A to S: Sweat

Craig had to climb five flights of stairs to reach Bonnie’s apartment. She buzzed him in, explained that she was cooking and couldn’t run down to get him. The door was unlocked.

Craig found the wooden stairs easily and began his trek. He was glad he decided to wear a simple button down and jeans instead of dressing nicer. He was excited to meet this Michael McClane she’s been crazy about. It’s the longest relationship Bonnie had ever had, and she seemed to be getting pretty serious with him. Coming on two years, they were, having met about the same time he met Michelle.

Michelle. Craig rubbed his sore neck. It was nice to get a break once in awhile. Besides, it had been ages since he’d visited Bonnie in New York, not since the beginning of last year, before he and Michelle were even official. When he told her he was visiting Bonnie she nearly lost her mind. Next time, he decided, he’d have to keep it secret.

Third floor. God, these are a lot of stairs. Bonnie must get a work out. She probably likes it, what without dance anymore. Or skateboarding. Craig could hardly imagine Bonnie skateboarding anymore, but maybe he’d be surprised.

Fouth floor…his legs were killing him. Maybe he needed to exercise more. Being in a play was far less physically straining than a musical. He’d have to take a dance class or something.

Finally. He knocked on her door, slightly out of breath.

“Hi!” Bright, bubbly Bonnie, her hair straight as needles, swung open the door. Craig blinked.

“Your hair!” he replied, snatching strands in his fingers before remembering they weren’t so close anymore. Was this strange? She was giggling, perhaps not. “It’s so straight!”

“You know I started straightening it last year. Come on in!”

Sure, but she never straightened her hair back home…the apartment was very collegey, with posters hung without frames, a recycling bin full of beer bottles and a run-down couch stuffed in a corner across from a tiny television. He sat on the couch, the only real chair, as Bonnie finished up in the kitchen.

“I figured we’d stay in,” she said. “I got real good at cooking. And you must be tired from your flight!”

She was wearing lipstick, Craig noticed. Red lipstick, purple shirt, khakis, and hot pink shoes. Some things never change.

They ate Bonnie’s fantastic shrimp scampi and caught up on life. Turns out Michael was busy until late at night, and her other roommates were all busy as well, so they had the apartment to themselves.

“How’s Michelle?”

“She’s…Michelle,” Craig answered, then laughed. “She’s a lot to handle sometimes, but she’s great. How’s Michael? I’ve never met him, what’s he like?”

“Oh, wonderful,” Bonnie said, her eyes twinkling. “He’s good. He’s the all-American boy, you know? Grew up on a farm, even.”

“People still grow up on farms?”

“Apparently!”

They laughed, ate more pasta.

“But, yes, he’s good,” Bonnie said. “Good, good.”

“Good.”

They were mainly finished, so they put their dishes in the sink and Bonnie took a handle of rum from the fridge, poured them both shots.

“Can’t believe we never discovered rum in high school,” Bonnie said.

“We took what we could get. And what we got was vodka. Got the job done, anyway,” he replied. Craig never was a fan of rum—more of a whiskey man—but he didn’t want to be rude and did the shot.

“God, remember the first time we drank? We poured about half a glass each, straight.”

“Crazy.”

They drank, chatted, laughed, drank, and then it began to drizzle outside.

“I love the rain,” Craig declared. “Hey…do you have a skateboard anymore?”

Bonnie giggled. “How drunk are you?”

“Like, a six.” More like an eight. “I’m just wondering.”

“…Yes, that orange one from home, and the longboard.”

“Want to take it for a spin?”

It took some convincing, what with the rain and the drunkenness and the fact that she hadn’t used it in months, but soon the two of them, twenty years old and drunk on nostalgia, dragged the skateboards out of the closet and ran down the stairs. They got out front, the rain leaving spots on their jackets.

“Can you help me?” Bonnie asked, smiling shyly. “I’m a little dizzy.”

Just like when they were learning, years ago, he held both her hands as she stepped on the board. She rocked back and forth and he kept her balanced, her fingers gripping tighter as she caught the feel of it. She gazed into Craig’s eyes, and he looked away.

They practiced their tricks for about half an hour on the empty sidewalk, competing and remembering and laughing and sparking up their old friendship, pulling out old friendly jabs. When the rain got too heavy, too cold, they went back inside, dripping wet, smiling wide.

