Lives Aren’t Ruined, Just People, by Sam Nam

We’re both high, and she’s showing me her bra, not the one she’s wearing, but the one she just bought. I don’t know why she shows me these things. I think she wants me to want her, but I know better than to touch her. She probably wants me to guess the dimensions of her body, but I don’t ever do that except for the time she said she wanted to be shipped to South America, and I took her seriously, ransacking my apartment for a box big enough to fit her. My nose was bleeding, and I had pissed my pants, but I kept searching for a moving box I had thrown out years before because I was amped about taping her up. I was excited because I like small things, and she’s small, and small is fun.

“Well?” She tilts her head and puckers her mouth. “What do you think of my new bra?”

“It’s nice.” I had no opinion really, but what else do I say.

“I’m going to put it on.” She arches her back and reaches for the bottom of her tee. She’s about to lift up her shirt when a car crashes on the television, and we both turn around to watch five seconds of a stupid action movie.

“You got any smokes?” I stab my cigarette out in the steel ashtray shaped like a bear trap. Her ex-boyfriend welded it for her, back before she met me, back before she started keeping three boyfriends. I think she’s looking to replace one of those boyfriends now. He’s too available; he calls too much. She hates that. Me? I work sixty hours a week because I have nothing else in my life. I can pay for things, but only for people I don’t care about, so she probably thinks I’ll be perfect for her.

“Don’t you want to see what I’ll look like?”

“What?”

“What I’ll look like with the new bra on.” She holds the bottom of her shirt, threatening to rip it off. Her whole body trembles; she’s so ready.

“I seriously need a cigarette,” I say.

“You just smoked a cigarette.”

“A normal cigarette with nothing on it.” I stand up, looking around, throwing a couch cushion to the side as if looking for a remote control. I keep my back to her.

“Hey, turn around,” she says.

I know she’s naked now, so I don’t do it.

“Turn around.”

“Put your clothes back on.” I’m not even searching for cigarettes anymore. I’m just frozen by the couch as if her nakedness was a gun to my back. I want to flip out and shove her to the floor, but she’d enjoy that, so I don’t do anything. I just stand there, wondering why I’m at her place.

“Why do you keep coming over?” she says.

“Because you invite me.”

“Well, you should say ‘no’ then.”

“I will next time.”

I head for the door, and I can hear her footsteps coming for me. Her steps are faster than mine, and I don’t know what she’ll do once she catches up. I don’t know if she’ll hug me or grab my leg or stab my liver. I’m too stubborn to turn around, so she pushes me in the back. It’s a weak push. A child’s push.
“Why don’t you like me?” Her voice is hysterical. “Why don’t you like me? How come you never try to touch me? Huh? I’ve seen the whores you sleep with. What? Am I too good for you? You can only fuck hookers?”

I don’t say anything. I undo the chain on the door, wondering why she put it on. Am I that elusive?

“You don’t like girls like me, is that it? What’s wrong with me? I can be someone else for you. Just give me a chance, okay? Don’t leave yet. Just don’t go already.” She’s crying now, and her sobs are crazy-person sobs. They’re the kind of sobs that make me shudder, not because I’m disgusted, but because I’m scared that the next moment might bring anything. She might slap me. She might vomit. She might slash herself.

“Just don’t leave.” Her voice is quiet like she’s in another room, but she’s right behind me; it’s her mind that has traveled. “Just come back,” she says. “Please?” I realize she’s not talking to me. She’s pleading with someone else. She’s speaking to a ghost: a lost lover, a dead daddy, a long-gone somebody I’m not.

“I like you,” I say before opening the door.

“You do?” she says sweetly.

“Yeah, of course I do.”

“Then why are you leaving?”

“Because it’s the only thing I’m good at.”

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