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roads were bad, and his college apartment was five snaking miles from campus. So he and Mom ate cheese curls and watched the ball drop and had sex on the plaid couch that came with the apartment furnishings. Those stories grew with me. In elementary and middle school, they were full of whoopee cushions, sibling fights, gym-class shenanigans. It wasn’t until high school that they took on a prickling tone: regrets, missed connections, disappointments. It wasn’t until I left for college that they’d really started to burn. *** I enter the hotel through a door tucked between two dumpsters whose trash smells sweet, like rotting cantaloupe. I should know: I like to let fruits rot on my kitchen counter. They smell best after the mold spreads and weakens the skin—when the outsides are soft but still holding together. Dave’s text informs me he’s wearing a maroon sweater. I tell him I’m in pink, but there’s no need; when I exit the back stairs into the lobby, his eyes claim me immediately. He stands when I approach, his arms twisting around me, and I let him pull me tight. His kiss surprises me more than it should. “Dave?” I smile, as if I don’t taste him on my lips. His arms are still on my hips, his hands on my lower back. “I’m Ruth.” But he already knows this. He knows my age, my pictures, my life in a two-sentence brief. He was selective; he wanted the most bang for his buck. His push—gentle but insistent—leads me to the lounge. He waves the waitress over quickly, and I order liquor just as fast. He is not embarrassed when the waitress needs to see my ID. He does not order alcohol because he needs to drive us back to his hotel. Also, he wants to remember this night. I’m on my second Jack and Ginger when Dave mentions his wife. He was up-front from the beginning, selecting “married” instead of “rather not say” on his online profile, but still. I didn’t expect to learn her name. I have standards when it comes to married men. I distance myself from relationships as much as possible: If I live in the same town as the wife, forget it. I don’t want to be in the checkout line at Walgreen’s wondering are you the woman whose house I visit Monday

mornings? You know, 222 Linden? Gray ranch, red shutters? If I don’t live in the same town as the wife, then fine. But I don’t want to know her particulars. So I try to let my vision fuzz when Dave whips out his smartphone and scrolls through pictures of his houses. There’s the New York apartment with the view of Central Park, the white two-story in Connecticut, the high-rise condo in Florida. There’s every place his wife lives and breathes and believes her husband is one of the good guys. “I love Betty, I do,” Dave says. And there it is, I think. Her name. Already I’m picturing a face—platinum hair, crow’s feet, cakey lipstick. A woman who goes to spin classes and studies her hips in the mirror and worries she’ll never look thin enough. A woman who smiles at Whole Foods cashiers and tips cab drivers well. A woman—Betty—the taste is like anise—who makes me wish I were drunk already. “…but she’s so frigid,” Dave continues. “I mean, I make all the money, I bend over backward to take care of the business, and she acts like it’s nothing. I’m not saying I deserve sex for what I do. But I think I deserve…” He gestures with his hand, a wafting motion. “Affection?” When Dave’s eyes meet mine, I see Betty leave them. “Love,” he smiles. Then he signals the waitress for another Jack and Ginger. I try to smile back, as if I don’t know what happens after the third drink. *** The one friend I told about these arrangements went off on a rant about empowerment and self-respect. To set the record straight: I have a strong feminine role model. I doubt that my friend, with her swishy skirts and wannabe dreadlocks, could withstand my mom’s scalding glare. Think of a cooking torch hovering over crème brûlée—the welts of carmelization that speckle the surface, the brown bubbling to almost-black, the sugar surrendering to the heat. Compared to my mom, that’s downright gentle. I remember being in sixth grade—prepubescent— begging Mom to let me talk to Dad on the phone one afternoon. He was away at a bakers’ convention in Charlottesville, three days of whole-wheat-flour 13

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Apeiron Review | Summer 2015  

The summer issue of Apeiron Review, a Philadelphia-based literary magazine, is ready for you and a glass of your favorite beverage. Cool off...

Apeiron Review | Summer 2015  

The summer issue of Apeiron Review, a Philadelphia-based literary magazine, is ready for you and a glass of your favorite beverage. Cool off...