We're all three sifting through the pile. Me, Lori and Guinea. Lori and me with photos in hand, Guinea with a tattered kitty fang dog-earing my senior yearbook.
Lori holds aloft July of 1997. Or was it 98? "What the fuck?" she says.
"Is this...? No!"
"Oh, that," I say. "Yeah, it is. Me and Drew. That was the summer I dated Drew Barrymore."
"Nuh uh!" Lori kneels back onto her heels, peers into the past.
"Yeah," I say. "Most of the summer and early fall, I think. That was taken in... San Diego. Or San Bernardino. San something."
Lori lowers the photo and Guinea leaps across her lap, hoping for a juicy bite of celluloid. A string of thick brown cat drool winds around Lori's finger.
"Really?" She wipes her hand and turns the photo over, looking for notes or a date. "You told me you only met her once..."
"Well, you only meet anybody once."
Her eyes growl. "Are you wearing lipstick?"
"Kool Aid," I say. I remember the Kool Aid.
We've been married like 18 months, me and Lori. It's still love. Still good. But I noticed a while back. Every few months she breaks out, like hives, in more and more ex-boyfriends.
"I thought you'd only slept with five guys," I say.
"I don't think I was counting Teddy," she says. "It was only once. And not very good. I guess I forgot. So... nine guys, I guess."
Nine? "What happened to six, seven, and eight?"
"Wait. Do BJs count?"
Biologically, and in every other way, it's true. Men do mature more slowly than women. Even with me being three years older, it's taken me longer to experience the same thing. But now it's happening to me. New ex-girlfriends, popping up like embarrassing weepy whiteheads. Today it's Drew. Impressed myself with that one. She's somebody, after all. Not like the guy that Lori hooked up with after Jillian's wedding, or the mailman her mom fixed her up with.
"What was she like?" Lori asks.
"Drew?" I daydream for a minute. "Fun, I guess. Like on TV. Perky, sweet. Kinda spacey. But fun."
It looks fun. In the snapshot we're hugging. I'm smiling with tight lips, Drew's guffawing. Behind us, a field of daisies. Drew and her daisies.
Lori's not talking to me, she says. She found the letters from Ally.
"I didn't know you guys dated! How could you hide these?"
"I didn't hide them." Truth be known, they didn't exist until this moment. Well, this moment or four years ago, depending on your thoughts on the nature of quantum fluctuations in a dynamic four-dimensional setting.
"So you just forgot to tell me? That you dated my boss? You forgot to tell me? Were you ever gonna say anything? Or were you just waiting for me to find these?"
"I don't know, sweetie. I just. I don't know. I thought it would be weird."
"Well, it is."
"I agree. Can things go back to normal now?"
I would wonder if it were worth it, but Ally's so damn cute. Maybe cuter than Lori. I know that's bad. That's awful to say. I'm a terrible man with terrible needs. It's a curse, these images in her hand. These images in my head. Ally, beneath me, over me. Surrounding me. Everywhere I turn, a mental photograph.
Guinea's making bread on my pillow, scratching my scalp on every third loaf. Guinea. The foster kitty we've had for nine months, half our marriage, with her extreme gingivitis and infections and scabs and fleas. She kneads us. Especially at night.
It's not quite three AM now. I'm never up this late. Not anymore. But when I was younger... with Drew and Ally and Marie and Sophia and Bo and Heidi Klum and
I was so much better then. Better with them. Stayed up late, but was never tired. Was thinner, younger, wiser, braver. I had goals, not dreams. More money than debt. I asked for raises, I quit my job. I was on the bestseller list. I was so much better.
With all of them. And with.
And it's happening. A new one. New and old, exciting but comfortable. The name pops into my head before the face. Simona. Last initial P. I see it on a name badge. In a bookstore. She was bright and nerdy, indifferently cute. Shimmering with otherness, but just like me. I was just there today, shopping. She checked me out. She winked at me. Like we shared a secret. I'd never seen her before. But
I sit up. Guinea darts.
Guinea's followed my ankles into the office. Into the closet. Into the boxes of old letters and photos. It's the first one I put my hand on. Me and Simona, 4x6, larger than life. We're sharing a pair of pajamas. Christmas morning. I'm holding up a gift. A book. It's on my shelf now. A book I did not buy.
I do not know what last initial P stands for. This makes me sad.
Lori's awake and watching.
"Nostalgic?" she asks. Tired. Bored.
"No," I say. "No. I'm confused. When did I have the time..."
"Never," she says. "Come back to bed or I'll kill you."
"Don't be mad," I say. "I love you. I never proposed to anyone but you. Never even dreamed of it. Not really."
I'm almost asleep again, my head warm in a kitty loaf, when Lori whispers, "Fucking liar."
She found a receipt for a ring I bought. Back in ninety-nine. Ninety-nine would've been Cynthia. Or Maggie. Or Laetitia. Katie, maybe. Or Nora Dinero, who I'd bumped back into on TV. Not sure. So much overlap. I shut my eyes and see them all, frozen in motion. Beneath me, over me. Surrounding me.
Maybe Lori and I are shot. Defunct. We're inventing betrayals at light speed. I think about calling Drew. But she's married now, isn't she?
But you know those Hollywood marriages. Not really marriages at all.
The thing is, I know they're here. The pictures of me and Lori, the letters, all the memories, everything we are. They're here. Under all this garbage.
Garbage I call it. That's mean. Mean to Drew and Ally and Simona. It's not garbage. Not really. But there's so much of it, so much clutter. So much to dig through.
It's become a nightly habit now, digging through my pile, while Lori sleeps on her own. Guinea's usually with me, pawing and chewing. Guinea. The foster kitty we've had for nine months, half our marriage, with her extreme gingivitis and infections and scabs and fleas. Kneading us.
But her drool's no longer brown and there's not nearly as much of it. So she's getting better, at least. I think we're officially keeping her. I like the no-strings-attached company, and she loves chewing on these photographs, this pile I can't find the bottom of. She chews and purrs and drools. And loves making bread in my lap, kneading thigh dough with dainty razored mittens. Milking her invisible mother.
Dreaming of the first love she ever knew, and still going through the motions.
About the author:
Henry S. Kivett is a (adjective) (noun) who resides in (place), North Carolina. He is married to a sexy (noun) and has (number greater than 5) dogs. His work has appeared in (a number less than 3) places, including this (noun). He is currently (verb ending in "ing") on a (adjective) novel about (trendy mental illness) and (adjective) ritual. Nearly all of his recent (noun) comes from madlibs.