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       The Barcelona Review

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My girl wakes at 8. Don’t worry, I asked her if I could call her my girl. She said, yes, honey that’s fine. I might’ve been crying. My girl doesn’t like to wake up, always feels woozy for the first 20 minutes, I’ve timed it. She can hardly stand up, basically twists and rolls around the bed, casualties left and right. Early in our relationship, I thought this was playtime, but after a few black eyes, well. At twenty past, I bring in the coffee, and she gives me one of her looks, one of them I love and hold onto. It's a pout really, like stop babying me, like I can get my own coffee, but then the appreciation is so apparent in her eyebrows, like two caterpillars sharing a kiss. She drinks her coffee in a mug I made back in college when I was in for ceramics, and I gently rearrange her hair. Off the shoulder, on the shoulder.
       After the first few sips, it’s game on, her eyes narrow like superman and she marches to the shower, sometimes she lets me join, sometimes not. No, honey, not today, okay? I need my energy, okay? Tonight I’ll make it up to you, she says sometimes, which is fine. I kiss her shoulder and she slips behind the glass, and I watch her hair get wet before returning to the kitchen.
       She used to have a cook, my girl, but now I’m the cook. It’s easy really, I mean she eats fruit for breakfast and eats lunch at the office and for dinner, we go out often, or order chinese, or I make something like mushroom risotto, which she loves but also thinks is too hearty. You’re going to make me fat, she cries, lifting her fork up, signaling the revolution, before having a little bit more. Another one of my favorite looks, her guilty punish me look, when she keeps her eyes low because she can feel my smile, and she gathers her troops and looks up defiantly, but immediately withers, all her lines break, her army’s in complete disarray, her cheeks are burning, and she shakes her head once, like why are you looking at me like that? and I say, that’s the shortest revolution I’ve ever seen, and she says, you want to fight eh? And then forget about the risotto because she’s trying to pin my arms on the floor like a berserker, and I let her win for a while because it makes her feel strong, and then I remind her. I turn the tables so to speak, and eventually, pick her up in my arms and carry her to the velvet sofa, burgundy, as she smacks my chest, and then pokes me in the cheek slowly, to create a big crater like a rock from space would, and then watch in slow-mo as the crater disappears back into the future.
       Afterward, I put the risotto away and pour out the remains of the wine, and we put pajamas on and sit on the lovely long sofa and read. She always has some business stuff to read, some email or proposal, etcetera, that needs reading before tomorrow. I read everything but at night it’s usually poetry because I like to admire things at night, like the sky-stars, and dimples, and whether my girl’s dimples could be described in the same way, like apples in a tree.
       We look like this. I sit regular, legs folded at the knee, book in left hand, propped up on the armrest. She leans her back into my right side and chest, and occasionally throws her sharp head into my collarbone when she gets angry. She wears red, I wear blue, and we both wear brooks brothers' white boxers. We used to wear ralph lauren but then she got promoted so we went in for an upgrade. She works at this big company, and she does marketing, but like on a huge scale. I never try and explain, I always let her, and if she isn’t around, it’s marketing, she does marketing on a huge scale, I say. 
       We met through a mutual friend, who went to my college but grew up with her. It was at some party in dumbo, way up in the sky. I always get nervous way up in the sky, like altitude sickness but it’s my veins tingling. She seemed kind of stiff at first, like a folded-up bed, all stuffed in a dark closet. All her sentences had armed escorts. She looked so comfortable in her business clothes, I could just picture her walking down hallways, bunch of secretaries running behind her, all holding out coffee cups, like, take mine, no take mine! But I could tell they weren’t the clothes she wanted to wear. I don’t know, maybe that’s a retrospective thought. How would I have known what clothes she wanted to wear at the time? 
