Rumpus readers take on Impossible Love. Edited by Susan Clements.
The woman never forgot her body had once been covered in tiny holes. She’d been born with them all over. They were practically undetectable and no one ever got close enough to see the holes anyway. The holes looked like they had been done by a rookie acupuncturist. She had tried to look at herself long ago, holes and all, but she only saw a tall, beautiful body, with sinking streams of blood. I am my own scary story, she’d thought.
Her luck changed when she met the man who would become her husband. Tiny flesh-colored bandages began to cover her aggravated body. The man and woman had the sort of affection for each other that seemed ancient and lasting. They reached for each other in their sleep. They woke up together. They woke up smiling.
Remembering her fastened flesh, she would walk into the kitchen each morning and whisper how lucky she was or how she didn’t deserve him. It was always something like that. He would flip an egg to further tighten the yolk and smile back at her.
By then the bandages looked like flesh. The man couldn’t even tell where her skin ended or where it began, but he could remember how when he met her he’d felt as though he were glimpsing something a little unreal, how the blood pulsed under a little beige mound on her shoulder beside a strawberry seed looking mole. The woman never talked about who she was back then, but they both knew how precarious her state was. Sometimes the man dreamed of his wife without her bandages.
Years later the woman was tempted by the ocean. She and the man walked along the shore, her eyes constantly darting out toward the blue. Just a little bit . . . a little won’t hurt anything, she begged. The man always told her No. He tried to appease her with seashells, but she tossed them back down. He handed her a translucent stone and she held it for a moment, then tossed it back when he wasn’t looking. She walked to the water, and put her feet in, watching the bandages soften and leak into the ocean. The water began to pinken. He called to her begging her back, but she had already dove in, her body doing exactly what she’d known it would.
— Tasha Cotter
I wound my way out of the west hills toward Zilker Park, the sparkling skyline of Austin in the distance, approaching the neon, string-lit restaurants along Barton Springs Rd., picturing her sitting next to me in the truck, trying to explain myself. It was all a mistake, twisted words through text, misinterpretations, misunderstandings—love twisted beyond recognition. I saw her look of disgust and exhaustion. You’re crazy, she’d said to me, one minute you want to marry me, the next you don’t want to see me.
Please, the text had read, leave me alone. I beg you. It’s torture.
My thoughts raced. My head hurt. My stomach ached. There was a foul taste of disgusting remorse in the back my mouth.
I loved her.
How could it come to this?
I drove through the streets tortured, wondering how love could turn to begging to freed.
She was fed up with me, fed up with the indecision, the mood swings of affection, the shiftless state of my love and my attention.
My thoughts raced, trying to find a solution, a different conclusion.
There was none.
Don’t contact me anymore, she’d text.
No going back.
The hurt had been inflicted.
The truck glided along the dark streets, downtown, 6th St. and the bars looming.
I felt sick.
I wanted to end it all. End the hurt, the longing, the regret.
I needed something to stop the pain.
Alcohol… Vicodin… Zanex…
The truck eased along with my mind fighting the wheel—bar, alcohol, drink . . . release . . .
I fought with myself along Barton Springs, searching for safety.
I pulled into the coffee shop, Flipnotics.
Caffeine and nicotine were all that I was left with.
I sat on the white string-lit deck in the darkness, ensconced by the trees, smoking and drinking coffee, trying in vain to bury the pain, sitting alone in the spot where we’d sat together less than two months before, leaning into one another, smiling, laughing, at simple ease, finding comfort in each others presence—Love.
I sat alone thinking, yearning for relief, wishing things were different.
How did love come to this?
— Corey Stewart
i know it’s been hard these last few years
this whole time around actually
i’m not blind
i’m not disconnected
just hear me out
what i’m trying to say is
i know it has seemed hard
because everyone has their own relative pain threshold
but if you look at it universally
the struggles we’ve been having
to fit in
to keep from being disconnected to one another
they are problems
problems that most definitely have to be worked out
if we wanna see this thing through
when you look at the big picture
you can see that there are forces of nature
maybe even looking
we have gone through so much
and i’m not trying to lessen the pain you’ve felt
the distance that has grown between us
hasn’t made it easier to deal with
well, you know
i’m just saying
i was reading the news
and it made me think
which i know you said not to do
i was able to think and feel
at the same time
you said that was dangerous
i began to see that
there is help out there
so i’m thinking
that maybe we should have a benefit show
something to bring attention to the problem
we’ve been dealing with
I know you hate the black-eyed peas
so i was thinking maybe that guy down the street
who plays that broken ukulele
in front of spec’s
everyone loves him
we always get in a fight
because i want to give him a dollar each time we walk by
i did the math
i know it’s not sustainable
a dollar every time
we are on a budget
but that isn’t the point
at least not the point i’m trying to make
i think we’ve been looking at this whole problem
between you and i
the wrong way
we need help
help from the outside
maybe if we got a few people on board
started one of those think tanks
maybe we could begin to fix things
it’s just an idea
i haven’t been able to express to you lately
how much you mean
i hope you see this as a step forward
we tried spending time apart last spring
and that didn’t do anything
i hope that you’ll see this as an olive branch
i want to work this out
we are sharing the same body
maybe we can talk about this tomorrow
by the way
that girl you liked
she said she would totally be into
both of us
she just wants to meet you first
your better half
— Chris Cole
I’ll go down to the Saloon tonight, despite the fact that I don’t feel like drinking, and even though Jenny and Amanda are staying home. There are rumors that the Outlaw Wingless Mick has been sighted in these parts, putting both winged and wingless alike on edge. Jenny implores me not to go out, calls me foolish, and I tell her, like the tragic heroine of some old-time story, Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. No one will notice if one more wingless girl goes missing.
I’m going to the Saloon to see you play guitar in the mariachi band that hit town six months ago and still hasn’t left. And you’ll be magnificent in spite of the ridiculous costume, the tassels that jiggle on your chest as your hips move in time with your strumming, wings furled ever so slightly to frame your lithe, dark body. You’ll have a smile for me, and maybe a wink while you play, and some kind words between sets as you grimace down a whiskey, straight up.
You’ll eventually blow town with the band, when the bandits start really closing in, or just when the winter calls you south. Tonight you’ll partner some dark-eyed beauty on the dance floor, flirt wing-to-wing as she perfectly anticipates your every move. She’ll be at home in her body as you are in yours; you whom I spied flying hoops just outside town, in spite of the danger of enemy arrows; you who celebrate the miracle of your body with each gesture: your muscles sing.
I know my going to the Saloon is silly, bound as I am to the ground, clumsy with the missing weight, daring not to wear bare-back dresses like she can, ashamed of the scars incurred when I was a child: my parents were starving. I don’t harbor any illusions about you thinking our afternoon conversations in the cornfields can replace the body’s grace, nor do I believe you might ask me to dance. In any case, I don’t dance, unbalanced as I am, though my fibers, too, long to stretch, to feel the weight of the music animate them. My body, too, secretly desires to give flight to some awkward expression of inner grace; my body too secretly desires, and desires much.
But I don’t dance, except for my eyes as they follow you, dancing.
— Deborah Steinberg
I want to sleep with my husband’s best friend. God, how I want to! I’ve dedicated countless hours to daydreaming about his naked body, imagining myself tangled around him. What would it be like, I wonder? Would it be frantic and primal, sprung from eighteen years of unfulfilled desire? Or would it be tender and sweet, expressing the mutual adoration we wordlessly acknowledged and pushed aside years ago? Would it feel natural and easy or would it be tense and uncomfortable, fraught with expectations and embarrassment? Would he… could he know what turns me on? What would he taste like? It’s impossible to know.
I have sex with my business partner. When we are excited, we share a frenzied fuck; it calms us. When one of us is up and the other is down, we say hurtful things. When we are sad, he holds me and whispers in my ear. The low rumble of his voice soothes and arouses me. He entertains us with childhood stories and childish tales. My laughter mixes with his brogue. Oh, that accent! And then he kisses me like he loves me. Sometimes he says the words. But is he telling the truth? Is anything between us real? It’s impossible to know.
I make love to my husband. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s a chore. We have a quota to fill. We do our duty, our due diligence, to our marriage. If we don’t touch each other every few days, I start to drift away from him. Sex keeps us connected. But it’s the conversations I fell in love with. His patience, his kindness, his easy-going disposition, these are the things I love. And they are the things I use against him. I turn tiny slights into battles. He forgot to pay the phone bill. He forgot to walk the dog. He forgot to tell me he loves me. Do these things matter? Is this normal? It’s impossible to know.
Beginning an affair with one of them is unfeasible. The thought of never having him is unbearable. I can’t stop wanting him.
Continuing my affair with one of them is impractical. Stopping seems insufferable. I can’t stop having him.
Staying in my marriage seems ridiculous. Leaving is unthinkable. I can’t stop needing him.
It is impossible not to love them.
— Polly Ray