Reversal:Curio Vignettes 03(3)

By: Cara McKenna

Her brusqueness has nothing to do with being weary of my breakdown. It’s merely her telling me that it’s no big deal, this change of plans. She doesn’t like for me to wallow in my disappointments, to give them as much power as I do.

“Okay,” I finally say, and stand. She kisses my cheek. As the door shuts behind her, my cabinet calls to me. But I turn my back on it and head for the bathroom. I brush the coffee taste from my mouth, feeling settled by a tiny measure. I’m tempted to shower with the lights off, as I sometimes do—warm water, calming dark, the steady shush drowning out my ragged breaths. I shudder to imagine what a psychiatrist would make of me, of all these artificial wombs I seek when the outside world becomes too much to bear.

But I feel better as I dry off. I groom, reassured by the familiar rituals. Perhaps it’s only a costume I wear, pretending to be this sophisticated man, but it often feels far better than the skin I was born in.

Caroly buzzes again as I’m uncorking a bottle of wine. When she meets me in the kitchen I see her overzealous shopping tendencies have gotten the better of her. She sets far too much food on the butcher block—half a baguette, soup containers and several steaming carryout boxes from the corner bistro.

I’ve calmed enough to see her properly, take in her clothes. She came from her museum, dressed for work in a striped silk skirt and a plain black top. The latter hides all but her slender neck and the grooves above her clavicles, the little well between them at the base of her throat. The most opportunistic bits of my manhood return as I wonder if I would taste her perfume if I drew my tongue along that skin. I feel arousal glowing pink, deep in my belly, embers coming alive if not yet crackling bright. Soon though. It will feel good to get lost inside her, lost in a mission I can’t fail—pleasing her. Pleasing a woman will always trump fixing a clock when I’m in need of comfort. I can be a worthy lover to her, if not a boyfriend.

We dole soup into bowls, bread and beef and roast potatoes onto plates, and I pour the wine. We toast, speaking for the first time since she left, I realize.

“To the weekend,” she announces.

“Indeed. To the weekend.” To waking with her in the morning—

The morning. In the morning she’ll make me go out again, for coffee somewhere. The notion drives a knife between my ribs, I’m still so upset by the day’s fiasco. The wine tastes acrid from the toothpaste and I drink too quickly.

My distress must be as plain as my prominent nose, as she says, “It’s much too early to worry about leaving.”

Then tell me we don’t have to leave tomorrow. She won’t though.

“Plus you’ll be fine. Everything will go smoothly and it’ll wash away the bad taste this afternoon left in your mouth.”

“Perhaps.” But it still sours my stomach. We eat in silence for a little while, though I’m not hungry. I feel her gaze flitting from her plate to my face. She’ll catch my worries like a cold if I don’t snap out of this mood.

“Tell me about your day,” I say.

“Nothing special. Though I did find out one of the curators is pregnant.”

“Oh?” I imagine Caroly pregnant and for a split second an intense curiosity eclipses my anxiety.

She nods. “I’m hoping I might get to fill in for some of her duties while she’s on maternity leave in the winter. It’d put me in a good position the next time a curator position opens up.”

“That’s excellent.”

“How about you? Before you got lost, I mean. What store were you going to?”

I can’t tell her the truth, not in its entirety. She needn’t know I was so deluded as to think I was ready to present her with jewelry and a love proclamation.

“It was one of my mother’s favorite places. They sell antiques. Clocks,” I add, the perfect alibi and the truth.

“Ah. Run out of patients to operate on?”

“Something like that.” I eye the little crystal droplets dangling from her ears, wondering what I might have chosen for her at that shop, in some alternate universe where I’d found myself capable of the mission. I’d have enjoyed choosing. I’d have taken her up to the building’s roof this very evening with the box in my pocket, told her how I felt with that sky looming, those buildings sprawling. Shown her I felt for her, even surrounded by the things that scare me most… My chest would have swelled with pride to know I’d made that trip by myself, walked those twenty-odd blocks on my quest and come home victorious.

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