In the darkness, the smell of incense is intensified, and she can hear cars passing by in the street below just a little too often. She lives in a small town, and the only interruptions in the night she is accustomed to are the sounds of passing trains and the occasional yapping of a coyote. Lying next to him in the summer heat in the bag of straw on a pile of railroad ties he liked to call a futon, her eyes focus on the ceiling and the moonlight spilling in through the tall, shabbily-adorned windows.
This is a familiar custom for her. She is drawn here like a moth to a flame. She cannot possibly ever sleep in these conditions, but she doesn’t usually mind. It is enough for her to be the one to be next to him in his bed that night. Listening to him snore softly, stroking his dread-locked hair, and occasionally being driven to the brink of madness by constantly tossing and turning. Being consumed by the fear of falling asleep next to someone. It was a sacrifice she made regularly, because she was completely and utterly infatuated with him, in the way only a naive young girl can be.
Her eyes flicker to the mirror above his dresser and the photograph there, which was never there before today. Her blood begins to boil all over again.
He’d caught her long ago, hook, line and sinker with his quirky personality and his childlike willingness to try anything, almost to a fault. He was wild and artistic and funny and a musician; all the things cliches are made of. He embodied the persona of a hippie as much as anyone can. He wasn’t particularly attractive in the traditional sense and he always smelled of patchouli, but nonetheless he held some sort of magnetism for her. Perhaps it was in the way he was overly comfortable in his own skin, which made him open and carefree and sometimes brutally honest, but also beautiful and poetic and incredible. He didn’t drive, so that was a strike against him, but she was still too young to concern herself with such things. He told her how much he loved her hair constantly. She had never been centered out and fawned over so openly before, and she was flattered by his attention. She had no real sense of self-worth, so to have a man genuinely showing interest in her was surprising. She was drawn to him more and more over time. He lived with someone else and she knew it, but she didn’t care.
One day everything changed. He invited her to his apartment one summer afternoon. She knew the risks, but she had to go. His girlfriend was working downstairs at the corner store below the apartment. They ordered pizza and he played guitar and sang to her, and suddenly there in the sweltering heat they came together for the first time. They fucked right there on the couch, his sweat dripping down onto her body and mingling with her own in a pool between her breasts. She loved every minute of it, loved knowing they could be caught at any second, loved the feeling of being the other woman who held enough intrigue to lead him astray from all that he knew.
Not surprisingly, his relationship ended shortly afterward and he was all hers to play with whenever she wanted.
He made her a mixed tape and that sealed the deal. The sex was safe in all the ways it should be, but it was also intense and passionate and it held an underlying sense of danger. She was giving herself to another person in ways she had never done before, and he was older and clearly much more experienced. Before and after, they would get high and he’d play his guitar and the harmonica and sing to her or read poetry he’d written or passages from whichever book had caught his attention that day, and she would just lay watching him, mesmerized in her stoned little bubble. She admired his ability to create something out of nothing in a way that seemed completely effortless. She was so moved by the ways in which he was able to touch her body and soul. How could it ever end well? The infatuated young girl wearing rose-tinted glasses and the literally starving artist living from one day to the next without a care in the world or any real plans for his life?
She should have known by the way he would sometimes tell her, while he was inside of her, that he was teaching her these things so she would enjoy sex more with her future partners. He never made her any promises, but he would always call her in the middle of the night while he was drunk, and she would always answer. They’d talk for hours until one of them passed out on the phone, and he called her Princess all the time–how could he not love her back? She wanted him, regardless of the consequences to her self-esteem or her tender young heart.
One fateful night, he showed up at their favorite bar with two women she had never seen before. He pretended she was invisible as he drank and laughed with them all night. She felt confused and humiliated. All the blood drained from her face and she felt as though she might faint. Everyone knew that they were an item. They always left the bar together. But this night was different. This night he left with them instead.
The next time she went back to the bar, rumors were swirling that he had suddenly gotten engaged to one of the women he was with that night. She discovered that this woman was from a different country and was basically a stranger to him. She had no idea what the fuck was going on. How could he do this to her with absolutely no regard for her feelings?
