The Death of Co-habitation: A Concerto in 3 Parts
by Marni Borek
We reveled in urban squalor because an expensive education does this to our kind. It excited us to sleep on the floor -- we were too tired to care, having spent months correcting our credit reports and filing suits against Bally's Fitness so we could get an apartment. When your father finally backed us we decided to lead an uncomplicated life. You mastered the art of cooking Chinese mustard greens on the hot plate and I put on tubesock puppet shows to fill the void of digital cable. To show your appreciation, you brought home an Atari machine from a downtown thrift store and we played Space Invaders for hours. You kicked my ass and I vowed that if I ever found Ms. Pacman, you wouldn't be so lucky. You grinned and my heart practically burst seeing the remnants of dinner caught between your two front teeth. So endearing.
Then something horrible happened. I spent a weekend on Long Island -- in my childhood bed -- and found myself craving something to cushion me -- something more than your shrinking body, which had wilted from too many vegetables. So I secretly took on jobs outside the non-profit sector. 36 hours a week washing dishes, waiting tables, blowing balloons up at children's b-day parties. I bought us a beautiful mattress -- no frame to keep it simple.
It wasn't long till we gave into the decadence of lower-middle class life. You found a job in sales and by summer we had an air-conditioner and a microwave.
The apartment was 450 square feet but wasn't square at all. We learned to cut corners. A 3-sided kitchen table with four folding chairs. A bed on rollers positioned on the diagonal. Wood boards and cinder blocks of various shapes and sizes to hold books. Such were the sacrifices of living without. But we were biding time (for what neither of us could explain). We watched the clock in anticipation.
Only one object could free us from slavery to measurement. 74 inches of perfectly symmetrical space for a 72 inch couch. I had 210 dollars. You had 199. Enough for a low-end pullout sleeper and a plastic slip cover. We flipped through the IKEA catalogue at your insistence, even though I hated mass-produced goods that required assembly (such a paradox to begin with). After a few rounds of page flipping, name-calling and two paper cuts, I suggested we try a discount furniture shop.
We ventured out onto 5th and 21st, only a few blocks away from ABC Carpet and Home, a nirvana for self-proclaimed interior designers. I knew that together we'd never belong to the caste that bought Eames and Biedermeier. But if I were to dispose of you in a year or so and find someone more ambitious, I just might move up a notch. For the time being I was sentenced to reproductions of reproductions constructed of foam and particleboard.
To the left of the first staircase in Metropolitan Design Center, you found our treasured couch. Split pea green ultra-suede with removable armrests. The salesman insisted it was a best seller and offered us 100 dollars off. You settled back into it, crossed and uncrossed your legs, slumped forward and nodded your head. This was the one.
We weren't informed of the free static charge that came with it. Each time we reclined in compromising positions reminiscent of happier years, sparks flew -- momentarily stalling our actions and forcing us to reconsider. Even with daily doses of Static Guard it still gave off small voltages. We surrendered and deemed it a useless centerpiece.
When people asked what was happened to us, we told them the electric current was tearing us apart. After declining to invest in a potential disappointment you settled for a kitchen stool. I chose a pillow propped against the bookshelf facing the clock.
If I watched it close enough, maybe time would go faster.
It's your turn to pay the rent, you told me. You leaned against the kitchen sink in your usual after work attire -- torn underwear, Elvis Costello t-shirt and tubesocks with faded magic marker stains -- sucking tomato sauce out from under the hard, cheese layer of a slice of pizza. I watched you, slightly nauseated, and wondered why I no longer found you attractive.
We both wanted out of this. But our lease wasn't up for another 3 months. I didn't know how much more I could take, knowing you were always only feet away and outside that door there was no one to talk to. We were the last of the over ten and under forty-somethings in the building. A family of eight had just moved into the last vacant space next door, where they packaged curry to sell to local specialty markets. Now you didn't even smell the same.
I decided we should destroy the place and you agreed. But the only way to do it right was by burning it down. We took turns at different posts monitoring the comings and going of neighbors to pinpoint the time of day when most apartments were empty. After careful analysis of our data, we marked our calendars and fought impatience until that designated day when we called in sick and doused the floor with gasoline. We were about to exchange our last terms of endearment and head towards the fire escape when you discovered we were out of matches. I ordered you out to get some from the liquor store downstairs so I could pee for the last time.
In the bathroom I said my good-byes to half-empty shampoo bottles, wads of hair and cracked tile. Things would be in order the next time around. When I reached for toiletpaper there was none -- a common occurrence. So I followed normal procedures, searching behind the tank for that one orphaned scrap that was never there anyway. When I heard your key in the door I screamed your name, but there was no answer -- only the rustle of paper -- so I assumed you were coming to my rescue. I waited a few seconds and screamed your name again just to be sure, but still nothing.
It wasn't till I smelled the smoke and heard the familiar crackle of fire that I realized --
you'd left me here to drip dry.
About the author:
Marni Borek lives in New York City, where she's trying very hard to produce short stories that pass the 1500 word mark. Her short stories have been appeared online in Hubris, Poor Mojo's Almanac, DIAGRAM and TopWriteCorner. Her work is also featured in the new print journal Si Senor. She's currently working on a collection of short stories. Main theme(s): meat, families and compulsive behaviors.