Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Booze Induced

I trace my middle finger along the edge of the three-ounce glass, half-drained of dark brown liquid. Jack and Coke—my drink of choice in my loneliness.

My phone vibrates against the table. Mitchell. Again. I can’t talk to him, can’t let him hear my words slur, can’t let him see how far I’ve fallen from grace, can’t listen to him apologize again and again. I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry. I try to convince myself of this truth as I let the last of my drink sit on my tongue, gulp it down.

Mitchell doesn’t like alcohol. He wouldn’t like that I’m here. He always hated this place, the noise from the bar, the fifteen different TVs along the walls on fifteen different sports networks, the pool balls clanking against each other, the occasional scream and body tumble from someone who had too much to drink—usually underage.

He came because of me. He was drawn to me. “You ever have that feeling?” he asked me one night. We were leaning against the wall, watching Bryan and Rita duke it out in pool. “To be with someone and then feel your heart tug, like on a string, whenever they walked away?”

I blushed. I never blush. But that night he made me blush, and Renee laughed that my cheeks had turned purple, like little blueberries freckling my face.

I thought he was flirting with me, that next he would ask me on a date, maybe to a quiet restaurant—Italian, I love Italian. And he was so cute. In his signature cardigan sweater, jeans, and converse sneakers. His slick black hair like waves in the ocean. I had my eye on him for weeks, but I would wait for him to come to me. “He that finds a good wife . . . “ Mama’s voice echoed in my ear.

Instead, he followed with, “Are you saved?” I paused, in the motion of closing my lips around the rim of a Yuengling beer, unsure if I should take the sip, unsure if he was judging me.

“Yes,” I finally told him, after putting my beer on the table. But it felt like a lie. Like I never accepted the call to the altar at age thirteen during youth night, like I never felt His presence within me, rattling my rib cage, filling my bosom as He spoke, “You’ll never feel alone with Me,” because He knew why I was on my knees crying into the pew cushion when I should’ve been praying.

But when I heard His voice, and rose—as if being pulled up, tugged by that heart string—followed the illuminated footprints in the plush carpet down the aisle to my Lord, suddenly it didn’t matter that my crush, Gary Zane, only wanted a blowjob, or that the girls in my gym class teased me for not having a boyfriend when they all did. I wasn’t alone anymore. I belonged to the King, concerned with His business, devoted to Him body and spirit.

Until last night, when I submitted myself, body and spirit, to Mitchell, who  reminds me that I am still married to Christ, that he isn’t my husband, yet. But I want him to be, I so want him to be. He’s all that is on my mind now. I will sit here, like on my knees in that sanctuary, and seek his rising and sinking chest to lay my head at the bottom of this shot glass, clouded with my finger prints. Already, the Jack tastes flat, like water.

“You can leave the Coke,” I tell the waiter, who works the floors until midnight, when the only service will come from the bar. He nods and dodges the bending back ends of the pool players to my left, on his way to drop two empty beer bottles in the trashcan behind the bartender, the glasses shattering against each other.

A draft draws me to the door, where Renee finally enters. She sees me immediately and slides into the booth across from me. She shimmies out of her coat and scarf and gives me a twisted grin. I wait for her to ask me what’s wrong, why are we back at Mother Goose’s four years post graduation, what drove me to drink again after being sober for Mitchell since the day he asked me if I was saved.

But she looks away, taps a knuckle against the window, points to the snowflake decorations attached to the street lamps outside. “Don’t you just love Christmas?” Optimistic, Christmas-loving Renee. I know she sees the storm clouds gathering over my head, but she chooses instead to look toward the blue sky just beyond them.

“It’s a magical time of year,” I say, and I throw my head back, downing the entire glass, holding my breath to keep it from rising again.

