by Taylor Wood
He sat on the bed in the middle of the hotel room. Maybe it was a hotel, maybe it was a motel. He never really understood the difference even after spending so much time in beds like this. A man sits on a comforter that hasn’t been washed in a decade and suddenly the meaning changes. He took a puff then looked his cigarette over. It was at that point; not quite hitting the filter but basically there, so he heeded his taste buds and carried the butt to the toilet. He couldn’t afford to pay a smoking fine in a non-smoking state.
As he sprayed cologne into the air, there were knocks at the door. Answer it now, answer it later, jump off the balcony, what the fuck. He went back to the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror for a moment, smoothing back what was left of his hair, swishing mouthwash for the third time in an hour. He spits it into the sink.
“You look young,” he said to his reflection through 12-year-old glasses.
He breathed, wondered when he got so fat.
He left the bathroom and opened the door.
In the hallway, she wore a hoodie over a bare, caramel chest, very small gym shorts, and knee-high socks under Chuck Taylor’s. She was all magenta.
“Do I look like what you asked for?” she said.
“Hello. You’re perfect.” He closed the door behind her and led her to the bed. She sat, looking around. He stood over her but slightly off to the side of the bed, her hand glided over the bedspread. He winced and breathed deeply, thirsty. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll pay after.”
“Ok,” she smiled, rubbing her eyes. “Do you have anything to drink?”
“You don’t drink. I don’t drink. Not tonight.”
He walked across the room and sat down at the desk next to the TV. There was a pad of sticky notes and a pen on it. The sticky notes had a scribble on the front page. He hadn’t scribbled on that paper yet the pen still sat right next to it, untouched to his knowledge and probably better off. He wondered who had done that. Who the fuck did it? He looked back at her on the bed and cleared his throat.
“How was practice?” he said.
“Same as usual. Coach was way too hard on me.” She bent down, rubbing her ankles. “He’s not that hard on the other girls. I think he, like…I don’t know…likes me or something.”
“Oh, yeah? Do I have to kill this motherfucker?”
“I’m so damn tense,” she said, picking both arms up and placing them behind her back, hands meeting, bosom protruding. “Damn. Kill him? Fuck.” She squeaked a bit. “Baby, you’re always going all the way. Why don’t you just sit here and chill with me?”
He picked up the pad of sticky notes, but his eyes stayed on her. He looked at the pad, then her, then the door to the hallway. The fucking scribbles. Why is everything so goddamn hard?
“Stop worrying, baby. I’m not that,” she said. His eyes returned to her from the door. “What could you possibly want out there? I’m yours.”
“Yeah,” he took a deep breath. “Ok.” His eyes clenched. The sticky notes fell onto the table. “Perfect.”
He stood, licked his lips. How different is anything? How different is right now than back then? How different am I? How different is she? I’m still not very good at math. Mysteries are never really solved. Time doesn’t change anything. New babies with new problems. I was an artist once.
“Come here,” she said, backing up to sit against the headboard and patting the bed. “I hope we’re not wasting this opportunity.”
He sat next to her. He thought about hair products.
She put her hand on his thigh. He straightened up, almost moaned, before she pulled it away.
“Have you been smoking in here?” she said.
“Hell no, babe. Of course not. You know I don’t smoke. How could you even ask that?”
“I’m just saying, you know my mom won’t let me date a boy who smokes.”
“I’m a man.”
He put his hands on both of her cheeks and kissed her. She reached down to undo his belt. He pushed her hands away, and they continued kissing like that for a while, all tongue, no passion. Finally, he unzipped her hoodie and grabbed both her breasts. She bit his lip and again went at his belt. He let her.
“Yeah,” he said. “You want that?”
“Then take it.”
She pulled his pants down over his ass and tugged his half-erect penis, trying to make it whole.
“Is that the thing you wanted?” he said.
“Do you want me?”
“Do you love me?”
He grabbed her wrist then her chin and forced her eyes to look into his.
“I said do you love me?” he said.
“Mister, I don’t…I just wanna –”
“JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.”
