The sun shines down on the lawn and the leaves rustle in an energetic show of enthusiasm.
There are footprints left in the matted-down grass. Five minutes ago those blades stood strong. This is the evidence I’m leaving. These are my marks.
I have to squint against the sun, my attempt at conspiring against her. We face off as she wrestles me in her heat, and I long for a tall refreshing glass of ice water. It’s not even summer yet.
I’ve been so hot these past few months, a complete contradiction from the coldness of my actions. My bed has been unbearable to sleep in. My sheets stick to me when I wake, as if I have been lying in a frying pan, cooking like an egg, and scrambling myself as I writhe and turn, worming through the night.
I have to get out of this state of disillusionment. I have to forget what I know.
It’s so hard to forget the things ingrained in you.
It’s harder to stop thinking about them.
Memories are a catatonic form of paranoia. They’re always there, waiting for you, like the access codes of illegal government proceedings. Like your e-mail, always building up until you delete it. You know it’s just going to be porn advertisements. But hey, maybe that’s what you wanted.
I peel the sweat off my forehead, beads decorating my hands like diamond rings, only without the engagement. I wish I had put on more deodorant; already, I feel the sticky wetness under my arms. I think I have some perfume in my purse. A Mexican shower.
The cars pass by me in the street in slow motion. They seem to be following my movements, watching me walk across the lawns with my stilettos hanging in my hands, my skirt riding in between my thighs. This is a walk of shame. But I’m not shameful.
Not for this anyway.
A man in a red convertible winks at me as he drives by at nearly ten mph. Of course he’s in his convertible. He can show off the glistening reflection of the top of his bald head. I smile at him sarcastically and give him the finger, following his car with my hand as, laughing, he passes by.
The grass squishes underneath my feet.
My shadow follows me from behind. But I guess that’s what it’s supposed to do.
Some men scream at me through their car window, whistling their pathetic catcalls.
Smile and finger.
I can’t help the catcalls. I didn’t mean to wear this skirt and cleavage-baring tank top this morning. I had worn this out last night. I didn’t mean to be walking home at 10 am. Normally I get driven home from my boyfriend’s house. But, of course, he was in no state to drive this morning.
That wasn’t my fault either, I swear.
Well, I didn’t plan on it, anyway.
And, besides, there’s nothing I can do to fix it now.
You can’t erase a memory once it’s been created. You can’t paint over it as if it were a work of art. Yes, the canvas was once blank and white. Now, it is framed and marketed and embedded into the minds of its perceivers. It’s not refundable.
The lawn ends and, as I step foot onto the adjacent driveway, the tar sears my feet like hot coals or sand on a summer day. I don’t know why I’ve chosen to walk across the lawns of this suburban neighborhood rather than the sidewalk. I think it’s the defiance. I’ve already defied so much today. Or possibly it’s the coolness of the grass juxtaposed with the punishment of the searing driveway tar. It’s possible I am ruining something beautiful — the manicured lawns — taking something that isn’t mine and using it, stealing it.
Like that other thing I took.
I can’t give either of these things back, now.
I wish I hadn’t worn heels last night. His birthday. He made me dress up. I can’t even imagine what I must look like, right now. My hair is tangled, mixed with the smell of cigarettes, mixed with the folly of sex. It was on the rug last night. We’re always switching things up. I’m pretty sure he was playing with my hair when we were lying down, bathed in the sweat I still wear.
My makeup continues dripping down my face. I can feel it. The black eyeliner writes sentences across my cheeks.
I think of his face, lying there with his eyes closed; Parker, my boyfriend, dead asleep.
Just another memory.
The grass tickles my ankles. A woman with a pudgy dog walks by me. She stares. I glare at her and scrunch my nose as the dog barks. She’s dressed in a suit, must be about to head for work, where I should be right now. I hope the dog misses when it pees.
These people don’t approve of Parker and me because I don’t live with him. I could never do that. He snores. It annoys me to death.
The car service better be there, waiting for me. I am in no mood to wait for anything, especially something that is doing me a favor. On second thought, I could use the waiting time to grab a cup of coffee because my head hurts like hell. Damn tequila. It never was my drink of choice.
I should have taken his car. He’s not going to need it anymore.
I don’t even want to think about that now.
Clumps of my hair become embossed into the back of my neck from their dampness, reminding me of those stray strands that always fall out during the shower. They would get stuck on my hands with no release except to manually place them down the drain, or collect them into a little ball waiting to dump in the toilet once the shower finished.
