By Bill Cook
Aura always talks about the next great thing. She’s on a creative run in between jobs, an ex-husband, back bills, a piece of shit car. We’ve been living together three months and already I am tired of her. She scoots the phone against the wall, slinks towards the bathroom, shoving me aside. I tell her she’s exhausting. She presses whitening toothpaste onto her frazzled toothbrush, declares she’s only in a transition; things will be changing soon.
“When’s this little miracle gonna happen,” I ask.
“Don’t be a smart ass,” she says.
I slip out the door to get our dog. Ours now, but before hers and his because, as she figures it, everything from the beginning of time is split fifty-fifty, well until she’s ready to leave again.
After, coaxing the dog into our apartment, I mumble, “How does that compute,’ as I put coffee, creamer and Captain Crunch into my Batman thermos.
Aura doesn’t answer, she never really answers, only dictates.
On the kitchen floor, the past-around dog lounges at my feet, tail-mopping the linoleum. I think he smiles at me.
The next day I go out and buy a new cat. I name her after some long gone girlfriend, Lawanda. She was beautiful. The cat is okay. Aura scoffs we can’t handle another animal, that it will disturb her artistic endeavors. I say put the dog to sleep, he’s old and decrepit has bad asthma, smells to high heaven, and his teeth are shot. Hers are getting whiter by the day, I tell her.
Aura flings her toothbrush at the wastebasket. The dog retrieves it and drags it away. I watch him for a moment.
“Hey butthead can you buy me a new one while you’re out today?” Aura says.
I say sure, whatever honey, whatever makes you happy—one for the dog too, I want to add, but don’t. Aura rinses and spits viscously into the pink lavatory, wipes the fogged mirror, and studies her fresh face from every angle. “It would make me real happy,” she adds, and then swipes her lathery hands on my Captain Marvel pajama’s hanging from the shower rod.
The white, round, wind-me-up clock, shows I’m late for work again. I’m the assistant manager of a nation-wide bank. My life outside of our apartment is orderly and concise. I expect things to get done when I ask for them. Aura is a struggling artist—well, a writer actually, which is a type of artist, she tells me. The romance of it is wearing off. I tell her to get a job. Anything, I say. She replies, “Doing what, dumping trash, wiping down tables, being courteous to assholes. No fucking way.” Her anger has grown old, too.
It’s like a heavy metal file wearing me down to a dull nub. Grinding and grinding. If I had even an ounce of creative spirit, she would’ve already turned it into mush. She doesn’t give a shit anymore, says that my life doesn’t add up. That maybe we don’t add up anymore. I know she’s been at least talking to her ex—they even had lunch the other day—sex had to have been on the dessert menu.
Once I’m gone, I am sure she’ll rummage through one of her old packing boxes, again. The last one she had taken from her old life, the one with her old husband, the one that left her for a younger, more passionate and happy, struggling artist, the one with parents with lots of money. I had found a recently folded letter—postmarked only two weeks earlier—barely enough time for things settle. I had read it superstitiously. I believe in karma; I believe what goes around come around.
Finished, I neatly folded it back up and tucked the moving box back from where I took it. No wonder she has grown to dislike me. It was only this weekend that she’d finally pulled that last box free and opened it. Rummaged through, cataloging things in little, neat piles, then, later, jammed it against her side of the bed. Which I thought was strange, because I would’ve heaved the goddamn thing. At the end of the letter—don’t forget I pried—I’d read that her wandering, middle-aged ex-husband had asked if she could possibly find it in her heart to forgive him and come to Sue Ellen’s first opening. The woman that had stolen his heart from her was now a burgeoning, successful artist while she was still struggling through chapter one. No wonder she has grown to hate me. If she’s failed where the new woman has succeeded where does that leave her on the hierarchy of success seeing she chose a regular loser like me.
At work, I sit at my desk by the humongous plate-glass window, eating my soggy cereal and gaze upon the day, and out across the street there’s a billboard plastered wall and some agitated man who looks just like Aura’s ex is shredding posters from it. I watch in leisure, until I realize they’re for the other woman’s art show. I get a small glimmer in my eye as I recall the raging phone call Aura had to deal with this morning. The ex bawling about how the young, aspiring artist had dumped him the day after her first showing. He’d been dumped for some up-and-coming writer who had just got a big publishing deal.
Finally, it seems that these last few months of incompatibility will pass. I know that if anyone could fuck things up, it’s Aura. And, that paybacks sometimes come in pairs—Aura and the ex destined for one another. Then, maybe she’ll already be gone—but I’m keeping the dog this time around, no if-ands-or-buts.
Bill Cook lives in a semi-rural area in Southern California’s High Desert. He has worked published in Thieves Jargon and Skive Magazine. Beside his deep, unbinding devotion to his writing, he has an incredibly hairless dog to walk, an elderly, people-picky cat to occasionally feed and a very stubborn wife to contend with. And he absolutely loves it.
Photo "Dog 1" courtesy of Meghan Anderson-Colangelo, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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