Nesting Doll

Melissa Flores Anderson | Flash Fiction

The man I’m sleeping with tells me he loves my brown skin that glows in the sun, my dark eyes, the way my hips curve out under his hand. He is pale with bright blue eyes and skin that turns red in the sun. My mother would say he does not have enough meat on his bones. My father would say he needs more hair on his chest. 

The man I’m sleeping with has dated a girl from Mexico. An Indian woman. A Vietnamese gal. He is Irish. No, French. No, British. No, Swedish. It is all the same. 

The man I am sleeping with says that white women are too high maintenance. They find fault in everything. They are too needy and clingy. He dismisses that I am half white because I act more like those other girls, the ones who don’t ask for too much. 

My arm is splayed across his chest, sweat glistening on skin that is olive or auburn or amber or toasted or caramel macchiato, depending on who you ask, the color seemingly darker in contrast against his light chest. He kisses my cheek and pans away from me. He has decided it is time to go. 

I do not call him my lover or boyfriend or bae or my man. I let him call me a friend. With benefits. But he has written the terms of the arrangement. I am not allowed to ask for his time or his attention.  

The man I am sleeping with sees himself as a hero, a good Samaritan. A good guy. He volunteers, he mentors, he coaches. He fills up every moment of his free time, helping colleagues and acquaintances. I don’t ask him when I will be at the top of his priority list. Because I have learned not to ask for too much. From parents who struggled to pay the bills. From science teachers who said I’d do okay for a girl in their classes. From supervisors who added responsibilities to my job description without a raise. 

The man I am sleeping with wants to see me on Thursday. I look at the blocks of purple on my calendar, and I know it doesn’t work for me. But I tell him yes, let me know, plotting out what engagements I might cancel or rearrange. Knowing I could put my job in jeopardy trying to fit into the slots in his day. And I wait. All day, for a message from him.  

When I don’t get one, I do not ask him what happened. I do not tell him I am disappointed. Like a nesting doll, I make myself fit into an ever-smaller space. My tongue fills up my mouth with all the words I cannot say out loud. Because I know too well how to conform to what other people want from me, to transform myself from a circle to a square to a triangle, into whatever shape makes others most comfortable. 

My mother says I am not getting any younger. My father says I should stop being so picky. Even a man with no meat on his bones and a man with no hair on his chest, who cannot read the silences in my language, is better than no man. 

The man I am sleeping with cannot read me, but I see every imperceptible shift he makes. The way he won’t commit to future plans anymore, the way he no longer texts good morning or good night. If I disappeared, I’m not sure he would notice. 

And I test it out. I leave him unread for one day, two days, three days, checking every day to see if he has sent a message to me, a check in to see if I am okay. Four days, five days, six days. 

The man I am sleeping with doesn’t notice I am gone. I think that I can take the strand of loneliness, the strand of sadness, the strand of disappointment and weave them together, create a quilt, a blanket, a shield to hold me together.  

But instead I give in, before the seventh day. I send a message, full of care-free words, as though it has not been a week since we last talked, to reassure him that my silence did not mean anger.  

I mention a male coworker who has asked me to lunch. Because I know the man I am sleeping with is motivated by jealousy, though he will say he is not the jealous type. He just happens to be free that day, if I want to see him instead of the coworker. 

And I go to him, spend my last $20 on gas to get there. Press my lips against his mouth, move my full hips against his, splay my brown arm across his chest. The man I am sleeping with nods his head when I whisper that I love him, and sometimes says it back, like a reflex, like an obligation, like a hollow promise that tethers me to him as I curl as small as I can into the curve of his arm, like a splinter against the oak of his arm.