The lawns have ended, leaving a trail of my footprints like breadcrumbs behind, opening the path of the open road to me. I am almost at the drugstore where I’d asked for the car service to pick me up. That’s what’s wrong with the suburbs. I have to walk almost two miles before civilization gives way to urbanization. If this were New York City, the taxi would have been waiting even before I called it. But Parker just had to move to New Jersey. He just had to buy that house, hoping it would entice me to move in with him.
I knew an end to things with Parker was coming. It was obvious for three months now, sitting on the tip of my tongue. It had been like that last piece of chocolate you don’t want to eat, mocking you, just waiting for you to indulge. I had just let things happen, seeing where the road would take us. I had nothing better to do, and the sex was unbelievable.
It’s not like I’ve never had good sex before.
Or that I will never have it again.
An airplane flies low above me, coming from or heading towards Newark Airport. That’s the problem with most things these days; you can never tell if they are coming or going.
The car has been waiting for me like an obedient dog. I wrap my fingers around the door handle, the cold metal a relief.
“73rd and Lex please. Hurry because I’m sweating like road kill,” I say as I get in the car. My throat feels hoarse from all the screaming. Was it during the sex or afterwards? Ah well, doesn’t really matter now.
The driver looks at me quizzically. “Whoa, lady. Rough night?”
“Uh, yeah. I look like a heart attack. Mind if I smoke? Thanks.” I light my cigarette before he can even answer me. He better say yes because, otherwise, this is an expensive cab ride, and he would want his tip.
“I’m sorry, Miss, it’s against company policy.”
“I’ll open a window. Besides, I’m sure it smells better than I do right now.”
“Please, Miss.” I can see him peering at me through his rear view mirror, his eyes shifting off the road in a nervous fashion.
“Shouldn’t you keep your eyes on the road?” I inhale deeply and close my eyes. I want to mock him for what he can’t do. I aim out the window.
We are already on the Turnpike. He hesitates for a moment, but the car doesn’t switch lanes or head for the closest exit. I can feel him sigh even before I hear the whisper of the sound or the heavy dance of his shoulders.
“Will this be your only cigarette?”
“Depends on how I feel. I can’t really predict the future.” He tugs at the collar of his shirt and turns up the air conditioning. This is why I use car services instead of grungy cabs. At a time like this, I need a little comfort. Also, I like the little hats that the company makes them wear.
He doesn’t say anything. If I could see his face, I know his lips would be slipping into an agitated frown, weighted by the strength of gravity. People give in so easily when they are after something more substantial.
I look out the window and see my face reflected in the glass. The cars on the highway streak behind me in a velocity of colors. My face, unchanging and transparent, reflects the passing moments through the blurred residue of the landscape outside. I need concealer.
I feel my purse, which rests on my lap, begin to vibrate and, for a moment, I let it, happy with the sensation it gives me. I am in no rush to speak with anyone. For a split second I think it’s Parker, and that’s why I hesitate to pick it up, but I know not to believe in fantasies.
“Hi, Kelsey! Did I wake you?” It’s my roommate. I can’t deal with her right now. She knows I took off work today for his birthday. There is no reason for her to be calling.
“No, are you at home?”
“I’m at Chris’s. I just wanted to know how last night went! Are you still at Parker’s’?” Her voice is entirely too energetic, the ends of her sentences seem to ride in a crescendo towards a higher pitch. If I could write out the sound in sheet music, it would cover at least two octaves.
“No, I’m home.” My mother always told me that lying doesn’t get you anywhere. I can prove her wrong because it has already fallaciously brought me home.
“Already? When did you leave?”
“Last night! Kelsey, what happened? He didn’t propose?”
“So why are you home? Are you moving out already?” She’s so insecure.
“No, Audrey. I’m not moving out. I said no.”
“Kelsey! I told you to think about it. You’re so stupid. What’s your problem? Parker treats you so well.”
“I don’t really want to discuss this right now. I have to go.”
“No, you don’t. I know what you’re doing right now. You’re lying in bed and you’re thinking about how stupid you are for letting that great guy go. You’ll see. You’ll be lonely in a week, and you’ll realize you made a mistake.”
“Can’t change it now.”
“Kelsey, get out of bed. Stop wasting the day.”
“I’m not in bed.”
“I don’t believe you. I know you.”
“I’m on the couch.” The taxi driver honks at a car that tries to change lanes into him. I give him the dirtiest look and point to the phone to let him know to be quiet.
