Three Fictions
for AB

Elizabeth Ellen

Somewhere Not Here

I was somewhere not here and now I was returned. We had been here before: Jim Beam on the table, me in his lap. This time he was disallowing. He said, please, remain seated. So I sat and feigned an interest in my cards. My strength was in knowing his tells. (My weakness everything else.)
The time before had been easier: A morning knock of the door, a beach towel wrapped around his waist. By the time I reached him he was trembling, the thermostat set to eighty-five degrees. I'd pressed my cheek to his chest, the beads of water flooding my collarbone like so much saltwater, familiar.
You're a siren and I a sailor, he'd announced, and my mouth grew wide against him in spite of so much moisture.
Ahoy, matey! I said, leading him somewhere down here, in closer proximity to the neighbor's ceiling.
I think you're confusing sailors and pirates, he said, though my confusion did nothing to dissuade him from joining me down there on the underside of that ceiling.

Now he was so far from me still. He claimed imperviousness to my musical interludes. I made an O of my mouth, but was silenced by his palm.
I haven't thought about sailing in months, he said. I've adapted to my surroundings better than either of us probably expected.
I studied the formation of his lips, but didn't subscribe to the strung together syllables. There was the way he kept tugging on the rim of his hat, fingernailing his knuckles.
I pushed the bottle of Beam closer to his side of the table. The more he imbibed, the greater his number of tells.
I'm not going to drink just to spite you, he said, scratching the underside of his nose.
I remained silent, watched as he lifted his hat, ran a hand over his head.
Hours later I saw my opportunity. His hands now were clasped behind him.
I was okay with everything being my fault. I walked to him unsteadily, as though footing a two by four, then anchored myself facing, our legs diagonalling toward opposing walls.
I take full responsibility for all, I said, as though staking a flag.
I should have done this long ago, I added, meaning taking responsibility and staking claim, both. I made a long look around. The earth's oceans were unclaimable in a way that no longer impressed me. Sea inhabitants have been adapting to land for billions of years. I could iodize my skin; learn to sleep motionlessness.
You're a woodsman and I'm a lumberjack, I said.
Timber! he shouted, stealing my line.
The northwest forest will be our here now, I said.
There will be no more not here, I added.
He nodded and I anchored myself deeper. I closed my eyes and the smell of pine was all about us. I made familiar its homey scent. Took a deep breath. Opened my mouth for song.

The Steadfast Nature of the American Bison

I met a flimflam man in March and by May I was took, husbandless. I could be so naïve sometimes. I'd sought only the barebones of conversation. The days of early spring were muted, lonely; my husband off somewhere I could not reach him, herding buffalo or bison, I could never remember which. I'd been hustled similarly in my youth, conned of sixty dollars in the penny arcade where I worked. I'd had to explain the loss to my superior. I was a hard worker, otherwise reliable. I was easily forgiven. Could have happened to anyone, my boss said, his hand transgressing the small of my back.
It was harder to ask forgiveness from a taken husband.
Where to find, the problem. And if found, how to explain, another.
I wasn't very reliable when it came to matters of matrimony. My husband, if found, was unlikely to forgive.
Something like this could only happen to you, I heard him saying.
I wanted to blame similarly. If only you'd tended me with the same ferocity with which you tend your buffalo, I imagined my argument beginning. It was a flimsy line of debate, admittedly, easily turned around.
If only you were as steadfast as the American bison, he would trail off, and what argument then?
I began to consider the possibility he had not been swindled from me, but rather, that he had staked out a new life for himself, one absent the disloyalties and restlessness of the American wife. It was spring of the next year and I envisioned him wrangling the Great Plains single-handedly, chest expanded, bison surrounding. I was unsure if there would be room for me on that vast expanse of land. I feared the forthright rejection of an honest man. By then I had become accustomed to the cowardice of the con.
I took it upon myself to learn a trade, to make myself indispensable in one way or another. I went to the library, borrowed biographies of ranch hands, how to books on everything from the repair of fences to the utilization of the entire deer carcass. I studied for weeks before venturing outdoors to put what I'd learned into practice. I needed to exude the easy confidence of the experienced rancher. I found a documentary of bison life; watched enrapt. I was wanting to learn steadfastness. The bison, I hoped, had something to teach me.
When I was ready I began my travels, using word of mouth to guide me. At the gate of my husband's property I hesitated, bringing forefront all I had learned. He was center fielded, busied with the birthing of a bison calf. I squatted beside, bloodied my hands with the newborn's heavy body. Together we righted it, lifted its wail to the underside of the mother. After, I was unsure how to go about the task of asking forgiveness. Every word felt unsteady on my tongue. Instead I remained on my feet beside him, did not waver in my stance. I followed him to the railing, held nail first, then hammer. I wavered here neither. I followed him from one corner of the property to the other and wavered not once. I handed and held and otherwise aided however I could.
Inside the house I stood similarly, waiting for an opportunity to prove myself resolute. It was a lifetime pursuit, similar to the bison's. I sat at the table opposite my husband, passed a bowl, filled a glass. I was not yet indispensable, but I was making my helpfulness known.
Through the window I watched as North America's largest land mammals gently stalked the fields. I wondered how steadfast they'd be without miles of fencing to deter their migration. True steadfastness, I determined, could be known only without the aid of barbed perimeters. I looked at my husband busying himself with his utensils. In thirty years he'd understand.

