Six Months Single
Wet eggs, dry meat, crunchy rice and old bread, pasta that smells like your hands—your hands . . . “It’s a dive like any,” my coworker interrupts, and I’m nodding, sifting the bloody mary back and forth between two tall glasses, like the mix will taste any different, and it only takes one second for the glass to slip—everything shifts so quick—and when the glass breaks, the customers leap up, and I finally let myself cry, “it’s a glass, just a glass,” the coworker says, and I go to the kitchen, next to the bus-tubs and day-old bread, and she finds me, brings me a bloody mary and orders me to drink. It’s 9am, Sunday. He locked me in our tiny kitchen the night before, but I don’t say that, not that, never that, I just complain: “our kitchen . . . our kitchen’s so small.” “It’s San Francisco,” my coworker is saying, “ya gotta just stay,” and I choke on the cocktail, afraid—this is afraid—and the kitchen crew shoos us, the dishwasher arrives, burps, grabs a celery stalk from my glass and chews, chews loudly, and I see you—I mean, him. I see him. If I painted, I’d paint you, masked, in that first Florence kitchen, a bottle of Chianti between your knees—how I loved to love those knees—and I swept up your toast crumbs when you left, that first night, and I made a wish when I was alone, alone in that kitchen, that you’d never leave me again, my hands and knees were covered in your leftovers, and I licked my palms clean, just trying to taste you. Do you remember chandelier shopping? We said we were those people, but I feel now like we are such strangers, you and me both, strangers to me now, to the me now . . . You’ll have to forgive me, I keep slipping, memories keep replaying. I mean to say he. I’m getting distance, you see, my therapist says it’s what’s healthy—distance, he says…or, he said. He was recently hospitalized for pneumonia. All of his appointments have been cancelled for the rest of the year. That kitchen, back in Florence, is as real and as false as how I used to dance—ballet—as a child, how I would color in the lines on the kitchen floor in Chicago or Wisconsin, who knows, who cares, how I hate the rooftops in Tuscany, because I can’t look up without hearing you—him!—I hear you again. And I still wonder if you noticed when my eyes shifted down, even so slightly, when I was so briefly, so quietly, so sad, and morning sadness is bad—spring that still feels like winter—my fingers swollen so I can’t twist my ring as usual, mornings, when no matter how we eat, we can’t quite get the energy to feel.
“Well, my greatest fear is that mutual love is nonexistent,” I’m saying on a sticky kitchen floor in the Haight, but when he kisses me like I knew he would, I feel nothing, and I meant to say I fear it exists but it’s not enough. He took me to his favorite store, European housewares. We drove over an hour to get there, and for once I was silent with him, tying on aprons, trying to keep smiling. 3pm, Saturday. He keeps asking what I’m thinking after sex so I keep the sex going, because he doesn’t want to hear that I’m thinking of tennis, how I didn’t really hate tennis, not really, and I’m thinking of that grocery on Treasure Island, our first fight as husband and wife, and I can’t hear the words now, I just see us, whisper-screaming over produce. I hated his thoughts, and I hated when he spoke—even more when he spoke. I hated his mouth when he tried to smile at me, because I could tell he was trying, and I hate how I knew when he wanted silence from me, just by how he would look at me, hold his jaw and look at me, and still. Still, I married him. How can I ever forgive me? “The things I do for a story.” Haight-Babe buys me something, a spatula maybe, and he comes over, carrying the object so stupid-happy. He’s a smoker so when he disappears I assume he’s outside, smoking, and I start rewashing the dishes, a necessity, anything to keep my mind and my hands busy, so when he walks into the kitchen, I startle, I remember how easy, how easily Riccardo locked me in here. “You seemed scared. Who were you expecting?” I stop washing the clean dishes, and I open the fridge, my soapy hands dripping. I swallow whole mouthfuls of the cold air, forehead to freezer frame, wide, tired eyes on the flickering light. Sprouts. We were arguing about sprouts.
On a plane, headed to San Diego with the Original Rebound, his hand on my knee, gripping like Riccardo gripped me, and then I’m crying over broken windshield wipers in Napa Valley, and soon Haight-Babe is replaced by Heroin Hottie, who’s as bad as he sounds, and I black out in broad daylight, pretty much sober, driving in circles in a church parking lot as my best friend is on speaker—“it’s heavenly!” she’s repeating—but she’s just described watching Family Guy on a new couch with her hubby and her youngest has a cold and the oldest killed his birthday fish, and I hear the chirpy voices from the TV, and I’m driving in circles, noon on a Wednesday, and I’m pretending it’s bad cell reception—“no, no, I’m not crying”—and I’m too dizzy, too confused to know I miss Riccardo as much as I hate him.
