8.06 / June 2013

The Day Before Easter

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The day before Easter my boyfriend tried to kill me on a slippery highway in the middle of the night. He thought I had slept with a man, but I hadn’t, I had only let him touch my left breast under a stairwell in the middle of the afternoon.

We were madly in love and lived in the tallest tower of a building. As we looked up at its four eyes from the cool of the swimming pool we couldn’t help but marvel at the delicacy of the building’s features.  Inside, the counters were cold marble and the floors were shards of melted glass. Everything in the world of being in love was decadent.

But this is not honest, because in the house we kept a jar of one hundred pills. And in the house we let the dog go loose and stain the Berber carpet. And in the house I hid in the bathtub while he cried, while he slept, while his eyes burned and the house began to smolder.

“I wish you’d stop thinking about that,” he says, but I haven’t said I am thinking about anything. I am just staring at a high-resolution photo of a peach tree in bloom posted on the refrigerator. The picture I stole from a computer supply store. “Of all the things you could have taken,” my boyfriend had said. He stole a camera with a 10-time zoom and 14 megapixels. I like this picture better, I told him.

It is both an encouraging and uncomfortable feeling when you see two people in their early 40’s in love. This way: they touch each other’s backs, they keep their eyes locked too long, they kiss with their mouth’s open and waiting. There is an assumption that this is not an original relationship, that the reason they are so eager is the secret. And so it was that I came to know a man, because we were the two watching this couple, this couple both past their prime and right in the middle of it, feeling our mouths smile and our stomachs start to turn. “She’s alright looking,” he said. I nodded and watched the man slip his hand into her back pocket. That is a trick of the older man. Boys my age do not do this. They don’t bother with that swatch of fabric in the way.

And afterwards we ended up at his house, a shorter apartment building than the one I lived in with my boyfriend. And if this new man had known this he may have been slightly embarrassed, because he was older and more experienced. He is bald is what I want to say.

“I am going to be a doctor,” he told me in the car. “Congratulations,” I responded. He told me the name of the bones in my wrist like they were weapons. When he coughed the sound was like a stone in a pool, and I thought of the eyes of the building and the light in my apartment being on with no one at home.

We had been looking each other over, my boyfriend and I. Me humming the Gilligan’s Island theme song in my head, him probably counting the misplaced hairs in my eyebrow. “Next week is Easter,” I told him. “I have to work,” I said. He was silent, and rubbed his thigh, which I had learned contained the femur. I also knew that underneath his pant leg were marks like claws, but which had come from a knife, though when we looked at them we both imagined that they came from a cat. We both hated cats.

At my desk I asked the receptionist, who sat directly behind me, “When do you remember feeling beautiful?” She didn’t respond, but I am sure it was with an older man, a man who did not belong to her, a man who lived lonely but surrounded, and I was certain, so I didn’t ask again.

We ate our lunch at our desks, the receptionist and I, though this was not the norm. The office was dim and silent, and we ate without talking, and we ate without working, and we both probably wondered why we were still there, why we stayed, but it was too late to get up, so we kept on eating.

“Are you busy?” the man asked me on the phone. I was at home, staring straight through the jar of pills. I was not allowed to touch these pills. These were an investment. He had not sold any, but he had not taken any either, and I considered this a success, so I didn’t bring them up.  The way the light reflected off of the glass, and the multitude of colors reminded me of fish eyes in a market.

In six months he will flush these all down the toilet because I will have called the police. It will have nothing to do with the pills, only to do with the marks on his legs, which will start to appear all over his body. I will be afraid, but when the police arrive I will see his sadness and dismiss the policemen like they were never allowed there in the first place.

Anyway, he asks me if I am busy, the bald man, (who’s name I know by now, and it is Brian) and I say yes, I am busy, but I could find some time. “Well then come over,” he tells me. I laugh. Out loud, but only my dog hears me, Brian doesn’t hear me, because really he isn’t listening for laughter, or even moans, or pleasure of any sort, and that’s ok with me. But I am laughing because it didn’t really happen like this.  We weren’t even in the apartment with the eyes and pool until after the day before Easter. That was later, and I can’t believe that I didn’t remember that until now.

“I don’t feel beautiful with you,” I tell my boyfriend when I get home, to what I now remember to be a less glamorous apartment. I also only mean “I don’t feel beautiful with you,” what I say is, “Do you ever think we should see other people, just to see?” He knows I have been gone all afternoon. I start to cry when I say this. We are each other’s only lovers until now, the only person either of us has ever touched, but I am not crying from sadness. I am crying out of fear, of us both, of what both of us are. He laughs then, I assume to keep from crying, or maybe he really does find this funny. But I am crying, that I know for sure.

