Jeannetta Craigwell-Graham | Fiction
His father burned their trash every Sunday after church in their backyard in an old metal oil bin. Said it was obscene for other people to see what they threw away. When he turned twelve, his father opened the bed of matches and told Elias to start it up. Elias could not manage. It might have been the wind. Parts of the garbage caught, the newspaper ads for discount flæskesteg or the metallic butter covers, but the waste, rotting peels of potatoes, the congeal of a weeks’ worth of meals, his mother’s sanitary pads, which bled through the toilet paper wrapping, remained. Or maybe his father’s shadow on the other side of the would-be fire was the cause. One, two, then three matches down and his father took the box from his hand.
“You can get things to burn but it doesn’t make a fire,” his father said. “Go inside and get ahead on your prayers.”
They lived in a three bedroom, brick-sided one-level home. A Danish flag staked in the front lawn saluted on the wind’s command for birthdays and other important occasions. His father cut the grass weekly, long before it could even consider growing. His mother cut both the azaleas and the amount of sunflower seeds in the bird feeder because large black and grey crows corrupted the supply so the smaller birds refused to visit. Their mailboxes listed all three of their names: Jakob Kristofersen, Lina Kristofersen and Elias Kristofersen, although Elias never received any mail.
Inside, the living room hosted one leather couch and a small chaise. The television wall had no television. Two white, bell-shaped lights hung above the dining room table. A wooden cross was nailed to the wall right behind where his father sat. The kitchen was yellow. He was allowed one poster, of Jens Jensen, a member of the Danish national handball team, on the back of his door. His bed was always made. His parent’s bedroom had two twin beds, separated by one nightstand, and two cabinets, one for his mom and one for his father. Somehow he thought they would know if he ever went into their room so he never stepped passed the threshold.
The third bedroom was their praying room. It was completely white. Blackout curtains draped past the small square window onto the floor. Jesus’ picture, two tea lights and three copies of the Bible, one for each family member, sat on top of a small Cherrywood table. There was a rug on the wooden floor and no other furniture in the room. Elias’s father, Jakob, said they could not be distracted when they did the Lord’s work. The work took place in the morning, before dinner and before they went to bed. They kneeled on the rug, they looked at Jesus’ face in the candle light.
Every day Jakob started the work the same way:
Lord, forgive us, we come to you full of sin and evil. Make our hearts pure Lord. Like we never existed on this earth. We dedicate this time to asking for your forgiveness.
Today, before dinner, each of them confessed in their usual order: Jakob first, then his mother, then Elias.
Lord, forgive me. I wanted to strike my wife when she forgot her place. But I didn’t Lord. I remembered she is full of sin, and so am I. I will leave it in your hands to punish her. Make my heart pure Lord. Thank you Lord.
Lord, forgive me. I was ungrateful to my husband when he tried to help me. I thought bad things about him Lord. I forgot your wisdom in choosing a husband to guide me to the promised land Lord. I leave it in your hands to give me the punishment I deserve. Make my heart pure Lord. Thank you Lord.
Lord, forgive me. I wanted something today I should not have wanted. I almost took it Lord though I know it is a sin. Lord please wash this wanting away so I can be pure and good. Make my heart pure Lord. Thank you Lord.
When they completed their confessions, they prayed together silently. Elias was still thinking about the chocolate bar he had wanted from the kiosk. His father stopped his prayers and turned towards Elias. He always sensed when Elias’ mind strayed. His brow and eyes becoming a slow, black brand for minutes on Elias’ heart.
The work ended when his father blew out the candles, and because he did not like when either of them rushed from the room, he and his mother would wait in the dark until his father rose before they left their own places. He could remember moving too soon when he was six, his bladder bursting, and his father catching his arm and pushing him back to the carpet until he wet himself. His had been allowed to clean up after he had cleaned the rug.