       I guess I was going on about rauschenberg and di suvero, cause I’d seen a recent exhibit and also the new york poetry school. After all, they were a part of it, and how journalists only resort to naming groups by geography when they’re completely at a loss, and she said that she always used to draw when she was younger, that her dad had taught her. And then she forgot where she was for a moment, in a somewhat noisy party way up in the apartment sky, and she told me about how he used to show her how to draw reeds blowing in the wind, and how especially to give them a past, present, and future. Most people just give them a present, and barely even distinguish that, but the real artists can show time, and if she could give each reed a life, if you could tell where each reed was going, then she could be anything. It didn’t even make sense really, my girl said (not my girl then), returning to the party. My dad was so weird, she added as a way of explanation. She narrowed her eyes self-consciously, realizing she had let them get too wide, too full of something other than this silly party, made up of mostly ivy brothers and sisters still trying to drown out the chaotic sea of the city. I was sort of out of place at this party, and by that I mean I didn’t know anyone there besides my friend who had disappeared on me, the nerve of her. But everything was all right because my girl had opened her closet a crack, and a sheet had slipped out. I guess that’s when I thought she might like wearing something that doesn’t scream of boardrooms and black tie.
       You narrowed your eyes, I said, reflexively. What? she replied, with two little shakes of her head, a move which jingles her earrings and makes you feel like you locked your keys in your car. Nevermind, I said quickly, far beneath her authority, twisting my fingers, looking all over the place. But then she admitted it because she was (is) a very honest person, and I must’ve smiled like bastille day, and started rubbing my face, trying to make sure my smile didn’t get too crazy and run away, because she was saying, what are you smiling at? And, stop it! And, control yourself! Because she led me by the arm out of the main room and into the hall, and I just blurted it out, can’t believe I said it, but it just rolled out. I told her, you are living love’s perfect dream, just cause I thought she needed to hear it, and incidentally, it was true. She looked at me like I can’t believe you just said that at this dumb party in the sky, and I couldn’t really believe it either, the sentence was so ancient, but it was also so easy to say, one of those sentences that pour like water, like watering a rose. And I asked her if she would go to see the biennial at the whitney with me and she said she’d never been to the whitney, and also that she had never been on a first date at a museum, and I said that it can go two ways. Either it goes well and we spend a long time looking at the pictures and generally bump into each other absentmindedly, and whisper amusing things in each other's ears. Or it goes badly and we walk around looking and not really seeing because we’re wondering if the other person is seeing and god, there’s another floor! So she must go with me, I said, because really why live in new york if you’re not going to see the biennial. She narrowed her eyes, sensing the tiny little insult. Fine, she said, poking me in the chest, but I’m not going to be taken in by you simply because you know about art. I said, fine, but I’m not going to be taken in by you because you wear fancy clothes, and have a place in the hamptons. It was a guess, but it landed, her eyes traced a rainbow, I was right. 

So, fruit, mostly raspberries, and mangoes, and pineapple, and papaya, depending on the season. I drink coffee and look at the newspaper and look out the window. I hate new york. I hate the subway, I hate the so-many people, and I hate the buildings all looking like they’re going to fall down on you, even the new ones. But it’s where she works so it’s where we live, for now. I came initially for the art world, for the whitney, for the galleries, and the new york, and I worked in a bar and helped my friends set up shows. I was going to be a curator, or a gallery director, or something like that, but I didn’t, it wasn’t meant to be. And I’m saying this in my late 20’s, so I’m either hyper-clairvoyant or a quitter.    
       She comes to the kitchen prepared. It’s friday, the last friday in july before we take two weeks, and she has a lot of loose ends to tie, says she’ll be home late probably, and if I can do laundry, get the dry-cleaning, help her pack, and…. She’s out the door with more coffee and a little cup of fruit that she’ll eat in the taxi. I followed her to the door with it, making sure she wasn’t going to forget. She likes to dodge my fruit cups sometimes, but I can be very persistent, sometimes holding her coat as ransom. She finally drops her gaze from her phone, after failing to look distracted, and I hold forth the lovely fruit cup and she narrows her eyes like you stupid boy, fine, I’ll do it for you, even though I’m not hungry, and she smirks, like, probably won’t even eat it anyways. I let her smirk at me a lot. And I hand her her coat.