He shot up from the bed, his pants around his knees, almost falling on his face, his cock half hanging, half reaching. He wrenched open the drawer of the bedside table and pulled out a pocket knife. She lied on the bed still but not rigid as he brought out the blade. He moved to the front of the bed, stepping out his pants, his cock still in the same state.
“You beg me and beg me to do this,” he said, pacing back and forth in front of the bed, the knife held stiffly in front of him. “I mean, I swear, you want me to. I tell you how unhappy I am, and you say it’s all bullshit. Just smile. Just take a deep breath. Just fucking be happy. Be happy? FUCK YOU. It’s not that easy, and you know it. But you fuck with me. You fucking FUCK with me.”
He brought his palm down hard onto the bed just in front of her still shoe’d feet. She didn’t flinch. She looked calmly to him, listening, trying to understand.
“Yeah, that’s right,” he said, pacing again. “That’s you, alright. Just fucking sitting there. Just listening to me pour my fucking heart out, acting like you don’t give a fuck. I told you I’d do it.” He stopped his march and stood still in front of her, almost leaning over her and the bed, lying the blade just over his upturned wrist. “I told you I almost did it once. Just like this. Sitting on the toilet in my boxers. That same song playing on the boom box behind me, over and fucking over again. I held that knife over this wrist for almost an hour, crying and crying and begging you to hear me. All I wanted was you. You to hear me. I told you that happened. And you said you DIDN’T FUCKING BELIEVE me.”
He stood that way for several minutes, leaning at a slight angle over the bed, the few muscles he had trembling while holding him, barely supporting his shaking knees, with the knife still over the wrist, his face shining in the sweat glow lamp overhead.
She rose up on her knees, sliding towards him. She placed her hands on both of his cheeks.
“I believe you, baby,” she finally said.
He collapsed into her arms, dropping the knife to the floor. She held his sweaty, trembling body as he wept.
“Take a deep breath with me,” she said.
“One. Two. Three.”
They breathed in and out, in and out, for a few moments. She stroked his head, weaving her fingers through his few hairs.
“Why don’t you fucking care?” he said. “I just wanted…I just…you…I fucking loved you.”
“I do. But you have to care too.”
He nodded, wiping his eyes. After taking a few more deep breaths to himself, he stood. He found his pants on the floor and took his wallet out of the back pocket. He walked to the bedside table where her purse lay and picked it up. As he dropped the bills inside, he saw a shining .38. He handed her purse and helped her out of the bed. They walked to the door.
“Will I be seeing you again?” she said.
“I don’t think so. I can’t do this again for a while.” He paused. “Even though I miss it.”
He opened the door for her. As she walked out, he grabbed her arm and pointed to her purse with the other hand, the .38 just asking to be held.
“Why didn’t you use it? After all my shit?”
She reached up, rubbing his face.
“It’s just part of the job, baby.”
He closed the door behind her and walked back towards the bed. There was the knife on the floor. He put his pants back on, realizing he’d forgotten to put on deodorant as he bent over, cursed himself. There was the knife on the floor. It seemed like things always hurt, but that’s when he felt the best. There was the knife on the floor. He picked it up.
On the balcony of his room, he lit a cigarette. Children laughed in the swimming pool many stories below, though he thought it was much too late for children to be awake and so fucking loud. He looked at the knife. It suddenly felt heavy. The children below laughed. For some reason it made him smile. He ran his finger down the blade one last time before throwing it as far as he could, just like all the knives before, for a moment worried one of the children might find it and hurt him or herself.
He took a long drag.
Fuck it, he thought to himself. It’s their problem now.
Taylor Wood was born in 1991 and has lived in Indiana most of his life. As if all of that isn’t enough to color him completely uninteresting, after recently earning a super useful degree in English and creative writing from Indiana University, he also earned his second OWI, but at least his girlfriend (claims she) loves him, and the sun hasn’t yet exploded or whatever. Wood has somehow been published in journals such as Evergreen Review, Pif Magazine, and Mochila Review. He currently resides in Bloomington, IN where he’ll probably die still doing grunt work at the local Panera Bread and playing bass for his shit metal band Thorr-Axe.
May 31, 2017