“Aren’t you excited? You’re getting married this Christmas! You and Mitchell proclaiming your love for each other before God, and on His Son’s birthday! It’s more than magical, it’s—” Her eyes widen, a glimmer in her pupils. Her chest expands, and it’s as if her whole body is levitating from the seat as she speaks of Christmas and it’s magic and my wedding and the ultimate display of love and of affection and, Jesus Christ!

“We had sex.”

Renee stiffens, frozen in midair, it seems. She says nothing.

“Me and Mitchell,” I add, as if that’s what she’s stuck on, but she’s quiet. She stares at me, and I start to think that maybe even this news is too much for chipper Renee to handle. Even she was a virgin when she married, and I had been saved five years while the only thing about God she knew was that He existed and that He saw everything. Now I fear she too will turn her back to me, and what does that mean for my carnal soul if all I have left to console me is one more shot of this whiskey?

But she surprises me again. “So . . . was it . . . bad?” I swear her obsession with always seeing the bright side of things will one day make her blind. But I laugh anyway. I can only laugh. And she laughs with me. And maybe it’s because of all the alcohol that my voice grows from low giggles, snickers under my breath, to cackles, and before I know it, we’re both howling like we’ve had too much to drink, like at any second, we’ll be rolling on the floor, spilled beer soaking our hair.

And it’s this release of the tension building inside me since last night that assures me nothing has to change. That if Mitchell were to call again, and I answer, I won’t be shamed by the guilt embedded in his unwanted apologies, but I’ll receive the words I yearn to hear exit his lips now. “I love you. I won’t leave you alone.”

I look down at the blank screen of my phone. I will answer, you baby. Just call, one more time.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
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Previous: Seeking Righteousness
Next: There’s No Such Thing as Santa Claus

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Before the Wedding

You rise and turn your back to me. I so desperately want to see your face, to cradle it in my palms as you lie on top of me, fill me with your love, your gray eyes piercing in the darkness, glimpsing into my soul, watching my insides blossom, but you turn your back to me.

I never knew a man, who wanted nothing more than to make me his wife forever, could in turn, make me feel so dirty.

“This is wrong,” you say. “We should’ve waited.”

But we’ve waited long enough. For six years, I’ve endured hand holding, side-shoulder hugs, pecks on the cheek and forehead, a couple on the mouth if it’s Valentine’s Day, but never enough to make my inner thighs tingle. Always falling just short of making me want you the way I want to want you, need you the way I need to need you. To grasp you between my legs and bloom for you, the way I imagine Rachel did for Jacob after fourteen years . . . of waiting.

“You can’t use that against me,” you say, and the painful look in your eyes is reminiscent of the way the corners of your eyes slanted at a sharp angle when you poured all of your spirit into me, and I am again desperate to touch you, to feel you.

“What about the five love languages?” I say to you. “You remember the sermon. How important it is to know which is your partner’s.” Mine—physical touch.

“That’s for marriage.”

But we are married! Right here, in this bed, we wed in spirit, and you cleaved to me the way a husband should, the way I want you to again. Forget your vow of celibacy and sin for me just this once, and then again. God will forgive us for jumping the broom three weeks too soon. Because that’s what He does. Because His unconditional love is worth more than what you show me tonight.

“Maybe you should go.”

“But, baby, it’s cold outside,” and I wish the roles were reversed, and you were the one singing the song to me as we held each other by the fireplace, only our skin and the flames before us to keep us warm.

But you’re already pulling up your pants and tossing me my sweater, not bothering to help me into my clothes the way you so quickly got me out of them—slowly, savoring what you will surely miss until our scheduled wedding night, if that is still a possibility.

“Call me when you get home,” you say at the door, and a gust of wind blasts me in my face, freezes the tears fresh on my tender cheeks. You won’t walk me to my car. Too tempting to kiss me. You know I won’t settle for the forehead. I’ll clasp your face in my hands, pull your lips down to mine, slip my tongue in between, beckon you toward the garage where I know there’s an empty table, clear of the Christmas decorations you hung the day after Thanksgiving, ready to receive our naked bodies as we consummate our betrothal for a second time tonight.

