Skim Milk and Doorknobs – Short Story by L. Breen


Writer’s Note: An accomplished and eloquent teacher told me that if something is worth writing, it is worth writing until you perfect it, until you believe the story as you believe your own memories. Stories, she said, are where the energy lives inside of us, and our job as writers is to find where that energy is and adequately transfer it to the confines of the page, until there is none left inside of you. You must drain yourself of all you could ever wish to say, she said. Write until you grow weary. Write until you need a nap.

I try to live by her advice because for whatever truth other writers do or do not find in her words, they are a beautiful, and why not try to adopt mottos that are inherently beautiful? I felt that I went to where my energy was in my previous post, Autobiography: A Concerto in Three Parts, but even after I posted it, I felt a flame burning, something nagging me, bits and pieces of a story that didn’t make it onto the page just begging to be brought to life. These are those pieces. This is everything I want to say. Ironically, believing in this story as much as I believe in my own memories requirred deterring from my memory and adding events that, while not true to life, are not entirely false, either.

For those who are confused by my notes, I will summarize it simply with this — Edit your shit, kids. It makes all the difference.

****

Nothing says “I love you” like having your own undergarments thrown in your face, followed by the swift slamming of the door. She was in the closet again. His final words to her were a reminder to keep quiet, so she breathed through her pores as best she could, which was favorable, as the darkness only heightened the damp smell of bath towels and gym shorts that greeted her.

This was their arrangement, she being eighteen and he thirty-five.

They met in a parking lot just off the main road, one surrounded by trees. He never got out of his car. He sat and waited for her to enter. She fed him a line about just how she ached for him, each speech more salacious and metaphoric than the last, and he drove away. She found that only after she expressed her desire did she truly feel any. She knew it had not always been this way, though. Not in the beginning.

They went back to his house, the house he still shared with his mother. He cleared the bed of dirty clothes and papers, and she began to unlace her shoes, placing them politely by the door like a true houseguest. They only stayed for half an hour at a time. They never lingered. Words wasted time so they seldom used them. Sometimes, afterwards, he might buy her a bagel or a coffee with skim milk, though she preferred cream, but more often than not, he didn’t have the money. More often than not, she gave him money for gas.

In the daylight, this seldom bothered her. She wished for more, certainly, but during the day, the sunlight would hit his face in a way that obscured his eyes and enhanced his smile. He had a smile that could both pacify and motivate. When she went without the daylight, though, when she sat alone in the dark, she knew what was and what was not.

She could hear his mother’s voice from inside the closet. They were bickering. He had obviously not foreseen her arrival, and she was equally suspicious of his presence midday. Although she could not recall a positive word spoken about his mother, the girl in the closet felt that they were kindred spirits, oblivious in the face of his charisma, and she wanted to save them both. She wanted to open the door, step out half dressed, with her telltale mess of hair, and shake his mother’s hand. She wanted to say, “Hello. I’m the 18-year-old that your son is fucking.” She wanted to watch her words wash over them both, watch jaws swing open, then coolly turn back to him and say, “Bring me home now.” The darkness empowered her. Her hand reached for the knob, her fingers curving around it resolutely. She held for a moment, allowing herself one last breath of musty closet air.

Suddenly, the door opened, but not by her own doing. She stumbled backwards. Light flooded back into the closet. As her eyes adjusted, she saw him standing over her, grinning.

“She’s gone,” he said, pupils wide, exhilarated by their deception. He lifted her up and brought her back to the bed.

She let him.

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