Submit (Page 2)

Submit (Songs of Submission #3)(2)
Author: C.D. Reiss

“Green okay?” he asked, reaching for a box of tea on a high shelf. His T-shirt rode up, exposing the path of dark hair on his belly, and I shuddered with the memory of touching it.

“That’s fine.”

He nudged the box, and it fell, bouncing off his fingertips. He caught it and smiled like a shortstop fielding a chopper to left. He put a two-pint saucepot under the faucet, and by the time he got it on the stove, I noticed his eyes hadn’t met mine since we’d walked into the kitchen.

“So,” I said, pulling up a fifties-style chrome and pleather chair, “what the hell did you think you were doing with that coalmine bullshit?”

His back was to me, and I could clearly see the muscles there tense. His shoulder blades drew close, and he looked toward the ceiling as if pulling strength from the heavens.

He turned his head only slightly to answer. “I entertained every idea of what you’d think for the year I worked on that f**king thing.”

“Did you ever consider sending me a letter and asking me what I thought?”

He turned and crossed his arms. His biceps were hard and lean from building, hammering, and climbing. Kevin’s work was motionless in the gallery, but very physical in its creation. “Yes, but honestly, Monica, once I decided to make the piece, what you thought was irrelevant. It wasn’t about you.”

Of course it wasn’t. My stuff, my words, and our intimacy were his to use as he pleased. It was as if I’d never left. I didn’t know what I thought I’d see by going to him, but he was the same old Kevin.

As if he could read my mind, his shoulders slackened, and his hands dropped to his sides. “That’s not what I meant,” he said.

“Yeah.”

“What do you think?”

“I’m really pissed I left those jeans behind.”

He smiled again, a barely audible chuckle issuing from his perfect mouth. He dropped his eyes to the floor, black lashes shining blue in the fluorescent light. I wished I didn’t have to look at him. He was screwing with my head.

“There were other things,” he said. “I really struggled with what to put in.”

“Did you miss a maxi pad?”

“Oh, Monica. Always ready with a joke when you feel uncomfortable.”

“At least I don’t flirt.”

He looked me in the eye for the first time, and the gaze lasted long enough to make me shift in my seat. I looked away.

“I deserved that,” he said. “Can I show you what I wanted you to come for?”

I stood up and turned the heat off the tea water. “Yes.”

We wove back through the tables in the big room. Most were empty, as he’d just shown something, but as I went by, I noticed nudes in charcoal and ballpoint pen: men and women, some alone, some twined together in scribbled couplings. They were illustrations of what was on his mind, and what was on his mind was much the same as what was on mine.

The wall facing the front of the building had a row of doors, and unless something had changed, the rooms were meant to house draft installations. He opened one and flicked on the light.

The room was windowless and similar in size to the one in the Eclipse show, and it was a disaster. A quilted comforter hung on one wall, a table with more  p**n ographic scribbles on the other wall. Stacks of boxes littered the floor.

“What am I looking at?” I asked.

“Early draft. But I really struggled with one object because I thought I should return it, but then, I got mad at you again, and I almost burned it. I had the barbecue going in the back, but I couldn’t.”

“What is it?”

He reached between two boxes and pulled out a hard plastic case with a handle. I noticed a pink and red Dirty Girls sticker by the buckle.

“My viola!” I held out my hands and he handed it to me, then shifted some sketches so I could I put it on the table. “I thought I left this up with my parents in Castaic the last time we went.”

“Yeah. It was in the trunk. I… uh…” He put his fingers through his hair. “I didn’t want you to play for me. It kept me from thinking straight about you.”

Things between us hadn’t been perfect before I left. I had no idea it was as clear to him as it had been to me. I opened the case. My viola was in there, exactly as I’d left it, with the bow tucked in the lid and a pocket with extra strings and a pick I liked to use when I was feeling experimental. “Those last few months,” I said, “I was very lonely. I could have used this.”

He sat on a box. “I think hiding it was a mistake.”

I should have been angry. I should have smacked the case across his face and run out with my instrument. But I couldn’t. It all seemed so long ago. I touched the wood, running my finger over the curves. The gut core strings were dried out and would probably snap before I finished a song, and the fingerboard still had little grease spots from my hours playing.

“That was really dickish of you, Kevin.” I pulled the viola from the case. “You’re an unscrupulous ass.”

“Is that why you left me?”

I felt a sinkhole open in my diaphragm. I didn’t want to discuss it. I had just wanted to break up with him, so I did. How did I get manipulated into going to his studio just to discuss an eighteen-month-old hurt?

Because I’d done it wrong. I’d done what was right for me, telling myself I’d just do without all the discussing and crying. I was just going to avoid all the emotional illness, but there were two of us, and Kevin hadn’t been part of the decision.

I popped the bow from the clasps. The case was cheap, student-grade. The viola, however, was professional quality, purchased at a West Hollywood pawn shop for my fifteenth birthday by my father, who approved of me.

I tucked the viola under my chin and ran my fingers over the strings. They were loose. I tightened a couple of pegs, but the sound would only be barely acceptable. Barely. “I left you because I needed you,” I said.

“That makes no sense.”

I drew the bow over the strings and adjusted the tension, waiting for one to break in a snapping curlicue, but it didn’t happen. I got the tension close and played something he’d know, dragging that first note across the bow as if summoning it from our collective past.

“You weren’t capable of being needed.” I played the next note.

“Don’t.” His whisper came out husky, as if the command had caught in his throat.

I didn’t listen to him, but played the song my mind would never have recalled but my body knew.