But I am in my car alone, and the air is taking too long to turn warm, and the steering wheel feels like ice touching my fingers, and you are already safe inside—the door closed and locked—before I back out of the driveway.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans:
——
 Next: Time to Decorate the Tree

#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Harvest Wedding

Happy Throwback Thursday! This story, originally published October 8, 2014, started as journal assignment for a fiction writing course in college. The prompt was, “When I first heard the song . . . ”

At the time, the song I constantly had on repeat was Trey Songz’s “Almost Lose It,” which is about a wedding. Unfortunately, this wedding turned horribly sour. If you ever read or seen the Spanish play, Bodas de sangre, you can guess what happens. Actually, the original title for this story, when I turned it in for class, was “Blood Wedding.”


Harvest Wedding

Saturday afternoon in mid October. The leaves were just beginning to change colors. Beautiful reds, and oranges. With the right wind, they would break from their branches and swirl through the air until they found the right beautiful woman’s head to adorn. I was that woman, and I was walking down the aisle at Mt. Zion AME, about to start a new life with the man of my dreams, Prince Rossario. He truely was a prince; dressed in a crisp, black tux with the burgandy of his vest peeking above his jacket. Our colors were orange and Merlot red, the same as the fall leaves. The perfect harvest wedding.

As I stepped closer to my future husband, I saw the tears in his eyes sparkle. There was a gravitational pull in his gaze and I let it take over my muscular functions and pull me closer to him. I was gliding, not walking, down the aisle.

Everything was as it should be until someone came bursting through the doors behind me. Instantly, everything and everyone froze. Even the wedding song had abruptly stopped with a scratch just as it was reaching its climax. Prince’s glowing face immediately darkened into a look of dread and fear as his eyes grew wide, tore away from mine and moved past me to the dark figure standing behind me. A loud gasp came from the throat of the best man, Johnny, as he turned a disbelieving look in Prince’s direction; his bottom lip quivering.

My heart stopped and my tears that were tears of joy only seconds prior, quickly turned cold and anxious as they sliced a path down my cheeks. I slowly turned around to face the creature that had deliberately stolen the attention of every one of my guests in that sanctuary. To my astonishment, I came to face Constance Applewood, an old friend—really acquaintance—from college who had dated Prince before I came into the picture. She obviously wasn’t invited. I made sure of that. What bride wants her fiancé’s ex-girlfriend at her wedding, slouching in the front row, patiently waiting for her moment to object to the marriage and invoke chaos throughout the church as she pounces on the innocent woman in white, clawing her nails into her flesh, not quite sure if she wants to kill her rival or just scare her away, but indisputably willing to do anything to get her man back?

Prince thought I was being overly dramatic to think that Constance would go through such lengths. He assured me that his and Constance’s relationship wasn’t even a relationship; just two good friends who spent a lot of time together and occasionally had sex once or twice or three times; a faux-relationship that ended once he met me. Of course I had to remind him that less than a week after we started dating, I found “HOMEWRECKER” keyed into the side of my black Toyota Camry.

Seeing Constance stand before me confirmed that I was right not to invite her. Unfortunately, the absence of an invitation didn’t stop her from crashing my wedding. It wasn’t her presence that had shocked me and everyone else in the sanctuary. What inflicted horror into the eyes of the guests, myself, and the wedding party was a wedding dress identical to mine. From the rhinestones that trimmed the bodice to the ruffles of the gown to the design of the lace on the veil to the length of the train behind her, it was all the exact duplicate of mine. The only difference, an unmistakably huge difference, was that here dress was black. Even the bouquet she held in her hands was composed of drooping, brown flowers and weeds. The tears pouring from her eyes caused the murky mascara to run dark veins down her face. She began to shake as her screeching voice wailed, “This wedding is over!” She dropped her bouquet to reveal the shimmering, sharpened blade of a butcher knife.

