Not even once


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I had rehearsed a whole closing argument all morning. Preparing like a lawyer on a TV show would. How I imagine they would. Bulleting the facts of the case in my favor. Beat by beat. Memorized even the pauses. Was off book by lunch. 

I wasn’t a lawyer on a TV show as it so happened I was a lawyer in real life. A bad one too. Some fucking guy. Sweating. Some asshole. 

But I love you I told her. 

Tossing out all of my notes now. 

Put I love you in italics. 

As if it were the smoking gun itself. The bloody knife. And it was in its way but with an improper chain of custody. 

No order only law. 

I love you

Saying it in this crackling falsetto unfamiliar to both of us. 

God how embarrassing. To feel anything yes but more than that to feel things basely. A dog standing there in pants. 

Looking around to see if the neighbors could hear me. I felt all of sudden as if I’d just been caught doing the the Pledge of Allegiance in the shower. 

If someone besides God could hear what I think at 4 am when he and I are negotiating. 

Our landlady probably sitting inside the first floor of the triple decker peeking out from behind the lace curtains and frowning into her tea. 

A landlady is one kind of a God. 

She never liked me I knew that and I guess she was right not to. 

Her husband dead coming up on these twenty five years now she often told us when she struggled up the back hallway steps with fresh baked Easter bread.

Saying it neutrally every time. Just a biographical fact. Like you'd tell someone what your job is.

I whimpered that I loved her right there on the sidewalk in front of my suddenly haunted and cold apartment and she said I know you feel that way and the flowers I was holding slide-whistle wilted like in a cartoon. 

I wasn’t really holding flowers but you follow me.

I should have been. I had meant to get some flowers earlier so that counted to me as something. You can’t tell her something like that though. Making excuses. Whoever she is. You can’t testify against yourself. 

Just then the goddamned speeding ice cream truck pulled around the corner onto our block and hauled ass right by us. Not stopping either for a gaggle of neighborhood kids up the way trying desperately to wave him down. Like castaways when they spot a boat in the distance. 

Not tooting his ice cream horn either. Not even that most baseline sign of respect. 

Not even once. 

I thought maybe and being generous here that it could be a surge pricing situation for the ice cream truck man. That there were children across town willing to pay more for their little treats. Maybe the poor son of a bitch was delinquent on the loan for his ice cream truck for all I knew and then I wasn’t so mad at him for almost killing all of us and most importantly me every other day. Ferrying his wares from here to there and back again in a loop. 

Now I was standing there in the world again.   

I know that you believe that you… she said and then trailed off and I noticed Kevin next door fucking around with his truck. Just opening and closing the tailgate over and over it seemed like. Or maybe mowing a patch of lawn that he already had mowed. Teaching the grass a lesson about its futile striving.

You see the Bruins last night he shouted over and now I had to react to that. Masculinity tugging at me.

Fucking Pasta man I shouted over. Gambling that he had done something good or bad. 

Brutal he said. 

Brutal I said. 

She started once more:

I know that you believe that you…

She was eliding over the word love like it was a dangerous spell. How you can’t say certain words in the mirror too many times. How you can’t say the name of ___.

Or like the concept of love was a deep and endless hole burrowed into the earth’s core. The lava down there and so on. 

Minding her footing carefully and standing away from the infernal edge.

I know that you feel that way about me she said starting over one more time but it’s just a chemical reaction going on in your brain she said. Having brought in her own forensic science experts to testify. 

I forgot about the whole courtroom analogy I was doing for a minute there. 

She looked so beautiful I wanted to denounce myself right there in the middle of it all. Make a whole scene. 

I did it! I did it you bastards! Drag me off to jail! God damn you all!

They’d have to call over the bailiff. 

It’s just a pair bonding thing she said. Like a habit kind of thing she said. There’s a hormone called oxytocin she said and I said do you mean oxycontin which in retrospect I should not have said.

I figured at the very least I could probably come to some kind of epiphany here. Gain some sort of awareness of who I was as a person. Learn from all of this and do better on the next iteration. 

I wasn’t going to do any of that. 

I knew that I could if I had wanted to though. The door toward that path had been opened for me. 

Then again there was always the chasm to fall into. The beckoning chasm. 

Does lava kill you instantly or what? What’s going on with lava lately? Kills fairly quickly you’d have to think. But how quickly exactly? How much suffering is involved? Sinking into it going ah fuck no fuck no and all of that. 

Thinking a child’s thoughts here to deflect reality.  

No it’s a hormone from… I sent you an article about this she said and now I was screwed even worse.  

When people have sex it floods their brains with a sense of affection and social bonding she said. Almost touching my face as a natural instinct but thinking better of it and trying to play it off as if she was just stretching weird. Now I was thinking about sex. It happens when people give birth too she said. Now I wasn’t interested in sex. It makes mothers want to protect their children and immediately feed them. Now I was sort of half thinking about sex. On the fence about the entire operation. 

So you’re saying my mother doesn’t love me either I said. Sort of as a joke but also to cynically introduce my mother as a defense witness here. She took me seriously and said you know that that’s not what I mean. Your mother has nothing to do with us. All of what that was with your mother…

Regarding the matter of my mother’s love it was in fact up for debate but now probably wasn’t the time to poke at that. 

Then not knowing anything better to do in that pocket of time where each spoken sentence was a struck gavel I made everything worse by looking down at my phone.

What are you doing she said and I showed her the video I had been watching when I was waiting for her before of some cops who had been sent to chuck homeless people’s tents into a garbage truck. In Arizona maybe. Somewhere like that. Somewhere made up. 

They had stopped suddenly in their dirty labor and were now standing there in the video silently and at attention in the middle of the road while the Star Spangled Banner played somewhere off in the distance. 

Solemn like. As if under a spell. 

This is part of what I’ve been talking about she said.

I’m sorry I said. 

I love you I said and she said yes but that doesn’t matter. 

That does not matter at all because I am Adolph Hitler from the Nazis. 

No no not that I made that up but it is how she looked saying it. How if Hitler was dumping you. How that would look. 

I don’t think that is good just to be clear she said. What the police are doing to those people. In your video. 

I know you don’t I said and then the speeding ice cream truck ripped back around onto the block from the other direction. I figured he must have forgotten something at home. He slowed down a bit this time just so. I thought it looked like he was giving me the finger as he drove by but it was hard to tell without my glasses. Maybe he was just waving goodbye. I hoped more than anything he would turn the music on. Please play the song I thought. Despite all of our differences man. That is all in the past now. Just this one time for me please. Play the little ice cream tune. For her more than me honestly. A little something to hope for. For the kids. 

A fleeting thought that I could try to kill myself later as a last ditch escape but the problem there was that I didn’t want to die so that complicated things. And if I made a whole thing about it I’d probably have to go to the hospital and everyone would be pissed off at me. 

No I wasn’t going to do anything stupid like that. I was going to live. I was going to live unfortunately. To unfortunately live. And now with one more addiction to contend with. One I wasn’t even aware I was suffering from. That maybe we all are.