The grad student came over yesterday. My best friend, Susie, has deemed him to be “the grad student” to emphasize my five year seniority on him and my lackluster energy for my current career selling books at The Independence, an independent bookshop at the corner. When he came over he had these chivalrous tendencies. He washed his hands instinctively, took off his suede loafers, and draped his heavy felt coat over my desk chair. He smelled like a zesty aftershave from one of those certified shaving shops, not a CVS brand.
“I missed you,” He whispered.
He tugged at my little love handles, pinching my flesh. We had only hung out one time before this.
The baby blue plate with the white polka dots and the pellet sized chips on the rim is my favorite. I made my favorite sandwich when I didn’t know it was my favorite sandwich for the first time on that plate. Turkey, mayo, cranberry sauce, lettuce, stuffing all on brown whole wheat. Thanksgiving gone-rogue in July. But, now the sandwich has become my staple. A year round go-to. The heat was blasting to compensate for the cold, night air. Scared to tamper with the finicky thermostat, I was sweltering. I sat in it. Every move I made resulted in a wad of sweat that accumulated under my thick brow and dark pits.
I first went out with the grad student on a Sunday. “A holy day,” according to my Roman Catholic mother. If I had told her she would have given me an earful about the sins I was committing by not showing up to the Lord’s house but instead choosing to go out with yet another gangly boy clad with stringy hair. So I spared my auditory nerves with purpose. But the grad student was in business and from his dating profile, I thought he was a catfish given his credentials. He was a first year business student at “the small liberal arts school in Cambridge.”
Susie once told me to never get involved with a man in finance. I caved. He wasn’t very tall per say, but about 5’9 with a lean build and toned torso. He had this strawberry blonde hair and a collection of freckles I would uncover all over his shoulders and back.
“I am from Brussels.” He said on our first date over coffee. He had a slight intonation in his voice and a medium-thick accent. “But I was in Canada for undergrad. Mcgill.”
I sipped my coffee, now cold and congelead with milk fats, still unsure if I was attracted to him or not. He looked a little like my former boyfriend, Jonah in the eyes, the same deep pecan hue that would swallow my gaze whole. He had the same hair swoop as him too, it went to the left side of his part. He was starting to grow on me. I shuddered.
I chucked a good smear of mayo onto the airy brown fraction of a sliced loaf and stuck a few slices of the cold cut on top as I heard the toilet flush.
“Hey, Pau, how was your day?”
He walked into the kitchen still in his navy blue puffer and soiled wool socks.
“Good. Sold a few Kafkas and copies of Derek Walcott’s Omeros.”
He planted a cold kiss on my forehead, warming up his lips with the dew on my skin.
“The snow is awful out there. I just spent two hours shoveling the driveway.”
Both of our phones dinged. Weather Alert. Snow Storm. Shelter in Place. Fuck.
He was supposed to leave last night but he insisted that he stayed longer to help with the shoveling and the “manual labor.” How sexist of him. Maybe, Susie was right. He pressed the home button on his phone and read the alert.
“Guess I’ll be crashing here for a few more nights if that’s okay with you, Pau?”
“Sure. That’s fine. Wouldn’t want you to get caught in the storm anyway…”
I lingered for a second at the counter before heading to the kitchen table. Maybe he should get caught in the storm. I cut my sandwich in half in one clean diagonal. My coffee began to burn.
Jonah and I dated for five years on and off. For about a composite of those two years, he had to “work on himself” and his “big plans.” Note to self, never date an entrepreneur again. He was the kind of guy to write grocery lists with his left hand, even though he was right handed, because he wanted to “practice his dexterity.” Despite not being able to read whether we needed biscuits or brisket on the grocery list, I slowly began to keep these lists out of posterity. It was like keeping little bits and pieces of him, even if he was right next to me. I would tuck them into my purse, slip them into my jean pocket, or fold them up in a notebook. Everything he produced I savored whole heartedly. Chicken scratch and all. He had the mind of a computer but worked at the pace of a child, frantic and knowledgeable.
The night he told me he didn’t love me anymore, I ran to the bathroom to empty my stomach. He told me he had been sleeping with his co-worker, Nicole, and then he just left.
The following week, I downloaded Bumble. I wanted a rebound. That’s where I saw the grad student. We matched. He made fun of my choice of television on the required prompt – Real Housewives of New Jersey– but I got him roped into an episode twenty minutes into our conversation. We ended up watching three episodes together over facetime until three in the morning.
The first day of our sheltering, the grad student and I crammed into my one story home. The maroon color on the clapboards was petering off and the shingles resembled patches of eroded corkboard. The eaves were overflowing with debris and soggy leaves grown moldy. On the couch in the living room, we spooned watching old episodes of Real Housewives of Atlanta and eating stale Lucky Charms from our palms. He was frisky with his hands and I often shifted positions or used it as an excuse to get up and grab beverages for our thirst.
On the second night of his overstay, he made a bland chicken. I had to smile and hide the fact that I thought I had a virus because I couldn’t taste any spice, besides dripping chicken juice and olive oil. His insistence that I try his “famous green beans” made me squirm. There was nothing famous, let alone good about them. They were over-boiled and had no snap left in them. He was imposing his food on me. Jonah knew that I hated green beans, especially the French ones. Too long and stringy. Whenever Jonah made anything green, he would consult his plan with me first and almost always default to broccolini. After clearing our plates, we sucked on peach pits and I savored the sugars, praying that they could cleanse my palette from this monstrosity of a meal.