       I work at a bookstore on tuesdays and thursdays, so I have a little pocket money. I eat lunch uptown with her on wednesdays because we miss each other. Our apartment (that she pays for)  is on 11th and A. We have the top floor, of four total. The other tenants have been here forever. I see ms. yilraz on the 2nd flight as I’m leaving. We exchange pleasantries but ever since she caught me sitting on the stairs lost in thought, she’s assumed I’m bonkers, just the kind of word ms. yilraz would use, bonkers. I exit the building and turn right and walk down to 1st and up a block to the dry cleaners. I stop for a donut and find an old movie ticket in my jeans. I see a girl I went to school with emerging from a thrift store and I dive behind a mailbox. I proceed the rest of the way home with my girl’s dry-cleaning on my back, giving me good cover.
       My mondays and fridays are the hardest, but also the easiest if that makes any sense. Mondays are usually spent shopping and recuperating from the weekend. They are also the days containing the most attacks, when I lose sense of myself and my hands, and I ball up on the floor in tears usually. Of course, it checks the boxes, everyone else on mondays is usually back at it, whatever it may be. And I’m back at nothing. I begged john, who owns the bookstore, to work on mondays but it’s so dead he can’t use me. On two occasions I’ve gone to the bookstore on a monday and tried to fool myself into believing I had an it, but on both occasions, I nearly lost all control on the street and had to take a taxi home in pieces. Fridays can be tricky too because there’s usually an event that I’ll have to go to. My girl hates when I lie at those things but what else am I supposed to tell people when I meet them in black tie and they ask me what I do. Often, I tell people I’m a poet, because it usually shuts them up and they leave me alone. They whisper by the bar, she’s dating a poet. No, they laugh, I don’t think he’s been published. It’s better than saying nothing though, then they look at you like you have cancer. If you say a bookstore, they respond, they still have those? So I lie and say I’m an art collector, which isn’t really a lie, just an exaggeration of a small truth. I’d like to be an art collector, have begged all my friends to get famous, then I would be an art collector. Look, it’s not that I want to do nothing, and have not tried to do something. I’ve failed at a handful of things, and the reality is that I don’t need to work service anymore. Some people would say it would be more honest, but let’s be real, those people are just jealous. My sister said I was inventing a new type of arm candy, a walking cultural tomb. I think of that when I’m having the attacks, you are a walking cultural tomb. It’s kind of nice, isn’t it? A tomb, but alive, picking up new things to bury, deciding which bones to put out on display. So I read as much as I can, to feed the tomb. The heavier the tomb, the better, although I do feel myself growing smaller and smaller, and I have a suspicion that for the tomb to be everything, I’ll have to disappear all together.

I love driving, it’s like having a perfect little home if you care to arrange it properly. My girl hates traffic and doesn’t like to drive because she gets nervous on the freeways, so it works perfectly because we switch roles sort of, and she babies me like are you sure you’re not hungry, she says, for the thirtieth time and we left like fifteen minutes ago. No, darling, I say calmly, pulling onto the grand central, I’m not hungry, I ate breakfast this morning. My girl doesn’t understand breakfast, thinks it’s for people that don’t have to be anywhere, but that’s us now because we have two weeks and my girl promised to keep business to a minimum. I made her spell it out last night after we had rolled around and were drifting off to sleep and she had her chin buried deep where my rib-cage ends and her arms were wrapped around me like we were falling off the empire state building. Repeat after me, I said, running my finger up and down her spine. M, I said. M, she whispered. I, I said sleepily. I, she whispered.