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. She was livid, seething with rage, but had no real outlet to properly deal with these emotions. In the weeks that followed, she drove herself insane with thoughts of the two of them entwined, wondering why she wasn’t enough for him, what qualities this girl possessed that she didn’t, questioning her own beauty, her body, her flaws. Hurting like she’d never hurt before. The devastation she felt was palpable in the very air she breathed. Anxiety struck her like a freight train and turned her life upside down.
She saw him enter the bar one night and her heart went up into her chest. They talked, had drinks together. He was relaxed, played innocent and coy, dropping little details about his new relationship but not truly opening up to her because she was visibly uncomfortable with the subject. They’d been friends before their relationship became sexual–surely they could remain friends after it was over? Surely the pain that shook her very existence would someday subside so she could think clearly again. At least that’s what she tried to tell herself as they sat facing one another across the table.
The end of the night came fast upon them and before she knew it, she was drunk. He asked her to come home with him and somehow, despite everything that had happened between them, she could not say no. She just wanted to be in his apartment again, surrounded by all of his stupid knickknacks and drug paraphernalia, his Grateful Dead posters and dirty dishes, wanted to curl up on his couch and watch him play for her one last time.
At his home, they ordered food and ate together. Incense and candles burned here and there, music played and lulled her, numbed her. She was somewhat reserved compared to how she normally behaved with him, and he noticed. She avoided the bedroom at all costs. He insisted that they watch a movie he had been raving about, Waking Life. She was high and it was difficult to follow, but watching the film opened her eyes in a major way. When it was time to sleep she told him she would stay on the couch, and he insisted that she come to bed and sleep next to him instead. She followed him reluctantly and immediately spotted the picture on the mirror above the dresser. She walked over to it, and saw his fiancee staring back at her.
She turned and he was there in front of her, the stench of beer heavy on his breath as he tried to wrap his arms around her. She pushed him away and pointed to the picture.”How can you do that when you’re with her? And where’s my fucking picture? Don’t I deserve to be up there?”
“It’s okay Princess, it’s only physical.” He kissed her neck, her shoulder, along her collar bone.
Never in all the time she had spent with him had she considered that the way they began would be the same way they ended. How stupid of her to think that she could ever trust him when he was willing to cheat on the first girl with her? She was too busy worrying about being a vixen, making sultry eyes at him across the bar, knowing he would be hers at the end of the night. Destroying someone else’s life, and her own self-image, in order to get what she wanted at all costs.
Destruction begets destruction. How could she aspire to have a happy ending with him when she knew exactly what he was capable of? How could they ever trust one another, and build a solid foundation, when they were rising from the ashes of deceit?
Clouded by anger and alcohol, she unleashed her frustration.
She pulled away and felt her hands ball into fists.
“We can’t do this. Not with her. You’re marrying her, right? How could you do that to her if you love her enough to marry her?”
Again he tried to worm his way in, and again she pushed him away.
“How could you do this to me? What am I to you, truly? Do you realize what you’ve done to me? How much pain you’ve caused?”
And then came the kicker.
“Everything you’ve ever said to me that had any semblance of intelligence was quoted from that fucking movie! You’re so full of shit! I hate you!”
The tears rushed in as anger gave way to pain. She felt them pouring down her face as she began to sob.
“Come to bed,” he said to her. He spooned her from behind, stroking her hair as she cried herself into a fretful sleep.
She awakens to the sound of sirens in the distance, her head pounding, and looks around her. He is snoring, apparently still able to sleep like a baby despite all that has happened between them. The candles have all burnt themselves out, save for one, on the dresser, below the picture of her. The intruder. Just as she had been, all along. Only this girl has no idea what’s in store for her.
She can’t take it anymore. Can’t sleep like this, not next to him, on his stupid fucking futon.
She rises and gathers her things lithely in the moonlight. From Miles Away by The Rocking Horse Winner is playing on his stereo. She takes one last long look at him from the bedroom doorway, sleeping so peacefully in his bed of lies, and finally walks away, closing the door tightly behind her as she heads out into the night.