Juliana Roth

UNWINDING

 

               His body slugged at hers in a way that could really only be described as slugging. She’d been gone the past three weeks and as her hand fell down his back, she touched the fat he’d put on since she’d been away. This didn’t bother her much other than to indicate he’d been drinking more than he’d let on -- and this didn’t bother her either except for the fact that she couldn’t goddamn help that it did.

               It bothered her how he hadn’t called her when she was away, how he flirted with girls online when he got drunk instead, that they weren’t quite in a relationship but had been getting coffee in the mornings, meeting at the bar at the end of her block after he got off at the restaurant at midnight. She nearly told him that she loved him twice. He played songs in his living room with his friends for her and held her hand across the coffee table and gave her kisses in between drumming breaks. She wondered if it upset him that she didn’t do this in front of her friends, that she clammed up around her old life, that she was afraid of beaming too much. The night before she left for her trip, he looked at her, moved the hair out of her face, and said, you’re so pretty, and really meant it. She wanted to get lost in his way of loving, of putting it all out there.

               But that was weeks ago, and now, he climbed off of her because he’d gotten nauseous from all the drinking he’d been doing -- she was convinced not just that night but of all time, and touching was giving him the spins. But that’s all she wanted to do -- to touch him and be wrapped up in him like how they’d been before she went away, easy-like. She worried there was something about her that wasn’t enough for him to love, that he’d had some terrible realization while she was gone. She added this to the list of possible reasons that he’d stopped calling her babe and why there was a tightness in her chest that just kept pounding, pounding.

 

               Earlier that night, before they had sex, they sat on the couch and she started to say how she might move in a year. He held her close and whispered to her that he ought to come fix her freezer tomorrow. They should start a life, he could move in now that her roommate got that new job in that new city. She wondered if she should consult someone about this. If there was a game being played here and she was bound to come up short. His offerings felt like they came from somewhere unsteady. She started to wonder if those in despair are selfish for their clinging or brave for seeing a steady hand as a sign of their own dignity, that they should be allowed the simple pleasure of not drowning. To be finally and fully touched. Let in. Asked to stay. But who was the one in despair between them?

               She didn’t know and so she kissed him with an imitation of passion. The kissing felt different now because of the goddamn tightness in her chest and he must have felt it because he stopped and kissed her forehead. He needed to leave. Don’t love me because there is the unattainable in me, she wanted to say at that moment, but find the spaces we do not share and linger there like a lost visitor who has suddenly found himself at home. She could love him from that place, where everything was cloaked in light and possibility. It was still possible for them to find each other clearly again, push out from the darkness that seemed to fill the room as she asked him to please stay awhile longer. It wasn’t him who was on top of her later that night, face bloated and drunk and queasy. It was someone else. She just needed to be patient.

               She needed to get her head right.

               Maybe a psychic could help. All the energies felt off. She was being drawn in all directions, not guided with the premonition she’d had when they first met, like the one about him being outside and then her getting a call and him asking to come in and then he did and they’d made such good love on the spot the only thing they could say was fuck and shit and this is incredible, unbelievable, ridiculous. He’d taken a gift out of his backpack for her and then they went after it again, this time more viciously, and shit was it good and felt right, like love was really there and would keep on staying. She didn’t doubt it for a second.

 

               After he finished his six-pack and decided not to go home after all, she tried to summon that certainty again when they started kissing, wanting his lips to feel good and spark her again in that uncontrolled way, but she felt nothing. He had hurt her with the weeks of silence.

               The man above her in bed was a blur. But he could be brought back into focus, she was sure of it. All he had to do was get clean and sober and back on track.

               But then all she felt was nauseous. He started to snore. She couldn’t sleep and she tried to remember what the child on the plane had said as they were landing that morning. The trees are still growing. The plane dropped from the sky and parts of the earth could again be seen, and that is what the child found so striking. The world went on, growth continued even out of sight. And, now, to her, this seemed to be the most important observation of all.

               She closed her eyes and asked her chest to unwind, to stop it with all that tightening, and said to herself in a slow, whispered call: he was here, he was here.

A writer from Nyack, NY, Juliana’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Yemassee, Entropy, VIDA Review, Irish Pages, The Atticus Review, among other publications. She currently lives in Philadelphia and teaches undergraduate composition and creative writing at Rutgers - Camden.

 

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