Readers Report: Wants/Needs


Rumpus readers take on Wants/Needs. Edited by Susan Clements.


He tells you that you remind him of a gypsy so you start wearing even more red, more bracelets that tinker together making that bright sound that you’ve since gotten so used to.
You tell him that he looks French and he says he’s not and he’s not the only man you’re dating and you don’t know if he knows that. The two of you never talk about it. You talk about almost everything, but not that. And you only go to the artsy movie theatre together, never the regular one.

But the other man carries your lip gloss in his pocket so you don’t have to take your purse inside. He puts it in the same pocket as his little black tube of Chap Stick and you like thinking about the plastic tubes tapping together in his dark jeans as he walks beside you. His legs are a lot longer and you take two steps for his one. And something about him smells like cinnamon but you know it’s not anything he wears on purpose. It’s a memory of something you cannot place, but it’s a dark and smart smell that makes him your favorite of the two. Sometimes. Sometimes, it does. He’s more affectionate in public. He throws his arm around you and says your name more often. He kisses with urgency. He kisses like a dying man. He kisses like he worships women. Your mouth is his church.

You call him Tennessee when you talk about him with your sister and friends. He’s from Nashville. You call the other man Kentucky, because he grew up here too. You heard something like that in a country song once and always remembered it. Women calling men not by their real names, but by where they’re from. You call Kentucky, James, when you’re talking to him. But that’s his last name and not his first. You don’t know why you do that but it keeps the relationships more casual than they should be. It keeps all of you forever on the edges of whatever it is; as if no one wants to come into the middle of this room you’ve made with one other. But the shades are drawn in this room. It’s so dark and it’s warm in there and you like his breath on the back of your neck. It’s as warm as the air in the room.

— Leesa Cross-Smith

* * *

The knock on the door came just as our argument ended. It was the Chinese delivery boy.
“Your order,” he said, holding up a pink plastic bag.

“What did we order?” I hardly remembered. “You order chow fun and shark fin soup,” the boy said with little emotion.

“How could you order shark fin soup?! They toss the sharks back into the water after they slice their fins off!” I shouted out at Ross but he didn’t hear me; he’d locked himself in the bathroom again.

The boy looked bored, he leaned against the doorway, looking at my chest as I fumbled for a pen. Longish hair sweeping his shoulders, skin the color of peanut shells, handsome in an exotic way as if he were an uncharted country to explore. I watched his lips as he asked me to sign the bill, they were lovely—doughy and thick like slices of ripe mango.

“I don’t want the soup,” I said. He took it out of the bag, placed it on the floor as he pushed the bill up at me. He watched me fish for tip money in my jean pockets, his eyes quick and dark. Ross shouted in the background, “Fuck the bloody soup!” He was English, swore like sailor when he was drunk, demanded kipper on Sundays.

“Our food is better in restaurant,” the boy spoke, his accent was only slight, the round curls of American “r”s pushing through.

I found myself going into the restaurant later that week, rain stabbing the street outside. I was soaked, sat down in a booth, heard shouting in the back, steam and smoke pouring out from under the double doors of the kitchen. A tiny, worn looking woman took my order, I asked for some shark fin soup and she set the large bowl before me. The cloudy broth swirled in the bowl like a tiny storm; the fins lumped together, congealed and slick.

I saw the boy; he was standing by the door, holding more pink bags. He walked over to me and leaned forward, placing his face close to mine, his soft lips brushing my ear, his fingers resting on my neck. His breath smelled like cigarettes and sesame oil, his fingertips rough like dried squid.

I opened up the fortune cookie in front of me. “Waste not, Want not”, it read.

— Shelagh Power-Chopra

* * *

Wanting something and needing it are completely different things, my father would always say to me after some tantrum or another, but I was never really able to wrap my heart around the distinction. My head understood it just fine, but my heart is a stubborn, greedy bastard. Needless to say, my heart is the one that maxed out the credit card in Italy, because I needed the approval of the rich kids who looked down on those of us there on scholarship; the one that convinced me that I needed that second piece of cake even though none of my pants fit me anymore; the one that whispers in my ear, “what you really need, old buddy, is a couple of drinks.”

My head knows I don’t need any of that, but in my heart want and need are conjoined twins. So just don’t forget that’s where I’m coming from when I send you that text message at 2 a.m., the one that says I need you, I need you, I need you. When I call you and say lets forget about the past, the past is dead, but what I need right now is to hear your voice, see your smiling face. Don’t forget that need is a lie my heart tells me, that I can do without you or anyone. But know that I damn sure want you.

– Neal Kitterlin

* * *

I’ve got two demons fighting for my attention.

My night ruler throws colorful parties while I’m asleep. All the guests leave before I wake. He sends me dreams of desire. I’ll be lounging in a king size bed covered in sheets of soft washed purple silk. French doors open to a natural pool that runs off the side of a cliff. I smell salted breeze and feel the force of waves crashing on the rocks below. Adrian Grenier from Entourage is gazing at my naked body with unchecked lust. I anticipate his touch. He has no fear. No trepidation. Hot fingers imprint shock waves down my spine, tenderness envelops my lower half.

I reach out and wake to an empty bed, left with nothing but the dull throb of disappointment. The night ruler laughs and mocks my desire.

The day-crawler likes to mess with my mechanics. He’ll wait for the boss to be out of town and then crash the computer system. He’ll clog the coffee maker and laugh while it explodes and ruins my stockings and pumps. He hovers over me and liquefies my confidence. He plants doubt and applauds my stress. He’s responsible for the stupid errors I make—like sending the hundred thousand dollar check out un-signed, or putting the wrong date on a contract.

The day crawler makes me over cautious and beseeches me to fail before I even start a project. When I wake up feeling pretty and light, he sends the perfect asshole to cross my path. Sure enough, before morning’s end I’ve received a comment meant to send my ego underground.

In my younger days I was afraid, but I’ve learned to fight back. I’ve developed a strong left cross. I meditate on how best to ruin their plots to wreck my day. My mantras keep them sweating. But in the end, I suppose we love and thrive on each other’s angst. They stick tight and sometimes place me in the most fortuitous situations. And they are fierce in their protection. So be careful not to block my path.

My demons have been deadly in the past.

— Liz Axelrod