Fiction | Short Story


Do you ever look at your own lips? I’m looking at your lips. I want your lips back in my life.

The dog was the end of us. I asked you to take her to the
vet and you wouldn’t. Why wouldn’t you? I don’t remember. If you would have
done it, we might have made it through. I might not have blamed you for all of it.

I know. I could have taken her myself. And she would have
died anyway. But your refusal to take her, that’s what did it. Any other word
but “no” and I wouldn’t have blamed you. Don’t you see the difference? The dog
ends up dead either way, but in some other version of this story, maybe we
stay together. We don’t divorce. I don’t remarry. And I wouldn’t blame you for that either.

What about you? Why are you leaving Jean? Can I ask? What happened with you two? You always seemed so happy.

No. I don’t know why I’m still with Parker. His temper. It makes me crazy.

What makes us think this is okay? Why are we here? This will
only complicate things. 

I told my husband it was a business trip. If he checked, he could easily discover my lie. He could ask my
secretary. She doesn’t know much… but she knows enough.
If Parker asks her, he’ll know right away that something is up.
But he won’t ask. It would simplify things if he just gave a damn.

When was the last time you called your son? Have you
spoken to him? Bradley misses you. Don’t be embarrassed to call him. You know what
I’m talking about.

Stop asking that question. I don’t know any more than you
do. Neither of us knows. Maybe we’ll go to bed or maybe we
won’t go to bed. Right now I’ll order another martini and you’ll order another
martini and we’ll talk more because we’re getting drunk and getting
drunk is part of the reason we’re here. Isn’t that part of the reason? Do you
know I haven’t had a drink in over a year? I discovered it was easier to feel sane if I was sober while Parker was drunk. I could escape his wrath. Oh,
it’s not wrath, really. Don’t get
like that. It’s just a word. Wrath.
It doesn’t mean anything. Too fancy a word for what becomes of him, especially
if you are a sober person. It’s just thrashing
around. You can leave the room and he doesn’t even know you’ve gone until just
before he passes out. He starts whimpering. “Where are you? Sweetie? Where are
you? I’m sorry.” And then he passes out. Once he’s gone I can go out of the
house and go see my sister or Bradley and it’s
not a problem. Not even a little problem. I can go home whenever I want, and he
acts like nothing has happened, like everything is normal and he knew all along that I was leaving and how long I would be gone. And maybe he just does’t remember or does’t care. How would I know? He seems to have no real memory. He doesn’t seem to act
based on past experience. He seems to act on impulse. That’s who he is. I
accept that. 

I don’t love him anymore, if that’s what you’re wondering.
I accept that too. 

I don’t know why I haven’t left him. It was so easy to
leave you. My reasons for leaving were poor with you. They were terrible. I blamed you for the dog,
for one thing, for how he died, and how those same inactions made—for me—our
marriage die.

It’s melodrama, I know it.

I’ll tell you. Once I have another martini in my hand. God
no. Why would I want vodka? Why do they always ask that? What is
wrong with these people?

I’ve spent the last seven years or so thinking about it. No… Very funny… Not about the martinis. About us. About you. 

So I think I have it worked
out, and it really was just the dog. I had it built up. When she started having
the seizures, I blamed you. Not because you were causing them, but because you
always seemed to hate her anyway. What did she ever do to you? I still don’t
understand why you hated her.

Yes you did.

I’m not going to argue with you about this. You did not like that dog.

I said we should take her to the vet and you said it
wouldn’t matter, that she was going to die anyway, that she was old and there
was no sense in taking her to the vet, he was just going to offer to put her down. I guess I knew you were right. The vet wouldn’t do anything for her. She
was almost twenty years old by then. She wasn’t meant to live that long. She
was going to die one way or the other, like you said. I knew you were right but I blamed you anyway. And I was
afraid of her dying. I guess I would have taken her to the vet myself but I was afraid of the truth. You
know, it didn’t even occur to me until just a few years ago that I could have
taken her myself?

I attached some kind of unreasonable weight to her death. I attached some of my own life to her life. I don’t know why I would
do that. It was a thing I still can’t quite explain. I
somehow made her illness an illness of mine. Some kind of transference. That’s
a word my therapist used to say. I think I just used it wrong, but I don’t care. Anyway I fired that asshole. Do you know he came on
to me? He really wanted me, he said, for more than just what we had. More than what I
paid him for. Asshole. What an asshole.

You know, if we would have taken her to the vet and he
offered to put her down then maybe I would have blamed the vet, but I really don’t know if it would have changed anything about the rest. 

Instead? Well, you know the rest. When she died, I was alone.
You were at work. You didn’t see her. How dead she was. What a relief it was that
she wasn’t going to have seizures anymore and what a collapse I felt, how alone
I felt, even though she’d been in so much pain—even though I had Bradley at home still. 

I guess I should say I felt like I was alone. I carried that around with me all
the time. You must have known it. How long I’d had it. You had to know but you
didn’t let on. You were the good one. I think of you that way. The
good one.

This isn’t going well. I’m talking too much. You talk.

You talk.

Okay. But you have to understand that I’m drunk. I haven’t
been drunk in months. In almost a year. More than a year, maybe. I don’t
remember the last time I was drunk and even then I was drunk with nothing to
show for it, with no one to talk to. My husband doesn’t count. He does not
count. Give me a grain of salt, please. Please.

