after Jeffrey McDaniel’s “The Quiet World”
In the shower this morning, I traced your name in the glass and tried to hold it in. My tongue flopped like a fish in my mouth. My chest ached, my lips slipped. Your name came out in a hushed prayer. I thought if I swallowed the words they would make me feel whole, but instead they bounced off the tiles and swirled down the drain.
I resolved to stay mute on my walk to work. But then I saw a man wearing your green cap, and I called for you. The sidewalks echoed. When he turned I saw he was somebody else. His smile was too white, his eyes too blue. He was too young and his face too square. Everybody stared. I fled. I told myself to stop the wishful thinking. But eight more times it happened. Eight more times I called you because eight men had clothes or gaits or napes like you.
In my cubicle, I answered all correspondence with email. I did not pick up international calls. I ate my sandwich quietly. I spilled hot coffee on my hand and bit my lip. My coworker asked me if I was hurt. I shook my head. At the end of the day, my boss appeared with a pink slip and an empty box. I tried not to cry while placing my dying fern and the photo of you inside. All my hiccups came out sounding like your name.
I went to a bar and composed the sentence I would use, counting my words like pennies. I wondered if you would be able to respond. I waited for the bartender to notice me and pointed to the tequila. When I finished, I raised my glass for another. After the third, my coworker walked in. Silently we threw back shots. When the tears started, he placed a hand on my shoulder and shook his head. Soon he was holding me.
Yes, I broke my reticence over the next few hours, but I want you to know it was all for you. When he fingered my hair in the cab, I whispered your name. When he told me my neck was beautiful, I whispered your name. When he kissed the valley of my belly, I whispered your name. And when he cried my name into the darkness over and over again, I lay beneath him and matched your name to mine.
Tonight on the phone, you dole out the words you have carefully saved to wash me in love. I say nothing. I know you believe I am quiet because I have squandered all my words, but this is not the case. I am quiet because of the words we were given today, almost all were spent missing you. I am quiet because I have only three left to say both love you too and cheated on you, and now, listening to you breathe, I don’t know which three to choose.
Karissa Chen is a fiction writer living in New Jersey. She is currently pursuing her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College and serves as the fiction and poetry editor at Hyphen magazine.