“Oh, God!” someone screamed from the crown, and suddenly, chaos erupted throughout the church. Everyone swarmed toward the exit doors, unsure of the terror to follow but certain that they weren’t staying behind to find out. Guests were bouncing off of one another, trying to elbow their way through to freedom. Babies could be heard squealing in the background as they were being torn from their mothers’ arms in the midst of the mayhem. Young children were being trampled under the combination of high heels and penny loafers. In the center of all the running, tripping, falling, jumping, flailing of arms, tossing of clutch purses, scratching of pew legs across the floor, tumbling and crashing of flower vases, the epicenter of all the screams and shrieks stood Constance. Her obscure eyes pierced into my soul and it was as if she were pointing the knife right at my heart. It was reminiscent of the cheesy dramatics of a C rated action film, except there were no cameras rolling and no director to scream “CUT!” so that my stunt double could take my place. Oh, how I wished it were that way.

When the pandemonium finally subsided and all that was left in the church were those still frozen at the altar, and Constance and myself—more like yin and yang—standing in the middle aisle, silence engulfed the church once again. The tension in that sanctuary was so thick it could be cut with a knife. Unfortunately, tension was not Constance’s intended target. I dropped my bouquet and ran to the altar to stand next to my groom.

Prince wrapped me in his arms and spoke up to the menacing woman in black. “Constance, have you lost your–”

“Shut up!” she interrupted him. “You don’t get to speak.” She took a few steps closer and everyone scattered to opposite corners of the church. Johnny inched to the door behind Constance, hoping to escape unnoticed. Three of my bridesmaids created a barricade of pews in the far left corner. My parents and future in-laws hugged each other while trembling underneath the organ. Prince and I crouched behind the podium with the reverend. It wasn’t the best place to hide because no sooner than peeking over the edges of the podium did I find Constance hovering over us with the blinding blade in her hand.

Prince held up his hands in surrender. “Constance,” he started. “I get it. You’re upset.”

“I’m upset?” she blurted, in shock of Prince’s little words to her.

Reverend Jacobs stood up and approached Constance. “Sweetheart, give me the knife. We can resolve this in a peaceful manner.”

“Stay back!” she demanded, pointing the knife to his chest. She turned to Prince. “What does she have that I don’t, huh? Is, is her hair prettier than mine? Is she skinnier than me? Does, does she please you better in the bedroom?”

I wanted to correct her by saying that I was a virgin, but images of her carving me with the knife reminded me of the importance of silence.

“What is it?” she continued.

“Constance.”

“What is it!”

“I love her!”

I melted when he spoke those words. I wanted to jump into his arms, kiss him passionately, and profess how much I loved him too. Constance could not succeed in breaking us up or this wedding. I was confident of that. Her behavior, no matter how irrational, would not force him to change his feelings for me. He knew the day he met me—Super Bowl party at Johnny’s house. I was wearing a Richard Sherman jersey and held a hot wing in one hand and an open Bud Light Platinum in the other. He walked right into me and promised me that I would be disappointed and that Peyton Manning would expose Sherman for the mediocre cornerback that he was. By halftime, he was begging me for my number.

“But you don’t love me.” Constance’s voice had softened. She begin to lower the knife.

“Constance, we were never that serious. You gotta know that. When I started dating Alicia, you told me you were fine with it.” Prince held out his hand for the knife. I rose to my feet as gracefully as I could without stepping on my train and inadvertently stumbling into the butcher knife that separated me and Constance. I stood behind Prince, wrapped my arms around his waist and looked at Constance over his shoulder.

“I didn’t think you were gonna marry her!” she said. “I thought . . . I thought . . .” She turned her back to us. “I guess it doesn’t matter now,” she whispered, shrugging her shoulders.

Prince started toward her, but I pulled him back, squeezing his torso with the little strength I had. He turned to the reverend, who stepped to Constance and touched her shoulder. “Sister,” he began.

