Writing by Jessie Irvin Rose. Artwork by Yury Aleksanyan.
Two pigeons outside my window plunge their beaks into each other’s mouths until they gag. We don’t finish making dinner until 10 and it is an unnecessarily extravagant meal. It is all roasting and braising and sauteing and dry-frying, and there is oil and garlic and salt on your hands even after you wash them. We sing love songs so loudly I can’t hear myself think. I spend the rest of the evening wanting to disappear.
Sometimes awful things only make you bitter, like all your sympathy gnarls and everybody deserves everything they have coming to them. I am teaching myself the art of indifference. I am teaching myself to look away when you look at me.
I see how long a blackberry takes to dissolve, pulling acid from my stomach and using it like mouthwash. I rinse my mouth of the taste of you by the time you get on your first train.
Some facts about the man I knew. He was a gardener, with earth palms, but the gait of a poet. His face was stubbly and grey and clean, his hands shook a little when he poured himself water from the glass decanter he kept in the fridge. He was punctual, careful, good at telling stories. He made drinks without ice that went down like spit. His wife cried very often, before falling asleep, or as he left on waking up. Sometimes he would bring it up when they sat with friends at the pub. He would tell them what she said when he asked her what was wrong - “I don’t know.” They would all laugh. “I don’t know.”
He told me he loved me the second night we spoke. Said that he fell quickly, it happened all the time. One of the facts about him. He showed me a small bite mark on the back of his shoulder, and refused to tell me what it was from. His wife sat on the other side of the smoking area, talking to someone else and laughing. He looked at her after every line he spoke. She didn’t look back at all.
I went over to his house once to ask if he wanted to attend a party of mine. Nervous child waiting on the doorstep. His wife let me in, told me to look around, like it was a joke to her. Watched me move. Ate blackberries like she was trying to stop smoking, juice staining her bottom lip in a tiny oval patch that you could only see when she was speaking. I asked her if he would be home soon. She laughed at me.
I put up posters for her with him that September, after she left him. We walked around our neighborhood pinning them to trees, thick thumb tacks into chewy bark. As I rambled about nothing and nothing and nothing, he glanced down at her face in his hands, said her name like it was a marble, cool and rolling in his mouth, letting it slip under his tongue for just long enough not to choke. When it began to rain we departed ways, and he said loving her might have been all he was. I took a large red marker out of my bag once I had turned the corner and wrote on the nearest poster, over the top of his phone number: so you should have been kinder.
The night I met the woman I would marry, she bit me twice below the roll of my shoulder, holding me from behind. The first time stung. The second time her teeth went straight through. She told me she was making jam inside her mouth, churning me up until I tasted sweet.
At parties she moved like a willow. I would sit far away and wait for my face to ache. When she looked over I hoped I looked like I had someone to dance with. I hoped the iris scented flirtations of someone young spat over me in a mist would make her smile.
She would tell me she missed me when I was still inside her. When I returned home in the evenings her fingers were stained purple. She never touched me first.
After we fucked, he told me he was hungry, and I kept silent, willing him to want to stay, watching the back of him move as he didn’t. Lying naked on top of his sheets and waiting. He came back into the room after two minutes with two bowls of blackberries, domed full. They were ripe, bloated, bursting. Sweet. He handed both to me and watched me put one in my mouth. And then another. And another.
Some facts about the man I knew. His garden wall was lined with brambles that seemed entirely untamed. When they pulled the body out from the churning earth beneath them, they had to tug so hard to free it that berries smacked down onto the bare skin of her like fat juicy rain, making puddles of purple bruise all along her side.
I remember the jealousy, more than anything. Everything she had that I didn’t. Everything he wanted to do to her. Feel the berries in my mouth, in my teeth, in my stomach. It’s not fair! I would shout at parties, often when everybody had stopped listening to me. I would stand in front of other people having conversations, like a ghost, and speak into their moving mouths it’s not fair it’s not fair. I could hear her laughing. So you should have been kinder.