“What was that?”
“Fucking New York.”
“I’ll be home in an hour; my meeting was canceled. Want to do brunch?”
“I don’t feel like eating. I have things to do.”
“Shut up. Get ready. We’re going to brunch.”
“Audrey, I’m not in the best mood right now. I’m going to take a long shower, and then do the shit I have to do. This doesn’t involve you. Stay at Chris’s. I don’t care. I’m not lonely. Stop worrying about me and get on with yourself.”
“You have to learn to lighten up. I care about you. I want you to be happy.”
“I am happy.” I hang up the phone. I don’t feel like talking to her anymore.
Besides, I’m happier now than yesterday. I really couldn’t deal with Parker and his neediness anymore. I light another cigarette, and, this time, I do not make any effort to blow outside the car.
“Miss, I have to ask you to put out your cigarette.”
“Can you turn up the radio? I don’t feel like listening to this again.”
He drones on about my habit, and I tune him out. I’ve been getting pretty good at that lately; letting the words slide through my ears like Jell-O®, a vacant smile on my face.
My apartment seems darker than before, the antithesis of the blaring sun outside. The hardwood floors creep under my feet as my soles pick up the dust particles that seem to live here more than I do. Sunlight shines through the window in a single ray, illuminating a circular pattern in the middle of the floor like a spotlight, an empty space where no furniture is placed. Everything seems still and empty. The only sound is my breathing, which is very slight and hardly audible.
I throw my purse and shoes down on the couch in a loud attempt at causing a commotion. I have to get new furniture. This is all Audrey’s crap, and none of it matches. The green velvet couch with the cigarette burns, the orange and pink floral carpet that seems more like a hazard than anything else, the light wood table resting on the dark floors, like a white chocolate chip inside a chocolate cookie. We are living in a remake of the 1970’s.
My stomach growls in heavy pangs, but I can’t bring myself to eat. Instead, I head towards the bathroom to forget the scent my body is emitting.
The lukewarm water streams down my cheeks, and it almost feels like tears. I know I should be crying right now, but I just can’t coerce myself to do it. Society has drilled it inside our heads that, when something sad happens, we mourn. But I’m not upset about what happened. I’m relieved.
I can still smell the aroma of dinner last night on me no matter how many times I scrub. I’ve used up most of the soap, and I had just opened it yesterday. Or maybe it’s just the memory of the aroma.
An image of Parker sitting across me at the dinner table surfaces in my mind, and I try and suppress it, but it’s too strong. I know how hard he worked on that dinner. He just wanted to make everything seem perfect. He shouldn’t have had to cook on his birthday. He just had to propose. I pause for a second, forgetting my surroundings, soaping my stomach in a robotic trance.
I think back to three months ago when he first brought up the idea of marrying me. Ever since then, I have been living in fear that he would eventually ask. More importantly, I knew I would have to say no.
If the moment had been perfect, I still wouldn’t have said yes. I’m not the type of girl who commits. I just need to let things go the way they want and ride the waves without a destination. I can’t have boundaries that dictate my surroundings. I can’t give in. Parker knew this. He was so stupid. You just know things aren’t going to go right when your boyfriend starts out his persuasive speech with the words, “I know you don’t want to marry me, Kelsey, but…” He was just asking for what happened to him.
Thank god I had decided to make him breakfast this morning. It was more than I wanted to offer him, but he seemed so hurt last night when I had wanted to leave after dinner, after I had politely refused to indulge in his future.
My lips curl into a smile as I remember him pleading with me not to leave, begging, like those jerks begging for money on the street that always get in my way when I walk. His blueberry eyes stretched out in large ovals filling with tears. The way the words twisted out of his mouth and wrapped around me like a rope, reeling me in with guilt. But I’m not guilty, right now. I like to exaggerate the scene in my mind, picture him sitting at the table and banging on it, face down on the cold Formica. His arms flail wildly as he screams like a small child begging for candy. I like to picture him animated and lively.
The osmosis of his flesh turning blue reminds me of a dark shadow heading my way, or a bunch of flowers growing at an accelerated speed. He wasn’t reaching out for me; he was clutching his throat. And I just sat there and watched.
I worked so hard making those pancakes.
And he was wasting them.
He only had one bite.
The look in his eyes haunts me the most. I have to shift my body when I think about it, because it weighs me down, rendering me unable to keep my posture in a rigid position, like a muscle spasm. He looked at me, but he didn’t beg. His eyes didn’t plead. It was the first time he wasn’t dependent on me.
