A Good Laugh
by Heather Fowler
He said in a few years we'd meet and chat and have a good laugh about all of this—about the night I flung his 60s albums out the window one by one when he threatened to go back to his ex, but he didn't know this as we spoke because we were on the phone; about the time I left him at that bar and went home with a woman I hardly knew but came back to his apartment at four a.m. sobbing because I couldn't bear to spend that whole night without him; about the other time we argued about how he ogled the go-go dancers at the techno bar we often frequented; about how we often joked we would do very well if we each spoke a different language, be less skilled at reaming each other where it hurt; about how we fought and made up and fought and made up again but constantly fell into bed as if this would save us from the other sorts of daily drowning; about how everything we ever did was fraught with danger or despair and yet we landed back against each other's skin, back in love, back thrashing the shit out of each other's self-worth because we knew no better and we could not change.He said he wasn't good at expressing his feelings.
I said, "Why don't you ever tell me you love me in the moment I need to hear it?"
He said he hated me. He said our chemistry, its strength, was epic failure mode for our longevity. He said he had no idea why he couldn't live without me, but he was bound to try and try again. He said it would be better this way.
He said he loved me too much and there was such a thing. It was called obsession. He said it didn't matter if I was obsessed, too. We both were sick.
He said my every tiny lukewarm comment stung. He said he'd love me more if I were ever, even for a freaking moment, calm and mild. He said there were all kinds of love. He said that's why he dated Eleanor, that's why he had to move. That's why he fucked her while he was fucking me, to remind himself.
He took me to bed again then said I was the bomb from whom he had no shelter.
For a while, he moved, stayed gone several hundred miles away, cuddled with Eleanor who was a warm towel to him. He said he thought of me when they were newlyweds on vacation, on that day he had her name tattooed on his arm, even wished I could be the happy light woman she was as the tatt gun vibrated and buzzed, but that he did not want me back.
Then he said he lied. He really did want me back.
Then he said that day in Maui, it was as if my name was tattooed below hers somewhere, the shadow comparison girl template tatt against which every other woman's good was measured and appeared optimistically plentiful because I was a fucking bitch. He said I was a demon. He said he was sorry when he saw me cry. He said he knew, at some level, he got that tattoo to hurt me.
He said this and then pushed me into my apartment wall, lifted me against it, and we made love across that room, all night long, bruised and tender and still clinging, his new ring like a sullied thing around his finger.
I said, "Why do you hurt me, when you hurt me?"
He said, "I'd ask you the same question."
I said, "I can't help it."
He said, "It's the same."
He said he bit me once just to taste my blood. He said I was already so deeply inside him, this was just enacting redundancy. He said I was his dream girl when we were happy. He said he adored how I spun around him again and again when I had received a present, although it made him dizzy. He said no one's lips fit the same as mine. He said I love every flaw on your face, your short red hair. He said fuck it, let's get together and have a bunch of children. And then he remembered my abortion. Let's never have children, he said. He went on to conclude he could not forgive me for the day I was so mad at him that I let them vacuum out our child at Planned Parenthood then got so sick with grief and self-hatred I took a handful of pills found in my apartment where he found me on the floor a half hour later, still bleeding, then took me to the emergency room, only to be told by the nurses I had just removed our baby. All this without his foreknowledge. But he couldn't act upset because I had almost offed myself. Because he knew I had tried to pay for it and couldn't possibly.
But still, he told me, he shouldn't have to forgive anyone that. And he thought of that baby many times as he was drinking. Mainly when we were apart. He said he hadn't cried since he was fifteen, but he cried like the baby we would never have that day. Then he said come here, my false hope, my beauty, my asinine destruction, my love—stay here, let me listen to you breathe. Let me worship you. Let me berate you and apologize. Let me make you cry and then lick those tears away. Let me look at the scars I've made on your psyche. The ones you've made because of me. Isn't that what we do?
He said I'm never violent to you, though I'm stubborn and hard to handle. He said I am sand through an hourglass. He said kiss me. He said I'm back. He said he wanted to go for Thai food. He said he divorced Eleanor.
I said, "Why did you marry her?" He didn't answer.
He said he hadn't ever felt so bad as to realize that he had married her while he knew he still loved me, not that he had wanted to destroy his marriage, but that it was afterwards he saw that this would not go away. No matter how heavily he wanted it to or what gods he'd pray to. He said that was a horror to his soul. He had only one life. And that as much as he wanted to wrap his fingers around my neck and choke out my last breath because the pain my attachment caused him did not abate, at the same time he was worried that this would please me, free me from my own pain, implicate him, and not solve any of his problems.
He said other women came and went more noiselessly. I said they were rags for his dismissal.
He said he would miss me when I was gone, after we broke up this time, which was for good, but we were hell on each other; didn't I see that? He said this is it, our last date. We can't spend our whole lives approaching and abandoning each other.
He said a good laugh would happen in the years to come, when we would have gotten past this burning love, and over the strange and mangled current present. He said the present was not a present but a disaster. He said we'd probably find each other ugly and odd as strangers later. He said we would forget many things, time heals all wounds, don't worry it wouldn't hurt forever and all the platitudes we wanted to use should be applied. They were likely correct enough, tested and repurposed as they were.
