Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Ways In

Love, I think. I mean, I’m ready for it, for sure. I haven’t had a kiss like that since—I hate to bring it up—since before I was married. Sorry.
Nice of you to say, and thank you, but I am sorry.
Well, it’s just that new love—I guess that’s what we’re calling it—doesn’t need this heaviness dragging along behind it.
That’s it. Baggage was the word I was looking for.
Well, truth be told, I didn’t want to throw some cliché at this, this thing we’re building, this relationship.
That’s right, building slowly. Whatever moments I can steal. My fault. I’m sorry.
Okay, I’m not sorry, then. It’s nice of you to understand. Kids take up almost all of your time, that’s just what kids are like.
I can’t wait for you to meet them, either, I guess. 
Hey, that’s not what I’m saying.
Did you have— Are your parents together?
Lucky you. The thing about my girls is that it’s going to be hard for them, right?
That isn’t a reflection on you, not at all, but the life they have now, with their mom and me, that’s the only life they’ve got and they’re not unhappy with it, maybe they don’t even think of life in those terms, like to be happy or unhappy with something that just is. I guess it’s just that it’s, that it would be, change. Who likes change?
No, I like change and— Yeah, yeah, it’ll happen. It should happen.
Will. Has to. Needs to.
Mmm, that kiss, though. What a gift. Body of work. Working body maybe.
What I mean is that I’ve been experiencing my body as a working body, not as a body of or for or even capable of pleasure. Come here again.
Yes. Wet, fleshy pleasure.
Don’t tease. I can’t wait.
I know I don’t have to wait, but I do, for me.
Of course it’s a generous offer. Irresistible.
Okay, nearly irresistible then.
Do I think about it? I barely think about anything else.
No, I don’t. Not because I wouldn’t, but my wife and I, we almost never do it anymore.
No one talks about it. Warns you. Having babies, having a baby, well, for obvious reasons it makes it unattractive—for the person who gave birth—to want to do it.
It wasn’t horrifying, actually. Birth was, birth is amazing. Like the most incredible thing a person can do. A miracle that’s way too common to be called a miracle. It’s just like all this pain and work and then, whoosh, with this squelch there is suddenly a new human who needs to be dried off and fed and kept warm, this little person who you love overwhelmingly.
I like to imagine what your apartment’s like.
I picture lots of plants. Lots of natural light. Books. A bowl of fruit. Order. I mostly picture order. That’s another thing that disappears when you have kids. This order that you’ve tried to maintain, feels like you’ve just learned to maintain.
No! C’mon! I can’t go back to your place.
Hey, don’t touch!
Okay, okay, okay. Stop. Seriously.
No. I should go. People will start wondering where I am. I feel like a teenager. I think I like it.
Sure, I like it.
’Kay, I have to go.
Yeah, I love you too.
God, that feels— Feels good, I guess. Overwhelming.
No, don’t. ’Kay, I’ll see you.
We’ll talk soon.

Trees, near to dropping their lovely leaves, and two houses’ windowless shoulders shelter the parkette from the hundreds of eyes that might watch us, you and I, from the aging apartment buildings that huddle just off the main routes around this neighbourhood. It is always shocking to me to see just how many people there are so near this place so private to us. One of the nannies we’ve seen watching us behave like teenagers is urging her blonde charges towards the parkette and I smile at her and I’m not sure she recognizes me. For some reason this makes me giggle. I check my phone. There is a text from my wife reminding me to buy wipes on my way home. A balloon strikes me in the face, its brightness, its pinkness and gentle, but undeniable smack make me laugh. It is one of a cluster tied to a fence post at the edge of someone’s walk. The wind is twisting their coloured tethers together. I snap a picture and text it to you with a little description of what just happened.

I’m going to have to fix my idiot grin before I get back to work or people are going to wonder what could be making me so happy. I search my mental library for sad songs, but they must all be on loan. I start to whistle “The Only Living Boy In New York,” that being the saddest song I can think of, and no, I don’t think it’s that sad at all, I think it’s just lovely. Maybe lovely is a type of sadness, I think. I text you the phrase. You text me back two emojis: a red heart and a lipstick print. “I love it when you talk like that,” you text.
The convenience store people must know I’ve got something going on. “So happy,” the woman says, smiling at me. Her husband doesn’t look up from the television. I grab a Coke from the fridge. As I’m paying, I notice that they aren’t watching a Korean soap opera, like usual, but some sort of news program. A long line of people is walking through a field. “Missing Girl’s Body Found,” it says across the bottom of the screen. I swallow, but I don’t know what I’m swallowing. Must have been saliva, but it’s gone. I hold my money out to the woman standing by the register, but she is distracted by the TV. “So sad,” she says, then turns to me. “Very bad.”
“Where is that?” I ask.
“Up-uh nawth,” the man tells me, his English much worse than his wife’s. “Barrie.”
I shake my head.
The entrance sings a tinny song as two large black youth walk through it. Boys in baseball caps with unbent brims and baggy clothes. My heart, already jumpy, does this little somersault and feels all caught up in its wiring and one of them looks at me and I am genuinely scared for a second. I look down. Scared of what? I imagine a gun concealed somewhere under all the cloth they dress themselves in.
“Hello,” the woman at the cash says.
“What up Eun?” the one who looked at me says as he disappears behind a rack of cereal.
“Not much,” she says. She’s smiling. She nods at me.
I leave.
Without thinking about it, I pull my phone out as I walk. I call up your last text and I am staring at my screen. I stop walking. I am filled with anxiety and guilt and fear, fear above all else. I go back to my list of texts. I click on my wife’s name.
“I love you,” I text. And I mean it.
I go back to the list of text messages. I slide the box with “Betty”—my code name for you—to the left. A red box with DELETE written in white appears on the right hand side. I look at it for a while. I look at it until someone brushes past me and brings me back to Bloor Street and I barely recognize it, or rather I see it again as I once saw it, a familiar place that I haven’t been in a long time and I am flooded with this warm calm and peace. For the first time in a long time, I know what I need to do and what I need to do is stop whatever you and I are doing, but I don’t know how to do it yet. I put my phone back in my pocket and walk and start thinking about the right way to end things with us, but my heart starts to climb, pounding, up my chest and into my neck and so I picture my daughters, safe in daycare and classroom. I picture going to lunch with my coworkers again. I picture reading a book on the subway and not thinking about you or checking my phone for messages from you. And I’m sorry and I’m a little sad, but I’m not confused. Not at all. 
Toronto, Oct 2015

Emoji Sequence: Teacher and writer, Renata Catenacci
Story: Lee Sheppard


  1. Sinfully good. I've been trying to find an adjective that serves this piece justice. What's a stronger word for satisfying? So so satisfying... quenching. And as always, brilliant.

  2. Just had an urge to read this again. So glad I did.