This is a revised writing exercise from my MFA that I have been working with for years. I submitted it to a big journal who rejected it. Once again realized that I should only send out new work.
I stared out at the rooftops from my lounge on Micah’s bed. The expanse swathed with cowboy sheets and bloodstains. Two weeks since I was fired. Timothy out of town. I was over at Micah’s. I was about to leave Golden Hill forever.
The French doors opened onto the summer night. The sky luminescent with stars over palm trees bursting to the skyline. Micah smoked a cigarette out the balcony. Stared fiercely into the night. His arms were marred with bandages. His jaw clenched. The fairy-wisps of smoke drifted up along the tall green stripes on the walls surrounding.
The bang came suddenly. Like artillery downstairs with a guttural roar behind. I took a long drink of the Shiraz on the bedside table. Band-Aids. Dior Pour Homme. The roar came again with the sound of breaking glass.
I ran a hand across my short, bleached hair. Smoothed it over the two cowboys on the sheets traipsing around a campfire in lockstep. The bed Micah shared with his boyfriend.
Micah spoke, “There’s nothing we can do.”
“Are you sure? Can’t we call the police?”
“I’ve tried. They tell me that as long as he doesn’t actually come into the apartment, there’s nothing that they can do.”
“Good lord.” I took another drink. My lips stained purple.
I curled up into a ball on the bed. Cupped my knees. The ceiling fan turned and turned above us. Beads of moisture formed on the blades.
Micah got up in his boxers. Tossed the Camel out the window. Stalked into the bathroom. A huge wooden carousel rooster stood guard along the wall. Orange beak curved to steal, to bite.
My bare legs stretched behind me in shirt and panties only, I turned away. Waited. I was good at waiting.
It was too hot to wear clothes. We had crept out of our clothes slowly with the wine. The daytime heat not abated with the night’s advancing. Timothy was away working.
There was a wrenching sound from below. I cringed. A yell. I yelped. Skittered off the bed towards the stairs. Up or down, there was no relief. Only upwards. Outwards. Towards the sky to fly. Over the narrow courtyard with its row of kiddy pools. Cacti. To the spines.
When I still lived with my parents in 2005, I had a recurring dream of leaving my body in my bed. Floating down the hall up through my parents bedroom. Out of their balcony to fly over the beautiful canyon and freeway wending to the water. To the ocean. To be free. I wonder if I was astral projecting. I don’t know. I will never know.
Micah emerged in his bedroom.
“Look, he said, “I don’t know. I don’t know anywhere else I can go. I know you can go home. You should. There’s no need to stay here with me.”
I stared up at him. Shredded the sheets beneath my fingers. Knew this was his boyfriend’s apartment and not my own. It was wrong for me to lay half-naked in his bed. To stay past the designated hour. Yet I lingered.
I was just so attracted to Micah. My dashing bisexual friend. I was so alone in the world. I knew that whatever I gave him sexually would not matter. I was about to leave town.
“No, I can’t.”
“I wouldn’t be mad. You can.”
“Then let’s dance.” He turned to the record player. Put on a Johnny Mathis record. “Twelfth of Never” came on. Micah reached out to me.
I rose. Let him wrap me in a waltz. Ballroom dancing to records was something Micah and I did together. Part of our pantomime of romance. I fumbled in my steps as his broad arms wrapped my waist. A rattle and a shriek came from downstairs.
“Don’t think,” said Micah. He twirled me. I stepped free. Wrapped back into his arms as he flicked his wrist. We were practiced. Just as practiced at turning away.
I fell to kiss his neck.
“That’s entirely enough of that.” Micah smiled softly. Let me go.
His shoulder bandage fell. It was a drunken mirror accident: Vicodin. Red wine. He crushed his way into his boyfriend’s floor-length mirror. This earned him a substantial phone lecture earlier that weekend from Timothy.
I stared at his arms from the other side of the bed as he talked on the phone that afternoon. My finger traced forwards from time to time. Withdrew again. Extended with longing. Clamped around the sheet.
Micah had to know I wanted him. Was it just that he was so financially dependent on his boyfriend? Perhaps. Yet still I tried.
There was blood all over the sheets now from Micah’s wound. Dried blood. I knew it was HIV+ infected blood but I didn’t care. I rolled around in it. Sprawling. My legs tunneling through the sheets.
I kissed Micah’s neck again.
“No, Lena, I can’t. I really can’t.”
“But – “
“It’s more than just Tim. It’s the fact that you’re about to leave forever. I don’t want my parting present to you to be that. My HIV. You know this. Even with a condom there is risk.”
“No. For the last time, no.”
I stared down at my hands. Micah walked again to the window. Stared out fiercely.
What I would have done for him. Now that’s love or loneliness.
Micah reached for his cigarettes. Pulled one out slowly.
“It’s a warm night,” he said.
I put my clothes back on. Gathered my things.
Downstairs, there was the sound of breaking glass.