The apartment had her touch. Before, we spent most of our time in the bedroom, the living room having nothing but an old TV, on which the volume went in and out, a PlayStation, and one chair. Now it was cluttered. A loveseat sat at the center of the room, facing a flat screen hanging from the wall. In front of the loveseat, magazines, napkins, empty cups, an open laptop, baby wipes, and alphabet blocks covered the surface of a coffee table, obscuring the wood underneath. To the right of the couch, two plastic TV dinner trays were propped against the wall, and next to them on the floor, a table lamp, the pastel green shade ripped from the bottom, the cord wrapped around the base. The five arms of the blue, green, and brown floor lamp drooped over the left arm of the loveseat as if they were wilted flowers. The bulbs were dimmed, giving the room a sepia glow. Teal curtains better suited for a master bedroom draped sloppily over the patio door. Next to the excess fabric on the carpet were the car seat and stroller, and hanging from the handle of the stroller, a diaper bag.
Diapers, that must be what I smell, I thought as he sat me on the couch, clamped his long fingers onto my thighs, leaned forward and kissed me, desperately, sucking hard on my bottom lip until it lost feeling.
“I need you,” he whispered.
“What’s that smell?” I asked changing the subject, overwhelmed by his surprise display of affection.
He drew back, turned away from me and wiped his nose. “I don’t smell anything,” he said.
I looked over his shoulder, into the kitchen, and noticed the overflowing trashcan. I imagined along with discarded leftovers and cigarette butts, it was also filled with used diapers. Diapers that could not fit in the pile spilling out of the bathroom trashcan. The two of them too lazy to walk two feet from the apartment building to the dumpster to rid their home of fuming fecal matter.
I knew she had nothing. Her homelessness and the hope of having his son again were the two reasons he gave for why he had to move her in, though the now furnished living room told a different story. I didn’t like that he was so quick to welcome back a lackadaisical woman who couldn’t even care for herself. Was there not a way to just get the boy without the added burden of an adult child? I remembered his disgust when he told me that she was once too lazy to get off her ass and go to the store to buy the child diapers, opting instead to stick two of her menstrual pads together and wrap them around his waist as a makeshift undergarment.
Could there be used pads in the trashcan too? Soiled with the baby’s discharge as well as hers?
He was working two minimum wage jobs. He made barely enough to afford this apartment, more less groceries to make a decent meal. I could see the discarded containers from Chinatown Express under the half-open lid of the trashcan, the pizza box on the kitchen counter, the open bag of honey BBQ potato chips on a shelf in the pantry closet, the door ajar. Did anything in that kitchen say Gerber? Did they have a can of mushed carrots or peas, or had they simply been feeding the baby from their plates? How much of that food could his still developing stomach digest? How much of that food did his body process, and how much of it was contributing to the rancid odor that blanketed the apartment like a shroud?
“I know I said I wasn’t ready for a serious relationship,” he was saying, “that I was still bitter about my ex, and I needed to focus on my son.” He inhaled deeply, and in that moment, I wondered if anything in the air caught in his throat, if he could feel the stench scratching at his esophagus, dipping down into his stomach, forcing him to vomit.
“You’re the only woman who’s ever been genuine.” He closed his eyes and shook his head stiffly, his jaw clenched, the veins in his neck popping. “I realize that now. I just hope it’s not too late.”
Finally came the confession I’d hopelessly been waiting for all those weeks sitting next to my silent phone, stuffing my face with stale packaged food, the shifting light emanating from the television screen my only company. I rubbed my hand against his cheek then curled my fingers around the back of his neck and drew him closer for another kiss. He took me in his arms, tugged at the hem of my shirt, pulled me onto his lap. His kisses were strong, his puckered lips firm against mine. The coarse hairs of his mustache scratched at the thin layer of skin on my upper lip. I pried myself off of him to catch my breath.
“So you kicked her out?” I asked.
His long pause deflated me. How naïve of me to think that he could simply rid himself of the mother of his child, despite his hatred for her, just for me. I had nothing better to offer him. Who was I but a distraction from his bills and his insufferable jobs? A plain-Jane piece of ass to keep him occupied while he figured out what he truly wanted, which would inevitably be her. She would always be around, a persistent thorn in my side. A part of him would always belong to her. Even if I were to have his second child, it would still be his second, and it wouldn’t make her disappear—though, she had disappeared before.
He stood, adjusted his pants to accommodate his erection. He looked down the hall. At the end of the hall was his bedroom, where we spent many long nights together, cuddled underneath the sheets, he biting my neck, slurping at my earlobe, coiling his tongue around my hoop earring.
“I need to show you something.”
I took his hand, and he led me to the door left of his bedroom, where the odor became unbearable.
If you missed Part One: