lady in the lake copy

Readers Report Back From…All for You

By

A collection of short pieces written by Rumpus readers pertaining to the subject of “All for You.”

Edited by Susan Clements.

 * * *

In the morning, Jenny leaves at six. You hear the alarm, then the shower, and finally a flurry of high-heeled steps across the hardwood floor. She works as a receptionist in a hospital where she handles insurance cards and co-pays all day. When she introduces herself to new acquaintances as a healthcare professional, you want to tease her a little but you’re currently out of work and thus the “no joking” sign has been turned on. You wake up around ten everyday and scour the internet for hi-tech jobs that offer telecommuting and benefits. Senior Web Designer. Advanced Network Administrator. You’ve begun writing a screenplay that will solve everything.

healthcare worker copy

But sometime last night, you have come up with a plan to amaze her. In the living room, you begin sifting through boxes and stacks of papers, summarily junking things that you haven’t looked at in months in a large black trash bag. When it is full, you get another. This goes on for hours, and when you’re done there are at least six bags of unadulterated trash lined up against the wall. They are stretched and misshapen, like grotesque dumplings, filled with the accumulated clutter of your life. In the middle of the room, your couch now sits alone—the boxes you were using as end tables have been emptied, ripped apart, and stuffed sideways into the trash. A painting Jenny did in college, once perched on the mosaic tile coffee table you salvaged from across the alley, is finally hanging on the wall as the focal point she always thought it could be.

When you return from the dumpster downstairs, the apartment looks like it did when you first moved in: spacious, light. Full of possibility. You go online and order an Ikea catalog as a sign of good faith.

When Jenny comes home and sees what you’ve done, she says only your name, Kevin Kevin Kevin. She lays her keys on the kitchen counter and walks into the living room where you’re standing, arms out like a tour guide, ready to gesture at all you’ve accomplished.

– Alex Peterson

* * *

Dear Body,

This apology has been a long time coming. You didn’t deserve it—nobody does.

But didn’t you want it? It felt like you did. That first encounter, when we hadn’t seen him in a year, you remembered exactly how it felt to be intertwined with his large sturdy legs and his tattooed arms. You craved that time when you were filled with flapping wings, beating faster and faster and then those wings came back when we saw him again, walking toward us in his hooded sweatshirt and ripped slacks and dress shoes. Then, I let him grab you.

But I neglected to remind you that he hadn’t called for a year. That he biked across the country and forgot about us.

One night, he asked us to just “be near” him, just “lie together” in his tent. And in the tent, with the loud warnings of crickets attempting to inhibit your hand moving there and his hand moving here, he ravaged you. He “wanted you so bad” that I almost resented you.

It was easier, you know, when we had the back brace, the sling, the crutches and the hospital visits. When we experienced an obvious and notable pain, others could name it. Could heal it. Or, at least try. But no one knew about you and me and my choice to use you as a car with open doors and endless gas.

Maybe you wanted it? Maybe I was listening to you? Was it for you? I drowned you in beer and proceeded to let him rub your breasts, stomach and face, as he jerked off. He slept soundly as you and I huddled close to one another, shivering. After a while, I took you away from him. We went upstairs into the bathroom. You wanted me to stop staring, stop looking at you that way. This time, I listened. We collapsed onto the floor.

As with most apologies, the more I say sorry, the more it goes from being a solid word to millions of little atoms floating around with no weight. It looks like every other word in the dictionary. So I won’t say it anymore.

With love,

– Laura Gill

 * * *

At 1:37 a.m., the highway is a conveyor belt, shipping cars to their respective neighborhoods from discos that are open too late and offices that never close. If I let it, it will carry me home.

I have conceded enough to fate today. I have allowed it to direct me into your path, drawing me through a crowd of men who look at me like I am some anomaly, an intruder sent to disrupt their sharp-tongued, macho clique. I have basked in the heat of your undivided attention, traded smiles with you, petted your ego. I have put up with your rape jokes and your playful shoves. I have dissolved my conscience in a cup of beer.

Ours was not a scheduled meeting, a tryst arranged to test the boundaries of the relationships we are independently committed to. There is no blush of shame in my cheeks, no dirty whispers passing from your lips to my ears, no double meaning when you ask if I will accompany you to the bar later that night. Each twist of the evening is chance, the happy accident of being in the same place as you, at the same time, with the same curious desires and dark designs.

I stay too late at the bar because leaving alone requires more maturity than my twenty-two years afford me. I stay too late at the bar because leaving alone requires more restraint than your thirty-five years can be bothered to exert.

Halfway home, my phone lights up; before my fingers swipe the screen, I know it is you. I pull the lever on this journey home and find a dark stretch of road to turn around. At the gas station, a woman is washing her car, half-drenched in suds, a worn flannel shirt bunched around her elbows. If she looks in my direction, she will witness the betrayal I am about to commit—it clings to me like the thin film of grime she is scrubbing off her station wagon.

I push fate into the passenger seat. I drive faster. I am coming for you.

– Ashley Varela

* * *

self portraits copyDon’t ever fall prey to the fatal attraction of a writer—she’ll write you into stories that won’t ever come true, she’ll dream up the most amazing scenes. You’re supposed to watch films with her that make the two of you think, laugh, and cry and then write reviews with long sentences, dialogue, and subordinate clauses, leaving out concrete nouns and active verbs. You’re destined to find a grandmother’s recipe that someone posted online of a dish only cooked in that way in Old Town, Prague, and help her create a journey through space and time in her kitchen, all the while playing Beethoven’s Symphonies 2 and 7. You’re expected to help her create a fort out of blankets, pillows, and fixtures, place a lit lantern in the middle, turn off all the lights and lay on your bellies as you stay up with her all night creating the next great novel of magic realism. You’re going to cover the floor and carpet with newspapers, line up an assortment of brushes and paints and tools, and paint each others’ portraits on canvases, in whatever style is best suited to your own capabilities, even if it just results in finger painting. You’re instructed to stand before each other naked, eyes shut, gently laying a warm hand on parts of each others’ bodies and in return be gifted relevant narratives. It is these affairs that she fancies. These are her terms of endearment, the stories she’ll write you into. You’ll become everything you aren’t, and the real you, the you actually standing before her, won’t ever be able to be what she’s hoping for. So here’s my advice to you, dear sir: Keep your distance and look from afar. Show up when she’s least expecting it and do whatever it takes to take her breath away. Don’t dilly dally or play games—she’ll lose interest fast—her characters, her scenes, her plot twists are way more enthralling than your eight-hour gap from the last text she sent you. She won’t wait anymore for someone else to figure it out, when she’s figured it all out, except for the ending, the ending she’s waiting to write you into.

– Chloe Rowshani

 * * *

It was in the press of your brother’s pubic hair against my car window as the red of my taillights shone through the raindrops of the late summer monsoon. The only noises were the rrrrrp, rrrrp of my windshield wipers and his desperate sobbing as your eyes stared a thousand miles away to watch, again, the screaming of the Somalian woman as they raped her right in front of you. You never mentioned why your brother stripped naked and chased us out into the rain, and I never asked.

I didn’t see it the time we sat together, holding hands and watching his old dog (Why were we so often at your brother’s house? Like it was nothing, like nothing was strange.) drag herself from her bed inch by painful inch to be within reach of my fingers, and I cried to see her pain and her desperate love and the weakness of a boy-man who would not save her with merciful death.feline mom copy

It was there in the way you pushed me up against your Jeep and told me I was acting like a slut, for talking to some guy in the same bar where you and I had met, it was in the desperate way I drove hours to see you at the base in Yuma and you were confused by how I wanted to feel your naked body on top of mine. I should have seen it, too, when you took me to meet your wide-eyed, feline mother and she looked at me as if I were a fly and you were her window. Fascinated by her brightly colored walls and her artistic taste, I tried to look around but she stalked behind me with a hunter’s gaze.

You came to me a year later and wanted to lay your head in my lap, so I let you. I got you high and watched you giggle uncontrollably and then I saw it again, in your strange eyes, as I told you it was time to go home. I let you, and it, out into the cool night air and watched you both fade away into the past.

– P. Alanna Roethle
* * *

You’re gone, so I sit and wait. I wait for my mobile to ring. I wait for the ping of a text. I wait for my inbox to chime. I wait for a knock at the door. I wait for the post. I put on the pot to boil. I drink tea.

I talk to almost no one. Stacy in the cubicle next to me asks me how I am. I rub my feet against the carpet piles and feel the small surge ignite me. I am able to emote.

“I’m shit, Stacy. You?”

“What’s that stain on your shoulder?”

She points to the seeping wound that has opened since you left.

“You should get a bandage or something.”

I look down at the carpet. I rub my feet again. I need something electric.

I met Marjorie at a thrift store. She was looking for clothing that would make her seem more desperate. She said. “It helps me realize how hopeless I am, when I can walk by a mirror and see the desperation—physically.”

She’s the kind of person who needs to be knee-deep in her own self-loathing to climb back out. “One day, I woke up and realized I never left my bed,” she said. “I would wake up, go to work, come home and go to bed. I didn’t know I was ill. I just thought, ‘Well, this is what people do.’”

Her sister checked her into a hospital. She started therapy and realized she had to wear her illness. She sets her alarm to remind herself she is going mad. She has notes up in her apartment with messages like, “Stop trying.” It helps her remember that her hatred toward herself means she is at least worth someone’s emotion. Without that she’d be dead.

We started getting coffee on Sundays. I told her about my ache. She explained to me that it wasn’t a chasm, but a cancer.

“He’s become a growth,” she said.

My eyes began to sting. I stumbled a bit in my chair and then all went black. When I woke, I was still sitting upright. Marjorie was gone. It had been over an hour.

Sure enough, that night, when I changed the bandage, I found it had grown into a bloody mass. It grew every day. I wasn’t sure how long it would be until in enveloped me. I didn’t have long.

– Jacqui Higgins-Dailey

 * * *

We were forty-seven shots of vodka in when I lost him. It was a trick I learned during my sophomore year of college—to measure my relationships by the amount of alcohol consumed. They always seemed to last longer that way. When I dated a heavy enough drinker, the two of us could make a month—sometimes even two weeks—feel like an eternity.

Paul—like the disciple, as he used to say—had been my last one. He bit my lips until they bled and whispered “ugly” against my neck. Ugly, sure, but that had always been. Someone else might have left him, but I knew that I needed to be there to add the number of drinks up until we lost track, or grew to hate each other, or grew to hate the vodka, or all of it.

The night Paul left me, I found myself walking to a bar. I was wearing my robe and slippers and found myself half-wishing that people would ask. I knew I could make a good story of it if given the chance. It’s easy enough to seem charming—or at least interesting—in a room that dark. I could almost feel the cold sting of gin sliding down my throat when I realized the white lights of the 24-hour supermarket were flashing my name.

fruit lady copyAn old woman I used to watch from the windows was in front of the fruit display, tapping cantaloupes with her fingers. I thought for a second that I could take her somewhere nice. She was so much like my grandmother in her floral housedress. I expected her to smell of bathwater like Nanna used to, but when I got up close, I found that she smelled of cigarettes. The woman stared at me as if looking for an explanation, but what was there to say? Things had been so much simpler during my childhood in Iowa where there were marriages and mothers and we had no shots of vodka. Yet there I was, fifteen years, 1,000 miles, and 800 shots away from the Midwest, committing myself to the idea of loving men who couldn’t love me back, staring into an old woman’s eyes and trying to figure out what it was about men that made me want them even after they broke me and watched me cry, then left me to put the pieces back together.

That night, as I went to sleep alone, I realized that I kept coming back for that moment. There was something thrilling about the way it could sting.

– Serena Candelaria

* * *

 She was on her phone, scrolling through the latest updates, not reading. Becky had a new onesie that she bought online. Maggie’s miniature schnauzer had been filmed jumping from the grey leather couch to the ottoman across the living room in a slow motion eruption. Jason had scored such-and-such points at his amateur basketball game. And Emily, oh Emily, she has just discovered Haruki Murakami and was wondering if anyone knew anyone who lived in suburban Japan . . .?!?

Janet Jackson was playing in the waiting room of the dentist’s office. The inside of the waiting room was like the others. It had dirty beige yellow walls, a millefleur trim and last month’s Self displayed on a transparent acrylic shelf. As she left her appointment and went back to work, she imagined:

 

-       letterboxes stuffed with printed Craigslist files

-       neon signs and beef patties

-       a corpse pose in the middle of Yonge Street

-       seven unshorn strands of hair

-       a cradled package

-       wearing a beaded halter top

 

Janet Jackson was playing in the elevator on the way up to her office. She worked on the nineteenth floor of a pharmaceutical company. She processed Adderall complaints. The stuff of jitters and nausea and overactive headaches.

Of typed crunched-in notes in a square-like shape, stuck in the middle, with more blank space than not.

Of a heart tremor that became comparable to an earth tremor and then all of a sudden it became all about you.

Of dry mouths and non-sleeps and rolling around and the stuff that made her turn inward.

She often went to the bathroom during her lunch break, or others’ smoke breaks, and took selfies. Her lips, unpuckered, were moist from the Vaseline she kept in her bottom drawer next to her desk. The Vaseline was as hot as melted petroleum jelly can get. The invincibility of her pores meant that she kept reapplying: a deep, rigorous finger-to-mouth movement, in the interstices of her breath.

– Tiana Reid

* * *

 All for you. This is all for you.

The stylus-less record player and the tennis-racket-smashed HD television set. My grass-stained shoes. (Yes, the shoes.) A skull-and-crossbones locket with your name on it. Your retainer in a Mason jar. I don’t know why I’ve kept these things. Disposal’s beyond you, of course. Maybe it rubbed off on me too much. But this is it. I’m done with this stowing away. These things, they’re all for you now.

So, you can have your laundry days, your Bat-Mitzvah makeup case, your Will-Shortz smarts and your prune juice cocktails. But I’m keeping this bottle of sweet vermouth. It reminds me of the way you never made me feel: slightly boozy, light-hearted, and content. Also, the Elvis stamps are remaining in my bedside table drawer.

The rest of this stuff, this detritus of our life together, well, you can have it. It’s all for you. The thrift-store Mackintosh tattered at the elbows; the thirty-four lighters of various colors and styles; a gold safety pin; a putter strewn with helixes of rust; the signed picture of Jon Travolta in Urban Cowboy; and, of course, your favorite place to sit: a mushy leopard-print husband.

All for you, this life we used to know so well together. It’s all spread out on the front lawn, scattered among the daffodils and the tomato plants and the patches of weeds, to be rummaged through by you, or whoever might pass by. The plastic license plate with your name spelled wrong, the Twilight Zone-marathon VHS tapes, the Gingher scissors, a 1999 Barry Bonds’ foul-ball from Candlestick, all those drive-in-movie ticket stubs, the Led Zeppelin shaving mirror, that sweat-encrusted LeBron James headband you used to wear to yoga, and these postcards from Miami signed, “Best Fishes.” It’s all up for grabs, yours or whoever’s. But most likely, since it is all for you, and since I am doing this all for you—this one final thing just for you—well, I think you better get your grubby mitts on over here and pick it all on up. And that reminds me, your Giants mittens are out there too. I’m an Oakland A’s fan now.

And the grass? Hell, the lawn is married to me, at least until the sprinklers come on.

Don’t take your time, my former dear. I am moving to the moon.

– Davy Carren

 * * *

The sounds wouldn’t kill us. That’s not what they do, sounds. Very few do that and you weren’t making those. You were making sounds though. You always did.

It seemed that just as your eyes became truly accustomed to the world around you, you began to move. You got it and your body did too. Little twitches and itches and giggles and gurgles. There was rarely a time when you weren’t pure energy. It was cute. It was. I loved you for it. Loved you for the way your skin must have crawled. You got it. I could tell. Your eyes pranced, I know, but they were always focused, always bouncing with the light.

I was excited to see where that would take you. I cried about it once. Out of joy, of course, but I cried about what you were liable to accomplish. The thought of being there, cheering for you, overwhelmed me. I wanted to hold you too. Whenever you forgot, forgot how to focus, I wanted to run my fingers through your hair with your head in my lap. Your head that would never stop moving would briefly cull to the sensation along your scalp. Your scalp that never stopped crawling would feel each follicle and focus. You would focus.

I wanted to tell you I loved you. To whisper it gently in your ear even. Just so that you knew. So that you could maybe grab and hold onto a vowel and feel the calming certainty of it.

