By Susan Waterman
It’s the middle of the night, and we’re parked outside our abandoned house. I stare up at it’s gaping holes and charred siding. The city has boarded up the windows; a Keep Out sign is posted on the front door. Michael says it’s because of the insurance people.
“We’ll get sued if anyone goes in there.”
“That’s breaking and entering,” I say.
“Ya, it’s all bullshit.”
“Bullshit,” I agree.
Michael moves closer to me in the truck, his hand making it’s way into my hair, and soon his mouth will be suffocating my mouth. This is where we have sex now: outside our old house with Sadie asleep in the backseat. She’s too young to know what’s happening. I think she said her first word today, but Michael says it was just a sound.
We’ve been staying with Michael’s parents since the fire, but he’s fighting with them. We sleep in his old bedroom in the basement, which still has posters on the walls of bands my dad listened to. There’s a dart board full of holes. Some nights, when we are sitting on his bed and he’s had too much Jaegermeister, he tells me to stand in front of it, and we pretend we’re in a circus. He’s the knife thrower, and I’m the pretty girl. Michael puts on his old leather vest, and I strip down to my underwear then close my eyes, so I can concentrate. When he misses and hits me, he says I wasn’t thinking hard enough, takes the green bottle and goes outside to smoke.
Michael and I never go upstairs. We use a tiny bathroom in the basement and leave through the bulkhead doors. I heat things up in the microwave or cook on the grill outside. When I let Sadie roll around on the grass in the yard, I can feel his mother staring at me through the sliding doors. It makes me wish I knew my mother so I could read what she is thinking.
I have a hard time being in his old bed. At first I’m ok, but then it feels like something is grabbing me. Michael makes fun of me, says it’s the “ghosts of girlfriends past.” I don’t know if they’re dead—they could be. I dream of their bodies wrapped around Michael, sometimes just one, sometimes all of them at once, big blond hair and tanned legs tangled up with his. It’s a nightmare. I can smell their musky perfume soaked into the mattress. I try to bury my face into Michael’s shoulder, but he turns me over and drowns my face in it.
Tonight, the inside of the truck stinks like stale cigarettes and drugstore perfume. He watches me sniff the air.
“What?” He asks.
“Nothing,” I say.
He goes back to his hands all over me. What he wants is for me to climb up on top of him and be his cowgirl. What I want is to go to sleep in a bed where no other girls have been. I start to get nervous about the neighbors watching us, but Michael’s jaw is tightening. I bring his body down to mine, and we half lay on the front seat. When we first met, he let me sleep like this in the truck while his wife packed up to leave. I try not to think of her, either.
We have the truck rocking, hard and fast; I can hear the shocks squeak, and Sadie starts to wake up. I squeeze my body into a ball, my knees cover my ears. I try and move my hips in the way he likes, but he doesn’t like it now and keeps pushing into me deeper so my insides hurt. I feel his breath in my ear.
Sadie begins to cry. I’m trying to stay as still as I can so he can finish. His chest feels like a brick and I’m slick with his sweat. I close my eyes, so they don’t burn. My lids turn heavy with sleep. Michael punches the window over my head. I wait for the breaking glass that doesn’t come.
He moves off me so I can lean into the backseat for Sadie, but then I feel the weight of him on me again. I’m shaking the edge of her car seat and reach for her pacifier on the floor. While Michael is still thrusting into my hips, my breath comes out in jabs. Once the pacifier is in her mouth, she falls asleep. The neighbor’s lights are flicking on as Michael fills me with heat.
When our house was on fire, the whole neighborhood came out to watch. One of the teenage girls stood outside in a t-shirt that barely covered her ass. Mr. Johnson stood behind her, and we all tried not to notice his old man erection. Molly’s my age, but we’re not friends. One time she asked if I wanted to get high, and I said I couldn’t because of Sadie.
“Bummer,” she said and waited for Michael to get home.
Some of the women tried to take Sadie from me that night. They stood behind me trying to make her smile. I wanted to bite them; it would have felt good to be wild while our house was burning. Michael woke up from the couch in time. Sadie and I were already outside before the first match took.
When the police and fire trucks came Michael told them what happened. People believe his stories, but they never believe mine. They wrote it down in their little flip notebooks then stole glances at Molly. One offered her a blanket but she shook her head, “No.”