and delete the question mark and then retype it.

*                      *                     *

The mailroom was the right place for me to work. I liked to rove around the office, talking to people only when I felt like it. If I wanted to I could be invisible, anonymous—I could turn people’s inter-office envelopes over in my hands, scrutinizing their handwriting and exclamation points, know almost everything about them without them knowing anything about me. Now that I’m a postal worker it’s the same way. It’s important only that I walk the line: get to places on schedule, keep everything flat and untampered-with. I did this at the corporation too, almost always. I walked the line.

But I did talk. If something occurred to me to say, I’d always just say it—stuff like, “Why are you looking so sad today? Aren’t you still the head of web advertising? You make six figures! Be happy!” I never had any tact, but tact is not highly prized in the world of business. People at the corporation thought I was “sassy”; they called me a “smart-ass” and chuckled when I came by.

In my current job, I am sometimes seized with the urge to write on a piece of mail. This is illegal. When I do it, the letter I choose is something that will be thrown out, a sweepstakes notice or a campaign flyer. I take my pen out of my pocket and write a few words in a corner where no one is likely to see them. Show me the goodies, angelcake! That kind of thing.

*                      *                     *

During my tour of Philly with Susannah, Arthur Head kept calling her. After our first hour in town, he had left three voicemails, asking did she make it in safely, what kind of pasta sauce was her favorite, and when was she getting to his place. With each voicemail I became more excited that I’d actually meet him. I wondered about his home, if he had his naked pictures of Susannah all over the walls.

I entertained a fantasy, just for the length of that block, which involved Arthur forgetting Susannah and falling in love with me instead.

“What does Arthur Head look like?” I asked her, for the first time, as we walked up the street with frozen coffee drinks.

Susannah said, “He’s actually a nice-looking guy. Nice body, good skin. If he could relax for five seconds he wouldn’t be bad at all.”

“His cock, when he poured syrup on it. How was that?”

“It was on the big side of medium, or the small side of big,” she admitted.

I entertained a fantasy, just for the length of that block, which involved Arthur forgetting Susannah and falling in love with me instead. He’d call me every night at the same time, and sing me a lullaby over the phone as I was drifting to sleep.

*                      *                     *

My thoughts about G and J aren’t just notions; they aren’t just musings. They are images that come to my mind unbidden. Besides G’s and J’s house, I see their street, their jobs, their counseling sessions, and sometimes, alarmingly, the hospital. I don’t know who is in the hospital—perhaps this is just where they go for counseling—but I’m very scared that a hospital has to be in my thoughts at all. What does it mean? I can think of a few possibilities, all of them too troubling to ponder in detail.

1. Suicide attempt
2. Illness of a parent (Death of a parent?)
3. Something about pregnancy
4. Something about cancer

One day recently, I was entering a building, bumping the mailbag’s wheels up the stoop, when I noticed something was off about the red van. It had been vandalized: across its back doors the word FAZE was sprayed in loose script. Instantly I thought of the hospital, of a plain white room with a beige curtain in it, that same post-snowfall light beaming in through the window, making a pale square on the linoleum. Until I reprimanded myself for my stupidity I could hardly breathe, looking at those letters. I thought my heart, like the doors, bore an indelible stain.

Luckily it was Katie’s building I was going into, and she came downstairs. “So I’m going on a sexy-Internet date!” she told me as I unlocked the block of mailboxes and started stuffing. Katie says that being fired from the corporation was the best thing that ever happened to her, work-wise. She now stays at home giving piano lessons to grade-school kids. I hear the hesitant notes floating through her window, once in awhile, when I pass.

“You’re into that?” I asked. “The sexy Internet?”

“You’re going to die,” Katie said. “The guy I have a date with—it’s Aleksey Schmidt!”

“What? Are you kidding me?” I paused in my mailbox-stuffing process, waved someone’s Con Ed bill in the air.

“No!” she said. She bounced up and down on her tiptoes. “It’s totally Aleksey. It’s him a hundred percent!” Her mug of coffee was resting on the bottom step of her staircase, steaming. She went and sat down with it and sipped it.

Aleksey Schmidt used to work at the corporation with us. He was the head of foodservice. Susannah, Katie, and I all had crushes on him while he worked there, but Katie liked him the most. He was the person who got us fired.