On Sundays they ate food they did not usually eat. Today it was hamburgerryg, which had taken his mother hours to make, with a thick brown gravy and potatoes. He cut into the ham and heard the doorbell ring. His father answered their doors. Elias heard, Anne, their neighbor say she had an overflowing toilet. Wouldn’t Jakob, who was handy, come over and help? Now if possible because water was seeping everywhere. She was afraid it would ruin the floors. Anne was excitable and she always looked the part. Her skin seemed permanently in crisis. Pink as if she had recently been slapped. Her hair indecisive, half curled and half straight. She did not dress like other mothers; she wore belts around loose caftans and bangles on her wrists. Her teeth were bright and white as if she never drank coffee and everyone drank too much coffee in Denmark.
His mother cut into her ham. Her knife scraped against the plate unnecessarily. She took too many potatoes. The meat was tougher than usual and Elias had to chew it from the back of his mouth.
His father passed through the dining room to the backyard shed and returned with his toolbox. The top few buttons on his dress shirt were undone when he came back. It was fall and still chilly but perhaps Anne’s distress had made him warm.
Twenty minutes later his father returned. There were two more buttons undone, he could see his father’s undershirt and sweat under his arm pits. He dropped the toolbox by the door to the backyard and sat back down. He finished with his meal in minutes. He stood and they followed him back into the room. They kneeled and did the work. He said goodnight to his parents and closed the door to his room, reading and turning the light out when he was supposed to.
He woke in the night with the stars appearing over his head through the window. A groan and a slight thud slipped through the cracks of the door. He pushed off the covers. His mother or father may have fallen. They were so much older than him. Finding each other late in life, they were far more senior than most of the other parents.
He opened his door and the groans mingled with the sound of skin popping open. He stepped into the hallway. He could hear the noise coming from the third bedroom. He saw the candle glow extending from the room where they did the work. As he walked closer, it sounded like a rubber band skipping off bare skin. The sound grew louder and more insistent. He put his back against the wall and peered in.
His father was naked. In his hand, the good brown leather belt he wore to church. He raised the belt up and hit himself along his front. The strap landed near his heart communing with a bevy of other red marks against the pale skin of his chest.
Make my heart pure Lord. His father said to the time of his strikes against himself.
He reached for the white candle flickering in front of Jesus’s face and poured the wax on his legs and along his chest. He collapsed with his forehead to the carpet, his prayers unintelligible.
Elias walked back to his bed, holding his breath so he was lighter on his feet. When he reached his door, he thought he heard footsteps behind him. He gripped the knob against sound and slipped into bed. He pulled his covers over his head and prayed his father did not appear on the other side of the door.
The next morning his father sat at the dining room table with every single button completed up to his neck. He corrected Elias for slouching. Elias straightened in his chair and pulled the sleeves of his shirt closer to his wrist.
It was summer. His sixteenth summer joining his father in the watchman’s guild and the walk into the town’s city hall with long maces. They sang for the tourists and lit the street lights leading to the center of town. He had never considered the song’s words before. But today, he heard himself sing of a long forgotten time of dancing and wine in the streets.
During the ceremony, women and girls watched him for more than the perfunctory vacation picture. Long after they put the camera down their gazes remained; puberty had revealed a man, taller with a more economical nose than most, but who retained the cap of steel blond hair and good posture from his childhood. He stood above the women, not ever wanting to leave this spot. Then his father lifted his foot besides him, a signal to start the procession down the main street. He lifted his foot and followed.
He asked his mother and father to let him go to Denmark’s only Christian college. They visited, saw how the grounds were maintained and the distance between the men’s and women’s dormitories, how the steel rails in the canteen gleamed and agreed he could attend. It would be his first time away from home. When he moved in, he discovered the wooden cross, which had hung on the wall in the room where they did the work, on top of the box containing his sheet set. He was not allowed to nail into the walls so he put it on the shelf above his desk. With the desk’s position in the already narrow dorm room he only saw the cross briefly. When he first opened the door to his dorm in the late evening or when he dropped everything at his feet and collapsed in his bed.