Constance didn’t turn around. She raised the knife above her head, and before the reverend could snatch it away from her, plunged it into her chest, right into her broken heart. I screamed. My parents and in-laws hidden underneath the organ screamed. My bridesmaids behind the barricade of pews screamed. Johnny has already exited the sanctuary.

Constance’s body collapsed to the floor. The reverend dropped to his knees. His hands hovered over the end of the knife in her chest, debating if pulling it out would help save her life, or just accelerate her inevitable death. He bowed his head to pray, his hands still hovering over the knife.

Prince broke free of my grasp and ran to the opposite side of Constance. He cupped the back of her head in his palm and repeatedly slapped her check, screaming, “Why? Why would you do this?” When he looked up at me, I could see the tears in his eyes. They didn’t sparkle. They didn’t tug at my heart, draw me to want to be closer to him and his bleeding ex-girlfriend. I backed away, let the weight of my wedding gown press me down to the floor. I heaved loud sobs, and when I saw the first teardrop land on my left hand, void of a wedding band, I knew we had missed our harvest.

—Nortina

Forecast

“Careful. Hurricane’s out there churning.” Steve says. “Rip currents are strong.”

Always the meteorologist. Even on vacation. I hate it. I don’t need his job reminding me of how sad I am.

I step closer to the water’s edge, seashells making crescent moon imprints on the soles of my feet, spume from the crest of the waves kissing my toes.

It’s forecast veer north, fizzle out in the ocean, but how I wish it would stay the course. Make landfall. Pull me under and drag me out to sea. How I pray he would dive in after me, swim through the crashing waves, the salt in his eyes, the entangling seaweed and obstructing driftwood, to bring me back to him. Hell or high water. My life guard to press his lips against mine, breath the air back into my lungs, the beat into my heart.

Two days ago, he proposed, and when I told him no, he said work was moving him to Texas. There he’ll be an anchor, he tried to justify, more than just a weekend weatherman. People will see him.

How far is Texas? I Googled—nearly 1,500 miles. And away from me. He makes a living predicting the future in weather patterns, but he can’t see what’s right in front of him—the storm clouds gathering above my head, that I’m caught in a whirlwind, being pulled and tossed in different directions, falling apart.

Though he hasn’t explicitly said it, this trip feels like goodbye. Why continue in a relationship that will never end in marriage?

But the truth is I love him. More than the air in my lungs, more than the salt in the sea. More than I want to see the sun rise over the ocean in the morning, or his back shrinking behind the radar green screen.

Water splashes my hips. I’m deeper than I want to be, and when I turn around, he’s a retreating blur in my periphery. I’ve been drawn so far out already. Maybe it’s easier this way. He can climb back over the sand dunes and leave me here to prune. At least then he won’t see me cry, and I won’t have to explain again why it hurts too much to marry him.

Nortina

Moving In

“Did you pack enough boxes?” he asks as he folds the cardboard box he just emptied of all my china under his arm and tosses it toward the trashcan, missing it completely.

I don’t tell him about the two bins still in my trunk stuffed with decorations for almost every holiday—Christmas, New Year’s Thanksgiving, Halloween, Easter, Fourth of July, even President’s Day. I’ll wait to unpack those tomorrow, while he’s at work.

I admit I’m a bit of a hoarder, but just as he would’ve inherited a single mother’s snot-nosed kids, all my stuff instantaneously became his the day he married me.

At least we can both agree children will never be in the picture. I have no intentions of sharing him . . . ever. And in this big house, there are so many places we have yet to christen. Including the kitchen counter.

It takes me a few hops to pull myself on top of it, and once I’m up, I spin around to face him, shimmy my shoulders and let the spaghetti straps of my top fall to my elbows like melting ice cream.

“Are we ever going to eat off these?” he asks, oblivious to my advances. He taps his knuckles against the stack of gilded porcelain plates.

“Of course,” I lie, waving off the flying dust. We haven’t used them since Grandma died and left them for me in her will. Only for show, Mama always said. It’s good to have nice things.

