It’s freezing here in Massachusetts, and the wind is, as they say, *wicked.* Strange: the calendar claims it’s Spring.
Spring is a time of transition. Of Leavings: leaving the icy clutches of winter (please, oh lord—soon); leaving the cocoon of couch and afghan; leaving holidays where excess—of food, of gifts, of celebration—is both a feature and the true point. Leaving the dark, the dull, the closed, the buried, the cold.
In honor of Spring, we are offering you six stories about Leavings. You will probably find it ironic, when you read them, that the one whose title says it all is the only one that really doesn’t fit the subtler nuances of the theme as I’ve stated it.
Which is what I get for reaching so hard to find a common point, so I can extol it in the artificial construct of this editorial.
My hands are numb on my keyboard, and the little pine outside is whipping at my window. The maple in my neighbor’s yard claws desperately, leaflessly, at a dead grey sky. The puddles in the driveway are glass; the yard, cement.
Screw it—you read these terrific stories. Me? I’m…leaving.
Copyright © 2006 Sue O’Neill
By Mary Miller
Reggie stays up all night to watch me sleep. I know because I catch him, his eyes glowing in the dark. He watches me because I won’t be around for long. He watches me because I’m the consistency of vapor. At the pool, he’s wearing a baseball cap pulled low over wet eyes, drinking vodka from a Coke can so he can take it up to the architecture building later and get drunk while he works. “Jesus, I love you,” he says, lying on the concrete with his feet in the water. It’s late. I want to go home and go to sleep but I feel obligated to pretend I care because I’ve been sleeping with him, and in his world, girls are supposed to care about the men they let enter them. “It’s good to love Jesus,” I say.
“You’re such a bitch.”
He doesn’t see me wave goodbye. I climb the stairs to my apartment taking two at a time. On the balcony, I look down and he’s still lying there churning the water. I smoke a cigarette, watch him through the bars. Then I go inside and sit on the stiff couch that came with the place. My roommate Annie says, “You know, he was over here earlier. I fixed him a sandwich.” “Don’t fix him any more sandwiches,” I say.
“He was hungry.”
“Everyone’s hungry. We can’t feed them all.”
I go to my room then and shut the door and lock it because my other roommate brings home strange men. The last one read my palm and said I would die soon.
I met Reggie at a party the first week of school. I was there with my roommate Hadley, the one who brings home strange men. She said, “That guy is burning a hole in you,” and it had been a long time since someone burned a hole in me. I went home with him that night. His bed was a mattress on the floor and there were clothes and towels everywhere. His sheets smelled like oranges. I held his penis in my hand like a thick rope of sausage. “I don’t think it will fit anywhere,” I said. “That’s okay,” he said. He didn’t say, “Let’s try.” He didn’t say, “It will,” or explain that the vagina was designed to stretch to accommodate a baby’s head. I woke up around four because I had to use the bathroom and he was propped up on one elbow looking at me with those huge purplish-white love eyes. “You’re an angel,” he said.
“I don’t like that kind of talk.”
“But you are. You should believe it.”
And every night we’ve spent together since has been the same: the nocturnal staring, the angel talk, me peeing and then having trouble going back to sleep because I can feel his eyes struggling to memorize my face before it’s gone.
Copyright © 2006 Mary Miller
Light of Day
by Joanne Comito
You wake up thinking of water. You open your eyes and squint; the sun is unrelenting, shining in through the front window, hard and bright. Every inch of your body feels pummeled and tender and you wince as you sit up.
You don’t see him at first, but you catch his smell—stale smoke and sweat. Every inch of the filthy room, the hard dirty floor where you slept, is exposed, and you feel overcome by nausea. You touch your cheekbone — it feels warm and raw and you wonder if anything’s broken but it doesn’t matter right now as much as the water. You stand, swaying and dizzy, breathing slowly till your head clears and then you start moving.
As you drink, you imagine yourself stepping into the midday sun, taking the car, just leaving. You see yourself as a normal person, a person who wakes before noon, a person whose body is clear and smooth and painless. There are the keys; it would be easy, you think, and you feel suddenly buoyant with possibility. You see your purse and your pulse quickens, but you stop first and look, to make sure he’s sleeping. Just quickly, you steal a look, and he’s still lying there, heavy and unmoving, near the couch. There’s something funny about the way his body looks, though, and quietly, you move closer.
