Elizabeth O'Brien

Less than twenty-four hours after Judd and I split up and he shoved me onto the floor and broke nearly everything I own, Inky appeared on the doorstep of my building. My landlady had been the one to get Judd to finally leave when she'd screamed she was calling the cops if he didn't go this instant, so when my bell rang, at first I thought maybe she was returning to try and make me file a restraining order. But it was just Inky.

"Can I come in?" He was wearing the flashy black coat he and Judd brought back from their last New York weekend and smoking one of his expensive cigarettes.

"I guess," I said.

As he followed me back up the stairs, he saw where Judd had torn the flocked wallpaper and muttered, "Jeez."

I wasn't in the mood to entertain anybody, so I just went straight back to the bedroom and climbed into the warm gray hole I'd left in the bed. I curled up in there and pulled the covers back up to my nose and watched Inky take in the torn posters, the hole in the wall as big as a grapefruit, the downed curtain rods and heaps of clothes and books and records and broken glass, the brown pool of spilled Kahlua and the upended turntable.

"What a wreck," he said.

"Will you go get me a glass of orange juice?" I asked.

"Okay," Inky said, but when he came back from the kitchen a few minutes later, he was empty-handed, so I just closed my eyes again. From under my blankets I heard faint shuffling sounds. Then I felt a little draft of cool air as Inky slid in beside me. 

I opened my eyes. "Did Judd send you here?" I asked.

"No." Inky squirmed, getting comfortable, I guess, and I felt the fabric of his jeans brush my knee.

"Does he know you're here?" I asked.


"You didn't get the orange juice," I said.

"I couldn't find anything to put it in." His breath was all cigarettes and his face was apologetic.

"You could have brought the carton,"  I said.

It was probably around three, because the sun was thickening everything, and I thought, at least he'll have cigarettes when I want one. Inky always had lots of cigarettes, and I had smoked all mine during the party.

"He'd kill you if he knew you were here," I said.

"You're probably right," Inky said, and I wondered why he was here, but I didn't care enough to ask. Inky leaned forward and gave me a kiss on the forehead, not a flirty-sexy kiss but more like, brotherly. Then we both just lay there.

After a couple minutes, I rolled away to face the wall, which is how I usually sleep. I watched the orange-black pulses behind my eyelids. Then I felt Inky's arms wrapping around me, he spooned himself in around me. Our weights shifted together on the mattress, and he clasped his hands so I felt them in a fist against the bones of my chest.

Ordinarily I don't like to be held by men when I'm trying to sleep, but this was somehow okay. I wondered for about a second if Inky would try to touch my breasts or fuck me if I fell asleep, but I thought, No.

Then I thought, Who cares, and a stupid tear slipped out of my eye and across my nose and down my cheek, but I ignored it, too.

I went to sleep with Inky holding me around the chest, holding me like I was something heavy but breakable. Like an armful of record albums, or a hen, or a ripe melon. Something heavier than its size suggests it should be.

Elizabeth O'Brien lives in Minneapolis. She has work in or coming from Ploughshares, Tin House, Juked, Diagram, New England Review and others.

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