Chicken Coop

I tell him how I landed in my tub, slipping as I cleaned, a little wine-drunk and very hard on my hands, how the ring my boyfriend had bought me that I actually liked because it matched my aesthetic, bent into my finger. The metal was soft. And suddenly I was losing circulation, that finger hole no longer a circle but an amorphous oval, choking that digit. I wasn’t sure if he was listening.

He said, “You’re such a narcissist. Matched my aesthetic. You don’t appreciate anything. It was nice of him to buy you a ring.”

“I could have lost my finger.”

We are in his yard now and it is dark although there are birds above us. There are trees around us. I forgot how trees feel at night, how the wind rages through them. I grew up in this part of the city.

He walks in a square and points to the ground in the middle of the invisible lines he’s made. He says, “This is where I’m gonna put my vegetable garden.”

“Do you know how it feels to almost lose a finger? When the blood leaves, it burns like someone’s peeling your skin off.”

He ignores me and goes up the steps to the front door of his apartment building, fiddles with the keys, almost dropping them.

I comment on his garden: “You could have a really nice garden out here. Absolutely. But you have to dig it up. It’s almost the summer. Time’s ticking away.”

We go inside and his place is still cluttered, unkempt, but not dirty. The sink is filled with dishes but there is no smell. All of the windows are open. Nothing matches, not the couch or the carpet, or any of the furniture. Things are just put down. There is one of those unwieldy sectionals that people buy thinking they’ll need a boat. I never understood those things, but I plop down on his and wait for him as he retrieves a smoking device for his weed. I don’t smoke weed so he gets me a beer.

I forget which one this is for me. We closed out the bar. We were there for hours and I can feel that it’ll take me days to work all of this through me. But it is worth it. We rant at each other. He says, “You know your problem, you’re all about you…”

I say, “You’re one to talk. You’re the most selfish person I know. Always talking about yourself. Never letting anybody in.”

He mentions that I’m in his place. I mention that he was too drunk to drive, that I promised the bartender. He says that I’m probably drunker than he is but I don’t show it. I feel like an insane person. I am so drunk but my body can still move in normal shapes. My heart is another story. It never lies but it cheats, and it tells me that I can cover as much as I want, that I am needed.

He gets up a lot and paces. I know that I am drunk because I feel so good even though I shouldn’t be here. I don’t usually get like this too often; it takes too much of a commitment. When you’re a drinker, when you make the night and the bars your business, you understand your science. I work against mine. I refuse to drink the same thing, convinced that monotony will give me away. I tell him, “I’m too old. That’s it. Or maybe you’re too old and that’s it.”

“I just want my own thing. Just me.”

He goes on about the girl that sleeps over. I am a girl who will sleep over. We’ve been doing this occasionally for almost three years. He asks me to kiss him, like he’s a neglected father, “give me a kiss,” and I do – on the lips like a smearing of sand. This is the sort of love I can participate in. We are next to each other on his sectional. I’ve made myself comfortable in the recliner part where he is usually throned. He says, “I don’t see it. Why you’re into your boyfriend.”

I get up and get another beer. I could say that I am into my boyfriend, which is true in some ways. But I choose not to talk about him, at all, except for saying, “You know things are complicated.”

He gets up and goes to the window where there is growth coming out of a series of plastic cups, small ones, giving way to leafy stalks. He says, “I’m growing celery for the garden.”

I put down my beer and take a cup in my hand, where I see the roots cylindrically wound with barely a space anywhere. I lift it and see a waterline just a pinch from the bottom. I say, “These need to go into the ground.”

He’s lazy. Maybe he’ll keep them as houseplants. He kisses each cup, puts them back in the window.

He lets me pick a movie to watch and I do, some horror movie that seems very far away from the boat we’re living on, all the way across the room with the volume just audible. I nestle into him, head on his shoulder, the middle of me curved onto his hip like a shell. He puts his arm around me like we’ve been married for years, fitting his cigarette into my mouth, and I take a long drag. He says, “I don’t know what I’m into.”

My face is in his neck, tickled by the beard hairs in my eyes, and I say, “Maybe it’s time to start something new.”

We talk about what we could do. I have a real job that is so serious that I mention the fact that it is four in the morning and I might as well be in hell if my other worlds could see me now. He tells me, “You’ve never been easy, that’s for sure. Always trying to work against the grain, but you do it. You persevere.”

“You’re funny, sometimes, you know.”

We put our noses together, and it is this touching that I’ve been waiting for all night, all the pressure released. He says, “We’re friends. We’re such really good friends.”

I agree and then he kisses me, always intense, he needing to find something but it ends in a way like he never had a tongue and then he’s away from me and back on the movie, and I know that we are not in love like in the movies. That this may not exist at all. I may believe that.

We go into his room and lie down on the bed that is devoid of anything except for the mattress sheet and some pillows. The sun is coming up and everything is powdery. When we lie together, put our faces together, take off our clothes, I feel like I used to when I practiced anything. We touch, me kneading his shoulder, running my lips on his neck, he making small and hard circles at my lower back until we are just machines working toward slowing down.

When I wake up, the light is hard. But it really isn’t. On my back, touching his feet with my feet, I look over at his body always splayed like he’s been thrown from a truck. But he smiles in his sleep.

I have to go. The trees are relentless with their leaves waterfalling over our bodies. I sit up. I look around his room and there are feathers that aren’t floating, but they could be like something’s been slaughtered. They are everywhere. As I hook on my bra, leaving, as I leave all of the time, I think of the bottom of those plastic cups, and when I go out of the apartment, not waking him, feeling a sort of shallow happiness, I give a look at the leafy stalks so brilliant in the light cast on them. Then I think of the water that isn’t enough, not for what it is intended to be for.

Tracey Levine grew up in northeast Philadelphia and teaches creative writing and film courses at Arcadia University, where she coordinates the creative writing concentration for undergraduates. She earned a BFA in screenwriting from the University of the Arts, an MA in English from Arcadia University, and an MFA in fiction from Syracuse University. She has worked on many documentary projects for WHYY and her creative writing work has appeared in Verbal Seduction, Metropolis’s VoxPop, Literary Mothers, The Literary Yard, Halcyon, and the Philadelphia City Paper, and has forthcoming work in Streetlight Magazine and The Corner Club Press. She currently lives in Philadelphia with her cat and boyfriend. She is a yogi and plays darts in a dart league and is hard at work on a collection of short fiction and a longer thing.

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