The last time I saw Michael he was incarcerated, only visible behind stained, cloudy Plexiglas; his features had begun to harden after only a month's time. I wore a tight, pink shirt under my cardigan so that I could casually undress, if only a little, to provoke him. I knew that I looked irresistible that day, and this mattered to me more than anything on the outside.
It's been almost a year since the day I last saw Michael. He's thirty now. I'm twenty-two, and I'm staring at a sizable box of orthopedic shoes that I bought on the advice of a co-worker, wondering if I spent too much, when he calls to say he wants to stop by. I don't think twice. Michael is a handsome, thuggish guy; always dressed in a plain t-shirt and jeans. Always in shape, showing off his half-sleeve tattoo, an image of his brother's face with RIP scrolled below it. The image bothered me the first time we made love because Michael rested his arm on the pillow beside my head to hold himself up as he thrust —he knew how to move with me, how not to try too hard like most men —and his brother would be there, on the peak of a bicep, staring at me if I opened my eyes.
I'm not surprised when he's late. He's always late. An hour passes before I even call to see where he is, and when he doesn't answer, I can't lie, my heart hurts a little. I took the day off, even though Sundays mean good money at IHOP, the best shift, in fact. Now that I think about all that money I gave up, trading my shift for a Tuesday afternoon, I think I might just kick his ass. I call again. He doesn't answer.
I give up on Michael and throw away the shoe box and open a bottle of Boones Farm wine, strawberry flavor, which has been collecting dust on my kitchen counter. The wine bites just enough to balance out the syrupy sweetness. I call again. He answers —he's on his way, got caught up in something or somewhere. His voice is nice, smooth and deep, and I sink into my chair, allowing it to encase me like a thick blanket. I ask him how far away he is, and he laughs. There's a knock at my door.
Let it be known, please, that I am not the type of girl to get all wrapped up in some man, but I feel downright weak when I see Michael today. There's no cloudy wall between us. He stands a full six feet, muscular and handsome, wears a plain black t-shirt and dark jeans that are a little too big. His eyebrows are thick and dark, and he's due for a shave, which turns me on. I'm the star of my own seedy little romance novel in this moment, and I want to be ravaged by him. He looks at me with that sly grin and then pulls me in, a tight hug. "I'm finally here, beautiful girl," he whispers.
I think about schlepping greasy eggs and potatoes to unappreciative customers, some of which are still drunk at eight in the morning; I think about how a sixty dollar shift ends with tightness around my temples and sore, swollen feet. I think about how different things could be if only Michael were someone else. He sells crack, and there's no way to make a thing like that sound glamorous. Michael is in the business of selling poison to people who only want a break from life —a little taste of heaven; people who never found it in a man like him. If only he were born somewhere else, to different parents, maybe he'd be selling for a drug company, selling the legal way and we'd be married, have a big house in Cleveland or Akron. Maybe he'd wear suits and travel on a company card, and sometimes the drugs would be good, do good, and so this would balance the effects of the addictive ones. He doesn't want to sell crack. He's told me this in letters, but it's what he knows, and he can't do what he doesn't know. How can anyone? Our lips touch and lock, fitting together like puzzle pieces, and there's no going back. There's no going forward either, though, and I know this. I suppose I've known it for some time.
"You look upset," he says, sensing my hesitation. He grabs my shoulders and pulls back, examining my face. I try to smile but can't. I think about my sore feet, which I have stuffed into spiky heels just for him. I think about work, bills, every ordinary thing in my life; everything that keeps my days moving forward. The pink bottle is almost drained, sitting on the floor next to my chair. My orthopedic shoes, which cost me two days of tip money, are lined up beneath my apron which is hanging on the wall tree beside the door. I think about how hard I work every day and begin to cry. I cry like a mad woman, and before I know it, I'm yelling at Michael to get out and never come back. He says I'm a crazy bitch, and I tell him that's all the more reason to get the fuck out of my apartment. I never want to see him again, I yell. He slams the door.
I don't answer his calls until the next day. When he asks me if I'm OK, I tell him, no. "I want my own taste of heaven," I say. He says he's confused, but I don't care. All I can think about are my sore-ass feet, and how they better move me forward.
BIO: Jen Knox is a creative writing professor at San Antonio College and Workshop Coordinator at Our Stories Literary Journal. She has authored a memoir entitled Musical Chairs and shorter works, which can be found in Annalemma Magazine, Bananafish, Narrative Magazine, Short Story America, Superstition Review and elsewhere. For more about Jen, go here: http://www.jenknox.com/