He’s so still. You lean in, folding over him to listen, to watch his chest. Breathe, Billy, you think, poking at him now with one finger. He just lies there, stiff almost, and then you see it—the gun, just a few feet away. You can imagine its feel, its cool smoothness in your palm and now your heart is beating fast, so fast you can’t think. You try to go back, to make your mind work, but it’s not coming and you start muttering, “Oh Jesus, Oh God, Billy, wake up, please wake up!” You’re trying to turn him over to see where the blood is, to find a bullet hole, but he’s so heavy he falls back with a small thud and you lay your head down on his still chest, begging him to please, please just wake up.
That’s when the hand grabs you and you rear back in shock. It’s him, alive, that face laughing up at you. “Fooled ya, didn’t I?” His breath is foul with last night’s gin and his eyes are small with scorn. For a minute you’re stunned and still but then relief, sweet and fast, shoots through you. Your body slumps down next to his, you feel him breathing, feel his warmth, and you think, of course, he’s warm. Of course.
He grabs your arm, hard. “Say it.”
“I can’t live without you,” you answer. He loosens his grip, laughing again, and you lie there, your eyes closed against the hard light of the sun, knowing that it’s true.
Copyright © 2006 Joanne Comito
The Compliments They Slip You
By Alan Beard
The compliments they slip you, little pearls of poison to make you drowsy, to take you under, make the currents and eddies take you down. His fingers like seaweed, light but insistent, only drag you down to shipwreck.
“Grow up,” she said to me, after I “stole” her husband. “Why don’t you grow up.”
Yet, after a while, I couldn’t make him relax, he got self-conscious with me, at sex always watching himself, measuring the tick of his cock. After, his feet near my head, I’d touch the sock imprints above his ankles.
The teacher took my poem, stapled it on yellow backing paper, laminated it, and put it on the wall. I remember the muddy air in his laugh when he came back from break supervision, when he peered over my shoulder at my words. I remember the moustaches he sometimes had.
When I left school, the day I left, he pounced with his bag full of compliments and promises. I was happy strong enough to burst my knees and elbows like a fat man his buttons. His sex raced through me, even away from him. We got a flat as I lazed a pre-uni year away: him leaving for school each morning; leaving me criss-crossed with lines of grey sperm.
He didn’t go back to his wife with the white, thick features and shocked-looking eyes, but on to someone new, this time nearer his own age. If you can fall in, you can fall out, he patiently explained to me.
I drink—wine, whisky, Benolyn—and drowse in front of the fire, remember before him, boys’ hands on me, stroking as if I’m a cat, murmurs, kisses. I watch it now as if I’m inside a tank of water, my hair flowing upwards, electric shock hair, yellow like the hair of women in cop shows and adverts; the boy in the room awkward but strong, helping me out of my clothes.
Copyright © 2006 Alan Beard
The White Cat
By Gordon Grice
Summer, and me thirteen. My dad wanted to kill a white cat, a halfbreed albino that lived by night. She must have had some Siamese blood, the way she screamed. He’d stumble through the dark house and damn her mother, who’d been our barn mouser, and her unknown father. He’d fumble with his shotgun and cup his hands around his eyes at the windows. Sometimes she’d be plain in the elm, floating like a ghost, her lambent eyes locked on his before she vanished.
I loved the way she ticked the old man off. I thought of her as his personal scourge, vengeance in a veil of white fur. I didn’t hate my dad, not much. I only hated the way he fit into the life I loathed, early mornings and country music and the stripe the heavy grain bucket left in my hand when I fed the pigs. I was bristling, my muscles pulling tight, my bones aching as if they contained all my desires. When I was restless in the night I liked to hear the voice of the cat, its ripped-tin edge of murderous love.
I never told my father her lair was under an old truck among the weeds. I’d climbed out a window to find her one night when her cry came sideways to the wind. I saw her move across the corral like blown snow to her path through the weeds, carved by many passings.
The day my dad decided to start that rusted truck he hadn’t used in years, I kept quiet. Our hands dug through the dusty engine in the morning steam and came up skinned and greased. At noon we washed at the hydrant but the black still lay in the life-lines of my palms. My hands had grown long-boned and thick like his; I hated that.
After lunch I followed him back to the truck. He stepped onto the running board and into the cab. I saw scraps of his face through divots in the dusty windshield. The engine kicked but its sound was sliced by a scream that struck me before it fell within the reach of my ears. Then there was only the sputter of the truck. The left side of the hood folded back like a beetle’s wing beneath my hands. The cat’s body lay deep in the shadows, her hair darkened with blood. Her head circled in and out of darkness on a wing of the fan, every circuit bringing the black slashes of her eyes around to face me.
My dad cut the engine. I looked into his eyes through pawprints in the dust.
Copyright © 2006 Gordon Grice