His days were full. Classes, prayer; he joined the gospel choir and the handball team, he was roped into student government and nominated as secretary. There were parties – without alcohol – where they listened to music and danced till late. He heard the Rolling Stones for the first time. Learned each time he misunderstood a pop reference, or how fast he recalled Biblical references in scripture class, how much stricter his parents were than everyone else. The other boys teased him, though only to a point, because he still was, in this crop of men from across Denmark, by far the most good looking. His interaction with the girls on campus was limited to class and activities. He saw them at parties but could never turn their curious stares into something more.
He met Christina in the spring semester. The first glimpse of her concaving tummy, the way she laughed at all the bad jokes and never at the good ones, her bright pink nails, which were the inner color of an animal’s mouth, her brown skin, which was like nourishment on the days when the sky, people and buildings were all one color, were some of the reasons why he fell for her. But he knew that was not it. All the boys could fall for that. Her prettiness was too easy.
It was her heart.
He watched her: speed across the frozen lake behind campus down to the end, breaking just before the banks; shiver in a T-shirt and shorts outside the canteen door in November to convince people to donate their coats to the homeless; stick out her tongue at a professor’s back when he argued the feminist movement was misguided and ill-productive.
She had guts; spirit. In inexhaustible quantities.
She exposed within him an unknown secret. Even if he was miles away, his father’s eyes were still branded on his heart. His heart beat in disapproval, accelerated at the smallest mistakes, like forgetting to pray before dinner, until he was flush with blood and shame.
It was Christina who finally asked him out and he said yes. When parent’s weekend came, he introduced her and he could see they approved. She wore a daisy-print skirt which grazed her shoes. She fingered the small cross around her neck and excused herself from lunch mentioning her volunteer shift at the chapel’s youth program. When she rose to leave and shook his father’s hand, meeting him in the eye, addressing him as Jakob, as everyone did—but no one like this—his father picked at the lint at his pants. When he walked them back to their station wagon, his father finally spoke:
“She’s very forward, your young lady. Perhaps they do things differently where she comes from. You will be wise to reign her in when needed.”
He had no idea of what his father was talking about. Christina was from Denmark. Her parents were too. He also doubted he could ever contain someone like Christina. If his mother was a successful case, she had been muted for as long as she had been his mother.
“Yes,” was all he could think to say. His father nodded, patted his shoulder, his mother delivered a kiss and they were gone.
The three years of gymnasium went entirely too quickly. Before he knew it, he stood with a white sailor cap, waving at his parents and grandparents in the crowd. He linked arms with Christina and gave her a celebratory kiss. Afterwards they all piled into the obligatory trucks most young people their age rented when they graduated from gymnasium, except they would not go house to house to drink themselves full. They drove around the town sipping sparkling cider, playing music from the sound system. One drunk staggering out of a bar yelled “Good lord are you all sober?” The sound of his laughter overcoming DC Talk, the Christian rock band they were listening to.
He applied for some jobs in Esbjerg and so did Christina. Neither one of them particularly enjoyed the academic side of school and therefore had no desire to continue to university. He had some feeling of numbers so he found a position as an intern at an accounting firm and Christina, always on some campaign throughout school, secured a position with a marketing firm.
The night before they started work, they camped in her parent’s backyard, wanting to enjoy one more night in a tent after a summer of camping. Christina asked him if she could join him in his sleeping bag and they kissed and touched each other through their clothes as they always did. He was so focused on her touch he did not realize she had removed her underwear until he felt his penis nuzzling her center. It was not as if he did not want to. He masturbated regularly, despite his father’s frequent admonishments that he should never touch himself. Plenty of the boys in their gymnasium had lost their virginity.
“No. We can’t,” He pulled up his underwear and his shorts, afraid to even adjust himself properly with her still so close.
“Of course we can. We’re in love. We’re in want too.” She gripped the band on his shorts and tugged.
“Not until we’re married.”
“So saying words in a church will make a difference? Come on. I want to be with you. Forever.”
“Words in a church Christina? Are you suggesting matrimony means so little?” He slithered the sleeping bag down until they both were completely out of it. The temperature outside was cold and the grooves on the sleeping mat chafed his skin.
Christina kissed his neck. “Come now little Elias. Let me in.” Her hand dipped into his boxers.
