Trading Blows: Round One

I knew something was wrong when the door was locked.  Michelle and I have lived in this apartment for two years, and while we are in the city, we aren’t in the ghetto, the building is safe. Our most dangerous neighbor is the Latvian chef that lives on the floor beneath us, and he’s only dangerous because he thinks waltzing around the complex with his chef’s knives on his belt makes him sexy.  The only time Michelle and I ever really lock our door is when we’re role playing, because she says the sound of the bolt slamming home turns her on. I, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, now salivate every time I hear the distinctive click.

But I’m not in the apartment, so the locked door doesn’t get me revved. Instead, an anxiousness starts to worm its way into my torso, like Frodo pushing through that nasty-ass web running away from the big-ass spider.  I’m arachniphobic, its pathetic I know, but when that big furry tartantula thing stabs Frodo, I just about puke every time. Ah, this is besides the point.  I toss LOTR imagery along with the paintbrushes in my beaten shoulder bag, searching for my keys.

As I grab the keys in hand they start to shake, and I’ve got an enormous knot tightening behind my eyes. It’s like this locked door is emanating radiation, and at this rate I’ll be toothless, bald, blind, and fucked by Japanese government before I can say tsunami.  With a final lurch of my vibrating hand I ram the key into the lock, barrel through the door, and fall to my knees on the hemp ‘welcome home’ mat. I found this guy last year in an evicted apartment three floors down, and it makes me absurdly happy each time I step on it.  As I stare at the worn smiley face and I try to match his grin, my body takes on a semblance of normality. I flash the smiley a peace sign, take in a deep breath of herb-tinged air, and climb to my feet.

“Ooh, back for more, huh?” Michelle coos, her back to me, as she steps from the bathroom, resplendent in just her bath towel, her soaking hair falling down smooth back in waves.

“Always, baby,” I say in my best Austin Powers imitation, and her body gives a little jump as she turns to me. It’s almost as if she’s surprised I’m the one who answered, but I chalk it up to the Austin Power voice. It can be downright freakkay bayybayy.

Michelle tiptoes over to me, arms crossed on her towel-laden breasts, and pecks me on the cheek.  Like every time I see her, I marvel at how symmetrical her face is. She has the features of Grecian statue, but her skin is, you know, not gray.  Her eyes are an almond brown with unnatural flecks of grey, her cheekbone are high and fine, and her lips are thin and smooth. She really has the features to be a model, but she’s just 5’3, so she decided she didn’t want to fight with the amazons, and became a lawyer instead.

“Hi babe.”

“I didn’t order one of these until later,” I say, sliding my hands underneath her towel. My sexy talk has always been sub-par, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.

“You didn’t,” says Michelle.

She pecks me on my other cheek, then walks to the bedroom and shuts the door, without so much as a backward glance.  I stand still, grappling with my raging hard-on, and wondering how I had confused the signals.  Yes, my sexual memory always tends to favor me, but I am pretty sure Michelle had started the dirty talk when I walked in the door, and not the other way around.

Taking slow, deep yoga breaths to relax my instantaneously charged sex drive, I throw my bag on our Formica kitchen counter-top and start to unpack my day’s tools.  With ridiculous reverence I untie my roll of horsehair brushes, ranging from pencil thin to a heavy 1 ½ inch block, and I turn my many projects over in my mind.  I have my fingerpaint class that I teach tomorrow at 10:30, which I have to try to whip up an impressive canvas for.  The class is full of under-sexed, under-talented housewives looking to unlock their inner artist, and I try to bring a new canvas for an example every week.  It’s petty, but I love to hear them ooh and aah over my fingerstrokes, and lets face it; some of these women are pretty hot.  Though many are domestic disasters, in every class there are the three or four women that have mastered the domestic sex kitten warddrobe, and are unabashed in how they flaunt it.  Bed-head hair wrangled in taught buns held together with paintbrushes, men’s oxford button downs that they tie up in just the right places to show just the right skin, and a whole range of Capri pants, yoga pants, or just good ole’ short shorts, as long as they hug their Pilates sculpted asses and thighs. They’re 30, they’re lonely, and I do my best not hug any of them for too long. Needless to say, it’s fun to make these women faun over my work.

It’s with this lecherous thought that I glance to my right and there, tucked tight behind the toaster, I see an obscenely American tie; red and white stripes on a field of blue, carelessly wadded up.  With the caution one treats an object that has mysteriously appeared in a private place, I loop and pull the tie out with the end of a paintbrush. When the wad unrolls, there are two metallic clinks on the counter as a pair of cufflinks appear on the porcelain, one adorned with the (you guessed it) American flag, the other with a smiling bald eagle. I’m not sure how the artist ever thought they would make a smiling bird attractive, but someone bought into it.

Problem is, that someone isn’t me.  My mind scrambles, trying to find the solution to the existence of these objects that my body has already figured out.  It is funny how the subconscious can ferret out details and make an honest assessment from something as minor as a punched lock, miles before the conscious mind can even comprehend that a tie that isn’t mine might indicate a problem.  While my brain tries to reason that it is some sort of gag gift for me, the sailor’s knot retightens behind my eyes and my stomach has all but abandoned ship.

Suddenly my body is has lost its buoyancy, and I topple to the floor. I can’t manage to lift an arm to break my fall, so I just accept that this is going to hurt and I slam flat on my back.  While the air flees my lungs like animals running from a forest fire, I notice that the spackle on the ceiling has a cracked design that resembles lightning.  Maybe my canvas for fingerpainting tomorrow could be lightning; I could use just the tip of my fingernail to create the thin, jagged arcs, running the lines with blues, greens, and a hint of orange.  It is easier to think about this than the obscenities on the countertop. I don’t have a particularly strong mental will, so I allow myself to indulge.  As I breathe fire and fantasize about lightning, Michelle’s voice floats to me.

“Hey, did you hear that crash?”

I don’t respond. The forest fire in my lungs is subsiding, but I’ve found that orange lightning looks really cool.

“What was that,” she calls again, peeved, sounding closer. She must be at our bedroom door, but answering still isn’t worth it. This ceiling is hoppin’.

“Babe?” she calls one last time, almost a whisper, and that lances through me like a dagger (of lightning!).  I groan as I say goodbye to the ceiling, and hello to the hardwood while I roll to my side.  I hear the bedroom door creak open and Michelle pads out calling my name. She’s found me on the floor, and she sets her hands on my shoulders to help me up, but I recoil because her touch is fire, and I don’t need any more of that at the moment.

“Are you okay? What happened?”  Michelle launches a flurry of questions at me, like I’m on the stand for trial, her eyes filled with concern, and a touch of anger at my lack of sharing.  I stare her in the eyes as haul myself up on a barstool.  There is so much I want to say. I want to ask her if she loves me. I want to yell at her for betraying me. I want to take her into me like I have so many times before. I want to shrug it off and get on with the combined life I thought we had. My body starts to shake; it is filled to capacity, unchecked things are about to pour forth, so I make a decision.

I peck her on the check, turn and sweep the tie, cufflinks, and my brushes into my handbag in one smooth motion, and face her once more.

“God that was stupid. I just slipped right off the barstool.”  I can taste the falsities on my tongue like bile. It’s not that I’m lying, that is what happened. I’m just not sharing everything, which feels just as deceptive.  As much as I like to fantasize that I’d make a great spy, I suck at not being forthcoming, especially with Michelle. My Michelle, with whom I’ve shared everything that I am for the past two years. My Michelle, who I’m pretty sure is cheating on me.

“It’s nothing.”

Published by Neil Stratman

I'm an actor currently based in Chicago. Woot.

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