      I think we fell asleep there, but I made my point. We’ve been dating for three months and have gone on two business trips, but no vacations so to speak. The business trip to london was nice though, I mean the hotel was nice, and she didn’t have that much to do so I got to drag her to the tate and show her the francis bacon and she loved it actually, I told you you would, I said. Do you think I love death or something? She exclaimed. God, did she ever love shaking her head. I think you love honesty, I replied, all bubbly, I get so sentimental sometimes, she hates it. Oh shut up, she said, rolling her eyes. God, you look at me like. Like what? I said, with my elbow holding her neck, her wavy hair was short then, like a bob, but angled forward like a spy. Like, she said, oh I don’t know, it’s like you're in a bubble bath or something. That’s where I get the bubbly thing from, from that time at the tate when she said it was like I was in a bubble bath. I just loved that. Oh, that can be arranged, I said, let me tell you, darling, that can and will be arranged. And we took a bubble bath at our hotel in london, and she couldn’t stop laughing, and then she would get so embarrassed, like aren’t we adults, and I would smear bubbles all over her face, and I even bought a little duck and named it, and made her kiss the duck on the lips, and she kept turning away laughing, holding her hands over her face, like she was watching herself perform karaoke, but I said, come on darling, kiss kansas, kansas wants to be kissed, don’t you kansas, and she rolled her eyes, like the most epic eye roll it was like the biggest rollercoaster in the world, bigger than the london eye. And she kissed kansas, and then I got terribly jealous and banished kansas from our kingdom and got out of the bath and carried my girl to bed.

We were going to her mother’s place that she’d had since the 80s when the hamptons were still somewhat bohemian (her mother’s word, not mine). Now, of course, the hamptons are pretty stupid and I guess like the east village, basically eaten away except for the old people that have been here since whenever and talk about it like wish you’d been there kid. Of course, I’m not complaining, no one has any right to complain about having a beach house, but her mother and father once knew people like lichtenstein. When my girl told me that I nearly fainted. And so of course the hamptons aren’t that anymore, but still, the beach is a block away, and a pool if you’re feeling lazy. I watched la piscine to prepare myself. If one of your exes come over, I was saying to my girl, the traffic finally starting to move on the southern state parkway, they may end up drowned. What? She exclaimed, she had been checking her phone. I’m just saying, I continued, checking my mirror, you might want to warn them.
       Her mother adores me, and I adore her. On more than one occasion we’ve dined with her in the city and when she found out our first date was the whitney she looked at me like sunshine, and when she found out I didn't do much she said, you’ll find something, like a true mother, with all her heart. She came out onto the front steps when we pulled into the pebbled driveway and my girl embraced her like we’d just traveled around the world and went inside to nap. Her mother helped me with our bags and then she asked me if I’d like a glass of wine like a schoolgirl, and I said yes. Her mother has a rule about drinking alone, never, she said. But when company demands wine! So we went out onto the porch and drank wine because she also knew that this was the best way to get information about her only child because man do I talk. I told her about the new acquisition briefly, in that I told her our girl had been stressed about it, because it was a huge deal. And I told her about how she had started eating a chocolate chip cookie before bed which I thought was odd because she never went in for dessert before. And I told her about how she had cried in a taxi coming home one night after dinner because a strap broke on her heel. All to say that she needed this time, and she should sleep. And her dear mother nodded along, like good, we can do that for her, we can help her regain her strength. She works too hard, she said, but god are we blessed to have you. You who see these things. You’re still making sure she eats something in the morning, she said, asking really, and I nodded vigorously, yes, and we drank our wine.