But they were there. They were there, but you insisted on being everything that I loved. You stayed true to yourself and I loved that. But they were there. They were making sounds and you were answering in your way. Tap tap. They listened. I held you.

I wanted to say I loved you. I wanted you to know that everything in my life was for you. I thought it, I swear. But the sounds. They couldn’t be made. And so I held you. Tight against my body I felt your skin stop crawling. I felt you focusing on my thoughts.

It would be worse, I promised. It’s better for you this way.

They stopped listening.

It’s all for you. I silently touched my lips to your scalp. All for you.

– Jonathan Rodriguez

* * *

You said it the first time as we stood at the top of the stairs at Liverpool Street Station. Your visa had run out but we had a plan. We would work for half the year, you would find a bar gig at home and I’d do a six-month contract with UPS. We’d save a ton of money and meet again in India. As I put your suitcase down to say goodbye, you kissed me with words. Until India. In India we’d travel and live cheap and not care about anything.

Until India kept me going the whole winter while I worked twelve-hour shifts in an icy warehouse. I didn’t want to tell you I loved you for the first time through the Internet, so at the end of all those Skype calls and Viber chats we exchanged Until Indias before signing out.

It was exactly one week before my flight was due to leave Heathrow, timed to land at New Delhi within the same hour of your flight connecting from Sydney. I was an hour away from finishing nightshift when one of my coworkers accidently released his forklift and dropped a two-hundred- kilogram pellet on my foot.

When you first told me the plan I asked you what we’d do after India. You said we needn’t worry, we just needed to get there.

After the rods were inserted and the thirty-nine stitches were sewn in place, my parents paid for my flight home to Sheffield. For my return my mother filled my childhood room with gifts, flowers and cards from relatives and family friends. One card was separated and sitting on my pillow.

You sent me a postcard of the Taj Mahal.

I keep the ultimate monument to love under my pillow. During my pain-killed days on my back I constantly replay that very last moment at the station. As you pulled away, struggling to pick up your suitcase, I answered with Until Us. You shook your head. You told me that wasn’t our motto before you disappeared down the escalator.

When my physiotherapist reminds me to breathe, I don’t tell her I’d rather not. Instead, as I learn to walk again I concentrate on the inhalations. I chant as I exhale. Until India. Until India. Until India.

I’m careful not to get it wrong again.

– Jennifer Chardon

 * * *

I am fourteen when my mother gets me my first job, but she can’t remember where. I have to shift through the ripped books and dust beneath her desk until I find the wrinkled Post-it that says, French’s Diner. Dishwasher. By then, my shift is over, so I stuff my feet into my hand-me-down boots and head up to the lake. It is the only place I am truly alone. In town, I can always feel the echo of my mother’s voice. People look at me like I am already half mad. They know my mother wants me out of the house because of the way I grate on her trembling hands and turbulent silences, because I remind her when it is Tuesday and when it is too early in the day for a drink.lady in the lake copy

The lake is not a pretty place; the water looks like dirty dishwater. It has no ripples, no color, no fish. People dump their trash here. So, when the girl’s body rips above the surface of the water my heart stutters to a stop. Then, she begins to move, arms outstretched, twisting and bobbing over the water like she knows where I am, like she is swimming towards me. The buoyant blonde of her hair curls above the water, flicks towards me. She must be alive, her movements are so animated. I stumble through the thick water, reach out with trembling palms, and wait for her to come close enough to grab. Together we struggle towards the shore. I pull her on top of me and I can feel her trembling as water shivers out of her clothes. How wonderful, I think, to hold her in my arms, to feel her willingness to be saved, to be helped. You’re safe, I whisper, grabbing her hand. Her palms feel slick and foreign, and when I look down the skin of her fingers hangs like ribbon unraveling from the bone. Braided, red wounds have sunk deep into her wrists. I struggle to sit and realize that it is not lake water but her chilled blood soaking into my clothes, sliding down my skin, pooling in my bra. I gag once, choke, and retch over her shoulder. Then, no longer sure what to do, I rest my head against her matted hair, close my eyes, pretend that my hands are holding her together, just for a minute more.

– Caitlin Fitzpatrick

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Rumpus original art by Christina Weidman.

You can find Susan Clements at her website and follow her on Twitter.