GEORGE COMES OVER after Emily goes to bed and he leaves in the middle of the night. We do it in the guest room, not in my bedroom where my husband's ghost sleeps.
When George arrives, we eat things I prepare, like pizza or sandwiches.
We talk. "What music do you like?" "Why don't you ike that kind of music?" We watch funny clips on YouTube: two men pretending to be teenage girls, movie stars getting drunk and recounting historical events, a compilation of cats riding Roombas.
Once the food settles in our stomachs (or not), once we've reached the end of the internet, he pulls me toward him and sticks his tongue in my ear or mouth or he licks my neck.
We move upstairs.
We tiptoe past Emily’s bedroom.
I never notice him looking in that direction. He doesn’t ask about the bedroom, about the child in the bedroom. George not asking about her is as startling as if he were asking me constantly. I’m relieved he’s not; it’s just startling.
We fuck, quietly but hard, in the tumult of sheets, my ears always on alert for the sound of Emily’s feet slapping on the hardwood floor.
George is an energetic, aggressive lay: he leaves bruises, bite marks. He performs like he’s competing in the Fuck Olympics. He aims, he bangs like he’s trying to bang right through me. He has no idea that I’m there, at the end of his dick. He holds my head down by a fistful of hair, face in the pillow—it feels as if he were trying to squash me. I make noises.
"Are you coming?" he says through clenched teeth.
I never come but I think about it all when I'm alone and get myself off. I think about my husband too, his attentive fucking, his hardness.
After sex, George tries to bury himself in me. He puts his face on top of my face, his heavy leg over mine; he roots with his nose behind my ears, he wraps his entire 170 pounds around me. I feel small.
In the middle years of our marriage, I wouldn't let my husband throw his leg over mine the way he loved to; I'd push it off when he tried. Eventually he stopped.
In the later years, we would have sex and then he would roll away from me, like post-sex intimacy was nonsense. I missed the leg, the heaviness of it.
Now I feel like a traitor because I'm enjoying George's body-contact hunger. I let him pin me down; I love his insistence and my smallness, the small hurts of bruises.
A FEW DAYS LATER, GEORGE COMES over during the day while Emily is in school.
"Can you tattoo white on skin?" I ask.
"You want another tattoo?"
"In white. A person's name," I say.
"Your husband?" He takes off his shirt.
My dead husband.
“Why are you taking off your shirt?” “Why am I here?” He smiles, moves closer and takes off my top. He pulls me toward him. His body is hot like a breath.
He has so many tattoos it’s hard to figure out which one I should like, so I pick one on his chest—the totem pole.
I lead him upstairs to the guest room where the white daybed has been left all slutty from the last time we slept together, sheet hanging over its edges like a tongue.
“SHOULD I DRIVE YOU HOME?” I say during post-sex snack time.
“Okay,” he says and peels a banana and deep throats it. He burps quietly, says, “Excuse me,” in a small voice.
I sneak glances at him as I tidy up. He is made out of sharp angles, but there’s softness to it; it’s child-like.
“What?” He looks up from his phone.
“Do you think this could ever work out?” I say without wanting to say it.
He says, “What?”
But he knows.
“Nina,” George says, the way men say the names of women asking these questions. He doesn’t say “Oh Nina,” but he says “Oh Nina” just the same.
“Fuck. Forget it.”
“Nina,” he says.
“I’m sorry I said that. I don’t want to talk about it,” I say.
“Okay,” he looks at me. He doesn’t smile.
“Let’s go,” I say, fighting the urge to fix his trucker cap; it’s all skewed. Maybe it’s supposed to be that way.
We walk to my car in silence. We drive in silence.
We stop in front of a duplex. He gets out.
I drive to the large park in the city, the one with a road bisecting it. I pass ravines, pools, tennis courts, playgrounds. On sidewalks there are troops of strollers, small dogs like hairballs. Hotdog stands. The trees are aggressively green, pollinating all over the place.
I park near a thick ravine. I get out. I walk through thorny bushes, their little fingernails scratching my legs. In the early years, after our miscarriage, I’d leave my husband in the car by the same ravine. He’d play poker on his iPhone and I would come back scratched, spent from crying, calm. My husband would say, “Look at your fucking legs.” We never talked about the non-baby baby.
Right now, I keep walking until the noise of people and dogs and everything else is behind me. Eventually, I find a small clearing in the bushes and I lie on the ground like a big, dumb drama queen and I try to come up with sad things to think about to make myself cry.
Ever since I met George I’ve been unable to cry. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.
DAYS TURN INTO WEEKS. George doesn’t call or text. There’s a void in my chest and this fullness between my legs that I can’t release. I walk around and replay George’s voice, the things he said while going at me: Who’s a little slut. Shut your mouth. Are you coming.
My daughter is a noise: mommy mommymommy mommy, mommy, look, look look look.
I look and I smile and I pet her head but she doesn’t seem real.
ONE NIGHT, I WAKE UP AND LOOK DOWN at my body and it isn’t me I’m seeing. I’m seeing George. The taut skin, the hairy chest, his belly.
