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Authors: Kevin Sampsell

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BOOK: This Is Between Us
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We went to a cheap motel room once to work out our problems. It was less expensive than a payment to our couples counselor and more private than trying to do it at the hotel where I worked.

We made an agreement to stay in the room together and talk for at least two hours. We were not supposed to touch each other.

Two hours later, we were covered in sweat and we had set off the fire alarm somehow.

“I can’t have therapy if your hands are all over me,” you said.

“It’s physical therapy,” I said.

“You always have the right answer,” you said.

We were lying in bed and I was walking the fingers of my right hand up your legs, closer and closer to your ass. Then I placed my hand flat and imagined it was a surfboard. When it hit the curve of your ass, it was like hitting a beautiful wave. I did it quickly a few times. I did it in slow motion. You didn’t say anything. In fact, you were asleep. You started to snore a little. It sounded like the low hum of a motorcycle. I thought of my hand as a motorcycle. Your ass was a ramp. I was a daredevil, airborne.

You told me that the worst physical pain you’d ever been in was that one time, a few years ago, when you got a really bad sunburn. You’d called in sick to work so you could spend the day on the beach while I stayed home and watched the kids.

In the middle of the afternoon, you fell asleep for two hours in the sand. Your skin already looked tough and leathery when you got home and you begged me to put some kind of salve or balm on your back.

You rifled through the medicine cabinet and found some lotion. I squeezed some out of the tube and spread it all over your back. A couple of minutes later, you were writhing on the couch. It was getting worse, you said. It burned, you said. You tore your clothes off and jumped in the shower. You turned on the cold water and let it run over your back. “Damn it!” you shouted. “It’s fucking burning!”

I didn’t know what to do. I looked at the tube of lotion and realized it was not meant to treat sunburns. One of the ingredients was alcohol.

“I can’t even take a shower,” you said. “The water hurts.” You were starting to cry. I brought you a towel and you told me to put it on you slowly. I rested it softly on your shoulders but you screamed and collapsed to the floor. I brought in an electric fan and let it blow on your back as you squirmed around more and said, “Okay okay okay. Please get better. Okay okay okay. I feel like I’m on fire!”

About an hour later, you finally got up and started putting on your clothes. “I have to get out of here,” you said. “I have to distract myself and drive somewhere.” You said you wanted to be alone.

You went to a club called Satyricon, and they were hosting a cabaret show. You started drinking quickly, in hopes that it would numb the pain. You couldn’t stay still and you paced around the place like a shark circling in a tank. One of your old boyfriends was there and you talked to him. He thought it was funny that you had to walk around like you were doing, sometimes shrugging your shoulders and arching your back to combat the burning and itching. You were still hurting, but you let him joke about it with you.

After a few drinks, the itching felt more like a soft vibration going through your body and you felt like you needed to shed your skin like a snake. “I want to show you something,” you said to the old boyfriend. You went to a small secret upstairs room that one of your friends showed you once. You took off your shirt and showed the old boyfriend your burn. The blisters had already started. “Don’t laugh,” you said.

He didn’t laugh. He looked at your skin closely. He put his hands on you. He squeezed. You told me later how much it really hurt.

I know you liked it when I openly wept without trying to hide it. Like when we watched
. when the kids were younger, or when I read that newspaper story about the seeing-eye dogs. You turned your head to me, reached over, and dabbed my cheeks with your sleeve. I smelled your wrist and kissed it. You didn’t make fun of me for any of that.

You once said to me, “I like that you like to cry. I love that you love to love.”

Vince said he and his best friend, Roberto, were doing “movie life” now. I didn’t know what he meant, so he explained to me that it’s when you imagine that your life is a movie.

“I used to pretend a camera was always on me and I had to act cool or interesting,” he said. “Then I noticed that there really are cameras everywhere.”

I wondered if this could be a precursor to paranoia or mistrust of the government.

“One of our teachers said there used to
be cameras everywhere. And then Roberto told me that he also thinks about movie life.”

“I did that sometimes too. Pretended like I was in a movie,” I told him. “But you’re not really on TV, so you should just act natural. All those traffic cameras and cameras at your school and at the mall and on buses are just for security.”

“So I should just ignore the cameras?” Vince asked.

“Well, you shouldn’t always act like you’re being broadcast on a reality TV show,” I said. I smiled a little but then worried that I was being condescending.

“The weird thing is that when I don’t act like I’m on
, I feel kind of sad or something,” he said. “Like my show has been cancelled.”

We went for a long walk with the kids. It was a beautiful spring day and I sometimes put my hand on your ass when Vince and Maxine ran ahead of us. I liked to feel it move against my hand, the soft red fabric of your skirt. I didn’t squeeze or push. I just touched and looked, catching glimpses of your legs. The muscles in your calves. Your sharp ankles. I found myself getting aroused, and I whispered in your ear, “I think I’m going to have to fuck your brains out when we get home.”

You brushed your hand against my crotch to see if I was serious.

When we got home fifteen minutes later, we saw that the neighbors were having a yard sale and the kids wanted to look. I pulled the last six dollars out of my wallet and gave the money to Vince. “You two can buy whatever you can get for this, as long as you agree about it,” I told him. He nodded. “Okay. See you at home,” I said. “Take your time.”

Then you and I quickly ran into the apartment. We thought about going into the bedroom, but we didn’t want the kids charging in five minutes later wanting to show us what they bought. We went to the kitchen, where we could see the neighbors’ yard sale from the window. You slipped your panties off and I unbuttoned my shorts. You lifted your skirt and placed your hands flat on the counter next to the kitchen sink. We kept our eyes on the kids as we did it. They were looking at a table of knickknacks. Things made out of seashells and driftwood. If they had looked over to the window, they would’ve seen our blissful faces looking out, our eyes half closed and drifting, barely keeping them in focus.