He pinched her hand between his and she yelped, shaking her fingers.
“No. It’s wrong. And you know it. This kind of behavior doesn’t make me want you anymore. Quite the opposite actually.”
Christina blew on her fingers. “Ok. Ok. We won’t go to hell if we do you know. Let’s get to sleep.” Her bare back faced him from the sleeping bag as she turned over. He rubbed his hand across her skin to apologize.
As Christina slept, he put his ear to her chest to listen to her heart.
Thrump, thrump, thrump.
He listened again and there it was. An extra beat more than normal. He knew there was something special about her heart but now there was physical proof of his suspicions. It was why she wasn’t scared of anything, not even God.
He was hard again. He rotated his hips against his boxers and stopped.
He could wait. It would be better if he waited, wouldn’t it?
He did not have to wait long. Christina’s father died before the winter and she grew fearful her mother, in her grief, would follow quickly behind. Again, it was her who did the asking and he said yes.
Elias suggested holding the ceremony at his church followed by a reception at a beach hotel in Rinkobing. His mother and father had gotten married there and he told her it would be the easiest and fastest way to get it done. This was not true. The hotel still used a paper booking system and the owners were both hard of hearing.
His father joined for the visit, standing in the background of each room, watching him and Christina, but mostly Elias’ reactions, to Christina’s observations, like his face and whole body a kitchen timer set to go off. Elias saw the final seconds on his father’s face right when Christina held her finger under her nose in the dining room, complaining it smelled of fish.
“We’re taking it Christina. It’s easier this way. I don’t want to go through the trouble of going across town, or Denmark for that matter, trying to find your fairytale wedding.”
“But Elias, it’s only going to happen this once. Shouldn’t we agree on it?”
“We do agree. We agree we want to get married and a hall which smells a little like salmon isn’t going to stop us. And any debate over where this wedding will be held is over.”’“We do agree. We agree we want to get married and a hall which smells a little like salmon isn’t going to stop us. And any debate over where this wedding will be held is over.”
Christina frowned, then nodded and shrugged, and just like that, she did as she was told. Elias looked back at Jakob, who had a small smile on his face. Although no one but Elias or his mother would ever know Jakob was smiling because a smile was anytime he allowed his lips to move in a direction other than downwards.
Christina arrived days before, directing the staff on reorganizing the reception and dining area, lifting tables herself, calling in a family friend who was an interior decorator to help cover up the hotel’s shabbier bits.
Christina cried at the wedding and could not stop smiling. Even though it had not been the wedding she had wanted. He was anxious, with his father, members of the church, old friends, watching him from the aisles of the church and up on the dais. He knew everyone could see he was not as happy as Christina. Yet again, he heard the extra beat of her heart that he did not have.
Years later, he waited outside a restroom in a consignment shop when a teenaged boy exited the bathroom slinging a bucket outside of the door. Drops landed on the floor and on Elias’ shoes. He saw the name of the company, Quality Klean, on the boy’s polo shirt.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey sorry. Someone really messed it up in there. Took a little while.”
“You guys clean just here or also other places?”
“We’ve got a few more shops and some offices too. I’m just a part-timer. I’m still in school. Anyways, I’m off to the next site.”
After using the toilet, Elias mashed the paper towels further into the bin for the next customer. Since the wedding, this preoccupation with cleaning had extended beyond his own spaces. He would wipe the mechanic’s counter when he was not looking with a packet of tissues he kept in his pocket. Public restrooms were the most satisfying. He unrolled streams of paper towels and cleaned up urine. He especially loved flaking off excrement from the sides of bowls with toilet brushes in rest stops or fast food restaurants. Christina teased him that he must have the prostate of a pensioner because he took so long.
He left the shop empty-handed and went home to Christina.
“Tina. I think we should start a cleaning company.”
“What? Me and you? I’m terrible at cleaning. You know that.”
“We hire a team for the cleaning. You handle the marketing. I can take care of numbers and managing and training the cleaners.”
“But where would we get the startup funding? We’ll need supplies. Transport.”
“I’m going to ask my father for a loan. I know he’s got some saved up. He’ll give it to me if we can promise him the money back.”