I move my arm in front of my face and it’s his hand, those fingernails I paid close attention to: short, square, clean. A bent pinky. You notice the smallest details on lovers; a mole can set you into a bout of poetry.
I smile and something happens to my facial muscles—they arrange in a way that’s not familiar to me. It’s George’s smile. I have no control over what’s happening. George is a body snatcher. Or cancer.
I wake up.
TWO NIGHTS LATER, I rise above my bed and float toward the bathroom. Through a fog of slept-in hair and bleary eyes, I look in the mirror and George looks back. George’s smile. In-on-a-joke lip curl. I hold my cheeks with my fists, try to knead the smile out of my face. The smile is stuck.
My bladder is full. I fold myself in half on the toilet, my face—that smile—against my knees. I have to wait it out.
I wake up and there’s a wetness underneath me. I get up. I pull the peed-on sheets off the bed. I think of Emily ... changing Emily’s diapers.
This is a breakthrough for me. After that night, I’m fine.
GEORGE STARTS TEXTING ME AGAIN. And then we’re in a pizza restaurant and I’m eating prosciutto even though I hate ham.
We talk about dumb stuff: camping, movies, TV shows. He says he doesn’t believe that I watch that much reality TV, how does it not interfere with my job of translating poetry? Reality TV pollutes brains, he says, so how is my brain able to handle such dichotomy?
He says, “What?”
I shake my head, “Nothing.”
I ask him about his tattoo shop. He says there’s a new guy, someone who does scarification. Someone quit. White ink goes yellow in the sun. Don’t get a white ink tattoo yet. Maybe in a few years. Technology.
“Sorry. I’m a bit tired. Emily’s been up all night crying.”
“About what? Why was she crying?”
“She misses her dad.”
“That’s tough, babe.”
I say, “Thank you. It’s okay.” (He calls me “babe” like my husband used to.) “I’ve been thinking about you a lot,” he says.
I smile at him. “I’m sorry about last time.”
He smiles unsurely. He doesn’t remember what I asked him. He has no idea I was hurt. He just thought I was busy, like him.
I twist my fork in the long, flimsy ham ribbon and deposit it in my mouth.
“You look really fucking beautiful tonight,” George says and it sounds like something he’s rehearsed. He texted me that before: You are so fucking beautiful. It’s his signature line, the “beautiful” enhanced by “fucking.”
“Thank you. We can’t go to my house. My mother is visiting,” I say. This is not true. My mother isn’t visiting.
“We could go to a hotel.”
I picture going to a hotel this late; there, a pretty, young concierge clicking with clicky nails, white screen glow on her perfect face. Clicky click. I don’t want to deal with her small tits and long hair, some little bitch who’ll think George’s making a mistake by going with me.
“Take me home.”
“We could go somewhere else. A coffee shop. To talk.” He smiles wide.
I think of the totem pole on his chest.
I’ve never asked him about it. I don’t know much about him. We could go to a coffee shop, I could learn about him.
I no longer want to learn about him. “I’m really tired. Let me get the bill.” I shouldn’t be here at all. I want to go to the ravine. I want to say this to him—I want to go to the ravine—to see what his reaction will be. To see if he would call me crazy. But now I don’t even care enough to play pranks. None of this is about him; he’s just some kid.
THIS IS WHAT IT WOULD LOOK LIKE if my life was a Hollywood movie, if there was a woman playing me, falling asleep in front of the television with Tyra Banks saying, “Two beautiful girls stand before me but I’ve only one photo ...”
The woman would have rubber-smooth skin like Barbie and she would finally be asleep and have a vision of her dead loved ones in heaven: the husband is played by David Beckham and he’s holding a pink baby from a baby commercial—our first baby that was never fully a baby, just a clot of limbs.
There is a big party. Jim Morrison and Charlie Chaplin in a band. And here comes God! God! With a massive hospital cart filled with candy instead of rows of pills for my husband, and everyone reaches for the candy and stuffs it in their faces, dead David Beckham husband too; everyone eats the candy and everyone laughs and laughs, even Kurt Cobain!
In reality, in front of the TV—my sweat-soaked body cooling off, my face exhausted, sticky—I can’t fall asleep. I’m trying to distract myself with these jokes.
I’m trying to stop what’s coming. But then it comes, disregarding the comedy playing in my head, and the grief punches me right in the solar plexus. I cannot breathe.
When I catch my breath, it releases a waterfall of tears and heaves and, eventually, hiccups.
A different vision of heaven plays in my head. There’s a beach and fog, like on our first vacation ... there is too much fog. The tip of my nose felt cool, sharp with salt.
I look for my husband in the fog. I can’t see anything. Then I see him. I see me, too. We are us but in the future. We are in a Freedom 55 commercial, in white cotton shirts, and we are walking out of the fog and my hair is white. Sun! We are holding hands. Everything happened as it was supposed to.
What does grief contain?
All the impossible possibilities.