And another martini. I’m thirsty for them. I’ll make up
for all that I missed last year in this one night, tonight. I’ll order hundreds
of them. Thousands of empty glasses on our little table. Wouldn’t that be a

I know she was just a dog. But I’d had her so long. I’d
had her since I was a kid, you know? She was a part of my life. I just didn’t
feel like the same person without her.

Stupid. I know it’s stupid.

After she died I would look at Bradley and think, “This
isn’t enough. Something’s missing.” And of course it was the dog. I didn’t know
it then and it took years to figure out, to really look at what it was I
thought I was missing, and it was as simple as that. I was missing my dog. That damn
little dog. Meaningless, really, now that I look back at all the things I really did have… all the things I gave up when I packed Bradley and me up and left for my mother’s house.

I think I still loved you, but I just felt so empty. So alone. It doesn’t always feel like love is enough for me. I don’t know. That feels like a terrible thing to say, but it’s how I feel.

What about you? Did you still love me?

Do you love me now?

Oh, I know. This right here, this has nothing to do with
love. Or I don’t think it does. I just want to figure out, to remember
who you are. Who are you? I just want to sit here in this place and
drink a lot of martinis and try to suck on whatever marrow there is left. It feels good, doesn’t it?

Yes, another. And another for him.

And put it on my room tab. Mine. All of them. I’m paying
for all of them.

Of course I have my career. But my career is as empty a nest
as my home. It contains me—sometimes—but it doesn’t hold me. I keep doing it
because it’s easy and because I have a feeling I’ll need it some day. I’ll need
the experience and I’ll need the money. Very strange. I never thought I would
have a career. Not at all. I meant to be a mother and that was all. But even with Parker I found
my days so empty. Even after I left you and remarried, thinking I would fill up
whatever was missing with this new guy, I still couldn’t do it, and I’d send
Bradley off to school and sit in the house, letting it fill up with silence and
expectation. It wasn’t full of happiness. It was full of anxiety. I was still
missing something, and I didn’t think it was that damn dog anymore. I’d drink
and lay down and sleep and I’d sleep all day. Nothing about sleep could satisfy

Then the job came around. Just a small job at first. My
friend Peg—you don’t know her—called me, worried that I was sleeping or drinking or mothering my life
away, said there was a receptionist job if I wanted to give it a try, just part
time. So I did. Now, though, look at me. I’ve become something else. I don’t
sleep my days away anymore. Not in the traditional sense. I contribute to the
GDP. I’m part of the economic machine. I grease the wheels of the national

I know. I’m not actually drinking them anymore. I just
want to see them all set on the table, just in case I need them. Go ahead and
drink if you want.

Yeah. So I guess I’m miserable. Unhappy. Bored. Those are the words I use
to describe myself, but none of them come close to how I feel. I’m lower than
that, I think. If those are low words, I am beneath them.

Do you ever look at your own lips? I’m looking at your
lips. I want your lips back in my life. Is that okay? Is that a safe thing to say?

It’s not just the martinis talking. I want to take you up
to my room right now and sleep with you and order room service in the morning
and stay in bed all day and order room service again and take a long bath to
get rid of the hangover I’m going to have and drink tomato juice and drink more
gin from the minibar so I won’t feel the hangover quite so miserably but not so
much that I get drunk again; I want to shower with you; I want to wash your
body; I wan’t those lips on my body.

I’m sorry. Am I talking too loud?

It’s a physical thing but it’s more than a physical thing.
I don’t want it because I’m just missing your body. It’s not just missing. I’m
talking about something else. About not even aiming for the right things in my
life, things that used to be there and I didn’t know it. You can hit your
target a million times, but if it’s not what you were meant to be aiming at,
then who cares?

Is it so bad for a woman to want her ex back? You were
never bad to me. I was bad to you. You were the good one. I know that. I’ve
grown up a lot. If you miss me even a little bit, I want you to give me a shot.
Any moment along the way, you can just disappear. It doesn’t have to go
anywhere but this hotel. Can we just hold each other for awhile? Give it an hour? 

Have you ever known that you just have to try something?
To try it once and see if it works?

Or, I suppose, to try it twice?

You have?

That’s what you did?

You were doing it for me?

You were just trying it that once?

My god.

And what I did.

To you.

What a disappointment that must have been.

I won’t blame you if you say no. This won’t be like the
dog. I won’t blame you if you go back to your room and shut the door and won’t
speak to me. But if you do that, will you at least go see Bradley? He misses
you. So much.

I know, because I’m drunk. I never cry unless I’m drunk.
I’m sorry.

I won’t blame you. Whatever you do. Whoever you are.
Wherever you leave me.

The two of us, we’re like that. You and me.

You’re in my blood, I think. The dog wasn’t. I didn’t know
that. That’s why.

You know, some days I don’t even remember that little
dog’s name? Like right now. I keep saying “that dog” because I don’t remember.

That’s it! You remembered. Dammit, how could I forget? But
you remembered.

That’s what I love.

So will you? Come with me? To my room? Is it
that simple? Do I just ask?

Maybe we stay together this time. There’s no dog. We
should never have a dog. Never again does a dog or any other animal come
between us. Or maybe I wake up in the morning and you’re gone. Or maybe I’m
gone. I don’t know. Either way I want more time. Just a little more time.

Please. Yes. Two more for the elevator ride. For
us. And if you would, a bottle of champagne. And if it’s not too much trouble,
can I take this old battered rose from the table? I want to take it with me, to keep it
beside my bed. I want to see it when I wake up in the morning. It’s not beautiful, I know. I just want it there tonight. I just want it.

Yes. I just want it.