Two Stories by Alina Stefanescu


Your Superior

There was the glass door to the office you walked past.

There was the smile like a wick you lit without wax when so walking.

There was the glass ceiling you said did not exist and also the fact that I was your boss.

Technically, your superior.

There was that night in the pub when I mentioned it. And the pitcher of beer on the table a light yellow, a wan urine hue, a cheap beer you drunk with abandon.

There was the way your hand held a beer mug as if to say things were happening— as if to say all over the world things had happened and this could be part of that. A drink could be what happened but also happening.

There was me.

There was a need to remind you that I was your superior. To use that word— superior— in all caps and purple font. To make the word sound massive, imposing, and definite. To leave no doubt. More triangle than triage. Not a flexible happening sort of shape.

There was your hand and the nails bit low.

There was an unapproachable hope that you might bite me. Do with me nail-bitten things. There was hope I placed in you and how your hands rose as you spoke double-helix.

There was the scent of Irish Spring soap which could never be childhood again. The soap in my mouth would not wash it. The first taste no longer light or laughable— the wingspan of your palm not a tickle.

There was a sedan parked near the metal trash bins. In the front seat, a streetlamp spilled over my knees and I could tell by the way hands folded she was nervous. I could tell she wanted something from you even if it spilled. Even if it stained.

There was something she wanted like cocaine but softer. Even if she’d never done cocaine and soft was an aperture she never used, a made-up magazine context.

There was desire inside a car bearing its denizens.

There was a vehicle not moving.

There was thunder that could have been the Bruce Springsteen CD.

There was a lull that could have been Nebraska.

There was the kiss that ran down my legs like ice cream seeping out the sides of a cone in a summer you can’t stop from dripping.

There was a thing not supposed to happen and what happens anyway after Heidegger— what happens once is a gesture you can’t contain in a moment you barely remember.

There was creepage outside the cone of event horizon.

There was never a no.

There was never a maybe.

There was soap and skin and the way steam froths over windows. There was no author of the strokes on the steam that may have been scribbles. There were fingertips— mine and yours— which pressed against the window. Also a smudge which may have been my head. But nothing we could attribute.

There was the office meeting in which you declined to work on my team. “I don’t know if I like how she manages,” you said. Then discomfort as eyes averted.

There was the glissando of your thumb across my lower back as you said it.

There was a skinned knee which stung when my jeans rubbed against it. A smart and a sting with each step in the office I felt the repercussions of what we did in the car and how the rain covered us.

There was nothing on your carapace to indicate what happened.

There was no cut or bite-mark or abrasion.

There was the sense in which your palm became a cup I wanted to be poured into. I wanted to say things that forsook grammar for new open spaces which others might read as violations.

There was a paper they would mark red with lines and xxx’s.

There was the office meeting when parts stung and smarted but I felt stupid.

There were those who said you didn’t like me; my management style too overbearing and detail-driven.

There was a cigarette break when you rubbed me raw with your too-wet eyes and Irish Spring aroma.

There were workplace rules about managers.

There was my being your superior.

There was pain as the raw knee scabbed and each step I took might crack it open. A rumor you didn’t like me. A kiss in the stairwell again and again. A like/unlike aperture. A body inflamed and swollen by inferior events.

There was nothing specific in the workplace manual.

There was a glass ceiling I rammed my head against.

There were windows in a car and cups of me spilled over.

There was being diminished and yet acting bigger.

There was why and why and why but not in earnest.

There was no earnest why.

There was come over.

There was how much I wanted and what you knew better.

There was rattle and hum as buses flew past and you told me I was not your superior. You would never permit a female above you.

There was the matelassae of your lips on my neck and the murmurmurmuring of what you wanted being equal. Two pairs of eyes, over-riveted. Two bodies broken into gears. Two forms of time and all of us present.

There was a thing I knew about time from road trips.

There was a thing I knew about desire from how a knee burns stiff.

There was someone you imagined and someone you avoided. There was the Foucault you’d never read.

There was a time when we were equals.

There is this. There is Now. A page on which I pressure you. An ink by which I am always yours. A story which renders one superior.