“I have to work tomorrow. On Easter,” I remind him, like it was part of the conversation. I find a lump in my throat, and it feels more like cancer than if I’d found it in my breast. I swallow again and again and he can hear the swallowing. He is petting the dog, which at this point is only a puppy, and I feel bad for the puppy, but I feel worse for not remembering that he was only a puppy until just now. He seemed like a much older dog in the first remembrance.

“How are things at home?” the receptionist asks. She is eating an apple that has been sliced and cored. “You look tired,” she says, as an excuse for the asking. “You don’t have to eat lunch with me every day,” she says.

We want to say hurtful things to each other. We want to say, I know you are sleeping with an older man. We want to say, I know you don’t like the way the skin on your stomach folds over your belt. We want to say, You won’t be as good of a mother as you think you will, and after we are done we want to hug and cry and paint each others nails. But that isn’t how we do things in this office. Eating lunch at our desks is enough for now.

My boyfriend goes to a party. That is when things start to turn. I go to bed early, because I have to work, my other job, Easter brunch, and it’s a busy day and I will be exhausted if I don’t get some sleep, so he goes without me. “Forget what I said earlier,” I tell him. It’s silly. I will start to feel beautiful with him, the way I feel with Brian, when he names my bones and catches me smiling. And if not, I can live with not feeling beautiful.

But when he calls me he hasn’t forgotten what I said earlier, it is the only thing he has thought about. And he is drunk, so drunk, and it is late and I remind him again that I have to work in the morning. I think he tells me, laughing, that I should come pick him up and tell him about the guy I fucked, that he would like to hear about it. I hear someone in the background, “Come get him, please,” and so I say I will be there soon and hang up. Maybe he will forget by the time I get there, I tell myself. Maybe he will realize this isn’t such a big deal.

We didn’t sleep together, Brian and I. He kept me under the stairwell of his apartment, stood behind me, breathed down my shirt. He wouldn’t kiss me, which made it sleazier. I know that now, but at the time I just felt so extraordinarily beautiful with his hot breath all over me. He put his hand up and under my shirt. “I can see your nipples,” he had said when I showed up at his door. It’s true I wasn’t wearing a bra, but I hadn’t expected him to say that. Honestly I had wanted to go when he said it, but when he looked at me, noticing my nipples, noticing my hair and my ass and looking at me like a lobster, like a ballerina, I just stayed and let him push me up against the wall underneath the stairs, turn me around, touch my left breast, feeling the cold metal of the barbell on my nipple, breathing that hot liquid breath down my back.

When he got into the car my boyfriend smiled, a drunken embarrassed smile, kissed me on the cheek. I thought he’d forgotten. We’d both thought he’d forgotten for a moment. It was raining then, and he was wet and drunk and sweating through the wetness, because it was hot for April. “It’s late, we need to get to bed,” I told him. His eyes were closed, and I thought he was tired like I was, now that I thought I was forgiven. “So tell me about fucking him,” he said, slippery like the road, his words gliding into each other— that is how drunk he was. “I didn’t fuck anyone,” and I said this while looking at him, so he knew I was telling the truth. “Liar. Just tell me.” His eyes were still closed.

I didn’t say anything, because I had said my truth. I knew what I had done, and I didn’t need to tell him, because I knew, and that was enough.

“You aren’t wearing a bra,” he said when he opened his eyes. My shirt was wet and see-through, his eyes straining to focus on the fabric. “You’re a whore you know?”

Am I? I had never met or seen a real whore, none of my friends were real whores, and until this moment I had only thought I was imitating the movements of a whore, the shade of lipstick.

And this is when he grabbed the wheel, on the highway, turning it sharply, screaming, going from eyes closed to screaming, telling me how he wanted to die, how he wanted me to die, and I thought this was all very dramatic and unreasonable. I’m sure I yelled stop it, I’m sure I pushed him off again and again because that is what someone should do in that situation, but mostly I just remember the rain hitting the windshield and the sound of the tires and the blank blue of his eyes as he screamed and swerved.

In the morning I left for work, even though I had almost died, or thought I had almost died, or remember thinking I had almost died. The scent of death on Easter was lilies and bread baking. I left him sleeping, and still I thought maybe he would wake up and we would both forget and eat ham and deviled eggs and maybe watch a rerun and get to bed early.

But instead the apartment just shook and sang wild, sad songs, catching flames and burning deliriously as I watched from the outside. And I’m sure it didn’t happen that way, but that’s how I am remembering it, and sometimes your own truth is all you can say, feeling it slide beneath your gums, breathing it in and out, wishing it would just bury itself in your belly and dissolve.

Nini Berndt-Di Lisio currently masquerades as a housewife in Denver but will soon be uprooting her family to attend the University of Florida's MFA program in fiction. She has been, and hopefully will continue to be, a very decent waitress. This is her first published story.
8.06 / June 2013