It was Thursday night when we were laying on the couch. I was re-reading the first two lines of some book I found on psychological trauma in the bookstore. For over five minutes, I was distracted by the fact that his sweaty feet were too close to my face. The entitlement.
“Hey did I ever show you this picture?” he pulled his torso up and leaned against the flat, scratchy, leather arm of the sofa.
“Which picture are you talking about?” I replied, barely looking up from my page. I forced myself to re-read the lines again as his voice was now the nuisance.
He handed me his phone, a screeching brightness emanated from the small screen. A group of fifty people stood in front of what looked like a waterfall at a resort. Some ethnic island where the beaches are full of silky sand granules, the bluest salt water, and overflowing white tourists.
“It’s me with all of my grad student friends.”
“Oh no way. Which one are you?”
“The one in the middle. Are you stupid?”
I froze. How dare this motherfucker. Calling me stupid? In my home? When he couldn’t even make it back to his janky apartment before this snowstorm. Maybe he planned this all along? To be forced to stay here with me, just at his disposal. Eating my Lucky charms and using my kitchen utensils for bland meal preps. Pissing in my toilet and never putting the seat back down. He can’t even cook green beans correctly. I jabbed the phone back into his hand.
“Oh.” I scoffed.
I read the two lines in my book and shut out the predictable part where he revealed his wealthy friends’ parents paid for the trip. When he finally shut up, I continued onto the third line of this book, which I still knew little to nothing about.
Three days had passed and the grad student and I were locked in by the storm. The air was so thick that the icicles on the eaves didn’t even have much of a drip from the sun beams. The path that he had shoveled was blanketed once again by layers of powdery flakes three feet deep. When he asked me to get him water, I gave him tap water in a plastic cup. The bastard doesn’t deserve the Brita. Every morning and night, the grad student put his toothbrush on the right side of the sink. The right side is always my side. Jonah always put his brush on the left. There was a twinge and twang in my bones before I dragged myself to bed.
It was a Sunday in July when Jonah and I went to the Independence, on a whim, twenty-four hours after moving into the neighborhood. The building was colonial style and dark purple. Upright yet with a dusty interior of sturdy oak shelves lined with books in alphabetical order by author. It was dim and two single bulbs could fill the space. While I chatted with the owner about the open job position on the flyer by the counter, Jonah slipped a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude into my canvas bag that he was carrying for me.
We met in college. We were in a magical realism class and were assigned to read One Hundred Years of Solitude. He sat next to me on the fourth day and asked if I hadn’t read the book yet either, and I smirked and said no. The rest of the class we spoke in whispered tones about how confused we were and yet we made fun of the students’ comments on the abstract themes and the way they threw around big terms like “elitism” and “capitalism” every two seconds. In case you are wondering, we never read the book, but there was a slim chance that we would still try now that he stole a paperback copy from this poor independent bookstore owner. I got the job. Now being the bookseller’s employee, made me feel less bad about Jonah’s thievery.
The green spine on the bookshelf was bright. I picked it up and began reading. I was still on the first chapter of One Hundred Years of Solitude laying on the couch when the grad student told me that he was going for a walk, to get some fresh air, and clear his head. I nodded and smirked as he headed for the door. Finally excited for a moment to myself, I turned on the television and made a pot of coffee. I watched a good chunk of A Different World and an episode of The Real Housewives, before the phone rang. My mom had been calling me daily to check up on us and see how we were fairing with the storm. I checked my phone but it was an unknown caller.
“Hello?” I said into the receiver. I heard a woman’s voice, a bit low and raspy.
“Hi, is this Pauline Esmerald?”
“Yes, may I say who is calling?”
“This is Henrik Murphy Hospital. We have your husband.”
“Husband? I think you have the wrong number, I’m not–”
“Andrew Garmond. We found him passed out in the snow. We have made some progress…”
The grad student. Shit, I did it now. I killed him. I let him go outside and now his life is in my hands and this psycho on the phone thinks I am his wife.
“According to our records, during the storm, a live wire from a phone poll fell on Chester st., right where we found him. When he stepped onto the road, the ground was electrically charged. He was electrocuted pretty severely.”
“I’ll be right there.” I said after blocking out the rest of her message.
I grabbed my coat and slung it over my shoulders. I grasped my keys and opened the door.
Then, I remembered the coffee.
I took a deep breath and poured a cup. I unraveled my parka and hung up the keys. I sat back on the couch, folded a corner on page sixty-six of Garcia’s masterpiece and watched another episode of Real Housewives.
It was 9 p.m when I checked the time. I made my Thanksgiving sandwich on the blue polka dot plate and ate at the kitchen table with the company of my teeth on bread. When I went to brush my teeth, I moved his toothbrush from the right side to the trash. I took a hot shower. Steam clouded the mirror into a thick, fresh smog. Before getting into bed, I walked over to my purse and pulled out a grocery list. I tried to read the first item and was stuck on anchovies or alfalfa sprouts. I tucked the list under the silk folds of my pillowcase. For the first few hours, I was shivering from the open, cool, spot now on the bed, but after an hour, I slept like a baby for the rest of the night.