Serial Behavior

You are ridiculously large in my small apartment. It's not meant for two, but you find a way to squeeze in. You like the kitchen best, because it's open, and because the red walls sponge up all the brightness. Some mornings, when you're pretending to your family to be out of town, you use my stove to make me breakfast. I like eggs, but you think I should eat new foods, so you make lamb with oatmeal-which is actually pretty good, but I won't tell you that. I don't want you teaching me things.

You wear your gray shirt today because you think I'm mad, and you know I can't resist it. You'd like to think that, that your short visits make me angry, jealous. And if they did, but I still came to you, as I did, you would think you were irresistible in your damn gray shirt. And though you might be, don't you wonder if maybe it's not you, but just the shirt? I wonder if it matters to you, but I don't want to know, because if it doesn't, that means I don't, either. And I am someone. Someone whose back rests on your soft chest covered in gray, whose head itches when you exhale into my hair, whose hands are closed in yours, whose body was under those hands last night when the air was sticky and the fan cooled our sweat and blew my hair into your mouth and made you laugh. You laughed without laughing at me, at my youth, and those are the moments that make me keep you.

Your socks, white against the blue rug, are clean and new. I know that, hidden by fresh cotton, the veins on your feet rise purple beneath loose skin and sparse, curly hairs, and that your ankles are small and pale. My own toe shows through a worn-away patch in my sock, so I hide it under my other foot. The socks you bought me last week sit in their unopened package in my bottom dresser drawer with the books you thought I should read. And I did read them. But I won't tell you that.

You tell me you can't stay much longer, you tell me for the second time this morning, lamb still on your breath, and I tug at a thread coming loose from a small hole in the knee of your faded jeans. Could I pull that thread and unravel you?

It breaks off in my hand and I let it fall.

I pull myself up, away from you, and look out the window, where the narrow street below teems with narrow, sporty cars. On the other side, the bank of the Rhine - grass and a playground, and a shallow arc of shore stuffed with ducks and swans. You come up beside me and look, too. Young women sunbathe topless on terrycloth towels and bamboo mats. But I know it's not their breasts you notice, though I do, because they're there. No, if you notice them at all, it is because they - we, I should say - are young, and you're not interested in the nubile body, but the nubile mind. Old enough for marriage, but as yet unharmed by time. It is our minds you leer at, a different kind of dirty old man.

You put your hand on my back and whisper in my ear that you'd like to walk the river with your trousers rolled. I laugh, because I've read the poem, and touch the top of your head, still full of hair. I give you this, this one admission of having similar knowledge, because my laughter comes before I can think, because it was not you who, at this window on a colder day, introduced me to Eliot.

And you are not the first to say such a thing and then decline to do it because you think it's childish.

When you bring up DeVoto's collection of uncensored Twain, I remember to tell you I haven't read it. I don't tell you that my favorite of Satan's letters is the third, because experience has taught me that, whether you agree or disagree, you will be one step closer to finishing with me.

At the playground across the street, young boys swing high on a swing set, not in unison, but one up, two up, three up, one down, two down, three down. Of course, they must jump from the highest point or they'd not be boys. I wonder if you held the chains tight when you were young, your small fists white, and tried to swing so high you'd circle the pole. Watching them makes me smile, because I still like a good swing now and then, and because one of the boys is you, long ago. I look up at you and you say you have to go, your eyes on them, and I know that while I see them as they are now, you see them as you are now, the men they will become, with lives and pasts and wives of their own.

You take your hand from my back and walk to the door, telling me you might come over again next week, depending. You stand in my doorway and wait for me to beg you to come as soon as possible. We do this every week, and I refuse to give you what you want. That is, after all, what keeps you coming back.

About the author:

Kristen J. Tsetsi lives in upstate NY with her husband and a few animals. Her stories have been published online in Storyglossia, Opium, Denver Syntax and others, and in print. Please visit her homepage at