by Maya Sabatino
Art by Cynthia Chang
Issue: Ataraxia (Spring 2018)
She picked me up out of the gutter, homeless, completely vulnerable, completely alone. I was waterlogged from three days of rain and the dampness clung to me like termites clung to rotted wood. My leg was banged up, my finery stained, my charm … nonexistent. My personality was mostly just frayed edges, but she didn’t bat an eye. She just smiled with full rosy lips that parted slightly. Her smile had a sultry warmth that went through my body like a sip of hot tea.
At first, it was a whirlwind: I was in her car, in her garage—she toweled me down, carefully dried out every crevice. She made me a place in the living room. The room was barren except for some boxes and the two of us. I stood in my place, unmoving, mouth buttoned closed from fright and excitement as she walked through the space. She gazed at me, up and down, from head to toe, inspecting me, ready to design me anew. She went quickly to work on my leg, mending it with delicate fingers. Each touch from her porcelain hands made me tingle. She brought me a blanket and a pillow. They smelled of her …
For the first week, I barely saw her glamorous figure; she was gone from 9 to 9. She would get home, slip off her clothes and sleep. I could hear her breathing in the next room, and it was like a whole new torture. Loneliness crept around my mind in the night. Was I not good enough—could I not comfort her?
People told her not to take me in. I could hear her on the phone: “Bugs!” she gasped. My heart wore out. She was everything, I was nothing and maybe I did have bugs. But she looked at me with feline eyes while she talked, twisting the old phone cord. She laughed. “It’ll be fine. Stop worrying.” And her eyes flicked away from me as the phone conversation changed. She bit her lip in concentration.
She had defended me. In front of someone … her mother? … her friend? Who could tell? I couldn’t care. She had saved me, and that made me feel special.
A few days later, she didn’t wake up at nine. And at first I thought she’d died and with it my hopes—of seeing her, getting to know her and being with her. But then I realized, she worked and went to school—I could see the Intro to Architecture books in a pile next to one of the moving boxes. It was the weekend … of course!
In her room I heard her stir through the walls. Soon after, she entered, yawning, raising her hands to the sky like a goddess reaching to touch the sun. As she stretched, I could see the bare skin of her stomach. I shivered. From fear or excitement? I still wasn’t sure. Then she padded over to me with bare feet and we curled up. She sat pressed up against me, and I felt her warmth and heard her heartbeat. Her breast brushed against my arm as she reached across me for the TV remote. Flipping through the channels, she began to recline on my arms. She began to pull the blankets onto us and the pillows; my arms encircled her. We embraced.
Months went by, my life had a new quality—it went from chartreuse vinyl to crimson velvet.
Before her, my life was nothing. Frigid. Shadowed. I lived in a bleak garage, with the mice that bit at my ankles as I slept. The dust that covered white sheets was my only companion. But this … mmmm … it was warm, soft and sweet. She was kind even though our conversations were wordless. She sang to me sometimes. Her voice … it smoldered in her chest and when it came out of her mouth it had a breathy quality. She captivated me and I enraptured her.
Some days she was a couch potato, but I didn’t mind. I never really went out, so it just meant we’d spent more time together under flannel blankets. She sat on my lap and nuzzled into me.
And then he came home: Pablo something … from somewhere I didn’t much care to know. He was tall. Taller than me. And all of his legs were intact.
When he started coming around, she didn’t hang out with me anymore. There were no more late nights spent watching TV, or afternoons where I watched her glittering eyes scan the pages of books. She didn’t laugh anymore when she dropped chips on me as she snuggled into my arms. In fact, we didn’t snuggle at all anymore. Now she went out to dinner with Pablo or went on hikes with Pablo or went to the movies with Pablo. And when she was home, she was in her bedroom with Pablo.
We all sat together sometimes, and there wasn’t enough space. It had become so crowded in the small apartment.
Pablo began bringing his own belongings into our house. Pictures of people and things I’d never seen or heard of before. Pillows of colors and patterns that matched nothing. My point of view was slowly being erased; I clashed.
She walked with me outside. The clouds were bitterly gray. She huffed. Air from her cherry lips condensed to vapor, and then disappeared. She didn’t say a word. Whisper a phrase. Sing a song. She handed me a note, but I didn’t read it. I just wanted to watch her. Her hair flowed out from under her hat to the middle of her back and swayed rhythmically as she walked away from me. I watched like a snake being charmed. Her hands were jammed into her pockets, her jacket was pinched in at the waist, and her hips danced from side to side with the flow of her skirt. I could see the goosebumps on her legs. It was my waist to touch. My hips to embrace. And my legs to caress.
The door closed. Where was she going?
Her note flapped in the frigid wind. I could see her bubbly handwriting: