Kelly MageeFiction / Number 84
Di proposed to me the night they brought her mother out of the ravine. Her mother lived two houses down in a double with stapled-on gutters. Run-down, the kind that used to be nice in the streetcar days. The landlord threw out all her stuff because she wasn’t paying rent, so after the EMTs dragged her off to Riverside, Di hauled the broken dresser and piles of nighties to my house and threw everything over the metal railing onto my porch.
It snowed, and then the snow melted, and by the time it got warm, all that junk had mildewed, and the stench alone stopped anyone from getting in my door. The cops, maybe. I don’t know. Di’s mom never came home. After the hospital, she disappeared for two weeks and they found her in a garbage bag in the warehouse dumpster at the end of our street. Between the alley and the train tracks. Couple of detectives interviewed me and I said it was upsetting. I said I lived alone. I said she was a good neighbor, though there weren’t any good neighbors there. Just a lot of people scraping by and trying to ignore each other.
• • •
She was so young. She proposed because we were in love, I guess, but not the kind of love like we wanted to have coffee and babies or share a bank account. I was strong, you understand. I have bulk. I’m thinner now, but back then I was bouncer big. Di, an insect drawn to girth instead of light. Sometimes it seems like she was somebody I watched on TV, one of those tough girls from a crime show, wearing hoop earrings and baggy track pants. But I know she was real because I still have the mirror she proposed with.
“The fuck is this?” I said when she handed it to me. The mirror came in a felt sleeve with the name Shellee embossed on it. “Who the hell is Shellee?” I said. “And why does she spell her name like an asshole?”
Di laughed. Sometimes she said I was funny. Sometimes she said I was so fucking funny she wanted to stab me in the neck.
So, Shellee. I was not Shellee. “Aren’t you supposed to propose with a ring, or at least something intended for the other person?” I said. “I’ve heard of plastic rings out of gumball machines, and that’s a heartwarming kind of story, people who can’t afford the real thing, or who are sentimental about it, you know, because the guy won it for the girl or whatever, or at least paid for it with his own hard-earned quarter, but
I’ve never heard of a mirror. Don’t you think that’s symbolic? And symbolic of something not good?”
I didn’t know what I meant then, and I still don’t now. Sometimes when I get nervous I can talk in this really smart way. It’s a kind of handed-down intelligence I never earned. My dad was a smart guy. My mom was a bitch, but there you have it.
She laughed, and mad as I was, I can never be mad at somebody laughing at me. I just start to feel shitty.
“Shellee’s a friend,” she said. “You’ve met her.” She nodded toward some sweaty girl in a faux fur coat. She was always having these girlfriends over, and she was fucking a few of them. Maybe the coat wasn’t faux. Maybe the girl was just that out of touch.
“I thought you didn’t want to be a dyke no more,” I said.
“What I want,” Di said, “is to marry you. Don’t you want to marry me?”
She was lying. She came around when her mom didn’t come home because I let her have her friends over and watch TV all night, and because I had a decent cable package. And because I pretended not to know when she was fucking that girl. Her mom had told her to find a man who could take care of her, and she did, and that was me. Back then, she’d told her mom that she didn’t want a man, didn’t need one, and her mom said of course you do, don’t be a moron, saying anything different would be dumb and I know you ain’t that. That’s one thing I agreed with her mom about. Di wasn’t dumb.
“You just want to get your hands on my assets,” I said. “You just love me for my services.” I fit the mirror into the sleeve and handed it back to her.
She held her hands in the air, refusing to take it. “I’ll drop it,” she said. “If it breaks, that’s bad luck. Besides, I could say the same thing about you.”
“Your bad luck,” I said. “What thing?”
“Services,” she said.
It was the closest we ever came to talking about what was really going on.
She stared at me. I dropped the mirror, but Shellee’s sleeve kept it from shattering. We left it on the floor and went to bed. She let me sleep with her sometimes, in the bedroom that used to be mine, and I had to be careful about not putting my hands under the pillows because she slept with knives sometimes. Sometimes not.
I knew things were going well between us when there were no knives under her pillow, and there weren’t any that night. She was doing better. And we were not going to get married, but she’d proposed to me, and after a while I let myself feel good about that.
• • •
I try to go back to this time, live in the moments before everything went to shit. Slow down the good parts. The blush in Di’s face, the weight she’d gained clinging to her like the memory of someone else. I don’t know who. Not me. Maybe her mom, a flabby woman who had wispy hair that seemed not to move, not even in the wind. She never hurt anyone, not that I knew of. I didn’t know who had hurt Di, only that someone had.
Di slept with knives, she said, like her mother’s mother before her. They had no need to acquire fear in that family. They were born into it. I’d watched her grow up in this place. I hadn’t protected her because you can’t save everybody. You do what you can for the ones you love, and I didn’t start loving Di until later.
Our neighborhood wasn’t really dangerous. We lived in the worst part of an okay neighborhood, off Hudson, where sometimes cars wrecked into the median and sometimes they skidded onto my lawn, but where at least I had a lawn. You know, because a lawn is a sign of prosperity and whatnot. I used to know that kind of shit. I have language, still, for things I no longer understand. Like Di with those knives. She didn’t know the real thing that was coming to get her, but she knew, at least, that something was.
• • •
She said once a dead man broke into her bedroom. I asked if it was a ghost, and if so why it couldn’t come through the walls, but she said no, it wasn’t like that. This guy broke in. Made a bunch of noise. Sat on the edge of her bed whispering things he wanted to do to her. She could see right through him. That was why she didn’t call the cops, she said, but her mom was gone then and she was underage, and everybody knew what happened if the cops got wind of a situation like that. Nothing good is what. She showed up on my doorstep that evening, and I felt sorry for her, so I let her in. We stayed up all night watching infomercials. She ordered a few things COD. A set of rings. Steak knives. Sent them to my house. By the time they arrived, she was living with me.
“Nothing else happened?” I asked her. “With the dead guy?” This was a long time later. We’d just finished. She was lying on top a pile of laundry, but she didn’t have any clothes on.
“You tell me,” she said. She pulled one of my wife’s crumpled skirts from underneath her. Put her legs through the hole.
“Take that off,” I said.
“Just do it.”
She took it off. “I’d tell you if anything else had happened.”
“Sure,” she said. “Sure, I would.”
So who knew. Di kept things to herself, and I figured if she wanted to talk about them, she would. And if not? There were plenty of things I was never going to tell her either. Like why my wife’s clothes were still on the floor. Di had known my wife and my boys. Maybe she knew what’d happened to them. But we never talked about that.
• • •
The night she proposed, the ambulance woke us. Di said let’s go, like every emergency was hers by definition, so we followed the sound to the ravine. Somebody had dumped her mom in the creek, thrown her right over the edge of the overpass. They were always dumping shit into that creek, toilet bowls and old toys and needles and evidence, and there were signs everywhere warning people about the toxicity of the water. That was where they found Di’s mom, her back broken, half-dead from hypothermia. When the cops asked her what happened, she said she fell. Me and Di knew she’d been thrown. We just didn’t know by whom.
“I’m glad she has you,” her mom told me in the hospital. Di was there, and she smiled at me. I didn’t know if Di was glad she had me. But she did smile.
While her mom was at Riverside, Di went to the store every night and came home with bottles of fabric softener and ketchup, huge packages of toilet paper, like she was stockpiling for some disaster nobody else knew about. She took the money from my wallet. She said she wanted to do something that suggested permanence. She had a brain on her. She trolled the alleys the way she’d done with her mom, and brought home busted picture frames, candle holders, rain-soaked pillows. More fake plants. Piled everything on my front porch, so pretty soon it looked like I was being evicted. I thought we should try to do things on the up and up, improve our property values and whatnot. But Di was hell bent on trashing the place.
After her mom disappeared, I lugged all that shit to my truck and hauled it to the dump. She was sitting on the porch looking pissed when I got home, but all she said was, “People say a circus train’s coming.”
“Who says that?” I said.
She pointed at the house next door, the one in between mine and hers. “They do.”
We went around back, and lo and behold, don’t you know the goddamn circus train came. Our whole street was back there, everybody lined up next to their garbage cans. It was nearly pitch dark, and you couldn’t see shit, but you could imagine the lions and seals and whatnot in the closed cars going past, maybe packed in, I don’t know, and I kept waiting for the elephant head to be sticking out of one of the cars, ears blowing back in the wind, but it didn’t happen. Only real difference was the train had these target-shaped circus logos on the side which you could see in the flash of somebody’s camera. And no graffiti. She shook off my hand when I tried to take hers.
“I know you been fucking that girl,” I said.
She said nothing.
“You shouldn’t do that,” I said.
“Don’t tell me about should and shouldn’t,” she said.
The other difference: how slow the train was going. Like it didn’t want to disturb the contents.
“Okay,” I said. She let me take her hand this time. I thought, We are two people standing in front of a circus train, like in some children’s book I never read and never bought for my kids. I think it was chilly, so I might’ve put my arm around her. That’s something I would’ve done. She wasn’t a small person, but she chilled easily. Something about circulation. Doctors always wanted to test her thyroid. Seemed like everybody was waiting for something to happen to Di, but nobody could agree on what it was going to be.
“You ever been to the circus?” she said.
“Nobody’s ever been to the circus,” I said. She smiled, so I kept going. “There’s never been a ringleader or a bear balancing on a ball, and there sure as hell ain’t any tightrope walkers. You ever heard of an actual circus? You ever seen a commercial for one?” She shook her head, squinting up at me. I’d meant to make her laugh, but now I felt like an asshole. She half-believed me.
“I’ve been to one,” she said. “I saw the trapeze.”
“No such thing,” I said.
“I saw the tooth fairy riding a giraffe,” she said. “She had all these teeth.”
“And you know what’s the real bullshit?” I said. “Human cannonball.”
“I saw that, too.” Di laughed. “Except it was the Easter Bunny.”
“And he landed on a fat-ass unicorn,” I said.
Di held my hand in a way that suggested she’d forgiven me. I didn’t want her to. I was never going to marry her. We were never going to be family. We’d never be anything more than neighbors.
“He did,” she said. “He landed on a unicorn, just like you said. You were there.”
“I saw you,” I said. “You were a little kid.” I felt bad when I said that. I’d known her when she was a little kid. She was still so young.
“But I was happy,” she said. “Right?”
“Jesus.” I didn’t know what to say. “Yes.”
The train ended. She started to go back inside. “Wait,” I said. “See that?” The last car was going by slowly. It passed. There was nothing left to see. “The elephant. Did you see it? Motherfucker’s trunk sticking all the way out. Ears blowing back in the wind.”
She didn’t smile or nod. “Come inside,” she said. “I don’t like you lurking behind the house.”
It was my house. My yard to lurk in if I wanted. But I went inside. That was just the kind of thing I did for her.
• • •
When I think of what happened to Di, I think of all the stories I’ve heard about kids getting smashed by trains, the games of chicken and ghost played on the tracks. So many deaths the high schools started showing these safety videos with kids who looked nothing like Di and her friends, talking about the importance of stopping for the signal. Every time a teen got hit, it was big news. Not like finding somebody’s mom in the dumpster. Nobody cared about that. When I heard about Di, first I was relieved. I thought, At least she got away. From me. From this neighborhood with its dead men and circus trains. She had my knives on her. Nobody told me that, but I knew. I knew it like I knew why she saved her mom’s shit. There are some weapons you can’t give up, not even after the fight’s all done.
• • •
The rest blurs together. I’m older now, certifiably old, and I go around saying things like, “My memory isn’t what it used to be,” which is a lie and also is the truth, because my memory never used to be great. I say, “I forget things,” which is true, and after I’ve said it, I say it again because I’ve forgotten. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and when my brother and I visited she’d smile and ask what we did for a living. We were both in high school. It didn’t matter what shit we made up—I’m batting for the Reds, Grandma!—because she’d smile and ask again a minute later. I don’t have Alzheimer’s. It’s more like my memory has cracked apart and the pieces are crawling away from each other. I can get them together if I try, but I don’t try. I only want to remember when Di proposed. How she always smelled sweet, even after hauling shit out of the alley. Di never sweated, and she was proud of that, you know, like people who get cocky over the fact that their kids got teeth early or something, like it means their kids are genius teeth growers. My wife was like that. My kids got early teeth.
I don’t think it’s Alzheimer’s, but I guess Alzheimer’s people don’t think it’s that, either.
• • •
She didn’t stop fucking that girl, the one in the fur coat. Shellee. Once I caught them in my bedroom. I watched for a while, getting pissed and hard at the same time, and then I pulled the girl off Di and told her to take her goddamn coat and leave. Then I told her, On second thought, stand here. Di had started to get dressed, but I pushed her back onto the bed. She said, “Why don’t you just lay off, you idiot?” so I smacked her. The girl in the fur coat started crying, even though I’d only smacked Di on the cheek, not hard enough to leave a mark, and it wasn’t like she was a girl who’d never been hit. Still. I don’t like to think about it. But that’s the trouble: you try hard enough to forget, you might succeed. Then you’re left with the guilt of what you may or may not have done compounded by the emptiness of not being sure.
So I sit now in the moment before she spoke, let her words sink a little more softly into her mouth, her mouth pouting up at me, her look like she was about to say something sweet.
“Why don’t you just lay down?” That was the kind of thing she could’ve said. Then someone laughed, maybe the girl in the coat. Maybe it was me. Maybe I laughed because I thought I was supposed to, because she was being cute on purpose. It might not have been funny. I don’t know.
Maybe she was the one laughing at me, and I hit her for being a bitch.
“What the fuck, Brain?” she said, holding her mouth like her jaw might fall off. Then she reached over to the bedside table, grabbed her keys, and whacked me in the head with them until I got off her. My name isn’t Brain. That was what she called me when she wanted to make me feel bad, as in The Brain, as in, I didn’t have one. She was young enough to think that was funny. Old enough to know better. Old enough to know the kinds of things she knew, like how to fix toilets and give good blow jobs. How to con old men out of their property. How to make all those kids she brought into my house feel like it was their own. Sometimes that was nice, like a Thanksgiving that never ended. Mostly it sucked.
She called me Brain and hit me with her keys and I started bleeding from my scalp. I took the keys back and told her to get out.
“Give me my keys,” she said.
“You want me?” I said. “You love me?”
“Yes,” she said. “You know I do. Baby. Darling. Cupcake.”
“You called me an idiot,” I said.
“You are an idiot,” she said. But she made it sound nice this time, like in the way the whole world was idiots, not just an old man in love with a teenager. “You are my idiot,” she said.
How she could make that sound sweet, I don’t know.
“You calling me your possession?” I said.
“You saying I have to do anything you tell me?”
“I am,” she said. “Give me my keys.”
I did. I thought we were going to have sex after that, but we didn’t.
She said, “Sometimes I feel bad about this. If you want to, you can kick me out. You can.” She held the keys in her fist. “You just can’t push me around. It isn’t right.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“It makes everything sadder,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” I said again.
She started to cry. It was an odd thing. She didn’t usually cry about anything. I was afraid if she started having emotions like that, she’d leave me. That is my confession. I’m not proud of it.
“Everything,” she said, and stopped. She looked around the room—my bedroom, her bedroom, our bedroom—like the light had changed. “This is so fucked up,” she said.
“What is?” I said.
“Nothing.” She went downstairs to the kitchen to stare into the fridge. I should’ve followed her, but instead I went out back and hammered the shit out of a loose board on the fence. By the time I went inside, Di had more people over and everything was normal again.
• • •
I wanted her to stop me. I kept buying her knives, and she kept taking them. I had to switch up the stores where I bought them because I was getting funny looks from the cashiers. They were just kitchen knives. But still. You could see the question on their faces: what does he do with all of them?
I gave them to Di. I thought, if she tries to kill herself, I am definitely going to kick her out.
It was my turn to go, not hers. I was the one in trouble. I told her I’d put her in my will, that she’d be taken care of. I went upstairs to her, which I had no business doing. She had those knives, and I figured one day she’d use them. She could’ve. She had the know-how. The opportunity. Maybe she really did love me. Maybe she thought it was worse punishment to let me live knowing what I’d done. What I was still doing. I felt bad, she was right about that. But not bad enough to quit.
“I’m coming up,” I’d shout from the bottom of the stairs.
She wouldn’t say anything.
“I’m halfway up,” I’d say when I was.
When I got to the bedroom, she’d say, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls.” Something she must’ve picked up at school.
“I won’t,” I’d say. Then I’d crawl up into her and forget who I was.
• • •
The last time I saw her, she was stepping between stopped train cars. She hopped onto the coupler and stood there for a minute, looking out at where she was going. Beyond the track was the interstate, headlights winking around the curve, and beyond that, a hardware store and an Aldi and a tire place. She looked out on all this, but I couldn’t see her face so I didn’t know if she was sad or hopeful or what. What I saw was more bullshit she could help me forget. I’d worked in the lumberyard at that hardware store before my wife left. She didn’t take any of her stuff with her, and I didn’t get rid of it because I kept thinking she’d come back, but I guess they gave her clothes and shit wherever she went. After that I didn’t willingly come out of my house again until Di moved in. I let the pipes freeze in the winter. Let the yard grow up in the summer. Nobody seemed to care, but then somebody must’ve called someone because the city came out and put a notice about the lawn on my door. So I mowed it.
Not long after that, Di showed up on my doorstep like the reincarnation of a memory I’d tried to suffocate.
I watched her watch the neighborhood from between those train cars. When the train started to move, she hopped down on the other side. She looked back at the house, almost right at me. We watched each other like that for a while. I wondered if she wished I would suffocate her.
When she got back to the house, I was still in the yard. She stood behind me. “Marry me,” she said. “Do the right thing for once in your life.”
“Give it a rest,” I said. “There’s no such thing as a right thing.” I didn’t turn around. I should’ve turned around. I know that now.
“Yes, there is,” she said. “You’ll see. You’ll regret it if you don’t do it.”
“Make me,” I said.
She went back inside and I never saw her again.
They said it was an accident. They said she didn’t suffer. They didn’t tell me that, but I knew they said it because that was the kind of thing people said, and also because there was a blurb about it in the newspaper. It happens a lot around here. Kids trying to beat the trains. Maybe Di got the idea from the safety video at school. The girl in the fur coat was with her, but she got out of the car in time.
It was several days after the collision that I heard about it. I thought she and the girl had run off together. There were several days when I was worried she’d come back. There was several more when I hoped she would.
• • •
I recognized the girl because of her coat. I hadn’t seen her since I pulled her off Di. This was a long time later. I didn’t know her last name. I didn’t want to know it. I was just trying to be close to Di again, you know? I was driving home from this bar and I saw the girl waiting for the bus, and maybe it was the beer, but I didn’t even think about it. I just stopped. Told her I’d take her to Dairy Queen. I don’t know why she got in the car with me, except that maybe she missed Di, too.
The Dairy Queen on the corner had a drive-thru, and that’s where I took her. She got a Snickers Blizzard. Then I drove to the opposite side of the train tracks, directly across from my house. The sweaty smell of her filled the car. I left the headlights on. I watched her cry while she pried the lid off the Blizzard and wedged in the plastic spoon. She ate the whole fucking thing. She never even offered me a bite. I guess she was pretending I wasn’t going to do what she knew I was going to do because she kept pinching her coat together at the neck and shivering.
“Ouch,” she said once, touching her temple. She had ice cream in the corner of her mouth, but when she licked it, her tongue just pushed the drip further down. Everything about her was sloppy: her blonde hair, her broad lips. Not fat, exactly. Well-sugared.
It’s not that I was scared that night with the girl in the fur coat. I wasn’t nervous. But Di was my last. There was no replacing her. I gave that girl a good hard try, but it was no use, so finally I just hauled her out of my truck. I told her to go home and not to accept rides from strange men anymore. She left crying like an idiot about her coat, which was still in my truck, how it was cold and she had such a long walk home to the suburbs. I told the girl to quit crying. “When you freeze to death,” I said, “you’ll feel warm.”
That made her cry harder, but at least she left. I put on her coat. I wasn’t wearing any clothes underneath it. Maybe I was hoping to freeze to death. I thought maybe I’d hop on a train, but I’d never tried it before, so I didn’t know how to do it. It seemed like something people did, hobos and whatnot, riding the rails, so I figured it couldn’t be that hard. But I was wrong. Or in the wrong spot. The trains went too fast even when they seemed slow. Confused, they called me later. Senile. It wasn’t true. I knew where my clothes were. I knew how to put them on.
• • •
When it became clear I wasn’t going to hop any trains, I faced my house. There wasn’t anything left for me there, no reason to stay with a bunch of land-grabbing high school kids who didn’t seem bothered in the least by Di’s death. I hadn’t stood back there since the circus train, and I couldn’t figure out why it looked different until I noticed the fence. Then I saw it. My name, spray-painted over and over. Not my name. The name she called me. Brain. I walked toward the fence, though my legs felt weak, and the closer I got, the more I saw. Words carved into the wood. Written in pen in Di’s handwriting. Messages I’d never seen, a wall of language from top to bottom, things she’d said to me and things she’d never said to me. I fell to my knees. Brain. Braindead. Brain Dead, two words. I’m sorry, Brain. I love you. I hate you.
Marry me, Brain.
You’ll be sorry.
“You fucking bitch,” I said, but I was crying.
I guess I was getting real cold by then. There was a bunch of trash back there, and some of it was Di’s. Or it could’ve been. I followed it to the dumpster where they found her mom, and inside it, I found more of her things. Evidence that she’d been here. Or that someone had. I stumbled into some hoboes living back there, and they tried to make me leave. I don’t know who finally called the cops but two of them showed up. I told them I had evidence of foul play, and they laughed.
“Look at my fence,” I said. “It’s a crime scene.”
“What, that graffiti?” they said.
