Originally published in The Lyndon Review.
I woke up in bed next to a naked woman. Not a Hollywood-style naked woman with skin smelling like fresh soap and the blanket conveniently covering her nipples to keep a PG-13 rating. Instead it was a northern Vermont-style naked woman, with breasts like old yogurt and a small puddle of drool soaking into her pillow. She tightened her grip on the blanket as I eased myself to the waking world. When I saw her reddened knuckles, I began wondering where I was.
The alarm clock said 11am. I was usually just getting home from my second job at this time. I either had the day off, or I’d been fired.
I froze as she rolled over and muttered something incomprehensible at the ceiling. Odysseus in the den of Kyklopes, except I didn’t have the balls to stab her eyes out. After I noticed that I had been holding my breath, she broke into a loud snore and I tiptoed toward the bathroom, grabbing a dirty pair of jeans off of the floor on my way.
A stranger wearing my face greeted me when I looked in the mirror. We watched one another for a long time as I tried to get my bearings. Bruises ran up and down my chest and fingernail cuts crisscrossed my shoulders familiarly enough, but there was something wrong with my face…
My hand searched the counter top, absently passing over the broken razor blade that I had introduced my wrists to a couple weeks ago and ultimately finding one of my disposable Bics. It took me half an hour, but I finally managed to remove the brown mossy hair that had covered my cheeks and neck. I splashed my face with some soapy warm water when I was done, and the stranger smiled at me. Without the beard and devoid of the drooping purple bags under my eyes, we almost looked like the familiar boy from the time before.
11:35. I skipped my shower and decided that I could do without breakfast, lest the hiss of water or the pop of bacon beckon her into the waking world. Not that it would have been a bad thing to see her, I told myself. After all, I did love her. Or she loved me; they were supposed to be the same thing. But these times were precious to me; I only got one day a month off. It had to be that way, she told me, because she couldn’t stand to be cooped up at a job eight hours out of the day.
Tucked safely away underneath the coffee table, narrowly avoiding a spilled ashtray on the cat litter-smelling carpet, I found my stack of comics. In my carelessness the pile had grown top heavy and had fallen victim to the state of general disorganization that my life had comfortably settled into. I grabbed a comic at random, pulling the issue from beneath an overturned plate of hardened mashed potatoes.
FANTASY AS YOU LIKE IT! promised the cover. A group of soldiers along with one sad woman stood pointing in shock as a scrawny man in a lab coat (THE STRANGEST MAN OF ALL TIME!!) transformed into a huge gray monster.
IS HE MAN OR MONSTER OR…IS HE BOTH?
Unfortunately, I would never find out, as I discovered the pages inside torn out. The back of my memory showed me newsprint made into confetti, floating in the air for a few moments along with a few high-pitched words.
You’re always reading these things! Why don’t you do anything productive around the house?
The shadowy argument was easy to forget, as were many things outside of these days off. I didn’t feel like reading comics anyway.
I dropped heavily onto the sofa, frowning at the spot on the arm where the cat had thrown up.
Maybe I should do some cleaning, suggested my brain.
Instead I reached into my pants pocket and pulled out a tiny red notepad and the stub of a pencil.
I had given up trying to type out my thoughts into poetry or, God forbid, an actual story, since the clacking of a keyboard tended to wake her from her midday slumbers, even when a fire alarm sometimes wouldn’t. Instead I had taken to scribbling down broken thoughts and a few silly metaphors that I thought might be of use later, when I somehow would become a famous writer. I flipped open the cover to take a look at what I had, struggling a bit as I tried to straighten out the bent spiral spine.
Two pages of tic tac toe games that I had scribbled out during the night hours at the convenient store. Another page of pencil sketches. Birds were my thing; that and someone’s right eye was all that I could draw. I frowned as I noticed that one of the swans had a beak that looked strangely like a penis. If I had a psychiatrist, I wonder what he’d make of that.
Three pages of things that I hold as universal truths, mostly scribbled out as my world view met with revision. “My parents love me,” crossed out, rewritten, and crossed out again. “Glasses, braces, and all, she thinks I’m handsome,” underlined. “Don’t believe her lies,” scrawled languidly across the top the night that I saw Memento.
A dozen or so of the pages had been torn out, their remains hugging the metal loops that held the pad together.
When I finally came across my “serious writing” section, there was only one line:
“Goat-like troll woman.”
I frowned and furrowed my brow, trying to come up with something better. I drew stars and a hummingbird in my margins, making sure to keep the beak as small and non-phallic as possible. 11:58 found me tapping the pointy end of my pencil against my forehead as I tried to think of some sort of unique image or a cogent metaphor.
11:59. The bedroom door slammed and she stepped out, a gray bathrobe slung around her shoulders and failing to quite keep her contained. Her stomach reminded me of soggy pasta.
“So are you going to get cleaning or are you going to lounge around all day?”
I frowned and made one addition to my notepad before tucking it back into my jean pocket.
“300-pound goat-like troll woman.”
12:00. I got to work.
Image: Clock, by George Hodan