The morning after I lost my virginity,
I woke to a familiar mechanical
whirring in the living room. He was writing
a letter, I realized, on the mammoth blue Selectric
that made the lights dim when you plugged
it in. He left the note on the table, half the words
misspelled and a Chapstick kiss on the seam.
He loved me. The Selectric told me so.
I tried to use it all the time, but god,
the labored buzzing it gave off, the spike
in the electric bill, and it took up half
the table, impossible to move. I gave it away
to a friend newly infatuated with the romance
of ink and key, told her she had to pick it up
herself. I like to think the black tubular
platen still bore the imprint of post coital
love notes, that the ink felt its distance
from me and dried up, that every time she punched
her fingers down to hear the gunshot
letters, she felt my stories there.
Deep in the night, I would hear it through the wall—
the grunt, the rhythm, Frankie’s smoke-laced throat
calling out her name, please Jess, there Jess,
yes Jess. They knew we lived next door, their
front step ever colored by my sidewalk
chalk. Their room and mine were separated
by a single sheet of cheap wood paneling
and a few rotting beams.
Sometimes Jess would whisper Wait, wait, and
turn on the vacuum cleaner,
leaving it to suck and suck and suck
the same spot on the floor. Clutching
my pillow, I’d shimmy my little body against the
water-stained particleboard wall and press my ear to it
hard. I could almost feel the Bissell humming
impotently, endlessly. I could almost feel
the springs of the hand-me-down mattress
fighting to keep them aloft, aloft, aloft. I could
almost feel the place where their dingy second-floor
apartment merged with my frilly pink
bedroom. I could almost feel it, almost, and then—
the silence that burst between them, the sudden
click of the vacuum’s off switch, the muffled crack
of Frankie’s matchbook, the phosphorous igniting
as he lit another smoke.
RAE PAGLIARULO is an MFA Creative Writing Candidate at Rosemont College. Her work has been featured in Daedalus: A Magazine of the Arts, Full Grown People, and Philadelphia Stories, and is anthologized in The Best of Philadelphia Stories: 10th Anniversary Edition. She is also the 2014 recipient of the Sandy Crimmins National Poetry Prize and a 2015 Pushcart Prize Nominee. She works in the nonprofit development field in Philadelphia.