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She breathed deep, just like her therapist had taught her. If that coping skill didn’t work she’d have to punch her pillow.
That gimpy son of a bitch, she thought.
Connie lifted herself from the couch and walked to the fridge. She cracked a can of Miller’s High Life and drank hard, sucking the brew from the ice cold teat. Beer dribbled down her chin and onto her shirt, splashing her name tag. She tossed the can into the sink and grabbed another beer from the fridge. This one she took more time with, savored it like a lover, tongued it over and over, daring the cold aluminum to slice her tongue. She slumped to the floor and pulled the one-year AA chip from her pocket. And tossed it away without even looking at it.
Connie had finished the second beer and was ready for a third when she heard him knocking on the door. It took her a moment to clear the disappointment from her head, remember she had invited Marc over for a drink. The plan had been to watch him drink, to feel the satisfaction of being able to just watch and not partake herself. She did it often, that’s why she kept the fridge fully-stocked. It was an exercise in discipline, but more than that, it was her clinging to the life she’d told herself was over. Every few nights, another boy. She’d kiss them and taste the alcohol on them, let the taste play in her mouth while the men did what they wanted.
Connie clenched her jaw, tightened her muscles against her tear ducts, wiped her eyes and smeared her eyeliner. Another deep breath and she opened the door.
He was beautiful, the kind of boy she used to get, the kind only ten years ago she could have teased all night and then taken or dumped.
“Are you all right?” Marc asked.
“Yeah,” she said, sucking up the tears and snot. “Give me a sec? Want a beer?”
In the bathroom, she splashed water on her face. She heard Marc whistling their shared high school fight song as he flipped through the channels on the television. The song was a bittersweet reminder of youth, like his soft skin and smiling eyes. At least some things never changed. Her eyes were red and glassy in the mirror, but that would subside. She felt a familiar tinge just below her slight gut.
“God damn it!” she said. She lifted her skirt and pulled down her pink thong. Blood was already running down the inside of her thighs. She wet some toilet paper and wiped away the blood from between her thighs, smearing it. She grabbed more toilet paper and wiped it again, diluting dark red mess to a dark pink mess. She slid the panties down to her ankles and tossed them in the corner. She squatted in front of the cabinet under the sink, found the box of tampons and said a quick prayer, pleading it wasn’t empty. Still dripping, she ripped the paper wrapper from the last remaining tampon with her teeth. She stood, putting one foot on the counter, crouching to spread herself and inserted the cotton plug. She gave a little tug on the dangling string, assuring its fit.
What would he say? She wondered. He might still be down, a lot of guys didn’t mind. But the monthly ordeal always took her back to high school, to Ron Kinney on the football field at midnight after the spring formal. She’d liked him so much. Ron’s hard hands crept up her dress, slipped her lacy panties aside and dug his fingers into her. She froze. He pulled back quickly, held up his bloody hand in the moonlight.
“You red flagged me?” he said. “You are nasty, girl!”
Connie left the field, straggly hair hiding her hot tears, strappy heels clicking together in her hand as she ran. And back at school on Monday, her locker had been decorated with a hundred tampons. Each one dipped in Kool-Aid and taped up by the string, each one dripping into a collective pink puddle on the speckled tile.
Now, Connie stood up, washed her hands, looked herself up and down in the mirror, flattened her blouse, undid a second button, wiped the smeared makeup from her eyes. She smiled in the mirror and thought about her waiting beer. She heard the TV in the other room, and then Marc.
“Go go go! Yeah!” And she smiled, thinking of marriage, kids, laughter, loyalty, hope. She stepped into the living room and watched him as he drained the last of the beer, several empties at his feet. He looked to her, seemed surprised to see her, but then smiled. His eyes said he loved her, and when he opened his mouth he said so with a long, wet belch.
“You’re out of beer,” he added.
published 20 May 2013
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• Fire (#4)