You don’t understand much but what you’ve been trained for.
When you enter the grocery store, resist the urge to take. Squint your eyes in the bright lights, even though you’re around them all day. Take out your phone: the grocery list is an unsent text to your mom that you wrote in between patients. You wish you could be better and write lists in fancy carefully-crafted notebooks. Don’t we all?
Bite your tongue while you stroll down the aisle so you feel pain instead of shame. You don’t know much else but to ask yourself for things that you can’t deliver. Except, babies, you’re used to delivering those. Their heads are soft, clay-like and fragile. Never forgiving.
A woman like you is used to people not forgiving them. In between aisles, remind yourself that it’s okay to not understand what for others comes so easily.
You’ve learned that she cooks elaborate lunches with curated meats from the farmers market. She takes the kids to soccer practice and ballet practice, she has time for church bake sales and is part of the choir. You really can’t sing, not that you want to, but it hurts to know that there are things that you’ll never be able to do. She even has time for what they call in this town: “A nice husband.” You don’t have one of those, I mean, I guess you have the one you share with her. Even if she’ll never know.
Furthermore, she has time for parent meetings, birthday parties, to kiss you on the cheek at brunch and say: “Lady! You work too much.” And to give you recipes that call for pesto in a jar because: “Lady! Who has time to make pesto from scratch? It tastes the same anyway.”
Many things taste the same even if they don’t come in their usual package. Even after their expiration date.
So you don’t take the jarred pesto from the store. You don’t take it because you don’t deserve it. You look at your fingers, dry from the surgical wash and neglected, naked. These fingers belong to you, and on the good days, to your patients. This weekend you bought a food processor to make the pesto. You take:
Parmesan cheese, basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, coarse salt.
These are terrible ingredients for love making, they sit heavy in the stomach. But nothing is ever perfect, so you get home, cook, taste, throw away, begin again. From scratch. From zero. Then comes the waiting.
The little pesto dinner is served. You sit in silence like you hear a lot of wives do. The phone dings. He’s at home, with her. He’ll be late. This will probably be his second dinner.
You know, you know. Seriously, you do. But you wish that someone could tell you again.
More time passes, you open the bin and discard the pesto dinner. You lay in bed with all the lights off. This is the place he would look for you anyway, in bed, not in the kitchen. There are places for things in the house. You wonder if humans, like objects, can ever shift their place in a home. While your eyes drift to sleep you list all the things that you touched that day: clay-like heads, soft like pillows, new silky curls, peach skin, dry ankles, latex, fresh basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese, rubbery pasta, glass, silk bed sheets, your unshaven legs, your dry coarse hair,
his pointy chin, his warm neck, his cotton shirt. He kisses you furiously.
“Luis,” you say after he wakes you up. He has a key but you don’t hear him come in. How dangerous, you think for a woman who lives alone like yourself, but the thought gets lost in the sound of his rapid breathing, his hungry touch. You move, you shift, you get on top. You close your eyes and the only thing you can smell is the faint smell of whiskey on his breath. A whiff of cheese.
You kiss him softly one more time before that familiar feeling comes back: You wish to be alone. You yearn for Luis so that when he’s there, you can go back to wanting the empty house. The one set of keys. The unfinished lists. That part of you that takes comfort in not belonging to anyone.
You kiss Luis goodnight. His warm neck smells like you: like cheese, like sex, like surgical wash, like Chanel no.5, like freshly washed silk sheets. You grab his face and take one last bunny whiff of his smell. It reveals a hidden layer of her: cupcake batter, fresh linens, peony Mayer’s wash and sweet and sour sweat.
“Shower,” you tell him. Your hand touches his prickly three-day-old-beard, you don’t want to kiss it anymore but you do out of habit. You whisper in Luis’s ear, “She’s waiting.”
MARÍA ALEJANDRA BARRIOS — María is a Pushcart-nominated writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has an MA in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester and currently lives in Brooklyn. Her stories have been published in places such as Hobart Pulp, Reservoir Journal, Cosmonauts Avenue, Jellyfish Review, Lost Balloon, Shenandoah Literary, Vol.1 Brooklyn, El Malpensante, Moon City, Fractured Lit, and SmokeLong Quarterly. She was the 2020 SmokeLong Flash Fiction Fellow and her work has been supported by organizations such as Vermont Studio Center, Caldera Arts Center, and the New Orleans Writing Residency. She’s currently at work revising her debut novel.
Art by JESSE LEE KERCHEVAL — Jesse Lee is a poet, writer, translator, and graphic artist. Her recent books include the poetry collection America that island off the coast of France, winner of the Dorset Prize, and the short story collection Underground Women. Her illustrated essays, graphic narratives and comics have appeared in Waxwing, On the Seawall, SweetLit, The Quarantine Public Library and the New England Review.