“But wait!” I said. “Aleksey Schmidt is married with kids, isn’t he?”

“His profile says he’s single,” Katie shrugged. “When I wrote him and asked if that was true he said technically yes. What do you think that means? Technically yes?”

“Katie!” I said. “Be careful! Everyone lies, that’s the point of those sites.”

“Oh, but I believe him,” she said. She was sitting on her stairs with coffee steam blowing around her face. “Why would he lie? He was always such a line-walker.”

I said, “I can think of one time when he didn’t walk the line at all.”

“That was different,” sighed Katie. “That time, we were all not walking the line.”

I didn’t tell Katie my latest thoughts of G, or about how when I see the Sacco Brothers’ van I stare at it, trying to install him in my mind. She knows about him, but I don’t talk about him to her.

I shut the trough of mailboxes and locked it. I’d stacked Katie’s mail separately; the top letter in the stack was a renewal notice for her dog-breeds magazine. I took my pen out of my pocket and wrote on the front of the renewal notice: Sock it to me, my fuckcrumpet. Big kisses, Aleksey. Handing the stack of mail to her, I said, “See that? I just committed a federal offense.”

This was last week. Katie is on her date with Aleksey Schmidt tonight, now, while I sit here in front of my Draft Box hating myself.

*                      *                     *

As I’m looking at my fingers on the keyboard, the phone rings. It’s Susannah. It’s been awhile since I’ve spoken to her, and we start giggling right away. She charms me with her clear, well-modulated voice, the same one that made her so good at her job in the call center. She was always winning Most Trouble Tickets Resolved awards, given out bimonthly, which she would take home and shred up for papier-mâché. Susannah did become a sculptor.

“Isn’t Game of Thrones still on?” I ask.

“I can guess how it ends,” she says. “I’m in the kitchen.” Then, as if addressing someone else, she shouts, “Crispy has a cheese meatloaf in the oven and I don’t trust it! It smells funny!” She does this a lot, teases Christine in the third person while she’s in earshot. I hear something unintelligible yelled back at her. She laughs.

“Cheese has no business in meatloaf,” I say. They have low counters all around their kitchen, and a low stove, so that Christine can cook while in the wheelchair. To me their home looks chic, with its short furniture and the monochromatic sculptures lying around in all stages of completion. There usually is a gallery show coming up.

“How’s your writing?” Susannah asks. “Pornographic?”

I tell her yes, because my writing is always pornographic. I can never keep sex out of it. I want it to be interesting, and sex is the only thing that keeps my own interest long enough for me to see it through.

She says, “Thank God.” Then she tells me that Arthur Head has posted a comment on her Wall, asking her to run away with him to the Land of the Ass Penetrators.

Cracking up, I say, “What does that even mean?”

“It means I’m in a very happy relationship and he has no idea how to behave,” she says, sharply, unamused. “Still. After all this time.”

I sigh, “Oh, Arthur!” I’m glad to hear news of him.

There’s a pause. She asks, “How are you?”

Susannah knows a few things about G: that he lives far away, that he’s married, that we met when we were both at an outdoor movie screening. I could talk to her about him right now. I could tell her, right now, that I have never wanted a person this much. I could tell her about his hands. I don’t, though, and it’s not because I think she would mind knowing. It’s because I have said it all before, or some variation on it, too many times about too many other men. I don’t want G to go down as just one of those infatuations, even though I know that’s probably all he is.

So instead of talking about G, I bring up Katie’s date with Aleksey Schmidt.

“Yeah, that’s going to be interesting,” Susannah says. She never sounds surprised.

*                      *                     *

Aleksey Schmidt was wiry and skinny, with thick sideburns that, in those days, we found impressive. He’d walk around the reception lobby in his green apron, yelling at the kitchen staff. “Stack the yogurts like I asked you to, not your own way,” he’d say. He’d say, “I don’t want to see bananas out with brown spots. I have a zero brown-spot tolerance.”

If the coffee had sat out in the coffee tank for more than an hour, Aleksey would make the guys dump it and brew a fresh batch. This was our favorite thing about Aleksey.