His plumpy lips pulsated, shivering through the unbearable heat. His head jerked back and forth, bobbed, like a woman giving a blowjob. His mouth was full as well, deep throating in the worst way.
I couldn’t do anything more than stare, apologize with my eyes for my inability to move. I became frozen, unable to think or react. It wasn’t that I was shocked. I just didn’t care to try. It seemed like such an easy way out. I wouldn’t have to marry him if he was dead.
I didn’t scream until afterwards.
His face had swirled with color, like the way a powdered drink mix dances inside a glass of water. His eyes had tried to tear, filling with water, but without release. The entire time, I did not sever my eye contact with him.
He seemed to look at me with anger, but there was calmness over his body, like the eye of a storm, or the moment in a horror movie right before mayhem occurs and the music jumps to a dissonant sforzando. Everything might have been more unbearable had he been able to gasp.
Right before the end, his body just tilted over, cracking the octagonal tiles with the impact of the fall. I think it was the chair that caused the destruction, because his body was not heavy enough, even with the acceleration from the decent. The fall seemed natural, as if he had forgotten he was sitting, tipping over at a ninety-degree angle. His brain couldn’t operate without enough oxygen.
There was no blood.
For a moment or two, right after the impact, his body spasmed as if he was having a minor seizure, reminding me of the ants I used to step on when I was a child, their bodies smashed, but their legs still flailing. Then he lay still and dormant, the side of his face pressed against the tile, the ceiling lights causing sweat to glisten on his skin like diamonds or sparkling champagne.
I screamed, one quick ear-piercing yelp.
I should have run over to him, tried to dislodge the calamity in his throat — even after the fact, at least I would have made an attempt. All I could do was grab my purse and run.
I didn’t even get to eat any pancakes. I was still at the stove when he started choking.
I turn off the water in the shower and dry myself with a large beach towel. I wrap it around my body and just sit at the edge of my bed, my long brown hair dripping onto my silk comforter. This will leave a stain.
The carpet seems pinker than it normally is. I can see each speck of dirt cradling itself between the strands. I can’t take my eyes off of the floor. The pink hue reminds me of his lips. Before they turned blue.
My face just tips over into my hands because my neck is unable to support it. I sniffle, but I don’t cry. I’m not sad that he’s gone. I just realize that he won’t be here any more. It’s not my fault. I choked on the situation, just like he did. I was just as much a victim to the obstruction. I gasped for air at the sight.
Maybe if I had said yes to him I wouldn’t feel so guilty. He could have died happily.
I know I should notify somebody, but I honestly don’t feel like dealing with it.
I picture his body, thumping to the floor, his pale skin glowing from the radiation of the taupe tiles.
Audrey opens the door to my room slowly. The only reason I hear her is because of the sound of the padding of her shoes against the carpet. She sits down on the bed next to me. She must have come home while I was in the shower.
“Are you ok?” She places her hand on my wet back and pushes my hair off of my right shoulder. I lift my head out of my hands, which pulsates from the pressure I had used. My cheeks are tinted red with the imprint from my hands. Her thick ringlets of brown hair are tousled and unkempt. Her eyelids slant downwards like my mother’s used to do when she was worried about me. Her makeup is smudged. I sigh and smile at her.
“Yeah.” The word is short and hard to say. My throat is still very dry and my hands shake, maybe from dehydration.
“Here,” she says holding out her cell phone to me.
“Give him a call.” Her eyes shine like the sun outside. I can see my reflection in them.
“No, I can’t. I don’t want to.” I look at the peeling wallpaper of bright, lavender lilies, with water stains at the bottom from the decaying walls.
“Kelsey, look at you. You’re a mess. Stop being so stubborn.”
“I’m fine. Really. Don’t worry about me.”
“Just call him. I know you want to.” Audrey sits on my bed, her eyes still lit up like the New York skyline at night.
I don’t say anything. I stare at the wall, and I can feel something deep inside my throat wanting to surface. I must be imagining what Parker felt.
“Kelsey… Don’t shut me out. Tell me what happened last night? How did he take it?”
The knot in my throat grows larger and thicker. My breath gets shorter.
Audrey rubs my back despite the beads of moisture from the shower and sweat. We don’t have air conditioning, only fans, but neither of us is about to go and turn one on.
My lips quiver as my bottom lids swell; my eyes undulate in their sockets.
