Saturday, September 18, 2010

Love Is Not A Home

  by CJ Hallman

The worst part about being a girl is getting fucked, Jen thinks. She is sitting on a bench that advertises some real estate agency (surely intended to persuade the income-earning individuals passing in their cars, and not those, like her, condemned to hourly wages and public transportation), and she stares across the street into the strip mall that stands behind a massive sign full of Spanish words. A homeless man with scraggly hair and work boots stomps up to her and asks her for change, but she says, no. She is not being an asshole or anything; she needs the change for the bus because Derick wouldn't drive her home, and not because he was being an asshole or anything, but because his car wouldn't start again and where the hell was he even going to get the money to fix it? Look, I'm not being an asshole, she tells the homeless man, it's just circumstance.

The homeless man shrugs and says, ok, and sits down on the bench beside her.

(But maybe Derick was being an asshole. Maybe he had always been an asshole and she was just too dumb to see it. At that bar downtown the night they met, he told her that his band had opened once for Black Flag. Three weeks later in his pot-paraphernalia-strewn apartment on the east side, Derick confessed that this was a lie, and as it turned out, he wasn't even in a band anymore. But whatever. By this point, they already had a thing going, and Jen thought Derick spoke earnestly and had a very gentle way of kissing and maybe a gentle soul too, and all this despite his scruffy appearance and penchant for illegal substances and the pleasure he seemed to derive from riding out long stretches of unemployment, and so she didn't say anything about his lies then, though she wishes now that she would have.)

Jen opens her purse and reaches inside and does not look down, but feels the foil wrapper, many wrappers, none of which she can see, but all of which she knows are blue, Trojan. It will be a nice surprise, she thinks, next time Derick has Theothergirl in his room and is all hard and ready to fuck her, if he opens his nightstand drawer and finds it devoid of condoms. Yep, what a spectacular surprise! And didn't he know, Jen thought, what a terrible idea it was to start a “relationship” with someone who lives not just in your apartment complex, but your very building? It has its conveniences, yes, but. Nothing works out, not here, not in this town. And hadn't he ever watched a sitcom?

(Theothergirl, the girl who lived below Derick was named Myra or Mia or something equally pretentious sounding, and she worked part-time at Target and attended some private Catholic university and majored in art or design or something else pretentious. Jen was introduced once to Theothergirl at a party at an apartment complex a few blocks away, and she remembered noting that Theothergirl was both devoid of personality and of body fat on her arms and legs, because it was all collected in her stomach region (but Jen noticed too that she managed to hide it pretty cleverly with a loose fitting ethnic-y top), and that she had pretty big boobs, considering her short frame. Jen, by comparison, was just kind of medium-sized all over, and was concerned that her boobs were already beginning to sag, and had to drop out of community college after a semester because there was no more money left to pay for anything, and so she got a job working as a waitress at this place downtown that served immensely over-sized and overpriced portions of pasta to large families. [Take drink orders. Check up. Take orders. Bring plates. Check up. Bring bill. Fuck my life. Etc.] Jen's life had become routine, and this routine spread like a cancer, and even her dating life caught the routine. Every few weeks, it seemed, Jen met some other new guy and began a “relationship.” [Flirt. Text message. Watch a movie. Eat fast food. Kiss. Eat more fast food. Drive around. Fuck. Eat more fast food. Call it off. Etc.] But then she met Derick while out one night with Kim, a fellow waitress and community college dropout, at a hipster bar downtown, and Jen thought maybe Derick would be the end of the routine and the beginning of something new, spontaneous, stable. He had this smile that stabbed her, killed her, resurrected her, and while the sex was not overly exciting, it happened with undertones of emotion, which was a first for Jen, and he just seemed like a good guy, a guy she could maybe learn to love.)

Jen removes her hand from her purse, from the condoms, and the homeless man turns to her and says that if she has something as important as a funeral to get to, maybe she shouldn't be relying on the bus because the bus is never on fucking time. Jen tells the homeless man, no, again, though she realizes after she says it that it doesn't really make any sense, but what, she thinks, can you do? Jen considers the man's odd remark and attributes it to the clothes she is wearing—all black, the same clothes she wore the night before to a rock show up north, these clothes, now goth in broad daylight, ridiculous. She thinks, well, at least he didn't tell me to cheer up, to smile. She thinks, at least this man has a goddamn sense of humor about things. She looks over at him. She notes that his clothes, jeans and an Alice in Chains t-shirt, are actually fairly clean, cleaner than Derick's usually were, and he isn't that old, thirty-ish, and he isn't terribly disgusting, and his face has decent bone structure, a classic Greek look about it. This homeless man, Jen thinks, maybe he is alright. Yes, she thought, I believe he is, why not?

(Because last night, on a twin mattress on his bedroom floor, Derick held Jen and told her that he loved her. She believed him. She believed him despite the stale stench of Lone Star on his breath. She believed in the power of the fingers that stroked her hair, stained fingers that reeked of cigarettes. She believed Derick weeks before when he said that someday he'd maybe like to possibly start a family or whatever together at some point in the distant future. She believed him when he said that he thought Mila or Mitra, Theothergirl, was a little on the bimbo side, and that her nose was too big for her face and that he thought Jen was much more intelligent anyway. And when Derick said that he was going to enroll in some business courses alongside his film ones at the community college so that someday he would be able to provide, and that maybe when that someday arrived, Jen could quit her job and focus on whatever it was that she wanted to achieve in life, well, yeah, she believed him. She believed him like a religion, she believed him all night long, and then the sun came up, up, up, and she read his fucking emails, and why was he even sending emails about longing to a girl who lived one floor below him?)

Jen reaches again into her purse, fingers the foil. She glances over at the homeless man again and smiles slightly. Beyond him, in the distant, she can see the number twenty bus approaching. It is, indeed, late. She tells the man that there is no funeral, and asks him if he has any place to be. She thinks, when you use a condom, everyone is clean; a convenient feature of the modern age. And ten minutes later, with sticks and dirt and circumstance pressing into her bare back, with change unspent and rattling in her pockets, now down around her ankles, Jen smiles into this stranger's shoulder and thinks, but oh well, maybe this is the best part about being a girl.

CJ Hallman spends the majority of her free time hatin' on illogical words. Irregardless, she lives in Austin, TX, and her fiction has appeared in Identity Theory, Everyday Weirdness,, Sphere, (Short) Fiction Collective, and The 322 Review, among others.