Tinder

The morning swaggers in on steel-tipped boots, a chill near the window ledge, a layer of wool I don’t want to wear and then remove in the elusive search for continuous physical comfort. A chime rings once and not again, so I might have imagined it. The warm slippers of a husband rest nearby. Once I thought you needed a man to build a fire but now I have learned to tend my own.

Stefan loved to start fires in the woods behind our house and watch them tell stories with shadows.
“The shadows talk,” he said, pointing to a bridge rising from privet, a child jumping rope in the sinews of willow shapes. I wasn’t one for such stories but it pleased me that Stefan could read them. A man needs something to enchant him in the dark and I preferred shadows to whiskey.

When you were but a shrapnel lodged beneath the rib  I never wanted, the moon opened its face and turned us to metal.  Stefan and I had been married for less than a year. One year of shared toothbrush, reading lamps, lost socks and missing utensils, old photos we couldn’t find, barbecue turkey, lace nightgown, matching cotton robes, divided-up-newspapers and matches, matches, matches. Burnt matches and wicker chairs. I knew you were not Stefan’s. Knew already your life was something between myself and the moon.

Forged from steel, a tiny seed, precursor to sapling, solid, not stolen, you revealed the hidden blade of centimeters, each meter a measure forward into the piece being played without me. The steel bone in my back grew harder and harder. Though I did not want to be hard– see, a girl grown to be soft looks askance at the hard parts, the chiffonless church lady faces. Whatever Stefan suspected is not what he said in the room at night with the lights out, as he placed his palms over my belly.  When he called you a shadow child, a story of  fire and wood, I did not silence him.

Instead, I found the old books written by women before me and studied the chemistry which causes. How diligently I applied myself to study. Oh I was a reckless, hands-on chemistry student with dirt beneath the nails, a taste for combustion on the tongue, a talent for scalding things. But chemistry is aqueous– a fluid, liquid solution– and you taught me to move on in search of tougher things.

With metal in the gut, I stole into physics. How does a fork remain solid through time? What one sees in a blade is divided into slits. What one sees is the shiny metal part of a face thrown back–it is not the whole picture.

When I began building fires, Stefan spoke of mettle. The unsaid things could be hard and round and white but still only visible at night. I lost the light by which others saw me–the Right Stuff intended to see his beloved wife. The moon’s music filled the unpadded spaces–never wed, never dead, a song in the head. A mind left too wide open. A naked silver mermaid worn loose on the finger.

All the truths I would tell you rang through the well furnished living room and then wandered away, nocturnal and secretive as dormice. In the house but not here where I might know them.

Stefan work on a rig two towns away. He called to ask how things were coming. He was going as he asked about coming things. I knew from the moon what he meant.

The dogwoods pulled their arms and closer. When you were born, my voice changed. The unlearned lullaby, automatic, a trigger which felt like silk one slides into cooing despite being a novice. Who has not learned her heart from the mourning dove’s bouquet?

A voice turns to music because it is note. The mutation is personal, a vrooming past castles and men on white horses of all metals admired your uncut manhood. Could not bring myself to cut even when the doctors threatened your health. White coated men on white horses or hearses, the moon on my tongue disbelieved them.

I tell you this because you were sleeping and the sight of his slippers in the morning, empty for months, touches us anyway.

I tell you this because I am not a man–and because I have not yet learned to hate what disappoints– the foreskin remains. I promise not to hurt you before you can return the wound with fist and force. Stronger than early birch and tulip bulbs, a world made from scrap metal and you and I in it, the wordlessness, a completion. A vow I need not make because nothing can threaten it.

I will never promise to be your one and only mother– you my one and only son– because I am and you are. So it rests.

In my lap, a series of maps where any dot might be home. A dot is a destination. For what is metal and moonlight if not shiny, legible stuff, clear as the lines in a clenched fist? A shaking rattle. Your crying with its three dismal chords, and my coo with its wheels turning and turning. The last instant before traction replaces us. And one single hold-me-now lyric.



Alina Stefanescu is the author of “Objects in Vases” (Anchor & Plume, March 2016). She lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner and three small native mammal species. She is the winner of the 2015 Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award and has work published in PoemMemoirStory, Tinge Magazine, Jellyfish Review, New Delta Review, Lunch Ticket, Change Seven, and others. She is currently bewildered by William H. Gass. More online here and at @aliner on Twitter.