When I cup my palm against my mouth I can smell her on me. A not unpleasant odor that instills a desire for more. I stand in the bathroom of an almost expensive hotel. There’s enough light bulbs above the mirror to illuminate a Hollywood movie. I can feel my self-esteem puddling at my toes, seeing the bathroom spotlights emblazon my scalp through the sparsity of mousy brown hair.
The water continues to gush and swirl down the drain. The toiletries loosely gathered around the sink belong solely to Holly. A bottle of eyeliner represents her make-up. There’s a lone white tooth brush, bristles like an unmown lawn. I scrub my face with her bar of pink soap, it’s brand name worn away with use.
I have to go home soon. Never have I been more aware of time than during the last month. The warm taffy expansion of days leading to last night. The quick rubberband snap of our night together.
I have to go soon. And I can’t kiss my wife smelling like Holly. Returning home freshly showered won’t alleviate suspicion, either. Sera likely already suspects. I probably gave myself away the moment I took the collection of Leonard Cohen poetry off my book shelf.
Holly enters, except that’s not quite the right way to describe what she does or how she does it. Holly doesn’t enter a room; she expands into it, fills the room from wall to wall like a burst of light irradiating the corners and making one uncomfortably aware of one’s flaws.
I could have written this paragraph before I met her in the flesh, though, so badly did I want to believe she was more than just a woman, no less clueless than I. Don’t make me out to be more than I am, she warned early on, when the extent of our affair was the exchange of instant messages. I can never be what you want.
She trails her finger across my sweat damp back as she passes; her unpainted fingernails softly carves along the curvature of my spine. I watch her through the mirror. Her nudity such a novelty to me. I want it always to be this way. I want to memorize every inch of her pale skin. I want to map her every anatomical angle, every landmark blemish. I want to still know surprise every time I unwrap her.
I want the ability to express these thoughts without coming across like an utter fool.
Holly sits down and begins pissing.
“You don’t mind, do you?”
“Of course not.” Eight years of marriage, I’ve always managed to avoid seeing Sera on the toilet.
“In Japan the women are very self conscious about pissing within earshot of anyone else. A lot of restrooms have speaker boxes where you push the button and it makes a flushing sound so you can piss, covertly. I never used it. I think it’s kinda erotic, the sound of urine hitting water. Especially if it makes someone else uncomfortable.”
“It doesn’t make me uncomfortable.”
She wipes and flushes. “I was talking people in general, Vic.” She kisses me on the corner of my mouth as she leaves. Her exit contracts the room. Her absence threatens an implosion.
“You still smell like me,” she calls from the bed.
Though Tennessee born of German/Irish ancestry, six years of living in Fukuoka, Japan has given her English an odd, slightly slurred accent that makes me want to embrace her every time she speaks.
I dry off my face with the anonymous white towel. I lift the toilet seat, flush, and begin pissing.
Holly lies on the bed, arms stretched out, breasts lolling, legs slightly open, left leg bent at the knee. She said she’s gained weight since she arrived Stateside, but I don’t see it. If I had a canvas and oils and even a modicum of talent and training I could paint a masterpiece of her. As it is, the last thing I painted, a wolf in water colors, garnered a C+ from my eighth grade art teacher.
My clothes are draped over the unassuming chair. She catches my glance.
“You have to go already?” Her voice is alarmingly devoid of emotion.
I don’t look at the clock. “No. I have time.”
“Lay down with me.”
I slide into bed beside her. The sheets, moist from our recent love-making clings to my skin as we reposition ourselves. I lay on my back, Holly’s head resting on my shoulder, my hand dipping right into her black, shoulder-length hair, brushing the thick strands back from her temple. I’m aware of her pubic hair stubble sandpapering my hip, her erect nipples brushing my skin with every slight movement.
Her heart beats against my ribcage. When was the last time I felt Sera’s heart beat? When was the last time I did anything other than monitor the regularity of her breathing, ensuring her sleep was deep enough for me to escape our bed into the false life provided by my computer?
Holly, my melancholy angel, her life underscored with disillusionment and advanced disappointment. In my eyes, she wears this sadness, beautifully. I’ve always believed a tight smile and downcast eyes held more radiance than the bleached smiles and sparkling eyes of run-of-the-mill glamour queens.
The guttering candle light provided by the Home Interior candles Holly brought casts miniature St. Elmo's fires across the ceiling and walls. Maybe she’s wondering what I’m thinking. And if she asks I’ll say I’m not thinking of anything at all, just basking in the moment. But she’s never shown an interest in my thoughts.
"How much longer can you stay?” She asks.
"Until the hour and minute hand meet.”