      Later in the grocery store whilst I was examining a radish, I said, you didn’t work much, right? I hate radishes, she said, before adding, no, I mean, well what do you mean by work? Work you know can come in many forms. Yes, I said, that’s true, I guess what I mean is you didn’t particularly have a calling, you know like the protestants. I guess, she responded, loading up our cart with carrots, I never had a calling that didn’t have to do with my husband, but to say something like farming, if you’re going to go back to the protestants, something like farming I wouldn’t say was more noble or better than what I did, if that makes sense. I think there’s a lot of talk these days about helping and caring, and loving someone, and that being low, or not worthwhile, or that it means somehow that you are negating yourself, and I disagree with it. To me, loving him was the most important thing in the world, and if he happened to be an artist, if he happened to be somewhat successful, these things were auxiliary to that. Does that make sense? she said. She had her fist on her hip and she was standing tranquilly in the middle of the aisle, causing a massive traffic jam. Yes, I said, gently guiding her and our cart to the side. Yes, that makes sense.
      In the car on the way home, she was considerably quiet, and then she asked me if I felt like there was something missing in my life, is that why I asked her about her life? No, I mean, I’m not sure, I stammered. I think I’m not sure if I’m missing anything. A lot of the time when I’m with your daughter everything feels like the end of the world, but in a good way, like I’ve seen the whole world, I’ve made it, and here I will lie, with your daughter, in a manner of speaking, till the curtains come down. But sometimes when I’m alone, or particularly when faced with other people, sometimes I feel a sense of inferiority. Yes, I know what you mean, she said immediately. That sense of other people making you feel inferior. It’s hogwash, she said, a classic word for her. Simply hogwash. I learned to look it right in the eye. I used to stand next to my husband and people would look at me like an inferior but he would never and so it was just them being simple. It’s not you, my dear, it’s them. They will never understand that loving someone can take up your whole life. Do you really think so? I said. Of course, you have to go to the grocery store, she said, laughing, but yes.
       When we got back our girl was up and flipping through a magazine in the kitchen. Thank god, I’m starving, she said, in a room full of food. Her mother and I laughed and I gave my girl a bag of groceries and she said she didn’t know where anything went, and I looked at her, and I’ve lived here my whole life, I said, and she stuck her tongue out at me, not at all like a businessperson and I was relieved to find the vacation working. We made pasta from scratch and my girl even helped by pouring wine and laughing, and letting me wipe flour all over her face. You look like the 17th century, I said, and she posed. 

After a few days of loafing around, my girl said there was a party we could attend, and I was saying do we have to, and she was saying her friends would never forgive her if we didn’t go. So there I was, completely abandoned on the porch of some house on the sea with a bunch of polos and baseball caps bumping into each other and comparing shoulders. One of them I actually recognized from the dumbo party, and had seen around, his name was mike, or morrison, one of the two. He noticed me trying to remember and came over with a solo cup in his hand, like he still wasn’t old enough for glass. How’s it going, he said, enthusiastically slapping me on the back. Good, good man, I said, trying to look cheerful, how’s your summer been? All right, he said, lots of work though, shaking his head, smiling. The market has been hype, like all over the place. I nodded sagely. You don’t work in finance, do you? he asked. No, I said. He doesn’t work at all, my girl added, suddenly next to me. You don’t work? he said, looking from me to her. No, she replied, he helps out at a bookstore occasionally, but they can barely afford the rent. Huh, he said, not knowing what to say, he sipped his beer, and then thought of something. Must be nice. She smiled. Is it nice? she asked me, turning to me, with a beer, she never drank beer, and smiling a smile I only saw once at a distance. The whole look was supposed to be comforting, like the one you’d give a dog before you put the needle in. You could tell she thought whoever she was looking at was a bit thick, maybe hard of hearing, definitely easily handled. I was stunned for a moment, like when a wave hits you and you have to hold your breath as you’re thrashed around, and you have to take it. And I tried to narrow my eyes at her, like she did when business commanded it, she could narrow her eyes like Ivan the Terrible. And I tried. But I couldn’t.