Craig had kept his eyes quick all afternoon, even drunk as he was, but when she rubbed a towel over her hair it came out curly, and he stared. He stared at her long and hard, his eyes focusing and unfocusing but trained on her. It was her, alright. Bonnie, Bonnie…Craig’s stomach hummed. No.

Bonnie looked up, laughed, asked what was wrong to no answer. Her smile faded.

“Craig?” she asked, and her voice, God…no, Craig. Michelle, Michael, Michelle, not Bonnie. Come on, you had years, you had years, not Bonnie, no. Michelle. Michelle.

“I’m sorry,” he said, though he didn’t know what for. He couldn’t keep his eyes off of her, examining her mishmash of color, her messy hair, her clothes soaked in rain and sweat. “Can I hug you?”

“Sure.”

Craig crossed the room, wrapped his arms around her, and tried to make it subtle that he was smelling her hair. A different shampoo but still Bonnie, her sweat and skin, the smell of the summer, the smell of her.

“I’m so stupid, Bonnie,” Craig said, though again he wasn’t sure what for. He was stupid about a lot of things.

“No,” Bonnie said.

Craig pulled back and put his hands on her cheeks, brushing his thumbs across them. So beautiful. So stupid. Too old, he thought. We’re so old. Too old, so young.

He kissed her, before he could stop himself. Kissed her hard, passionately, his hands pulling her body to him with unquenchable thirst. Bonnie melted into him, into his emptying mind, into his flourishing chest, their limbs grabbing at each other with wild strength. The two of them landed on the too-small sofa, their legs over the edges as they attacked each other, barely stopping to breathe. Wet, rough kisses, sweaty bodies, sticking clothes.

The door buzzed not a minute into their kissing. They ignored it, but it buzzed again, and then a man’s voice said Bonnie’s name.

“Michael!” Bonnie said, and the spell was broken. She wiggled out from underneath Craig, leapt from the couch, adjusted the clothes that had never come off, and answered her boyfriend. Michael. He had forgotten the keys and needed to be buzzed in. She let him in and ran to the remote, turned on the television and flipped the channels until it landed on something that would make sense for them to be watching.

“Got out early,” Michael said as Bonnie let him in. He kissed her. Craig’s stomach churned. “Hi, you must be Craig?”

They went through the pleasantries, even had a drink and played a quick poker game together before Craig said it was late and that he should go. Michael offered their air mattress, but Craig refused.

Bonnie walked him out. The walk downstairs was silent. Both of them were sober enough to not know what to do.

“So, about what happened,” Craig said at the landing. “I guess, like. We were both drunk.”

“Sure,” Bonnie said, cutting him off. “Sure, Craig, I mean, why would you ever kiss me sober? I know that.” She crossed her arms.

“Are we okay?”

Bonnie shook her head. “Can’t you let me be happy, one way or another? I can’t keep sitting on this hook. You know I had feelings for you. This wasn’t cool.”

“I…I know.”

“We can talk about it at breakfast tomorrow.”

Hope. “Okay. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

There was no hug goodbye, which was unusual but expected. Craig walked to his hotel in the rain. The hotel was about fifteen blocks away, but even so when he got home his shirt smelled like Bonnie. He held it to his nose and inhaled deep breaths, watching cars splash in the puddles on the street. He punched the mattress. Stupid, stupid…

A to R: Riley

Michelle held her baby at arms length as it screamed at her. She wrinkled her nose. The earplugs weren’t doing much to block out the noise. It was so red, so squirming. Why? I’m trying to help you, why do you wriggle so much? Do you want me to drop you?

Riley, they had named him. Riley had spent about ninety percent of his short life crying. Michelle had aged ten years in two weeks. Craig was away for business.

Riley, Riley. She was beginning to hate the name. It was the source of all her headaches, of every stretch mark, of every sore back and every aching shoulder, every bleeding nipple and sleepless night. Riley. She was beginning to hate not only the name but the baby, the baby she swore she would love more than life itself. As soon as this thing is out of me, she used to think when it kicked her ribs and made her sick, it will all be worth it.

No. Cry-ley, she had taken to calling him under her breath. It was not worth it. She was prepared for nine months of torture, not eighteen years. And Craig…so ridiculous. That’s what she gets for marrying an actor. She was prepared to be poor, not well-off but abandoned while Craig travelled the country caked in makeup and drinking whiskey. She was forced to stay in the city for her own job, which was on hiatus. She survived on their shared bank account, guiltiness flooding her veins with every withdrawal.

