Little Brass House
Mary Miller

Now that I’ve finished grading, finished everything here that there is to finish, I’m in bed, watching the occasional big-winged bird fly by, listening to the crackheads smash their words together. My roommate took the curtains. They were hers. Still, it was a shock to see them gone—so many trees, so much light. She left two days ago and already the crackheads know I’m here alone. I take out the trash, shove her old posters and plastic containers and wine bottles into the can, and they say, “Your roommate gone?” They say, “You up there all by yourself?” and I tell them I stay with my boyfriend at night.

I take the last beer out of the vegetable drawer and my pack of cigarettes and go downstairs and sit on the stoop, smoke furtively and look at my knees, which are still bruised from a week ago. He has a girlfriend now, a twenty-two-year-old blonde girl he’s moving to Pensacola with. I poke at one of the bruises and look over at the crackhead house—I don’t know which ones actually live there, how many people actually live there. And then Junebug sees me and sticks his hand in the air and crosses the street. He is a tall malnourished man who speaks in third person; he only has a few teeth but the ones that are missing make the ones that are left enormous, gratuitous-seeming.

“Hi,” I say, pulling my knees into my chest, and he starts telling me that after we have sex Junebug will leave, that all I have to do is say the word because Junebug has respect—a lot of people don’t have respect but Junebug has respect and if I respect Junebug, Junebug will respect me. I don’t understand this kind of prison talk. I look at his eyes, which are totally fucked, and know that if I were soberer than I am now, I’d go upstairs and read. I’d eat a bowl of cereal and call my sister and watch a movie, but I know that none of these things are possible. That all I can do is get back in bed and try to sleep, wake up tomorrow and take a pill.

“I’ve got to get ready,” I say. “For my boyfriend.” I go inside and lock the door and hang the key on the little brass house, one of the nails coming out of the wall. Then I take the stairs two at a time and go into my roommate’s old room and sort through the stack of books again. They’re in piles, toppling over, and I keep pulling books out and taking them into my room even though they’re novels about multi-generation farm families. I untie one of the garbage bags and pull out an old striped dress from the Gap, take off my shirt and try it on, the arms too tight. I want to keep everything she left behind, though most of it is trash. Her friend Ann is supposed to come pick up her stuff for a garage sale. I untie another bag and sort through the loose socks and panties, a shrunken sweater, a random set of keys, and wonder what kind of person gives someone this shit. And then I start to hate her: she is a selfish, selfish person and she left her bathtub filthy and the kitchen filthy and her posters on the walls and she took my fucking curtains. Fuck her.

I allow myself one book and take it into my bedroom. I turn the box fan on high so I won’t have to hear breaking glass and the cackle of laughter and get back in bed, listen to podcasts about things I imagine myself interjecting into conversations: “It’s not really a free market economy,” I’ll say. “A free market economy implies that the government doesn’t regulate things, but during a recession, interest rates are lowered and money is pumped into the system…” I listen carefully so I can remember the claims I’ll need to make in order to back up my argument. This is how I talked to my students: claims and arguments, rhetorical analysis. I couldn’t even pronounce rhetoric correctly when I first started teaching them about it, until the smartest girl in class pointed out that I was saying it wrong. Soon I start thinking about a fat girl in my class who wore leggings with short shirts, how she friended me on Facebook and her status was “Punk will never diet” and there was a sexy picture of her with her hair covering one eye. And here I’d just thought she was fat.

My phone vibrates: another text message from Dan, asking me to marry him. I text back: Not tonight, and think about all of the people who would love me if I let them, people who would cook me dinner and scratch my back and hold my hand, tell me I’m beautiful. Why can’t I love these people? I can only feel sorry for them and the sorry feeling absorbs everything else until I can’t even like them.

I get up and look out the window, at the patchy roof of the crackhead house and then at my own roof, the flat part that has a couple of my roommate’s wine bottles on it. She’s in California now, living in a different house and doing the same things, and soon I will move into a different house only to read under the same lamp and sleep in the same bed.