“But not tonight.” Tonight, I have other plans. I pull him to my lips by his shirt collar and he stumbles over the box still containing all of my kitchen gadgets next to his feet—the handheld and electronic mixers (because I couldn’t have just one), the blender, food processor, and Spiralizer (how many ways can one chop up veggies?), the juicer that I’ve only used once since buying it five years ago.

Photo by @_WILLPOWER_ from nappy.co

“We’ve wasted enough time already,” he breathes into my mouth, reminding me of the housewarming we’ve pushed back twice now.

“But we have the rest of our lives,” I say. What are ten more boxes left—or twenty. I’ve lost count. My head spins when his bare chest is pressed against mine. His body heat melts my candle wax like fire.

“This is all I need,” I tell him, and he mounts the counter top to join me.

—Nortina 

Bar-A-Thon: Sunset Motel (Part 6)

Continued from Marriage Counseling

It was never my house; I suppose I don’t miss it. But to be locked out with only the clothes on my back, the change in my purse, seems cruel.

Group therapy at one; I tell them my husband and I have separated. They promise me reconciliation, but across the refreshments table, I meet his gaze.

Sunset Motel, where lovers rendezvous in secret, is a block away from the church basement.

I’m already naked when he arrives.

 

word count: 77
Up Next: Part 7 (Conclusion) – Caught in the Wind

—Nortina


The challenge is to blog every other day June 17 through June 30, using the theme or prompts as inspiration.

The theme is seven, so I’m posting a series of seven stories at seventy-seven words each. Each day also has a prompt based on a famous book title, and while I’ve unfortunately never read any of the books listed, I think I can work with the funny play on words.

Today’s prompt is: Suns and Lovers

I hope you enjoyed this quick short-short, and be sure to come back on Friday for the final chapter!

#1MinFiction: A Bride At Last

That I wasn’t his first choice humbled me.

But when he kissed me, delicate lips caressing mine, after we exchanged vows, and planted the lotus blossom in my hair, and that night, fitted his hips between my legs and filled me till I overflowed, soaking my bangs with the sweat of his brow…

I prayed my sister, three months dead, would not be jealous.

—Nortina


For a new flash fiction challenge: Monday’s One-Minute Fiction—write a story in one minute, no more, no less, based on the prompt provided. This week’s prompt is a photo. Click the link to join in!

 

 

 

Bar-A-Thon: Marriage Counseling (Part 5)

Continued from Testing the Waters

“Before . . . this— Would you call your marriage a happy one?”

“Yes–”

“No–”

We speak in unison.

Overcrowded bookshelves line the walls on either side of me. The mahogany of Dr. Liam’s s desk, the wood floor, make the office appear dim. Mood lighting to fix our broken vows.

Behind me, my husband paces back and forth. He wants to file for divorce. He doesn’t have the right.

“We live like brother and sister, but I have needs.”

word count: 77
Up Next: Part 6 – Sunset Motel

—Nortina


The challenge is to blog every other day June 17 through June 30, using the theme or prompts as inspiration.

The theme is seven, so I’m posting a series of seven stories at seventy-seven words each. Each day also has a prompt based on a famous book title, and while I’ve unfortunately never read any of the books listed, I think I can work with the funny play on words.

Today’s prompt is: Lord of the Files

I hope you enjoyed this quick short-short, and be sure to come back on Wednesday for the continuation!

First Night into Forever

Come slowly – Eden!

Come slowly – Eden!
Lips unused to Thee –
Bashful – sip thy Jessamines –
As the fainting Bee –

Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums –
Counts his nectars –
Enters – and is lost in Balms.

—Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

His kisses tease me. He marks his territory along my jawline and in the crook of my neck, while his hands roam underneath my dress.

I had switched dresses for the reception, changed into to something a little more comfortable, less heavy, easier to move around in for our first dance, yet plain enough that I wouldn’t mind getting a little wine on it when we interlocked arms and let the Merlot cascade into our mouths from the tinted glasses.

