B. and E.
By Jon Fain
E. came in one night with some visiting nurses she was showing the town. It was a Monday and B. had to cover their table. What caught his attention was an expression he overheard. At their first dinner out, E. told B. what it meant. It was how they referred to a patient when it was over: He or she was circling the drain.
At first, B. and E. fit together. She was open to the body, all-knowing from always seeing it. That's what he'd heard about nurses and here it was. She didn't shave under her arms and let the hair grow over her thighs. She was a grunter. She squeezed him like she was trying to make juice.
B. gave up his own place since he was losing it anyway and came into hers; he found a crevice here and a crack there for his boxes and clothes and CDs. She didn't say anything after he quit his job and didn't try too hard to find another. While she was at work, the late shift in the cardiac ward, taking care of the post-op bypasses and valve replacements, he began going through her things.
He picked through her jewelry box. What was from some previous lover? Or from her mother or grandmother—maybe the quarter carat diamond set on a simple silver ring or the pearl necklace? He took off his shirt and put on a half dozen strands of Mardi Gras beads, mostly blues and reds. He got his sunglasses and came back and flexed at himself in the mirror.
One time, beneath the stash of mismatched shoes, a spare pillow and a bag of rag protection, he discovered a spiral bound pad of intricate drawings, blue ink on ivory paper. After awhile he saw them as disembodied capillaries, veins, the hidden blood routes of the body pulled out from arms and legs and chests. He imagined her sitting in sweats in the brightly lit kitchen alone after a shift, with a glass of wine, feet on the chair, knees up, and the pad on her thighs.
They didn't talk much. One time he woke up and she was sitting up in the bed, the lights on, looking down on him.
She couldn't cook and neither could he. She skewed to the side, whether in conversation or eye contact; the way he saw it, she never made the effort to meet him straight on. Maybe that was why she seemed to like it best from behind.
One morning after E., back on days, came home from work B. started yelling at her—as much out of boredom as from the beer. He thought about those drawings. He told her the sex still rocked but she was spooking him out.
She said she was sorry.
He said sorry didn't solve it.
She said she was sorry.
He said so what.
She said she was allergic to happiness.
He said she was a nurse didn't they have a pill for that?
She said you're smothering me.
He said there's an idea.
She asked if this meant he was like all the rest.
The thing was of course he was like all the rest.
Who didn't want to be like all the rest?
Anyway, as if by this time he gave a shit!
Her cheek turned red right away.
He said he was sorry.
Her blinking communicated a mind made up, in precise, no-remorse code.
He said he'd come back for his stuff, thinking how... when he had the chance?
He should have taken those Mardi Gras beads.
Jon Fain's fiction has been published most recently in Small Spiral Notebook, The Fiction Warehouse, and Irregular Quarterly. A couple of years ago, his story collection Lovers and Other Losers was one of the finalists for the Sandstone Short Fiction Prize.
Photo "Beads" courtesy of Ashleigh Whitby, Georgia, U.S.A.
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