Ashley Strosnider currently reads, writes, and studies in South Carolina, where she’s working on an MFA in poetry, for what it’s worth. She also co-edits poetry at Yemassee, and plays outside as often as possible, despite the humidity. This is her first publication, but stay tuned for her poetry forthcoming in November’s Word Riot.
“We should have a kid,” he suggests one Friday afternoon when she drops him off after work, but she just rolls her eyes because she knows he doesn’t mean it. They’re not sleeping together.
She’s so good on the outside that her vanity is rotting her to the core, and he’s a sugar-hearted hard-ass, and both of these things are well-concealed secrets, but they know these things about each other because they’re like red and green at Christmas time, orange and black at Halloween. They are not in love.
She counters, “We should probably start with a puppy.”
“A puppy then, I don’t care,” he gives in. He’s holding his flannel shirt bunched up in his lap. “I just wonder how different we’d love it.”
She rolls down her window and turns off the car. He scowls because he loves air conditioning, but sometimes when they start talking they keep at it for hours, just sitting in the car, and when his roommates go out on the porch to smoke they look over at the car with arched eyebrows and shake their heads because they know she’s not sleeping with him. She pulls her feet up underneath herself in the driver’s seat, settles in for the long haul. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I think you’d love it less than me, but more consistently.” He’s looking out the window, counting birds on the power line, and she’s watching him, expecting he’ll shoot them with imaginary bullets from an imaginary gun.
She takes a deep slow breath and she resents the word less, that she loves less because no, she won’t sleep with him. Not now, not tomorrow. He’s right about one thing: she revels in consistency. “And?” She nods, inclines her head to the side, bites her lip, wraps her fingers around the top of her foot. When they start talking, the whole world starts to revolve around them until it picks up speed, swirling like a penny dropped into one of those yellow plastic tornado funnels science museums and zoos keep around for donations. These two just talk quicker than most other people—easier, too—lips pursed then opening, tongues dripping from the roofs of their mouths to the backs of their teeth. And his tongue slips out, smoothes horizontally across his bottom lip, full, with a little crease in the middle and always covered in medicated chapstick, the kind that comes in the light blue tube. And she bites her own bottom lip when she listens, which means she’s waiting her turn to talk.
“Remember how I said I was going to name it Communism?”
She laughs. She remembers.
He smiles and it shadows behind his hand as he scratches his knuckles across the short red hairs on his cheeks, which indicates he’s thinking. He was embarrassed the first time she pointed it out, and every time thereafter, so this time, she just doesn’t.
“I just think I’d love it a ton when it was good, and I’d play with it and mess with its ears, and love it all up, you know?” He holds his hands up in the air like he’s cradling an imaginary cantaloupe right above his lap, then tilts them back and forth, up and down, like he’s messing with a puppy’s ears. “And I know you’d still love it, even when it was terrible. Even when it was barking or shitting on the carpet or something,” he raises a hand, points out the window, and shoots an imaginary bullet at a real live bird. “I, on the other hand, would be patient for a few minutes, and then I’d probably start yelling and want to kick it in its dog-chest.”
And she laughs, because what amuses her is his usage of the phrase “kick it in its dog-chest,” which she finds funny. Dog-chest is funny. Kick Communism in its dog-chest. She laughs harder, and he laughs too, she smiles at him through eyes narrowed by smiling, at his big blue eyes beneath crinkled brow. She realizes, vaguely, that she should probably be appalled, that if other people were listening, they’d be dizzied and sick while he talks about kicking dogs, conditional love.