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"A Scooch," short story excerpt

Sunday 6/26/22

A woman experiences a brutal divorce, and it drags on and on and on. She imagines the tail of a scorpion, long as a mountain range. On the day the last of the agreements are signed, she goes to a bar to get picked up. She settles in early, the sun still out. It’s July. For months she’s cursed how the sun sure takes it damn sweet time going down. Doesn’t feel the same with the glass of wine, the pajamas, curled in bed watching a shitty romance movie and crying over the sappy ending with light visible through the shades. She inwardly insists—so much inward insisting—that February gets a bum rap, no matter what anyone says about winter.

She has her favorite book, which she previously read once a year, but she hasn’t opened it in five. She turns to the first page, remembering a friend in college who used to ask her to crack her back. They’d stand ass-to-ass, arms interlocked. She pulled her friend forward, lifting her off the ground. The cracking noise followed, but like there were tea towels over the bones, and the friend would go “ahhhh.”

The book makes no sound when it’s finally opened again, but she touches the first few paragraphs with her fingers as an adult caresses the cheek of a child it has wronged and doesn’t know how to start the apology. The sun goes down and she stops her reading, walks to the table of the man who bought her a drink whom she has decided is thirty-four, and definitely not thirty-five.

For a while it has appeared possible he’ll flash her a thumb’s up sign from his seat twenty feet away, and can barely restrain his hand, which needs to grow up. A prevailing attitude is discernible in how he moves. As if he’s being filmed. Or believes he should be. He has what his parents talk about as an important job. He’s still a high-fiver and a former face painter for big games when he was at Michigan. Takes the office pool for the NCAA basketball tournament more seriously than anyone else at work. Hasn’t won it yet, but he’s due. He belches frequently at home and is proud when he can say—if he wanted to—“that was a good one.”

She says some words, knowing it doesn’t matter what they are, only that the phrase “check please” achieves its initial utility upon the termination of a period of twenty minutes. He takes her to his place and it looks just like she knew it would. A mounted television covers most of a wall, couch positioned way too close. He was that kid who sat in the front row at movies. There are barrel-like containers of supplements on the kitchen counters. She’s aware she could confirm the presence of multi-topping, “gourmet” frozen pizzas in the freezer with the words “wood-fired” somewhere on the packaging. He asks her if she’s hungry, which she understands he also means as a double entendre, but it isn’t necessary, because she’s already there.

They go into the bedroom and take off their clothes, separate from each other. Thoughts she wants to hold in abeyance rain down like comets born of clouds. The intimacy of undressing someone else. The times she’s lifted her hips in that particular dance, when she really meant it. The scooch. She considers the irony that there is no name for something so central, no official terminology, though there are degrees of centrality, grammar be damned.

She makes a pile on the floor and he makes a pile. A fat dog could waddle between them and touch neither. He goes to get a condom in his bureau, where she figures he either has too many or not enough, but she says, “you don’t need that.”

She doesn’t want the barrier. Wants to remove the possibility later of being able to say, “this is the first time since…” that’s she done whatever it is she’s doing, though of course she won’t be able to fit in everything.

He’s moving even more like he merits filming, saying all kinds of nonsense which she understands he has organized in his brain under headings of “mad hot” and “for her benefit” and “I could have been a writer.”

He tells her he’s close to cumming, and she says no. He’s flustered, and he stops in mid-stroke, but still slides around, re-orienting along a horizontal axis, executes a mini-stroke, just to keep it going, because he doesn’t want to lose his place, which reminds her of how far she got in her book and how she’s never been a person to use bookmarks. She’s just always remembered where she left off. A knack and a curse.

“Aren’t you on the pill?” he asks, sounding bewildered and hurt, like he’s been duped and people will laugh at him when the minutes are read and they learn what happened, or else she has targeted him for progeny. He’s that full of himself. He’s that fragile, too. She feels close to him, or as much as she can feel close to anyone, she worries.

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