He watched over me, watched me cook and bake, make drinks, pour wine, spill coffee. He was always near and always watching. He hated my cat but fed him anyway. I hated his stink but still licked him clean. He is always silhouetted in the Sicilian countryside in my mind, lean black horses on his rope-line and that tilted shed to the left and a sweating Negroni in his clammy fist. “You,” he said after fast sex on our wedding night. “I just want you,” and we were on a balcony—it was too balmy—a balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, and I was wearing the curtain, stretching over the railing. He untangled me, touched me. “Your heart,” he smiled, misunderstanding, because I was looking out at the water, panicking, trying to find a horizon, but it was too dark and it was getting darker, and the curtain goes on slapping at the window frame.
I can nearly remember standing at a stairwell in Barcelona, eating stale cheese off a knife blade, humming to myself in Italian. In exactly two years, I will meet you. Before you, I had never seen someone take steps so slowly. I’ve had three threesomes, and only one was with two men, and after, we inhaled eggnog, the only drink within reach—another kitchen; this one, dim—and it was early spring, someone’s mother’s home in Rhode Island, but I was dreaming of Barcelona, back before I saw it, which is to say I was dreaming of you too, of your so-slow steps, I was breathing in the dream of learning the familiar click of your heels on stone steps—Santa Croce—and now I eat leftover cinnamon candies in our bed, thinking of the many men who speak of love to me, who keep speak-speaking like starving cats that have finally eaten, but I should have said, before you left last season, I should have said it back, it’s truer than anything else I’ve said: I love you, not like you are you, but like you are a part of me—but damnit, and damn you. I can’t blot out my fear to see your face again, to see that there was a time, a year and a half before, when you surprised me with a single sunflower, and you taught me how to make homemade ravioli, and I want to apologize too, because I know you hate flying, and your flight, it was on your birthday, and I was already under somebody else, the man you hated, the one with an Army background, with a motorcycle and beard and even a book of poetry, and I made him your tortellini, and we fucked on the floor of the kitchen that we decorated in San Francisco, under the rug we so cleverly hung next to the table. I was trying to take back my kitchen and take back my life, but I felt his back, a back nothing like yours, more muscle and less hair, but I felt you, and he moved inside of me, and I squinted and I pinched my nose closed, and I looked up and away, and his moans, they were in English not Italian, but I still heard you, saw you, I smelled you, and after, after, I moved around the house like I was a stranger to any home, my lover on the floor, naked and sweating, your toast crumbs on his arms—or maybe they were freckles—and I was going to offer him tea, but I couldn’t betray you. I keep it there, top shelf of our white kitchen cart, all your tea boxes in a line, organized and tidy, and I see you in that kitchen, your back forever to me—you left me before you left me!—“chamomile or green?” I hugged you from behind, and you were stiff. You froze at my touch. “Chamomile, I think,” and you moved away from me. You knew I was happy; and for that, you hated me. If I opened them now, lifted the lids of your many tea boxes, what would I see? Maybe they’d all be empty. Can you imagine? Seven boxes of tea, full of nothing. And I’d be mad, angry because that’s so you, to just leave the empties. But then I’d be sad, sad because what’s the point now? Why be angry? My lover’s at my feet on our kitchen floor, and you’re in Italy.
A summer without a calendar or condoms, six months of dancing and drinking, but I still see Riccardo pointing up at hot-air balloons—Lake Geneva—and he chases me along the short shoreline, lifts me and kisses my stomach, whispering promises across my collarbone. Divorce feels like abandoning something bigger than me—love—and I was holding on because I wanted to believe, to keep believing, I want to keep living in Lake Geneva, skinny dipping, swimming until pruned, but his shadow, yes, his shadow was hungry and devouring, but please, please, please you have to see—once, we went chandelier shopping.
Kacy Cunningham is a recent graduate of the MFA program at San Francisco State University. Her stories have appeared in Euphony, Transfer, and PANK, among others. She currently lives in Boston.