       I don’t know how I walked back. I was crying, and stumbling around like a moron, completely off it. I kept slapping my face, saying, stop it, cut this shit out right now. But I couldn’t stop crying and I nearly got hit by a car because I wasn’t looking both ways or anything. Her mother was out playing bridge for the evening and nobody was home except for their labrador who I loved and who started crying cause I was crying, and the two of us just made everything worse, and so I went to the bedroom and closed the door on him. I was only in there a minute or so before I heard her on the stairs and opening the door, and asking me, what? What’s wrong? Demanding it really, demanding to know why I was crying in my hands and my sleeves all wet by now. Jesus christ, she said, you’re so fucking dramatic, leaving me there. I had to lie to morrison, he was like what’s wrong? And I had to lie and say you were grieving your mother, which is terrible. Stop fucking crying. She was standing in front of me, both hands on her hips. Stop it, she screamed, grabbing my hands away from my face. She was so angry, she was seething. Just shut up, she yelled, you’re so fucking insecure, I was joking. Her face was all blotchy from rage. You stupid idiot, she screamed, her voice pitched just below a shriek. She threw my hands to the side. Too bad you can’t get paid for your tears. And I stood up, finally distracted away from my grief. And I walked two paces and put my fist straight through the wall, just a plaster wall, really not that difficult, luckily I didn’t hit any wood. And she was silent, she was, because she’d never seen me angry, like I used to get when my whole face went dead like a drowned man.

I was the only one there at the bus stop at half past seven. Dead of summer of course so the sun still had an hour or so to go. Forgot my toothbrush and my slim gold necklace that had a single pearl. My hand hurt now, naturally, and I kept it in my pocket cause it was bleeding a little. Luckily my favorite blue jeans were thick and could take a little blood. Black t-shirt, silver necklace, silver cuff bracelet, my hair actually looked really good, I was thinking, there waiting for the bus, like jimmy dean or paul newman. When I had asked my mother, way back when, if I was handsome, she had said yes, but not like paul newman. 
       I saw their car two blocks down the road waiting at a red light. It pulled over in front of the bakery. I watched her mother in the driver’s seat telling her daughter something quietly, using her hands. Then she relaxed back, shrugged, and draped her arm over the car door, like my work here is done.
       And her daughter got out of the car, all wrapped up like there’d been a fire, and rubbing her eyes, she never ever looked so hurt I began to doubt myself, like how could you do this to that beautiful darling? And I had to look away as she crossed the street to find some resolve.
       Hey, she basically whispered. Hey, I said, not looking at her at all. I’m sorry for what I said, she said, I didn’t mean it. She was sniffling like I did something wrong. Stop crying, I said, just cause I was pissed off because I wanted to carry her back to the end of the world. Then she took her breath in sharp, like she was going underwater. You’re my man, she said weakly. She was standing in the street in front of me, like hell, I thought, you’re going to get hit by a car, and I grabbed her arm and led her to the sidewalk. You’re my m, she said, sniffling louder, a, x, i, m, u, m. Each letter punctured with a little sob. You’re my maximum, she said, like I didn’t know how to spell. I know how to spell, I said. I’m so stupid, she said sobbing, looking to the left, pulling on her fingers like she was desperately trying to take off a pair of gloves. I forgot to put away the fruit cup, she said, in the elevator. I was looking at my phone, holding the cup in my other hand, the one you made that’s blue and red. Empty? I asked. Yes, she replied, empty and kate from the office was riding up with me and nudged me and said, I like your cup. My girl’s voice broke on cup, sounded like water poured over ice and she tried to wipe away her tears but they were everywhere by then. She didn’t even notice a couple walking by, she was standing there shivering even though it was 90 degrees. I put my hands around her wrists and gently put a stop to her fingers clawing away at her face. Yea? I said. She glanced up at me, I holding her hands in-between us, her hair arranged in a mess. She sniffled. And I said to kate (my girl said to me) my man made this, made this for me. And she asked me, what does he do, he must be excellent, who is he? And I said, I can’t even believe I said it, it just rolled out like steam, I said, yes, yes he is excellent, he is, he is, he is living love’s perfect dream.

© Kazden Brackett 2022 

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