Centrifugal Momentum and the Points to which We're Affixed
Complacency was a recipe for the slow passing of the years. E.C. knew this well, and she began to pack her bags. It didn't take long, for they were always mostly packed anyway.
New Orleans had smelled rotten in a way that reminded E.C. of sex, and the land was haunted so that the earth rose up beneath cobblestone and pavement. Large leaved plants grappled with human dwellings, Spanish moss hung like sleeves of mist on spindly Oaks, and the world promised something magical, though E.C. knew all such promises to be misleading.
J.B. arrived back at the apartment to find it empty of E.C.'s belongings. It was something that he'd forced himself to expect, but was no less broken by when it happened. They'd been staying at the guest house together for two weeks. They'd spent the two weeks prior in Northern California motor inns.
He knew that E.C. would leave. She was someone who squirmed under the thumb of love, and J.B. steeled himself for heartbreak once he realized he could love her indefinitely.
E.C. shed tears as she pulled the straps of her bag over her shoulders. J.B. was good enough that he didn't deserve the pain coming to him. But what was a matter of deserving? Who can ever say what's due the next one. He took a risk and he knew the terms, and now he would suffer, and E.C. told herself over and over that she hadn't broken the man.
The cab pulled to the curb, and she knew that there wouldn't be anything left of her. The birds had eaten the breadcrumbs long ago, and E.C. no longer knew the way back home. And because she wouldn't know home if she ended her journey there, she was homeless. She told herself that home was a heart, and a person carried it with herself in her blood. But this tenement that housed her, this skull casing and rib cage, they were no more than a means of conveyance, and life was about the move.
J.B. hadn't been in love for seven years and he hadn't lived with a woman in five years, and he'd since told himself that he'd never do either again. He slept with mean women who he would treat meanly in return, and he thereby staved off true affection. Sometimes he paid ladies for their company. And occasionally he met someone lonely enough to offer him unmitigated affection with the understanding that all loyalties were fleeting. In these ways he'd been able to experience enough of love to survive.
But E.C. had been too much a temptation for him. She'd been exceptionally smart in a way that didn't leave him questioning the degree of his inferiority. She was beautiful and poised, but fucked like a savage, fucked like there'd never been a prohibition against such things as female gratification. She'd seen the world twice over, and she'd met men along the way who took care of her. And J.B. found himself idolizing her too much, placing her above all people including himself, and then searching for ways to tear her back down to the terra firma.
He kicked a door closed and then kicked it off its hinges and screamed to an empty and uncaring cosmos that he was cursed and would be forever. And then he vowed to honor E.C. in the best way he knew how - to break another woman's heart.
The decision had not been without complication, and though leaving was freeing, it was never free of emotions. E.C. allowed herself to shed tears only after takeoff, and then only in the small bathroom compartment of the jet. She was crying for herself, because why couldn't everything be compatible? Why couldn't there be love and freedom and novelty and the familiar? Why was convention so stifling? Why be compelled to sacrifice comfort in the name of freedom?
She'd miss J.B. He was a man she had cared about him both tenderly and fiercely. He considered himself hard, but she'd seen the look in his eyes when he'd allow his face to melt. She'd seen the fragility of manhood, because these creatures were taught they could control everything, and J.B. had unintentionally revealed his own powerlessness.
She knew J.B. would find a woman willing to put him back together if only he'd seek one of the tame ones. Then she steeled herself. He's a fool, she said, for thinking he could have me, because she was never going to be had.
On the one thousand and twelfth day after walking into the empty guesthouse, the melancholy left him. J.B. had stopped counting the days long before, and he would continue to dream of E.C. for years to come. But those recollections would never be so dire, no longer full of the confusing amalgamation of resentment and longing. It was as if the love had passed through him and had been metabolized into potential energy, energy which he could use to love again (though he swore never to do such a thing).
But on the one thousandth and eleventh day, J.B.'s recollections were still fraught. He fought against the weight of them, all the while grasping to keep them alive, as if a part of himself might have been simultaneously slipping away. And so he was restless when he remembered the Quality Inn located behind Petaluma's industrio-financial district, within good view of the freeway and the card house and Applebee's.
E.C. cried that night. She demanded to know what they were doing there, and why J.B. had brought her to such a place. She was feeling cloistered, perhaps even imprisoned, and J.B. understood he'd caused this. When he said all the sweet things to E.C. she started to soften. But then she caught herself and ran from the bed…
Exactly one hundred and thirty-six days passed before E.C. felt herself a free woman once again. She was discomforted by the way J.B. had stuck with her. He followed her, marring the efficiency of her departure. And though she'd never see him again, there he was, whispering to her in the early afternoon shade of a hotel room darkened by blackout curtains, or exiting from the café in front of which she sat with her book. And though E.C. resented his presence, she also missed him because his love had felt so good.
On the hundred and thirty-sixth day of mourning, before she allowed him to leave her, she remembered how he stood, just a bit stooped but with the self-assurance of a man not constantly reminded of his materiality, ignorant of the necessity of being a physical presence in the world, as if he simply existed.
She recalled the feeling of his stubble at the back of her neck when he sneaked into her hotel room after returning from sea. She had heard him shuffling across the carpet on tiptoe, then the bed was shifting under his weight, and then his arm was around her neck and his hand was on her mouth. He whispered in her ear not to make a sound…
J.B. remembered that E.C. would not be ameliorated by sweetness. She walked to the vanity sink in the nook of the hotel room, and looked at herself in the mirror so as to avoid having to see him. She opened her mouth in protest when J.B. approached, but he slapped her face, took her hair in his hand, and pushed her over the sink. Then his hand was around her waist, fumbling with her jeans, and E.C. complied.
She cried out, and J.B. felt unselfish in that moment. He did it for her. He would slap her face and open her up and feel gratitude at her pleasure. The only selfishness he acknowledged was the satisfaction in knowing she would stay with him for another day.
E.C. recalled trying to keep silent, though the noises wanted to escape her. J.B. whispered to her that his bag was set in the corner, and the door locked, and that they would never have to leave the hotel room again. They could starve in there for all he was concerned, because he had her on that bed, and he would take his time, teach her what loving was so that she would never be able to go. She had to see, locked in that room with him, that they were stuck together forever.
E.C. wanted to stay silent because that's what J.B. had commanded, but when she opened her mouth the noises came in a torrent, and there was no re-sealing the gates.
J.B. recalled her voice when she asked him to tell her stories, and the weight of her body when she lay on top of him, and the way they'd fall asleep like that from time to time.
He recalled how E.C. put her head in his lap during the bus ride, and how she kicked over the orange cones as she passed by them on her bicycle; the time they slow danced to Sam Cooke in the Kenner hotel room the night before he left for sea; the softness of her thighs, which was like no other sensation that the nerve endings of human fingers could know. Thinking of that softness, J.B. could almost feel her again, and when he opened his eyes, he found his hands clenched and his fingers running slowly over the meat of his palm, and it was not satisfying in the way it had been to touch E.C.'s thighs. He knew he would never touch her again, and on the thousand and twelfth day without her, J.B. said goodbye to E.C.
E.C. leant over the bow of the vessel that carried her through the Gulf of Mexico, and she wept one last time for J.B. She watched the tears fall into the ocean, and knew it was the best place to leave him - there in the sting of salt, in a place where he'd dissipate into the greater salty body of this saline earth.
She remembered how he touched her face when they kissed. Kissing J.B. had always felt like a theft, of sorts, because he'd given her his love and she would never bring it back. I wanted to tell you I love you, she whispered to the horizon astern.