“Are you sure you want to borrow from your father. If something goes wrong, isn’t he the type to, well, not forgive so easily.”
“Let me worry about him.”
He would never dare to ask his father. He had already decided to convince a friend who worked at a local bank to give them a business loan. He knew if Christina knew the real source of the funding, she would worry, then worry him. Since their marriage, he had grown accustomed to her easily accepting his suggestions and directions.
The loan from the bank was easier than expected.
“We can give you a nice, long payback period. How’s ten years suit? Now the interest. Its variable, smaller in the beginning, larger in the end. But that should not be a problem given the projections you’ve presented us.”
They quit their jobs, ringing to friends and family over a cheap bottle of champagne. Both of them rarely drank and that night, he took hold of her wrists and sank into her body with his full weight. After he came, he shook his head from dizziness. He had the same feeling of spinning around and around on one of those carnival rides where you can’t figure out if it’s the world or you that has tilted on its axis.
They named the company Fresh Clean and in the five years of building it up rarely looked back to consider how uncertain they had been in the beginning.
“We’ve passed our sales targets Elias. By a big amount actually.” Christina said looking around the computer to him at the opposing desk.
“Fantastic Tina. Name how you want to celebrate.”
A newspaper opened to the housing section landed on his desk. A black circle was drawn around a modern one-level house with huge glass panels and designer interior furniture.
“A house?” he asked. They rented an apartment near their office now and walked to and from work. He knew they would buy eventually but he had not actually believed they would see any profit from the business for years. He was prepared to work hard, like his father had in his own shop, to earn a living but not to become wealthy. Christina did not know but the loan’s variable interest had ratcheted up, and while they could afford the payments, the size of the interest notes scared him. The zeroes at the end looked like sinkholes for his body to fall into.
“Should we really? Maybe it’s best to invest it back into the business.”
“But this is an investment Elias. It will appreciate. And it puts us right in the middle of one of the best neighborhoods in Esbjerg. Think how many clients we’ll get. Can we just go see it?”
They booked an appointment for the next day with the realtor. They found him smoking outside and he ground his cigarette in the grass before shaking their hand.
“Rasmus. I live just down the road so if you like it, we’ll be neighbors.” He shook Elias’ hand and smoothed his parted hair back. His skin was tanned though they were in the middle of February.
“You can see it’s definitely a place you can grow a family in. I understand both of you are business owners?”
Elias was quiet. He did not like that this man knew he made a living cleaning homes and offices, although he had never cleaned one himself.
“In a sense, yes.” He walked to the back window where he could see a large backyard with a bird feeder and glass gazebo. The neighboring house was almost entirely glass, like a perfect little world inside a snow globe. The neighborhood, the house, was not a sort of place where you could burn your trash in a bin.
“Well?” Christina asked once they finished the tour of the whole house. Rasmus stepped into the next room so they could speak.
“It’s certainly a house.”
“I know it’s posher than either of us ever grew up in. But we can afford it. Everything’s going to be great. Trust me.” She smiled and kissed his mouth.
“How do we even know if the bank—”
“I’ve spoken to the bank. They say we can make it work.”
“Behind my back? So you’ve already made the decision. I’m just expected to go along with you and Rasmus.”
Christina touched his arm. “You know it’s not like that. I’ve been talking about getting our own place for months. I’m just excited. That’s all.”
“Excited.” He looked down at her and could feel his own face pulling into one of his father’s smiles.
“Yes. So I’ve done a little, innocent bit of homework. But Elias. Can’t you just imagine us here.”
He wanted to. He wanted to imagine both of them here. Right now, he could only see Christina fitting in. Could he stand in the kitchen of black cupboards and steel and cook food? Was he supposed to mow his own lawn or hire someone to do it? He felt uncomfortable with the unsaid rules this house seemed to have.
“Ok. Ok.” He said to Christina’s back.
He turned around and saw her grin. Rasmus walked back over. He was a good enough salesperson to know when he had closed a deal. He held out his hand to Elias.