The day he got us fired was the day Susannah and I returned from Philadelphia. We walked into the office with a bottle of good tequila, a gift for Katie. But when we burst into the lobby we saw Katie slump-shouldered over her music book, crying. Her roll of Lifesavers had only one Lifesaver left in it; on the desk before her was a ragged spiral of paper and foil.

Ignoring the clients coming in to be received, Susannah wedged herself in behind the reception desk and put her arm around Katie. I stood in front of them both, my fists on either side of the lobby phone. I yelled, “My God, what happened?”

“The bike guy came back,” Katie told us. “The bike messenger. He said some mean things about me, really mean things.”

Outraged, Susannah and I gave her the tequila bottle and made a date to open it that day at lunch, in the sales reps’ closet.

The party had to be brief—we only had an hour. I ran out to the deli for limes and salt, then the three of us passed the tequila jug around the closet, sitting on some suitcases that were about to be taken on business trips. Katie and Susannah both knew that this was the closet where I used to make out with Duncan, but this was part of the fun.

When we’d been drinking for fifteen minutes, along came Aleksey Schmidt, looking for a spare stack of napkins he had stashed in there. His dark, sleepy eyes passed from Susannah to Katie to me as we whispered to each other, laughing, handing the jug over and bringing it to our lips. “What,” he smiled, “I wasn’t invited?”

He knew how to throw the lime wedge in the air after a shot, and catch it in his teeth.

So we invited him. We wanted to make the most of it. Aleksey Schmidt put his arm around us one at a time, gossiped about his family and the kitchen staff, took swigs from Katie’s bottle and sucked salt off Katie’s arm, making her laugh. He knew how to throw the lime wedge in the air after a shot, and catch it in his teeth. I could see he was really cheering Katie up—the last thing she said was, “Hey, I have one Lifesaver left. It’s an orange one. Do you want it?” But she took it herself and arranged it with the ring hugging the very tip of her tongue, then stuck her tongue out at him, as if daring him to eat it out of her mouth.

He was leaning closer, considering this, when the closet door opened and a chubby kid in suspenders and shirtsleeves walked in. Dunk.

“Shooters?” he sniffed. “This what foodservice gets up to?”

I told Dunk he was a tiny-dick creep. I guess I had had a lot to drink.

There was a sickening pause that, when I think of it now, seems much too short. Then: “Relax, Duncan,” Aleksey Schmidt said. “I’m taking these three down to HR. Now.” He and Duncan exchanged a leer that gave me a chill; the way Dunk scrutinized Aleksey’s green apron, with a lime peel still in the pocket, made me feel bad for Aleksey. That feeling subsided when Aleksey took the giant bottle from Katie’s hands, placed it on the shelf above the coat rack. As Aleksey escorted us out of the closet and toward the back elevator to Human Resources, I saw Dunk grab the bottle. He carried it to his desk with him under his arm—the last thing I noticed was that he had a sweat stain on his shirt between his shoulder blades. Then we were fired.

*                      *                     *

Susannah and I had bought the tequila bottle at her favorite liquor store in Philly, the one closest to the Mütter Museum. This was just before we were supposed to go see Arthur Head. As we shopped, and picked out the best tequila the place had available in the largest bottle, I was envisioning Arthur. I imagined clear, smooth skin and blue eyes that darted rapidly back and forth. I decided he would be handsome in a sad way, which I think is the best way for a guy to be handsome.

The liquor store clerk winked at us twice, once for each of us, as he put the bottle in a bag. While we were walking back up the steps (the store was below street level), Susannah said, “He was all right. Do you think he could do a salchow?” Her phone beeped, telling her she had some more voicemails.

During our time inside the liquor store, Arthur had left six messages on Susannah’s phone. When she told me this I didn’t believe her, so she passed the phone to me and let me listen to them all. I won’t repeat them verbatim, but I can summarize:

1: I made pesto, hope that’s okay.
2: In case pesto isn’t okay, I can go to the market for a jar of Ragú. Actually let me do that right now.
3. I changed my mind about going to the market; you might call while I’m there and I wouldn’t want to miss your call.
4. I have plenty of beer at my place, by the way, so don’t worry about bringing your own.
5. I am going into the bathroom now, so if you call I won’t be able to pick up, but I’ll call you back in like five minutes.
6. I have returned from the bathroom.

