144 / 365 – Still

SARAH STRASBERG

I’m not used to sleeping with anyone. It’s been a long time. People think Erik and I just split up a year ago, two years ago, but there were years on the couch before that. The bed was my private refuge, the room at the end of the hall the place I could come to when the rest of the house wasn’t safe, with his unpredictable rages or his hard, angry silences. Sometimes Leah came and curled up with me. I didn’t want her to sleep in there, really. I wanted her company for awhile, to show Erik that she took my side. I didn’t want to be the lonely one, locked back in my room while they talked or laugh in the front room, in front of the TV. He always tried to pretend that he wasn’t banished to the couch, even though he’d been sleeping on it for years. He’d try to pretend he was just sitting out there, watching a little TV before he came in to bed. And she’d stay out with him, watching whatever he watched, laughing with him. They both knew I wasn’t going to come out and confront her, send her to bed. She knew I didn’t want to talk to him. She always seemed to know how she could make this situation work to her advantage.

I’d sit in the bedroom, trying to read, listening to them. Sometimes they only talked during commercials, interminable stretches of time when I couldn’t concentrate on whatever I was trying to do. Finally he would coax her to bed just as she was getting ready to fall asleep. And then I couldn’t sleep. I’d be wired from sitting there, listening hard, even though I was trying not to listen at all. In the morning I was always exhausted.

So if she asked to come in and lie with me, I let her, because it was better than that. Even if she fell asleep and I had to share the bed all night. I might lie there awake, too aware of her soft breath in the pillow next to me. But it was restful. She came from me. It’s familiar.

He falls asleep easily. Long and languid across the bed, his legs jutting out into bare space at the bottom of the bed. It’s a futon, a small one, the kind you buy for a small urban apartment. And that you keep in a North Dakota house, where it’s clearly too small, because you can’t afford another one. And because you never thought a basketball player would climb into it with you.

I run my fingers along his back, the smooth geography. Unfamiliar geography. The back flexed and curved downward, to where the curves meet at the small of his back. The shape of his back so perfect, as if it were chiseled, but chiseled from soft things. I touch his back while he lies quietly in shallow sleep. I am not sure this is mine, that I deserve this. Already my body arches toward his, he feels so familiar. But I hesitate. I thought this part of my life was over. I was no longer a loving, sexual thing. And it would have been, if he hadn’t first touched me, put his arms around me, pulled me close. I’d never have crossed that voice. I don’t know still if I ever should have.

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