It took them a whole year before they were able to furnish the house. Within that time they had Gabriel and they were busy tired parents. The business grew along with their lives and they hired two more staff so Christina could go on maternity leave and Elias could help out more at home. They were too busy to remember to pray at dinner.
When Gabriel arrived he realized he wanted to be a very different father than his own. He saw how Christina offered Gabriel only love, not discipline or judgment, and how Gabriel, though unable to speak, looked up with wet eyes reaching for his mother. He copied what she did. Picking him when he cried, going for longer walks than necessary to put him asleep just so he could look down at him sleeping.
His mother and father came to see the baby but his father only held him once. Saying with a nod that Gabriel appeared strong. His mother was jumpy when he coughed and then later began to cry, rushing from the room to find Christina. They ate smørrebrod standing at the kitchen counter, commented on how large the house seemed for the three of them, and left before it got dark.
The business took more of Elias’ time. They expanded into two new cities and hired new staff. He could barely keep up. Christina, on the other hand, came back from maternity with more energy. As if giving birth had finally severed any fear of death or consequences she ever had. She had done something that death could never do, give birth. She had new ideas and they argued daily about the strategy and direction of the business. She wanted them to rebrand, rename the company to just ‘Fresh’, go into new segments. She rejected his concerns, patiently and consistently, before he could finish his sentences. They would figure it out, she said. He felt like a chick in the nest waiting for her regurgitated answer.
Each time his parents came to visit, which was monthly, they made mention at the new items in their house, all bought by Christina, asking them how much they paid for them, until they saw Gabriel’s second birthday with the bouncing castle and the kids DJ and they stopped asking.
She even suggested they switch to a new church, which was closer to where they lived. The pastor had rings on each finger and she delivered her sermon via a power point projected on the white stone church wall. Elias grimaced at the smilies and clip art she used to deliver a point but Christina wanted to go back next Sunday.
The biggest change was Christina’s new obsession with the gym. She worked out every day. Sometimes two times a day. She came home in a sweat, insistent that he try the yoga class, the spinning class, body pump. She bought them both activity watches, thinking they could compete or it would encourage him to workout but he just used his for the time.
She was more and more herself, and therefore, less and less of Elias’.
She’d turned into a bitch, Elias thought, unexpectedly. Isn’t that what a bitch is, someone who doesn’t care.
He did not know who to express his frustration to. Certainly not to any of his employees. To his father would be unconscionable. He was left with his bank manager, who was an old friend, but had never been a confidant.
“Women are just always asking for it,” the friend said, taking a sip of beer from the side of his mouth. He had being doing it since they arrived. Elias at first thought it was some sort of accident but the friend continued to drink from the left corner of his mouth into his second drink.
“Whether it’s just a slap. Or getting their face rubbed in the new pussy you’ve found. They never get enough of being put in their place. They love it actually. When we show them who’s boss.”
“I’ve never had that problem with Christina. She respects me.”
“Sounds like it.”
“She does. Listen maybe I’m just imagining things.”
“We men are never wrong about these things. Women’s intuition my ass. Should be men’s intuition. Here’s what you do my friend.”
Elias looked up from the rim of his beer, which was still full, and looked at him.
“Take physical control of her. I’m not talking about telling her what to do. That’s just words. You need to control her body if you want to control her mind. Fuck her when you want. Dress her up how you see fit. Make her scrub the goddamn floor with a toothbrush until her back starts to ache. Anything so she knows, she ain’t got no control.”
He stayed for the friend to finish a third beer although he wanted to go. It was silly to think an outsider would understand his relationship. His suggestions sounded frankly like abuse and he wasn’t even sure the man was married. He certainly did not bring up a wife or kids, and he leaned back in his stool nearly every time a woman went past them, no matter what they looked like. He went home to find Christina turned towards his side of the bed and he knew himself to be foolish.
He was fiddling with his watch at work when he noticed Christina’s activity monitor was still linked to his own. He scrolled through her last week. She had blasted through her exercise, standing and move goals every single day. He could see her goals and the times of the day she was most active. An alert popped up.