Yesterdays Are All Around Us

Yesterdays are all around us as we sit in your paint-chipped kitchenette, playing Gin and drinking bourbon from the bottle. You have a newfound habit of disclosing to me every opportunity we've missed for things to turn out differently than this. A week ago you informed me of your aborted proposal last Christmas. You blamed the weather. The city had been ill equipped to handle so much snowfall, you reminded. I remembered the impassable streets, your father shoveling for hours. I remember every detail of that Christmas acutely: your hand slipping up my thigh in the front seat; returning your smile from across the dining room table; falling asleep on your chest in your brother's bed, your arm guardrailing me in. The details of that Christmas are not so different from the details of every other day we spent together the last six years. They are no more or less bone-crushing than the other five hundred thousand I am involuntarily overtaken by at any given moment of the day. They are no more or less a cause of agony than the knowledge that our lack of matrimony may be a direct result of a city planner's failure to purchase salt.
I've been waiting twelve hours to be allowed into your lap. In the meantime I've made a note of everything that is the same or different since the last time I was here. There are more sames than differents. I am unsure if this surprises me. When you are in the bathroom or otherwise occupied, I walk around, leaving little bits of myself as I go: an eyelash, a ticket stub, a sticky note onto which I've written: things fall apart. As I do so I take account of the items I've left on previous occasions: a bottle of Bailey's, a plastic frog, a bag of dog bones. I am unsure about assigning a word such as "hope" to the fact that they have not been discarded.
I didn't put a tree up this year. Nor did I cook a turkey or carve a pumpkin. This is probably obvious, but for some reason I felt the need to say it out loud.
At midnight you set down your cards, look at your watch. I take this as my cue. I make my way to you and you don't fight me off. Every fuck now has the potential to be our last. Because of this I am unhurried and deliberate in my actions. I am conscious of remaining conscious. I am wary of drifting off. There is the pull toward last Christmas, toward the winery that was closed along with every other business for four days. I visualize us surrounded by barrels. Peter and Ashley standing on either side. I am unnoticing of your glances. I lean against you, your arm supporting my head. I breathe in your mother's dryer sheets. I could stand like this for hours. . . if only the lack of snow.
I push forward; fill your mouth with my breast. The application of teeth ensures I remain. The second the pain diminishes I miss its reminder. I say, please, please, but my mouth feels flooded with wine. I procrastinate an ending. I remain completely still, cling motionless surrounding you. Every movement brings us closer to my departure. I will never know the words you were prepared to speak. I want to hear you say it one more time: for you, for you. Your eyes are closed when I reach inside my mouth to extract the gum, stick it on the underside of the table. I think about the person who will find it, what words you'll speak to her.