*                      *                     *

His voice was plaintive and reedy. There was a rattle in it. The sun hit our faces full on, and I realized something very important very suddenly. A SEPTA bus whooshed past us.

I steered Susannah’s shoulders around, making her face me. “Listen,” I said. “We’re not going. You will not do this to yourself.”

“Do what?” she asked.

I cried, “Come on! This guy is a lunatic!”

“But it’s funny, though,” she argued. “It’s not like he’s dangerous.”

“But it is like he’s a fucking lunatic!” I said. “Do you really want to spend an hour or more with his insanity? Don’t you know we’ll all be miserable?”

Susannah paused, looked at her feet, then at me, then her feet again.

“You know I’m right,” I said.

“I know,” she said. We hugged. We walked on down the street and Susannah turned her phone off.

That was why I never met Arthur Head. And these days, every time I think about emailing G, I also think of that moment, of how strong I was and how sure. I think of how happy Susannah is now, how sweet a life she and Christine have made, and how if we had chosen to visit Arthur Head that day, her life might have been less satisfying. This thought keeps me from sending the email. It makes me get up and sort the recycling or turn the radio on instead, and go to bed relieved.

*                      *                     *

But today, after my route was finished, something happened that made me feel that same feeling I’d had on the street in Philly, an intense sure feeling. I saw the red Econoliner, SACCO BROS. HEATING on its flank, parked on the downtown side of the street with its nose facing down the hill. When I took a walk around it I saw that the driver’s-side window had been smashed in. Cubes of green glass were all over the sidewalk. The plastic handcuffs on the mirror swung in the breeze, and the bottom handcuff was open. I had never seen it open before.

I wish I could say this didn’t mean anything to me. But it did—it does—and so I ran up the hill to the subway knowing I would email G tonight. That was a few hours ago. I knew I’d hesitate, that I’d talk myself out of it a billion times, but I also knew that I would—I will—email this man, this married guy I fell in love with stupidly, tonight. That it would be a stupid thing to do and that I would do it.

At the top of the hill, an ambulance screamed by. I got there in time to see its rear bumper and the word EMERGENCY. As I charged down the stairs into the train station, took off my USPS jacket and threw it over my shoulder, I could imagine G thinking: That girl wrecked my marriage and saved my life.

*                      *                     *

I’m looking at the Draft Box. I delete the sentence I’ve written, asking how he’s holding up, and replace it with: I miss you. Come see me, please, whenever you can. I think about you all the time and I know you think about me, so let’s not be ridiculous about it. Love. I delete Love and write I love you, then delete I love you.

The phone rings. It is Katie, her voice low and disappointed.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” I turn away from my laptop for the moment.

“Aleksey’s acting like a douche,” Katie says. “We had Indian food. He is still married, you know. He told me he and Leeanne are doing a trial separation. But I don’t know why he’d say to me that he was single. Why would he say that?”

I say, “Leeanne? That’s her name?” Then I say, “Oh, God, that douche!”

Katie sighs, “We have such a history, though. I know he wants to make it up to me, the firing. Wasn’t he just young and stupid? Weren’t we all just stupid?”

I think, Of course we were. But I tell her something else. “Katie, you were never stupid,” I say. “Protect yourself. You are much too good to be dating Aleksey Schmidt, no matter how cute he is or how separated. Right?”

“I don’t know anymore,” says Katie, sadly.

I think of our souls, our hearts. I think thoughts of hope. “Stop seeing him,” I say. “Katie, it’s a trap. Please. If you go out with him you will regret it. You’ll feel bad about it forever. Every day, you’ll wake up feeling bad about it, until one day you’re dead. You don’t want that, do you? Katie! Get out!”

There is a pause. We listen to each other breathe. Then I hear a jangle of music notes: “Whoa!” Katie says. She has struck the piano keys with her elbow to make me laugh. I do laugh.

But Katie, I think, please get out. Stop seeing him.

Forget him now.

Do as I say.

G

Author Image

Amanda Nazario is a graduate of New York University and CUNY City College. Her fiction has been published in Harpur Palate, failbetter, Alligator Juniper, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere; she writes nonfiction for The Weeklings. She is the host of “Nazario Scenario” on Give the Drummer Radio at WFMU.

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