Move Goal reached. Great job Christina!
He must have toggled the alerts on. It might be fun to tease her about how far she was on her daily goals. He flipped back to his watch face thinking he would join her for another class. He owed it to her given the substance of his thoughts. His doubts.
His watched buzzed a few times a day with alerts. You smashed it! Award! Your best exercise goal yet! He watched her stand in the office in pace with the alerts on her phone and laughed. She laughed back although he was uncertain if they were laughing at the same thing. It did not seem to matter because it was the closest they had been in months.
Their expansion to Aarlborg was floundering due to a local partner’s financial difficulties and he never made it to a fitness class. He waited expectedly for the buzz at noon when she went to work out and smiled at her predictability.
One day, while he was on the phone with the Aarlborg partner, his watch buzzed. It was three pm. Strange for her to reach her exercise goal now. There wasn’t a class and she should have been on the way home after picking up Gabriel from school. He rang her phone but she did not pick up.
“Busy day?” he asked when he got back home.
“You would not believe. I ended up running around after my workout and I’m beat.”
He was satisfied with her explanation, but as soon as she put Gabriel to bed, he fucked her against the glass window facing the birdfeeder.
“That’s the spirit,” she said as she pulled up her underwear. She went to the kitchen counter and bit into an apple. He went to the closet for the glass cleaner and wiped the finger prints and streaks of breath from the window.
The next weeks were so busy he almost ignored her alerts. But then suddenly, he needed distraction from the bank manager’s constant phone calls and the check-ins on when he expected to pay the last few months’ loan payments and he noticed how, more and more, Christina’s physical activity never seemed to match her calendar.
Her move goals would rocket off the axis at times when she should have already finished her workout. He could never find ways to get her to go into more detail about what she was doing. He settled for ‘hectic’ or ‘dealing with a client issue’ or some other generalized way to describe busy work. The question, without any curiosity from Christina about his day, made him feel insignificant. If he went by her watch alone, she was doing fine without him. She was physically in the best shape of her life. And he could see it in her skin and the way every curve in her body was playing like it was miming, perfectly, its opposing side.
He felt time-traveled to the time before they were together, where it was him watching her be obliviously alive.
When Christina stood next to his computer going through the numbers, he thought he could hear her heart through her shirt. He tapped his pen to the time of the beat until she stilled his hand and told him to go for a walk.
When he came back, she was gone. He checked her monitor and saw a spike in her activity. He went to the gym’s homepage and looked through the class section. There was no class happening now. It was frost weather so therefore too dangerous to run. He left the office and drove around the town, looking for her blue BMW. There’s a reason why they call it a watch, he said to himself with a laugh. His best laugh.
He stopped a few times, thinking it was her, pulling up behind the car and waited minutes for the wrong person emerge from some building to claim it. She could be anywhere.
Her activity monitor was as strong as ever.
He had the distinct feeling some part of his reality had broken off. He began to dream of her in the same room as his father. She was licking up his father’s wounds with her tongue. Her tongue was patterned red. Blood on her cheeks and nose looked like it came from an ink stamp.
He recalled the story from school of a man going mad over the sound of a heart. But this was not what was happening. He just wanted to know how she did it. What was it really, which made her heart so much more alive than his own.
She sat now. Opposite him at the dining room table. Face pulsing with the same blood coming from her dear heart. Her hands under her chin like the ceiling angels in their church. She would tell him where she had been. The cunt. Isn’t that what a cunt is, someone who thinks they can do what they want.
Jeannetta Craigwell-Graham is a Caribbean/African-American writer based in Ebeltoft, Denmark. She is a 2021 Tin House Winter Workshop Scholar and Hurston/Wright Writer’s Weekend Summer 2021 participant. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, X-R-A-Y, Litmosphere, as a second place finisher in their 2023 Lit/South Awards in Fiction, NY Writers Coalition Black Writers Program Journal, Andika Ma, and an Owl Canyon Press anthology. Jeannetta is also the co-host/producer of The Write Attention Podcast. She is currently working on a novel trilogy incorporating family history and horror mythology from the African Diaspora.