She had white couches and two declawed kittens. I had never seen the process before: the declawing. The bloody paw prints she had to bleach from the fabric. The strips of newspaper substituted for kitty litter. She was my housemate, except she owned the house. Hannah. It was the time in my life when I lived in Indiana, when I moved there for graduate school and dropped out and stayed, worked at a café. Hannah was some kind of engineer. She investigated buildings after disasters, to assess the damage. Tornados. I was fascinated to hear the details of the destruction. I didn’t understand it, but I loved to hear about beams splintered like they were hit by lightning, whole roofs ripped off.
Hannah was a Hoosier through and through. By which I mean, warm but distant. Each time we spoke, it was like starting over: we had to break the ice again. Small talk. I found myself talking about the weather constantly. It was exhausting. Although, as a Californian, the weather in the Midwest was an endless source of fascination. Trees changing colors, dropping leaves—a whole sea of them across the sidewalk. Tornado warnings. And actual snow. Storms. Spring in its bulb-popping relief. I had never seen so many tulips.
Spring when Hannah brought Sean home. A man in real estate. Clean-cut in the looks like a typical frat boy, but a little chaotic. He had the tendency to ask you a question and actually care about the answer. Like, “What do you miss most about California?”
“I miss oysters,” I said. “Oysters and champagne.”
I laughed. But he looked at me, full eye contact. “I’m serious,” he said.
I laughed again. “I guess I miss the ocean and the people and the food. I miss my family and the coastal fog. I miss everything about it.”
He nodded, and the thing is, I really thought he understood.
That’s what a twenty-something-year-old feels when they meet a forty-something-year-old. The man has had time to hone his skill set. Hannah and I: we were both impressed.
There is no scenario in which I had any right to Sean. Hannah met him at a bar, brought him home, introduced us. Then later that night, they went upstairs and slept together. He was off-limits.
Still, I listened to her bed move against the floorboards while I sat downstairs on the white couches with her pathetic kittens. They crawled all over me trying to get comfortable. I had the television on, but I could still hear the bed and their muffled voices, laughter. I was jealous. I liked his way of asking questions, his direct gaze. I was probably lonely too. I took a lot of baths at that time in my life. I would read in the bathtub. Line up a cup of tea, a glass of wine, and read for a few hours in there.
The more I was around him, the more I wanted him. And Hannah brought him around a lot. She liked him a lot, she told me. My desire rippled through our little house, the harmony we had there. I imagine even the kittens felt it. Hannah, for her part, chose not to notice or care.
We moved into summer, and the air grew heavy and humid.
And one day, Sean showed up while Hannah had been called to a job last minute. I guess she forgot to cancel with him. It seemed odd, but there he was on the doorstep. I opened the door, and the kittens underfoot, scampered away upstairs.
The next part is easy to guess. Or maybe not. Maybe one imagines I tried to seduce him. I, of course, had all the desire.
Except there he was in front of me, reaching for me, saying that he had wanted this for a long time. He pulled me to him. And he smelled of cologne and deodorant. And something else artificial. Hair product. He didn’t smell like body, but the mask of a body. Still, for a moment, I was paralyzed, caught in my desire. Wanting him but saying no. Saying this was wrong and get the fuck out of here. Pushing him away. My body closing his body out. My body urging his to the door. Get out get out get out.
I told Hannah. She was furious but not at Sean. At me. This was both expected and unexpected. Her warm-distant Midwest ways. Her declawed kittens. The couches. But what kind of woman hears a truth they don’t want to believe and handles it well anyway? And my desire: it’s not like it wasn’t there in the room, encouraging him.
I moved out in August. And there was no ceremony about it. Just me and some boxes loaded into my car. I gave each kitten one last snuggle. Out on the porch, Hannah hugged me stiffly. She said, “Keep in touch,” but we both knew she didn’t mean it.
And then I got into my car and drove away. I drove for as long as I could without stopping. I wanted out of that city, that state. I drove west toward my ocean, orb of the sun leading my way.
ALLISON FIELD BELL — Allison is originally from northern California but has spent most of her adult life in the desert. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Prose at the University of Utah, and she has an MFA in Fiction from New Mexico State University. Her prose appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, New Orleans Review, West Branch, Epiphany, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Pinch, and elsewhere. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, South Dakota Review, Sugar House Review, The Greensboro Review, Nimrod International Journal, and elsewhere. Find her at allisonfieldbell.com.
Art by KATE SULLIVAN — Kate likes to play around with words, music and pictures. She has written and illustrated children’s books, On Linden Square and What Do You Hear?, sung chansons at NYC Mme Tussaud’s Wax Museum and her fugue-ish ‘Fugitum est’ was performed at Carnegie Hall by The Kremlin Chamber Orchestra as part of their tribute to Mozart. She also likes to paint ostriches and plays the musical saw to impress people. www.sullyarts.com; sullyarts.substack.com; for artwork, go to shop.sullyarts.com.