By Michael Don
An elderly woman is struggling to walk home with her groceries and asks me for help. I grab her bags and hold her hand. When we get to her apartment building, she lets go and shows me how she can use the rail to walk up and down the stairs, just like her doctor ordered. For exercise. Her knobby fingers wrap around the thin metal bar; one foot at a time, she climbs the stairs. On the way down she goes sideways, a clenched hand with blue veins shooting around like rivers on a map, the other hovering over the bar, pale and limp. She thanks me by putting two avocados in my purse and asks god to bless me with one hundred more beautiful years. I wonder how old she thinks I am. I am forty-five, but I look much younger. Thirty-five? Twenty-five? Eighteen, a bouncer guessed; he probably guessed eighteen to dozens of women each night.
A man sneaks out of his house and into my apartment, where he pins me down on the bed. He breathes out his nose and half grins, biting his lower lip while my insides heat up with resistance. This is all we do together. Tonight the clocks are pushed back and he arrives early, my reading lamp illuminating half my body. Usually he enters a black room, our shadows tangled on the ceiling. He takes his time noting the path my hips take to my legs, which is the most direct route. Then he puts his knees on my knees and digs into my shoulders with callused fingers. This doesn’t last long. His eyes go to the lit side of my body, and he lets up. “You’re all bruised,” he says, shifting his weight off me. “What do you think we’re doing here?” I say. I should be furious; complete sentences are against the rules. But I am surprised: no matter what I do to it, my body has always been soft, dotted in faint yellows and purples. “Maybe we oughta take a week off,” he says, now one leg hanging off the bed, his palms flattening out my puffy comforter. “You’re not like me,” I say, reaching for the light, “Try keeping your eyes closed.” He rolls back onto me and digs his fingers into my shoulders deeper than ever – it feels as if my flesh and muscle are getting crammed into bone and never coming back.
She was funny. Made it seem like I rescued a drowning baby from a frozen river. All I did was hold her hand and groceries for a few blocks. She waited at the top of the stairs to make sure I knew which way to go, to catch her breath, and I waited for her, our heads nodding out of respect. When I remember the avocados, it has been days and their insides are brown and mushy and stuck to the lining of my purse.
Michael Don is an MFA candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His stories have recently been published in The Southampton Review, Hobart, and Wag’s Revue.