Her lips draw into a smile against my chest. It’s an inside joke involving Edgar Allan Poe’s story “A Predicament”. We discovered early on in our get-to-know-you phase a mutual love of literature and a mutual admiration for Poe’s canon. We’d occasionally read each other passages on voice chat.
Holly’s favorite paragraph involved the female protagonist from the Poe story, her head caught between the hour and minute hand of a clock tower. The vise-like pressure increases minutely until, first, on eyeball pops out of its socket. Its ocular brother in the body politic watches the dislodged orb roll into the gutter before swiftly joining it.
First hearing Poe’s words from Holly’s lips, I entertained the possibility I could become more emotionally invested in her than we agreed at the outset to allow ourselves. We even scoffed at the notion of an internet love affair.
There’s no computers, no distances of DSL cable, separating us, now. Why should the old rules apply?
I kiss the top of her head and play with the ends of her hair. From those dark follicles, my fingers trace along her collarbone up the hollow of her throat. I draw her chin up until our lips brush. My eyes adjust to the darkness in her eyes.
And I know that I’m a liar. I don’t want her to remain emotionally aloof. I want her to love me. I want the victory such emotional attachment entails. I want to wear her love like a shiny medal on the lapel of my bad ass leather jacket. I want the entire world (excluding my wife and everyone associated with my wife) to know Holly belongs to me. Her love for me validating my love for her.
But she doesn’t love me. My thoughts turn to her more than her thoughts include me.
“You’re so tense,” she whispers, her hands in motion, fingers roaming my chest and abdomen, searching for weak points in the armor of my flesh. I’m weak all over.
n my mind, I guess.”
“I don’t feel guilt.”
“Why not? It’s an interesting sensation. Kinda like anticipation without all the giddiness.”
My thumb presses against the divot in her chin that she hates but I love.
“Holly, I love you.”
The words escape. Immediately, I want to apologize. My little ineffectual defense mechanism. She hates those two meaningless bullshit words. I’m sorry.
When she answers, her voice continues its trend of emotional vacuity. “We agreed from the beginning this wasn’t going to be a ‘love’ thing.”
“I’m sorry.” The words hang there. Holly draws away from me. “No, wait, Holly. I’m not sorry.”
“You can’t love me. I don’t love you.”
“Don’t you feel anything about me?”
She crouches on the edge of the bed, cat-like. Her eyes. I stare into her eyes, hoping for a flash of emotion, anything. Her dark eyes like vortexes suck the light from the room.
I can’t hold her gaze. My eyes drop down to her lips. So long I’ve fantasized kissing those lips. The reality of her lips pressed against mine is worth this. Her mouth that I’ve claimed is not given to smiles. I’m such a liar. She smiles all the time. She’s quick to laugh. She’s not my melancholy angel. Strange I should fictionalize her in such a way.
She’s not smiling at the moment.
“What do you want me to say, Vic?”
“Nothing. Never mind.”
“No, nothing, never mind. What do you want me to fucking say? That you’re my number one man?”
“I don’t categorize people numerically. Guess again.”
“Oh, listen to you. How do you categorize people? By whether I fuck them or not? You’re the one always asking who I’m talking to. Always afraid you’re gonna get knocked out of the saddle.”
She’s off the bed and gathering her clothes. The boring white panties. The boring white bra. The jeans she has such a difficult time finding at the stores because her legs are so stubby and her ass is so wide. The shapeless blouse with the dollar store floral print she claims is of African design.
“I’m not asking you to marry me. I’m happy. I’m happy with you. So I tell you I love you. So what? I know you don’t love me. I know I like you more than you like me. You remind me this every fucking day. Or at least every day you’re gracious enough to make time in your busy schedule to speak to me.”
I keep talking as she keeps getting dressed. If there’s a combination of words that will make her stop, get undressed, lay back in this rented bed and forgive me; I’d spit in my mother’s face for a hint at the sequence of words.
Holly grabs her purse and the hotel key.
“How dare you ask me if I feel anything for you? I’m here, aren’t I?”
“I’m sorry, Holly. I didn’t mean…”
“Go home to your wife, Vic. Tell her you love her.”
She leaves the room the way she entered–furtively, like a thief.
It’s all I can do to keep myself from stepping, naked, into the hotel corridor and calling her name. I stare at the phone like an anchor dropped on the table. I could call her cell phone. It’d be long distance. What could I say?
I lay back down on the bed. Her smells are everywhere. I close my eyes and inhale.
Karl Koweski is a displaced Chicagoan now living on top of a mountain in Alabama. His chapbook of smut, Low Life, will be available within the month from www.zygoteinmycoffee.com. His poetry chap, Diminishing Returns, is available at www.sunnyoutside.com. He writes the monthly column, "Observations of a Dumb Polack", at Zygote.
this is a beautiful sad story. one of my favorites.
I liked this- nice job.