He said I could not call him and he would not call me. He said he wished us both good fortune and that he was to be glad this would be our last meeting. He said cheers to us. We are sick bastards. He said we were alcoholics. He said we were love addicts. I said I was married again and it was a beautiful ceremony without guilt. He said congratulations. I said I was fine, happy, calm, and mild. He said where's your ring? I said I lied about the husband, you asshole, but if I had one I'd go to Maui and tattoo his name on my ass because the sting would do me good.
We had a good laugh, but this sort of laugh was empty and full, a maddening thing. I said we weren't alcoholics. I said I hardly drank when he wasn't around. I said he drove me to drink. I said I practiced tantric yoga to replace him. I said we were too old for this. We drank some more.
I said I wished there was a way I could systematically remove every memory we ever made. Each regret. I said I was sorry not long after when his hand flew up to his head. Said that was all a lie. He touched my palm like tracing fortunes. Years from now, we'll be glad for today, he said.
Yeah, I said. I said goodbye at the door of the bar.
He said he'd walk me to my car. He said I would be safer. He said he didn't want me to get mugged in the dark city night.
I said what do you care? Just another kind of hurt.
He said that wasn't fair.
I said what is?
We walked forward without looking at each other. He got ready to leave me, and as this happened, I thought I was already vanishing for him and felt despondent that the next time we saw each other, for that good laugh we'd have that he suggested, we might indeed look repulsive and I was getting older now, so it broke my heart to think of him looking at me years from now and thinking: Yes! I'm so glad I got clear of that. It was so bad, but now look—could have been worse. . .
This was a terrible thought, but it was more terrible to think of me walking past him like he was the silent aged ghost of a younger love that crashed and burned, a mythical thing that resided in his brittle decrepit bones and that we, as we would be when we could laugh about the future, had left the time of our painful, push pull love and entered antiquity, acceptance, or the place where no one could make us over the moon with joy, but hey, no one could make us cry either—because we would be lost souls then, jaded, falsely vibrant after years of silence and anguish taught us something we were sure would have been larger but only felt like knowing apathy could grow on itself until the world was dull and void, a place where no love story was too small, but many seemed too large. I felt my eyes burn as I got out my keys.
He said there's your car.
I said nothing.
He said it's been nice knowing you.
I said don't bother lying.
He said I want you to know that this is a gift I give you, my leaving. I mean, for good.
I looked away and spit on the curb. So leave.
He said don't be that way.
What way I asked, putting my key in my car door?
He said I'm sorry I failed you; I'm sorry we tried so many times; we should have let each other go long ago.
I said he should have never let me go.
He said this was out of his control.
I said, Okay. Why don't you laugh about this a few years from now? Like how you let the love of your life sweep out again because love was too painful and you wanted bland care and affection? You laugh, okay? You don't need me for that. I can laugh alone. Together, I guess I only cause you pain.
He grabbed my shoulders and spun me around. He looked in my eyes and there was rage on his face. He was about to light into me again, tell me another one of those half-complimentary things that has a kicker and a ton of barbs.
I held my breath. My face was still. He was about to rant and I was listening. I wanted to hear him say something so caustic his meanness would be a comfort in the empty months to come, something to help me hate him. My eyes dared him to hurt me with a fatal blow. But he didn't speak.
He couldn't. The old rhythm started up.
We fell into each other's eyes. His face went soft and his eyes glassed. He pulled me close, thrusting his tongue into my mouth, his hands lightly tracing circles on my back. He said its dark here where you parked. He kissed me again. He said I have to have you. He said I need you, want to be inside you now. He said stop hurting me and I'll stop hurting you.
He held me against my car door and slid his hand into my panties. He said my cunt was his heart, all wet and hot. He said I love you. Fuck, how I love you. There is nothing like this. Not anyone. Not anywhere.
I said I didn't disagree. He entered me like my missing puzzle piece returned. We were together in that heat, in that garage, pressed up into the car door, complicit knowing this was the highest high, the reason behind and in front of everything. I relaxed into him, like I always had.
And so we let it all begin again.
Heather Fowler received her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University in May of 1997. She has taught composition, literature, or writing-related classes at UCSD, California State University at Stanislaus and Modesto Junior College. Among other venues, her stories have appeared or are forthcoming from: Feminist Studies (forthcoming); Underground Voices (November 2008); A cappella Zoo (October 2008, Volume One); Trespass (UK, Aug./Sept. 2008); Keyhole (August 2008); SubLit (August 2008); Storyglossia (May 2008); CityWorks 2008 (2008); Coming Together: With Pride (June 2008); DOGZPLOT FLASH FICTION(Print and online, 2008); Temenos (Fall 2007); Mississippi Review online (Fall 2007); See You Next Tuesday (2006); Frigg: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry (Winter 2006); the muse apprentice guild (October 2002); artisan, a journal of craft (September 2002); Literary Potpourri (May 2002); Exquisite Corpse (May, 2001); The Barcelona Review (May, 2001); Penumbra (May 2001); B & A New Fiction (Jan. 2001); Barbaric Yawp (Dec. 2000); and Zoetrope All-Story Extra (June 2001, October and December 1999). She worked as a Guest Editor for Zoetrope All-Story Extra in March and April of 2000. Please visit her website at http://www.heatherfowlerwrites.com.