Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • It begins the second we are together and sleeps like an egg in my stomach.

    The train to the airport is old. All of the upholstery is brutalist brown canvas left over from the seventies, worn thin on seats hard as Methodist pews. A part of the chassis complains incessantly in small metallic squeals as the car bumps down the tracks. The red and gray of urban decay yields to brownish scrub as we go past University City. It is three PM. The triple-checked piece of paper folded in the right pocket of my thrift store jeans assures me she won’t be landing for another twenty minutes, but the phone in my sweating palm has doubts. She is already there.

    We pull out of Eastwick, home to nothing, and my stomach buries its face in its hands.

    Out of restlessness, I try to start a conversation with my seatmate, but he's flying international and I do not sprechen sie deutsch. She does, and I try and explain this to him, but in my cowardice I make her a man and then it feels like a con and so when the train pulls up I just leave.

    I take the stairs down from the station, cross the street, realize I am in Departures and go back to where I came from. Then I take an escalator to the baggage claim and squint for her small brownness, sniff for her leathery smell. She finds me first and her arms are around me, her bookkeeper teeth fumble on my lower lip, the icy egg is laid.

    We go home. My neighborhood rises from rock to brick out of the brush and we hike back to my apartment in silence. By now it is winter-dusk. Her bag is heavy on my shoulder. My mouth hangs slightly open with exertion in the March lion air and I try to hide it from her by breathing frequently on my hands. By the bell tower we pass some friends I only kind of know, who wave us over and do not offer us chips. A squirrel has bitten one of them and we pick her up and take her back to the apartment because it’s what my father would do and I want to show my girlfriend I am a good person even if she will hate me by morning.

    I bandage her and send her off and instead of being good it is just strange. My girlfriend kisses me and my body exasperates me by wanting what it can almost never have, so I push her off and turn over and the knife is cold in her heart. We stay like that for a while, chopsticks side-by-side in a closed drawer, until I relent as I always do and there is kissing once more.

    She makes me dinner, as she will no less than four times out of the six days I have her. She pets me and calls me her sous-chef but really we both know I am a child with hands full of raw meat. Dinner is good and there is more kissing after, and it is this time that I decide to cut her free like a red fruit from the vine.

    I push her back and hold her a little to the side. We go from Kissing to Not. My breathing sounds too loud to me, vibrating like a bass drum in the tiny space between us. I would not be surprised if she could read my thoughts- the bare skin of our bellies and legs is stuck together like paste- but she waits for me to speak, so I breathe and my little conclusions like poison leak out.

    “You know… how I was talking about a break?”

    Her face curls up like a wounded animal but her expression stays the same. She knows where this is going. I could stop, but I am proud for saying ‘I’ and not conning and saying ‘We’ and I don’t want to but I must keep going. She nods. Her head barely moves.

    “I…. would like to take that break. Not a breakup, a break.”

    My innards leap into my chest to throttle me, to save me from the wounds I am carving, but I gurgle through them in loyalty to the Me which must cope with her absence.

    “I… It’s just there’s this gap.”

    At ‘gap’ I expect her face to vanish into my neck but her dark eyes look through me and bore holes through my back. My mouth is still working.

    “… This gap of experience... That I know you regret, but I’ve never had the chance to. Regret it. Not just sleeping with people, but… emotionally. ”

    Her voice is banked embers and cracked gravel hissing in the rain.

    “I see.”

    Something is failing. I push my words like baby birds from the nest. They fall and break their bones.

    “And I… I want that. I have to know. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

    I cry into her neck and mean it, and she hushes and pets me, which makes me cry harder. When I am quiet, she whispers with small wet stars in her eyes:

    “Alright. It’s alright.”

    And it is that that pulls the knot, which binds me to her side. Her magnanimity humbles me. I will stray like a dog, live like a dog, and like a dog I will return. For a minute I am ready to die for her, and her words come like smoke out of the dark as she reach up to wipe her eyes:

    “I just hoped you would pick me.”
    A heavy pause in which my heart stops.

    “I should be worried, but I’m not.”

    And for a few days, everything is made of stars.

    I take her all over my roughed-up town, and we take our time and delight in everything. I feed her alligator at Reading Terminal. I take her picture under the LOVE statue and spit (mentally) in its face, because steel cringes when faced with what’s between us. We walk down the million-mile parkway to the PMA and boggle at the modern art, and in a thousand small ways she relieves me, the trained sealant who, in the balancing act, zeroes out my lit cracks. The nights seem to glow; we sleep like pearl-fishers, waking up in the grayish light for kisses and then dipping back into dreams.

    When she is still, my own inadequacies overtake me. Like a catcher’s mitt, I muse, maybe I’m best when broken, some Holly Golightly resisting all the temptations of permanence; but it’s hard to feel trapped when she’s melted the gilded cage down into bangles.

    Sometimes, I manage.

    After six days, I put her back on the plane and send her home.

    While she was with me, I boldly courted the person I am when I’m with her- the me who is generous and passionate and unafraid. I held myself by the waist and rubbed my own hip with my thumb and whispered, ‘I need you, please stay.’ But I left me in Center City as I wandered around after she left.

    The apartment when I returned was emptier, though the occupancy hadn’t much changed. Every atom of her that I caught on the air produced a new wave of longing, chewing at me like a slick toothed fish. There were meals in the fridge, but I saved the food until it spoiled and cried into her half-empty box of rice chex instead.

    For weeks, the T-shirt she gave me lay crumpled under my bed like a body.

    They say that people who lose a limb can still feel the lost appendage. As I turn quietly in bed, trying to fit myself against the space where she used to be, I can almost discern between my hooped arms her warm body and red heartbeat, syncopated to mine. The tears like hounds spring out and I am bitten.
    • Share

    Connected stories:

About

Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.