Bad Matches by Thaddeus Rutkowski
When I came home, I found my live-in girlfriend lounging with a couple of her friends from the building. Two of them were sitting on chairs, and my girlfriend was lying on the couch. Her bare feet were propped on an upholstered arm.
When I asked what they were doing, they said they were tripping. “We each took a hit,” one said.
“Of what?” I asked.
“Ecstasy,” said another. “We were going to give you one, but there are none left.”
“You’re in an altered state all the time anyway,” my girlfriend said.
I sat there and watched them smoke cigarettes. They had incredible stamina for staying in one place. I tried putting on music, but they told me to turn it off.
“You really are insensitive,” said one.
They turned on the television to the Donohue show.
I baby-sat them for a couple of hours. When the drug wore off, the ones who didn’t live with me went home.
Later, my girlfriend spent the night with a man she’d met through one of the women from our building.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Well, his real name is Maynard, but Maynard sounds like ‘mallard.’ A mallard is a duck, and a duck lives in the water.The Great Gatsby takes place on the water, and that book was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. So I call him Scott.”
“Did you actually sleep with him?
“What the heck!”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m moving out soon. I’m getting my own place with half of your money.”
I called a woman I’d met at work. I hadn’t seen her in years, but even so, she seemed happy to hear from me. She invited me to her place. I went to the edge of Manhattan, then walked into an apartment complex built on a landfill. She lived on a high floor of a tower.
Inside, every line was straight, every surface smooth. The lines where the walls met the floor were sharp and clean. There were no nail holes anywhere. I felt my compulsion meter rise. I wanted to mess things up
“My sister is away,” she said.
“I didn’t know you had a sister,” I said.
“She’s a real estate agent. Nice place, huh?”
She turned on a stereo. I sat on the edge of a couch next to a low glass table. “Listen to the lyrics,” she said.
I concentrated on the words and heard something like “I’m not your Weed Whacker, I’m just a strong black man.”
“You know,” she said, “I used to work as an exotic dancer.”
“Where?” I asked.
“A truck stop on Long Island.”
She tore a match from a book. “Here’s a trick I learned,” she said.
She split the cardboard stick partway, unbuttoned her shirt and placed the two pieces of cardboard around a nipple. The match stuck like tweezers. She took another match and lit it, then used it to light the unlit tip. We both watched as the match head flared.
The smell of burnt sulfur and the sound of rap music filled the air.
“What if your sister comes home? I asked.
“I’ll invite her to join us for tea and match tricks.”
When I opened my apartment door, I could hear small paws running toward me. The cat that my girlfriend hadn’t taken wanted food, so I opened a can and spooned out some of the mush.
I smoked a fake cigarette. The object looked like a real cigarette, with a white-paper barrel and a tan filter, but it was made of plastic. I took a few empty tokes to steady my breathing. I thought it would make me calmer, but it didn’t. I needed something else. I picked up a racket and a tennis ball and slapped the ball around the apartment. I kept going for minutes without missing.
I still wasn’t satisfied, so I chewed a stick of gum. I chewed for a long while, until the gum disintegrated in my mouth. The wad became granular, no longer taffy-like. I had to spit it out.
At night, the cat came and slept on my bed. Its nearness was a comfort.
My former girlfriend invited me for dinner. She was staying with a friend of hers, a woman she’d met at one of her brief jobs.
When I came into the kitchen, I could see that she’d used many utensils to prepare our meal. Pots and pans were everywhere. She’d always been good at cooking, but the cleanup (my job) had always been a big operation.
“Thanks for the food,” I said. “It’s very good.”
“I followed what that person said on Donohue—you know, the cooking expert.”
After dinner, we had sex the way we used to, except there were no props in the apartment. I had to borrow some of her silk scarves, and they worked fine.
She told me she loved me, and I said the same to her. But she didn’t ask me to visit again, and I didn’t invite her to return to my place, either.
Later, one of the women who lived in my building knocked on my door. I knew she wasn’t looking for my girlfriend, because she knew she’d moved out.
“I left some Ecstasy here,” she said. “It’s in your freezer.”
Sure enough, there was a frosty plastic bag in the ice compartment. I took it out and handed it to her.
“I’m giving it to Scott,” she said.
She looked at me as if to say, “I hope you’ve learned your lesson,” but she didn’t say anything as she left.
© Thaddeus Rutkowski, 2012
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the innovative novels Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. He teaches literature as an adjunct at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York and fiction writing at the Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA in Manhattan.
Bad Matches was read by Max Woertendyke on 6th June 2012.