? SLAB | Sound & Literary Art Book

Issue 6


Chin Sun-Lee

What Matters is Not What I Do

In the middle of the night he shifts, and I feel the hair on his thigh brush against my knee. I pull my own leg back, but I don’t think he felt anything. He doesn’t move again or breathe differently. When I’m sure, I roll slowly all the way to my side of the bed. I’m conscious of invading his sleep space. Strange I should put it like that, instead of the other way around, but that’s because it’s his bed, not mine. Stranger still when you consider we’ve just—well, a few hours ago, anyway—exchanged what you could call more obvious intimacies. But I can’t remember it, really, and I know I wasn’t that drunk. I see flashes of him over me, trying too hard, the streetlit window and silhouette of his head, but I swear I don’t know what he felt like inside.

His pillow is lumpy and too high, and I realize I’m cold. I reach back to pull a corner of the sheet over me, but it’s stuck, wedged somewhere tight in the tangle of his body. I try to pull it again and again, before I finally give up. I don’t know why I ended up staying. I knew the minute it was over, I didn’t want to. But I needed him to drive me home. And right after, he put his heavy arm across my waist and it seemed too mean, even for me, to remove it. He kept his arm on me for a while, and you would have thought it was then that I’d miss John, but that only happened after he released me.

He called me; John did, as I was getting ready for this other man. I saw his name on the screen and for a second I almost didn’t pick up. Then I figured, I have nothing to hide. Four months together is hardly a commitment, and besides, we don’t even talk like that. He doesn’t push me or ask too many questions. Sometimes I’m grateful for it. Sometimes I think he gets what he deserves.

We didn’t touch on any of that, of course. He just wanted to check in, see what I was up to, and my voice didn’t skip a beat when I told him I was going out. Which wasn’t lying—I don’t like doing that. More like leaving out the truth. I know it’s slight, but there is a difference.

In the beginning, I couldn’t fall asleep next to John, either. But I didn’t mind the way he held me. That was a surprise. Even after the first time, before the sex got really good, I started to move away, and he just slid his arm under my neck and pulled me in. I’m not really a cuddler, but I let my head settle into that muscled space between his shoulder and chest. I listened to the steady beating of his heart. Then, with his other arm, he reached over to place my palm in the center of his chest, and I felt its actual pulsing. It overwhelmed the sound and was different, more erratic, something alive under my hand. When we broke away to enter our separate sleep, it happened naturally, in stages, like the last steps of a dance. In the morning, the slow reversal as we found our way back to each other.

This happened more than once, but that’s the time I always remember.

I’ll admit I was starting to like him. I never thought that would happen. It’s not that he’s unattractive—I still have standards that way. But I don’t generally go for the “professional” breed and he was that, I could tell right off, from his banker haircut to his oxford shirt, buttoned up too high at the neck and tucked in with a belt, for God’s sake. Now I wonder if it’s the ones who aren’t my type that I should watch out for. One day you’re thinking, there is no way in hell, and next thing you know, someone has sliced right under your skin. That’s how it happens. You go along with certain things because it won’t matter in the long run anyway. It’s not even worth the effort of caution. I felt like that about John for the longest time, and then somewhere along the way, I messed up.

Then, and now. I’m in some corner of this city I’ve never been to, and I can’t quite piece together how I got here. It’s so quiet, I think the world will never wake up, but it must be close to morning because I see more light coming in. Or maybe my eyes are adjusting to the dark. I sit up a bit and look around. I can make out the shapes of things on the floor. My panties. Jeans inside out. They’re right next to me, and I want to reach out and turn them around, but I don’t want to make any noise. I don’t want to inhabit this room.

Soon I start to see the edges of it: the doorframe to my right, wide window in front of me, the blinds he finally closed, his closet to my left, clothes exposed and hung neatly, and I see him too now, he’s lying on his stomach, face pushed sideways into his pillow, toward me. If he opens his eyes right now, I’m not sure what I will do.

Except I want him to wake up. I want him to take me home.