She Squared


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Kathy Anderson is the author of the short story collection Bull and Other Stories (Autumn House Press, 2016), finalist for Publishing Triangle's Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and Lambda  [+]

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She sleeps like a dead weight now beside me, lowered into the night, the ropes of the day swaying around her. We know nothing about each other really. She does not know how often my ex-lover visits me in my dreams. I do not know how this new lover got in here or if she will stay.

You don’t love me enough, she says. You don’t love me as much as I love you.

As if love could be measured and we could get to some mark and say ah, now we’re even.

She compares herself to my ex-lover. She was the love of your life. You loved her more than me.

In all things, she is a counter, a measurer. She knows exactly how much money she has in the bank. She knows exactly how far every destination is. I am dreamy, aimless, the one who finds $20 bills in pockets and who gets lost everywhere.

She was allowed to play with pennies as a toddler, her mother tells me, laughing.

She’d stack them up on the coffee table until horrified neighbors told her mother not to let her play with coins. Adopted from a faraway land, her mother’s first child, she didn’t know any better than to let the child have what she reached for.

But she never stuffed one up her nose or swallowed it like most babies do, her mother protests. She loved money, she wanted to touch it all day. We called her the baby banker.

Our therapist says my lover has a huge energy field, she draws people to her like a magnet to get what she wants. It’s like witches in a fairy tale bent over her at birth and gave her that gift because she was all alone in the world, with a birth mother who gave her up to strangers. Our therapist says I’m caught up in her force field.

Lover, don’t tell me stories that break my heart. Your comfortless life before me. You alone in a crib in an orphanage where no one picked you up when you cried.

She was a head banger. The only way she could feel her body. No one touched her enough and she was too little to stand up to reach others. So she rolled and hit her own head on the bars of her crib over and over again.

Grown up, my lover is as strong and hard as a jackhammer, she flattens me like a steamroller. She wants us to get a baby. I am appalled.

***

While we are walking up the mountain, she keeps turning around to look where we’ve been, to calculate how much farther it is to the summit.

Our feet are iced. We are ravenous. Why do we have to go further? Why can’t she just be happy with how far we’ve gotten?

She pushes us on.

I have never wanted to be a mother. She is not wrapping that rope around my life.

She is not who I would have picked for myself. My ex-lover floats back to me in an erotic dream.

But what does it matter what I felt for her? I am here, walking in snowy deer tracks up a mountain, with you. 

***

She whirls through my life, an antenna feeling every twist in the wind.

She has plenty of money but she doesn’t like to spend it. I don’t like money, my mind clicks off immediately. I see how the shiny clacking coins run her life.

What kind of a story is this? A funny “love” story.

I can end it if I want to. If I stay in it, it’s for desire. Not in the usual sense. A desire to see how this turns out, who wins.

She is not sure of me. She is hedging her bets. She is a cool customer.

Coupledom is stunningly boring. Sitting through family dinners, my head throbs as her nieces and nephews throw pretzel rods on the floor.

Do not sign me up for this. I have no capacity to love a baby.

We are not much of a family together. She eats only her own food in my house, like a person afraid of poisoning.

Being a lover again makes me rage inside. The fury twisting me is not of her making. For me, love and rancor are tied together. What she says haunts me: I will never love her enough. 

***

I am full of spiky objections to her.

She is used to women chasing her, their pink mouths open for lure.

I am suspicious of the glitter of her presents, the treacle of her words, the constant searchlight of her eyes on my face.

I had engulfing love before; it disappeared in a whiff and a grunt. Now I want to clutch my heart in my arms and protect it.

Sex is so different with her. With my ex-lover, it was animal urgent. With her, it’s mechanical lurch sputter.

I need to feel love in my body to know it’s real.

When I start to feel love, I immediately imagine its loss.

I know a man, my friend’s ex-husband. who got electrocuted and hung upside down, twisting, burning. This is exactly what you want to have happen to your ex. I loved my ex so much that I wanted her to suffer terribly without me, but she didn’t. She’s very happy with her new lover, I hear. 

***

In the beginning:
1. She likes how I talk. She’s been with too many women with minds like shallow pools.
2. She loves my legs, as stocky as a workhorse’s.
3. She shines down at me like a blonde sun god.
4. She whips the atmosphere into a honey-bee swarm just by walking into a room.
5. Her magnet moves to love-struck.

Now:
1. She says I measure myself out to her in timed slots.
2. I fend her off to be alone.
3. My heart is implacable.
4. I won’t give her what she needs.
5. My face is furry.

I don’t know what the hell I am doing with her. I can’t relax around her.

She’s totally hooked on the challenge of me. That’s what I am to her, an obstacle to be climbed over. I like rolling away from her, it makes me feel alive.

She says I need to dump someone in order to recover from being dumped.

***

I throw tangled lines of need, want, and anger over her, a net to make her thrash around in.

***

She leaves me for my obduracy. Her new woman says she’ll do anything for her, of course she will get a baby with her.

But they don’t. They don’t. And still they don’t, to this day.

That baby who trotted up the mountain strapped to us, that baby we tossed between us in front of our therapist, that baby who rolled in that crib, that baby wasn’t real, that baby all gone.
3

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