And then everything seems to go black. The room becomes cold and empty. My heart sinks into my stomach. My body convulses, and there is no sound coming out of my mouth.
I am crying so hard that I can’t catch my breath.
The release is unbearable, and I bury my head on Audrey’s shoulder as she plays with my sticky hair.
She’s whispering comforting words into my ears that only make it worse.
“It’s ok. Don’t worry. It’s going to be fine. Parker loves you. Don’t worry.”
If I could make a sound, I would tell her what happened, but my throat is closed, and I can barely find the strength to even try to calm down. I just want this all to be over. I want to erase the past like a chalkboard.
“Take a deep breath. It’s ok.”
A mousy sound comes out of my throat, and I can’t sit up any more. My body falls into the bed, and I begin to sob into the lacy comforter face down. My weeping is so intense that I can’t even think. I lie there, splayed on the bed for a long time.
Eventually, the impediment in my throat seems to lessen. I can catch my breath again.
Audrey keeps talking nonsense. I’ve stopped listening. I’ve calmed down significantly, and I grab hold of myself and sit up, wiping the tears from my eyes, fighting for breath.
“He’s dead.” I feel my lips curl into a smile as I say this, as if I’m embarrassed to say the words, like in junior high school when we first learned about sex, and our teacher wanted us to take turns reading passages from our health book. I’m continuously rubbing the tears away with my wet hands.
“What?” She doesn’t sound shocked. There is no registration on her face.
“He choked to death on pancakes.” I laugh at the humor in the situation, twisting my hands in knots, letting my fingers slide through each other and back again. I’m staring into her eyes, the way I stared at him.
“What? Omigod.” Her face gets flushed, causing her tanned skin to appear pale. “Omigod.”
She repeats the words for a few more moments, and I look at her with a blank face and puffy eyes. I wipe away more tears and get up to get a tissue. I can’t believe I ruined my bedspread.
Audrey just sits at the edge of the bed, looking down like I was just doing. “Are you ok?” she finally asks, her eyes married to the carpet.
“At least I don’t have to marry him now.” I try and quip sarcastically to lighten up the situation. I’m sick of the sadness that has filled the room.
“Kelsey, that’s not funny.”
“There’s nothing I can do now.”
“You’re mourning. You should lie down. Why didn’t you call me last night? I would have come over. I can’t believe this. Omigod.”
“I saw the whole thing.” I think of the pancakes, lying on his plate with one forkful lifted up, the syrupy butter slithering like melted ice cream. I feel awful about wasting all that food. “It happened this morning.”
I think of the cracked tiles, a thin lines snaking across the ceramic surface like miniature canyons.
“Did you call the police?”
“No.” I hand her a tissue, but she’s not crying.
“I’ll call. Sit down. You should let it all out.”
I sit down next to her again on the edge of the bed. My head pounds, and my stomach growls. My eyes sting from the redness, and it’s hard to focus on the room without any lights on. The only illumination bounces off the white bedspread.
The color of Parker’s teeth.
“I loved him,” I say without making eye contact with Audrey.
“But I didn’t want to marry him. I couldn’t. It was all happening too fast.”
“You’re just scared.”
“I just feel like this was an easy way out of the situation, you know. I felt so apathetic about marriage ever since Parker first brought it up, and now I don’t have to deal with it.”
“It’s an unfortunate coincidence.”
I pause for a moment, fingering the stains on the bedspread. “Audrey, I froze.”
“I couldn’t move. I sat there and watched it all happen.”
She doesn’t say anything. I wait a few seconds, and then continue.
“I can’t stop thinking of his face, looking at me, but not begging for help. His skin turning blue. I hope he’s not mad at me. I mean, I don’t even know emergency first aid, or the Heimlich or anything. I worked so hard on those pancakes.”
“Lie down. You’re just in shock and trying to rationalize things. Let me call the police. You should try and sleep or rest. Just lie down.”
“Thanks, Audrey.” She starts to walk towards the door, and I slip under the covers, still in my towel. She stops at the edge of the doorway, before it reaches the living room. She looks back to me and smiles. “I’m really sorry.”
She walks out, and I hear her mumbling on the phone. The conversation is too long to just be the police, and I know that she must already be on the phone with Chris.
I never noticed that my ceilings were so bare.
The truth is, I knew it had to end. I was going to break it off with him this weekend. I tried last night, after he proposed, but he was too sad, begging me to stay, using his birthday as an excuse. He would have been dead to me anyway.