But after all the guests had gone home, and we had checked into our honeymoon suite at the hotel, I stepped back into my gown from the wedding, its beaded lace bodice hugging every curve just right. I wanted the exhilarating pleasure of having my husband undress me on our first night together.

I imagined the intensity in his eyes—they always turn a darker shade of brown when he’s serious—full of adoration. I imagined how he’d wrap his arms around me to undo all twenty-seven buttons down my spine. He would pull apart the edges as if prying open a chest to a secret treasure, and let the bodice drop fall, exposing my breasts, but his self-control wouldn’t allow him to dive in right away. His eyes would remain locked on mine as he’d slip the dress down over my hips. He would run his hand down the back of my thigh, cup my leg at that knee and scoop me out and into his arms. He would carry me to the bed, lay me down gently and begin to explore every inch of my body with his lips, and like a delicate flower, I would unfurl for his buzzing feelers seeking the sweet nectar in my center.

And he did just that, down to every magical detail, everything I’d ever dreamed for on my wedding night, even before I knew his face.

Finally, he sinks between my legs and kisses me deeply on the mouth, every emotion he could never put into words condensed into that one impassioned, all-consuming kiss. He trails down to my ear, puts both lips to it, whispers, “I love you,”  and his voice travels through my ear canal, inside of me, stroking my senses from my curling toes to my arching back, filling every crevice that hadn’t yet welcomed the seduction of his touch until tonight.

I exhale in bliss. I’m so glad we waited.

—Nortina


It is Short Story A Day May, and today’s prompt from Elise Holland asks us to draw on some Poetic Inspiration. I deviated from the suggested Shakespeare sonnet and chose this sensual—yes, sensual—poem by my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. Try not to take the poem so literally, she may be describing a bee and a flower, but what are flowers but the sexual organs of plants? 😉 Anti-social recluse or not, we all have that hopeless romantic within us…

Sleepless

I’ve been watching the morning news since 4 AM. It comes on earlier and earlier these days. I can’t imagine there would be much breaking news to report between 11:35 PM and 4 AM that it can’t waiting until 8. Who besides me is up watching it? But then I remember Orlando, and I turn up the volume.

Donald Trump will be in town. They interview a girl in a sleeping bag just outside the gates of the special events center. “Ah’ve bain hair saince faive a em!”  she says in a heavy Southern drawl. She wants to make sure she gets in and that she has good seats. All this for a man whose only policies I can remember involve banning a billion people and building a wall to ban a million more.

Hell, I’ll be up, I might as well go. Maybe he’s not as bad as he seems. Maybe he actually has good ideas. Maybe there’s a logical reason for why people like him so much, and not the reason I fear. But then I remember where I live. The last time I stepped out because I couldn’t sleep, I found myself on the outskirts of town, driving behind a black pickup with a Confederate flag in the rear window. Going to see Trump is the closest I’ll get to attending a Klan rally. They’ll take one look at my afro and know I don’t belong.

Sean walks in buttoning his uniform and sighs when he sees me on the couch. For once, I wish he’d be happy that I’m up before him. I could’ve cooked him breakfast, fixed him a fresh pot of coffee. But who am I kidding? He’s known since our first date sophomore year in college that I don’t cook. I’m one of the few people who are actually skilled at burning coffee.

“Please tell me you haven’t been here all night,” he says.

“Just all morning.” I smile, but he doesn’t laugh.

“Sweetie.” He sits on the arm of the couch, and my eyes drift down to the gun holstered on his hip. I wonder, will he have to shoot anyone today? Someone who doesn’t cooperate, doesn’t listen, like me. Pull the trigger to silence my defiant mouth.

“We sent Matthew to your sister’s so you could finally get some sleep. Please tell me you don’t still hear the man downstairs.”