I had my hands on your waist, lifting you just slightly.

I looked outside and saw Vince holding a giant textbook of some kind. He opened it up and smelled the pages. He put it back down.

“You’re going to make me come,” you said. “I’m gonna come in the fucking kitchen.” You reached over and turned the kitchen sink on full blast. You started moaning and your head fell forward. Steam started to rise and I caught Maxine looking toward us. I saw her say something to Vince and then I lost her in the steam.

You started moving aggressively against me, grinding in circles. I held you tighter and focused on your back and shoulders. I wanted to lean down and lick along your shoulder blades, but we were convulsing and I thought you might knock one of my teeth out. (One time you almost broke my nose this way.)

My right hand moved up and cupped your breast. I thought about biting the nape of your neck. I thought about putting you on the dinner table. I thought about fucking you on the tiled floor. But I just put my forehead down in the middle of your back and came inside you.

We stayed that way for a minute, waiting for our breathing to slow down and our composure to return. You reached over and turned the sink off. When the steam cleared we saw that the kids were not there. But as we cleaned up after ourselves, the front door opened and their excited chatter filled the air.

We were sitting on the couch with the nightly news on the
. You were flipping through a science magazine, and I was clipping my fingernails. The beautiful black weather lady came on and I watched her gesture elegantly with her long arms at the storm front coming down from Canada. She was wearing a tight red dress that squeezed around her knees and made her look taller than usual.

“Sheila Young looks really good tonight,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” you said. You lowered the magazine from your face to get a look. You looked at me and tried to gauge the level of fantasizing in my head. “What do you like about her?” you asked.

“She’s sleek,” I said. “She looks like she’s lost some weight or something.”

“How much weight do you think?”

“I don’t know, maybe fifteen pounds.”

“I lost fifteen pounds this year too,” you said. “Thanks for noticing.”

There was a long silence. I watched the Doppler radar swirling behind Sheila Young’s fine figure, as if it were coming out of her backside. I imagined you there instead, in front of the green screen, pointing at warm fronts, temperatures, and humidity levels. I saw you become a sexy black weather lady.

“You look really good too,” I said.

I was bothered by the thought of an ex-girlfriend. Someone I hadn’t thought about in several years. I called her and she answered, not knowing who it was.

“It’s me,” I said nervously. She wanted to know why I called, and I said, “I don’t know.” She asked if I had something to say. I said, “I’m sorry,” because it seemed like the only way to start.

“Why are you sorry?” she asked me.

“Because I realize now that I ruined your life,” I answered.

“How do you think you ruined my life?” she said. Every conversation we’d had was like this, and that was one of the reasons I became exhausted by her and broke up with her. They were long, circular conversations. She was all intellect and no instinct. But I didn’t realize this until the last days of our whirlwind relationship.

I made promises to her that I didn’t keep. I unveiled romantic plans before I thought about them realistically. She said she loved me more than she should.

We were young, still in college, and she was part of a well-off family that strived to control her. She was supposed to become a lawyer. Seeing me was not permitted for some reason. She wanted to obey her parents, but I would practically beg her to defy them, to spend as much time with me as possible. We saw each other for six months, mostly discreet dates and sleepovers, before breaking up. She was pregnant, though, and didn’t tell me. She was in denial about it until she started showing.

Her parents found out, and she was sent away to have the baby secretly, with some relatives in Canada. The baby was put up for adoption and her parents disowned her. She started drinking and couldn’t keep a job. I didn’t hear about the baby until after the fact, but I felt responsible for how her life imploded. She couldn’t quite talk to me about it then. We tried a few times, but she’d always end up breaking down and she’d tell me to stay away. I was clueless for a while though, and I would try to reconnect with her and send her little gifts. I didn’t know why it was so hard for her to hear from me, just be friends. I didn’t know how she could love me as much as she insisted she did but also regret that love and want to be left alone.

But it eventually sank in. That was sixteen years ago, and I finally realized that she never recovered. When I broke up with her, it was sudden, and then I was with Sheryl, who became my wife, and the mother of my son. I just went on with my selfish life.

I never thought about that baby much either, though I knew it was a girl. I wanted someday to say to her as well, “I’m sorry I ruined your life.” Holding the phone in my hand right then, I had no doubt that it was the most exact sentence for the occasion.

That’s all I could say. “I’m sorry.” And pause. “I ruined your life.” And then faster: “I’msorryIruinedyourlife.” And slowly and clearly: “I’m sorry I ruined your life.”

There was silence on the end of the line. I wasn’t sure what it meant, if forgiveness was implied or being withheld, but it allowed me to say one more thing. “Good-bye.”

“I’ll do anything you tell me to,” I said to you.

There was a new Bible on the table. You had borrowed it from a friend for some reason.

“Read to me from that while I do my yoga,” you said.

I picked a random page. It was about an old man having sex with his daughters in a cave.

“Sex sounds so stale in the Bible,” you said. “Why does it always just say that someone ‘lay with’ someone else? It sounds so boring.”

I continued to read and I let my voice fall into a flat, lifeless monotone to see if you’d notice. You were twisted on the floor.

“Stop reading and come here,” you said. “Lie with me now. Let’s see what it feels like.”

We saw an old lady on the bus talking to a teenage couple. The teens looked uncomfortable and moved away from her, into seats about ten feet away. The woman spoke louder. “Don’t go there,” she said. “Sex is sin and sin is death.”

BOOK: This Is Between Us
10.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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