“You couldn’t even wait ‘til sunrise?” These were my words to her, but they felt more coughed than said. All around me I felt a slight wetness. Everything felt dirty. She was sitting on my dresser. It was 3:39 AM, my eyes guided to the clock’s red numbers by the slant of her hips.
I saw Dana’s figure cut against my wood paneling. The desk lamp was dimmed but bright enough to throw her silhouette into the corner. Her hair was brilliant, an earnest red that hinted at blonde and belonged in some old Celtic folk song. She had her glasses balanced on the tip of her nose, and she peered out through them at me.
“I’m sorry, darling…” as she puffed, “…am I cool?”
I don’t know the answer to that, I thought.
“Yeah, it’s fine.” She liked menthols, enough to get up in the middle of the night to burn one down. It was dead winter—too cold for her to crack a window, but too cold for me to argue. I just sat up in bed and stared at my feet.
“Gimme one?” My inflection made it sound like a question, but I knew it was an order. She tossed the whole pack to me and my eyes followed it into my palm like an outfielder.
Where has that hand been tonight? I was judging myself, but I always forgive myself, too.
I smiled at Dana to convince myself I didn’t care, and she smiled back. Her smiles were conspiracies. I could feel her mouth and eyes plotting against me; could see her nose pinched up like an alibi. Her character always insisted upon some animal instinct. It simultaneously enticed and repulsed me.
“Petey, last night was fun,” Dana said, the words sucked out of her hand and blown towards me.
“It still is last night, as far as I’m concerned.” It sounded harsh and felt too natural. “I’m sorry,” I said quickly, trying to cover my tracks. “Just a little irritable, I guess.”
The mood was less a result of the hour and more of Dana, of her calling me “Petey,” of her calling me “darling,” and of her expecting a slumber party anytime we fucked. Sometimes my desire to get rid of her after sex made me feel unreasonable, but mostly it made me feel practical.
“Ha!” she snapped, jumping from my dresser. “I understand, darling. You can’t offend me too easily. Let’s just go back to sleep. We both need some rest.” She crawled back under the covers and was asleep within minutes.
I had no interest in sleeping any more. I walked over to my chair and sat down, hoping to write something, anything, if only to make use of my hands. I had very little to say, and the pen weighed about forty pounds in my drowsy grip. I wanted coffee, but I knew there was none in the house.
I woke up, unaware I had ever slept. It was 7:52 AM. I had drifted off at my desk and there were pens scattered about. I kept them in an old tea tin, which last I remember I was drumming with my fingertips. At least this seemed a more reasonable hour, and I was up before Dana this time. She was so pretty when she was sleeping. All of the nonsense she felt compelled to say while awake was gone. I wondered what her dreams were like, if they were like her smile or like her hair. I hoped they were like her hair.
I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, and by the time I was back Dana was awake and on the phone. She was speaking to her doctor about an appointment she wasn’t sure she had at 9 AM.
The story of her life was compelling but she knew it, and she always managed to wring my empathy dry. The few parts of me that held onto the memories of when we first met, driving in my car and debating the merits of pumpkin coffee, those parts wanted her not to leave. I was headed down the street for breakfast that morning, pumpkin coffee probably.
Do I want her to come?
Standing like a stranger outside of my own room, I picked at my dirty hair, wondering what it looked like in a mirror. Dana opened the door and walked out. She was off the phone and fully dressed now. I could tell she had the appointment, so I pretended to be a gentleman.
“I was gonna get some breakfast,” I said, smiling expectantly. “Wanna come with?”
She sighed, the kind that told me she felt the offer was genuine. “I wish…I’ve gotta go see the doctor. My heartbeat is weird again. It’s not ticking right.” I did feel bad about her heart, but there was hardly anything I could do about it. I was happy enough to be eating breakfast alone.
“That’s too bad,” I lamented. We headed down the stairs. “Another time, I guess.”
“Def, Petey, def.”
I hated when she said “def” even more than when she called me “Petey.” I knew that when I opened her car door, I would relish closing her inside. When I did, I didn’t linger. I waved quickly and vanished down my empty street.
Andrew Daugherty (he/him) is a poet & novelist from Baltimore. He's the author of several unpublished works, including the pro wrestling roller derby noir The Big Heel and the poetry chapbook Under the Weather Girls. His work has appeared in COLORS: The Magazine. Twitter: @andrew__3000. Instagram: @andrew3stax.