She wanted a finish line, but the only one in sight was when Riley finally grew up, but he was still so small he couldn’t lift his head. No finish line, unless either she or her husband quit their jobs but stayed married. No finish line, just a slow continuance of this soreness, of constant crying.

Riley, Riley, Riley. She wanted a girl, not a boy. Her arms were getting tired, holding the stupid, heavy baby out so far, so she placed the thing in its crib and sat in the corner of the nursery, sinking to the floor and resting her forehead on her knees, rocking her head back and forth. The crying permeated the air and infected her ears.

“Shut up!” she yelled, and the baby paused for a second, then went on crying. It was so stupid it didn’t know that eating solved hunger, that sleep solved tiredness, that it was supposed to love its mother and let her sleep. Michelle crawled across the carpet and shook the crib bars, all rattling plastic and soft metal. She roared at the child. The streetlight lit up the baby in gray strips. Michelle hit the bars with her forearm, resulting in louder crying from Riley. She rolled her eyes and went to her bedroom, closing the two doors between her and the baby.

She pulled out her earplugs and called Craig. Somehow he answered—he never answered.

“Can’t you come home?” Michelle asked the second he heard his voice.

“Honey,” he started with the boiling impatience of a pep talk. “I’m in California. We talked about this, didn’t we? One more week, then I’m home for the weekend.”

“Just the weekend,” Michelle whined, slowly rolling onto her bed. Crying still seeped through the door and the laughs and chimes of a cocktail party came muffled through the phone; Michelle struggled to tune out both.

“Yes, just the weekend, but I’m on tour,” he said, another word, like “Riley,” which Michelle couldn’t help but hate. “I have to keep on tour, it’s my job. How’s Riley? You doing okay?”

“No.”

“Is he sleeping?”

“Far from it. Honey, I miss you.”

“Well, I miss you too. And Riley, but that doesn’t mean I can just come home whenever I want to.”

“Why not?”

“Michelle, I’m not having this childish conversation with you. I have to go.”

“Fine.” Michelle hung up on him and instantly fell into a fit of hysterical crying, louder than her baby, heaving breaths and coughs and tremors, This was it. Craig would be home, a finish line, but then gone again, another starting line. Why was happiness the only temporary thing? Why was the only thing she seemed to see of her husband was his back as he headed out the door?

She didn’t remember falling asleep, but she woke up at about eight, the latest Riley had let her sleep since before he was born. Her heart froze, she leapt out of bed and ran down the hall, rushing into the nursery. There he was, in the center of his crib, sleeping soundly.

For a moment, Michelle watched her silent baby sleep, his lips twitching. Was he dreaming of her? She shut the door quietly and brewed a cup of coffee. The house was so quiet.

“Riley,” she whispered in the empty kitchen. She then sipped the too-hot coffee and burned her tongue.

I am a writer, writer of fictions

My roommate recently had to do a project in class where she had to describe her “essence” in four minutes without talking. I had no idea what that meant. She said to think about it—what is, by definition, you?

Writing is, by definition, me. Writing is both my job and my pastime. I write when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m angry. Writing is who I am.

As I said that, I began thinking to myself…when is the last time I’ve done any creative fiction writing? I’ve written a lot of articles for work, and plenty of blog posts, tweets, poetry, songs…but no creative, fiction, prose. That’s what I’m majoring in, that’s the love of my life, that’s what my essence is made up of…and I haven’t been doing it.

Then I thought, maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling like the air around me is made of mud, like my feet are made of iron and my throat is an inch wide. I’ve lost my essence. I’ve lost myself, as cheesy as that sounds.

So I started writing. I wrote a thousand words in an hour. I kept going until I had to sleep, and the next day I started up again as soon as I had time. God, I missed it. I started to feel like myself again. I started to see and think clearly for the first time in, well, months.

I’m so glad I rediscovered myself.

So writing is my essence…but back to the assignment. How would I show my essence to a class? In four minutes without saying a word?  I can’t write anything good in four minutes, or do a reading of my work. I don’t have to do the project, but it’s floating around my head. What’s the best way to show people who I am in this way?

It’s a hard assignment. I guess my secondary essence is singing. Maybe I would write a song about writing fiction?

What came to mind was a The Decemberists’ song Engine Driver. I am a writer, writer of fictions… I could sing that song, maybe, play it on ukulele. Maybe I would write that lyric on my arm or something, to emphasize it. That would last about four minutes.

What would you do? What is your essence, and how would you show it off in four minutes, without speaking?

I am the heart that you call home….