I was trying to tell the truth, but it was too late. They asked me where I lived, and I told them I was homeless. They asked about my relatives, and I told them about Di.
“Di what?” one of the cops said.
“I don’t know.”
“This is your wife?”
“My wife ran off,” I said, “because I wouldn’t marry her.”
The cops thought that was hilarious. I was furious. They were trying to trick me, pretending to care the way people do.
Things slid. A girl came out of my back door, one of Di’s old friends who wouldn’t leave. “That girl is trespassing on my property,” I said, but the cops didn’t seem to care.
“That’s your daughter,” one of them said. Maybe there was only one. Maybe the other one had already left.
“I have a wife and two sons,” I said. I didn’t know how we’d gotten to the patrol car, but there we were. He was in the front seat. Maybe it was an ambulance.
“Your wife’s dead,” the cop said. “That’s what your daughter said.”
“Wrong wife,” I said.
“What’s that?” He said it like he didn’t care. Like we’d been through all this before, and maybe we had. I had a blanket around me that I kept trying to throw off.
“Where am I?” I said, and he said, “Settle down.”
“We are not understanding each other,” I said. “She was lying. She’s not my daughter. I want to go home.”
“Sure,” the cop said. “Tell me where you live.”
That made me mad. Really mad. He knew I couldn’t answer that.
“She left me,” I said. “I just wanted to tell her fuck you for doing that.”
He laughed. “I hope I end up as feisty as you.”
I didn’t know what that was supposed to mean, but I knew it wasn’t a compliment. This cop was the worst kind of human being.
“You got any other family?” he said.
“Anybody we can call?”
“You understand why I’m asking you?”
“Yes,” I said.
We were in the place now. I lost track of one moment by trying to figure out another. I realized I was old. I realized I didn’t know how long this had been happening. Then I forgot again.
“Here,” the cop said. I was losing language, and I couldn’t figure out what he was handing me. It was a cup of coffee, but I didn’t know what to do with it. “Home,” I said, but it didn’t come out sounding like any word I knew. “I think I’m having a stroke,” I said, “or maybe a stroke is having me.” I was making a joke but no one laughed.
I collapsed, and they took me to the hospital. I came to before we got there, and I realized again that I was old. That I was dying. Then I forgot it again. I thought I was back in the cop car. “You taking me in, boys?” I said. “That it for me?”
“Hush, Brain,” Di said.
“Are you a ghost?” I asked her. I could see her standing over me.
“You’re the ghost,” she said. “You’re the dead man.”
I didn’t know if that was true or not, but it could’ve been, so I apologized. I told her how I tried to stop time, to live in the moment when she proposed. I told her that time can stand still or it can race, and that sometimes you think one thing is happening when it isn’t. I say these things about time, and the guy in my room, the one who works here, says, “You’re pretty deep, aren’t you?”
“The point is,” I tell him, “I want to go home. And they won’t let me.”
“Man, this here’s your home,” he says.
“I’m saying that I want it back. My house. My life. I want her out of it.”
“Come on, now,” the guy says. “You said you loved her.”
“You don’t understand. She wasn’t capable of love.” I am heartbroken still. Or all over again. I am orbiting the heartbreak, waiting for it to pull me in. I don’t tell the guy how old Di was.
“You don’t believe that,” the guy says.
“You’re right,” I say. She loved me, in a way. It was a kind of love. It was a piece of me.
She could’ve called the cops. She could’ve pressed charges. She could’ve used the knives. She could’ve run away.
“I just want to go home,” I say. I don’t know what I’m referring to anymore. This is what we say here, what we all say all the time. We know it’s important to keep saying it. We know we’ve given up something huge. The guy looks at me with real sadness, the way the people who work here never do. Maybe I just wish he would.
“I know, buddy,” he says.
He leads me from the toilet to the easy chair. He is kind to me. I sit on the chair with my feet propped up, feeling what I feel, knowing what I know, which is that I had a good life. My mind tries to wipe the thought away, but if I concentrate I can hold onto it a minute longer. And that minute becomes my whole life. A good life. That’s what I have.
Kelly Magee’s first collection of stories, Body Language, won the 2006 Katherine Ann Porter Prize for Short Fiction, and her second collection, a collaboration with Carol Guess called With Animal, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. Her writing has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Passages North, Ninth Letter, Literary Mama, The Tampa Review, DIAGRAM, Black Warrior Review, Colorado Review, and others. She is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Western Washington University.Adhi Taufik by Unknown