by Erica Adams

“I pack the sexy nightgown but do not wear it.” —Cate Marvin

I was sure to pack the nightgown. Your favorite one, with the lace edges and sheer bodice, found in the bargain bin, crumpled against all that slick nylon.  The one I wore for you the day you got out of prison, the first time, when the sun sank so low in the sky that it seemed to disappear. You said, You look like a black valentine, Baby, and kissed my neck.

There was no time for toiletries. I had my little green suitcase, child-sized and pleather, found at a thrift store in Iowa, and inside I had folded the gown carefully. It wasn’t heavy enough to make my hand sweat, the handle just big enough for my fingers to wrap around. I clutched the suitcase as you drove, your knuckles brushing my thigh.

I should have known, when you made me wait five minutes in the car outside the drugstore, a cement and neon monstrosity. We’d already checked into our room, something that stank of stale cigarettes and Plasticene, the bedspread a slippery vinyl with burgundy flowers. You wanted to go to the drugstore, and I agreed. You said, Happy Anniversary, Baby, and kissed my cheek. I held my green suitcase with my right hand.

You were in the bathroom for five minutes, the water running. I stared out the window into the drizzle. You coughed as if you were choking on air. When you came out I could smell the sick days of my childhood on your breath. I could see your dilated pupils like little black suns, the loll of your tongue. Our anniversary punctuated by you downing cold medicine in that yellow light, and me, looking out the window onto wet pavement.

So I turned to face you in silence. Your heavy body in the doorway watching mine from on the corner of the bed. You licked my shoulder, and said something about Love, and I felt the heat of your breath travel down my arm. Watching you leave a sticky film on my stomach, rose colored. And after all this, you wandered out in the rain and I slept on the bed that smelled of someone else.

I woke the next morning to your cherry-pucker, the smudge on your lips that tasted like candy. Your hair still damp from the rain, darkening the white pillowcase. How I couldn’t shake you. How I turned the key in to an aging woman with sparse hair, her hands stained by nicotine. How I held you gently in the afternoon light, tilting your head to receive sips of water. How I never opened my suitcase that night.

Many thanks to Cate Marvin for her gracious permission to use the line from her poem.

Erica W. Adams lives in Denver and is working on a novel, tentatively titled Hybrid Babes. Her work has appeared in 42opus, Hobart, and elsewhere.