Retrograde

By Tiffany Clarke Harrison

I lied when you called last night. 
I wasn’t standing outside a bookstore waiting for a friend. I was sitting on the toilet, locked in the bathroom with an uncorked bottle of wine at my feet. You see, my son, Sawyer, is four and a half and a lousy listener, an unfortunate yet common trait among males that, since having him, I realize begins at birth. Men start out not listening to their mothers. They are so used to the timbre of her voice--they have been listening to it since wee embryos after all--that as early as the age of four, they have already tuned her out.
“Sawyer, I’m not going to tell you again. Pick.up.the.crayons.” But I was going to tell him again and he knew it.
I looked to my husband who stood in the kitchen, frying bacon for a sandwich. “Sometimes, I want to hurt your son,” I said jokingly but my jest was lost on him.
“Then do it,” he snapped.
“You don’t have to yell at me.”
“I didn’t yell. But you keep saying you’re going to do something that he knows you never will. How can you expect him to change if you don’t mean what you say and hold him accountable?”
“So you want me to beat him?”
“I never suggested something so ridiculous,” he said, and cracked eggs into the frying pan.
I found it ironic or pathetic or both that i was reading Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying at that exact moment. Erica Jong was for women who could sling words like cunt as easily as they did diaper bags. I had nodded along with her laments because I am thirty-eight, well traveled, educated with children and a career. I too was some version of strong. But then my husband yelled, snapped, or whatever he does or doesn’t want to call it and my lip starts to quiver. I felt like a fraud as I sat on the toilet hiding, book in hand and wine consumed, like Erica herself sat somewhere in her New York apartment shaking her head at such a feminine cliche´.
And then you called, said you were in town and asked what I was doing.
“Me,” I asked. “I’m standing on Centre Street waiting on a friend. We were going for drinks but she just called to rcancel. Why do you ask?”
My first mistake was that I let you kiss me hello.
You didn’t kiss me on the mouth but that didn’t matter. Your smirk was enough. I felt the rise of your mouth in my underwear, that flash of teeth in my throat. You kissed me the way you know I like. You slid your palm against my neck, pressed your face to mine. The sun at your back was bright and I squinted. You smelled like sweat and oranges.
You ordered a round of drinks at the bar. I sat at a table waiting then joined you. We drank and laughed and touched too much. I asked about your wife and you said she was well. You asked about my husband and he was well too.
Though the bar was empty, the music was loud. We had to lean in close to hear each other. “You’ve been drinking,” you said into my ear, and your breath was hot against my neck as you pulled away. “I thought you said your friend didn’t show.”
“A girl can drink alone.”
“A girl can. But should she?”
“If she likes.”
You smiled.
You ordered a vodka neat and asked what I wanted. I said ‘same.’ You put your hand on my knee. That remarkable hand on my remarkable knee. If I’d parted my legs even slightly your fingers would have slipped beneath the hem of my dress. Disappeared.
I was twenty-four when we first met. You were twenty-eight. You performed a similar magic trick then, plucking me from a gaggle of girls leaving a bar, 2am, horny and lonely and just drunk enough. I had a boyfriend and left him for you. Girls are always leaving their stable boyfriends for the unstable creative who wants to take her picture. Who wants to write her a song. Who wants to fuck her like her stable boyfriend never could. For three weeks we listened to Nirvana and Hendrix and Aretha Franklin, ate Indian takeout for breakfast, smoked naked on the fire escape.
“I saw you in New York Magazine,” I said, teased the rim of my glass with an index finger. “It said you were going to Spain-- or was it Berlin?”
“Berlin. Madrid was two years ago.”
“Of course, Berlin.” We’d spent eight sweaty days in Berlin when I was twenty-six after not hearing from you for almost two years. “How are you enjoying it?”
“It’s Berlin.” Your mouth in a perpetual smile. “Are you writing?”
“A little-- should we get another round?” I summoned the bartender. Your eyes traveled the length of my bare arm as I waved him over. “I submitted a story to The New Yorker last month. It was a trite heap of garbage but, I submitted it.”
“You’re always so hard on yourself,” you said and I notice as I’m standing, leaning over the bar to grab a napkin, how close we are to each other. Our knees touch and your nose, that beak of a thing, inching toward me. “It doesn’t have to be that way. But I’ve been with enough women to know--”
“No number of women is enough for you.”
“Let me finish,” you take a drink. “I’ve been with enough women to know that you like things hard. You like things to be messed up. You like to remember what it’s like to be full of one person when you’re only half full of another. You like for me to call you, but you really like when I don’t. You like to rehearse what you’ll say to me when I finally do call. You like to think about how you’ll pretend not to want me, how you’ll pretend that if I touched you you’d stop me in protest-- and you probably would. But you’d think about it when you left here, the whole way home, as you climb in bed next to your husband or boyfriend or whoever. You’d think about what would have happened if you didn’t stop. You’d play it over and over in your mind. You like to feel guilty. You like it because without it all that’s left if your real life. And God knows how tired you are of that.”
“Why did you call me?”
“Because you always answer when I do.”

Tiffany writes fiction and poetry, and is currently pitching a novel to agents. You can find her on Instagram @tiffclarkeharrison. Love yourself, love others, stay human.