I don’t understand why he can’t just go downstairs and check that apartment. He’s a cop for God’s sake. The man downstairs is beating his wife. Her screams should be probable cause enough. I hear her struggle with him every night — the lamp crashing to the floor, the shaking of our bed when he slams her against the wall. I hear him curse her: Bitch! Cunt! I know he’s drunk. He comes home from the bar and demands she get on her knees, do her marital duties. Some nights I think he’s already on top of her when she wakes up because I hear his grunts and then her high-pitched screams. Their bedroom is directly below ours.

But Sean doesn’t hear a thing. He sleeps like a bear in hibernation. He’s sure the apartment downstairs is empty because he saw an eviction notice posted on the door last month. It’s just my postpartum, he tells me, it’s just my insomnia.

He tangles his fingers in my hair, pulls me into him, and wraps me in a suffocating hug. “Why don’t I go ask the manager if anyone’s living in 205, hmm?” he says, kissing my forehead.

“No.” I pull out of his arms. “I didn’t hear anything last night.”

“Well that’s good!” he exclaims, but he’s missed the hint again. I couldn’t sleep last night because I didn’t hear anything. Now I fear she’s dead. He’s wrapped her in a throw rug and is sorting out where to dump the body. Maybe he’ll put her in the trunk of her car and drive it into the swampy waters of Midland Lake, five miles down the road. Would he be so stupid to bury her so close?

“Babe, do you think we can bring Matthew home tonight? I don’t want him to start thinking Sidra is his mom.”

I shrug because I don’t hear him. I’m fixated on the news again, waiting for headlines of a woman’s body found. But they keep playing footage of wounded patrons of Pulse nightclub being carried off to safety. I can see they were shot, blood pouring out between their fingers as they try unsuccessfully to block the wounds, t-shirts and pants soaked through, red, a deep cherry. Are they supposed to show this much gore on early morning TV? I think of that movie — I’ve seen so many since the night I decided to stay in — Nightcrawler, staring Jake Gyllenhaal. News directors obsessed with getting the grisliest of crime scene footage, and the cameramen willing to cake their lenses in innocent victims’ blood just to get it. They wonder why we’re so desensitized now. One thousand Palestinian children can have half their faces blown off, and no one bats an eye. And then I remember my own child. How he could be watching, how he could be dying.

“One more night,” I tell Sean, and he kisses my hand.

“Fine.” I never knew one syllable could stab me in the chest so deeply. He’s disgusted with me. He thinks I’m making up these phantom screams from downstairs because I don’t want kids; I don’t want his son, his image and likeness, attached to my hip. Was it so bad just the two of us?

“I’ll be in late tonight,” he says, walking to the door.

“Are you doing the Trump rally?”

“Yea, making sure no one gets sucker punched.” The breezy air in his voice returns, and I think maybe he’ll forgive me if I try to fall asleep tonight before he gets home.

“You know, if those protesters were smart, they would just stay away,” he says.

“If they were smart, they’d keep protesting. We don’t need someone who promotes violence and racism in the White House.”

He shakes his head. I’m so much more political than he is. He’s only voted once, Obama’s reelection, and I practically had to drag him to the polls kicking and screaming. Even last summer during all the demonstrations against police, he didn’t refute with chanting “Blue Lives Matter,” or the ever-insulting “All Lives Matter,” as if to exclude Black lives from that category. Too many people are dying for us to be so selfish, he told me.

He’s halfway out the door when he calls back to me, “Why don’t you get out the house today. Go to Sidra’s. It might do you some good just to hold him.”

I consider his proposition. It could help. My breasts have gotten so sore over this past week, my nipples so tender. Then I think my time would be better spent just buying a pump from Target. But what would be the point of having all this milk and no baby to nurse? So I nod. Tonight, I’ll sleep in the nursery so I’m not tormented by the screams or lack there of from under my bed. I’ll show Sean how much I’m missing our precious baby boy. I’ll be a better mommy for him and for Matthew.

—Nortina