My Girlfriend the Government by Destanie McAllister
The government believes my ideas lack value.
“You deal in clichés,” she says. “The ideas of other people.”
I don’t defend myself, though some of my ideas are also hers. Listening to certain types of music while alone is very close to cheating; we both know this. Also, doing drugs or drinking too much, or watching a non-documentary film alone is like cheating, especially if the other person is at work. She feels this strongly, although she considers these activities an important part of her personal development. It bothers her that she has less time to develop herself than I do.
She’s a librarian, and before a promotion required her to organize the people who shelve and care for books, rather than books themselves, she enjoyed several empty hours each workday. She used this time to walk into the stacks and read, or to pull out one of the large, heavy books with pictures by artists she had never heard of, or artists whose names she recognized but whose work she could not recall. At night, we drank, and she tried to describe how she had felt time slow down as she paged through a book of Rothkos.
“That means you were bored,” I said, and we argued about art.
I miss these conversations now that she has begun to talk about how much more difficult people are to deal with than I realize, or to blame me for not doing more to help her deal with difficult people.
I have rigged a pulley system that allows me to give our dog treats from the bedroom while I work. The government finds my system aesthetically unpleasant, though it is not a safety risk or in her way. As she has made many decisions that affect our shared space without my input, the system stays.
I frequently have to defend actions that I find reasonable to the government. Any relationship can handle a bit of this sort of thing—it’s normal. I do not mind giving reasons for my actions. I sometimes ask the government to do the same. But I like to think that I listen to and consider the government’s reasons, while she no longer pays me this respect. She makes fun of my work, calling it a book of clichés.
“It’s not a book of clichés,” I remind her. “I am writing a detective novel, composed entirely of idioms.”
She rolls her eyes, as if the distinction is unimportant.
She has heard the opening paragraph—I ran out of steam overnight; felt under the weather, out of the blue. Had to take a breather. Dropped in on my flesh and blood, did some time in the bosom of family.—I have more. I want to continue but I find it hard to speak in the environment she creates, especially since everything I say, in any environment, has begun to sound cliché.
“Get over it,” she says.
I still go to the library to work, but not to her library, and I find myself fantasizing about other librarians. The tall one with obvious breasts who seems lazy; the short one who joins her workers in menial tasks. The one who has seen me writing, and always asks how the book is coming along. I told her the day I realized “ethnic cleansing” was an idiom, and she seemed impressed. She asked me to read her something. I was reluctant, but shared three sentences from the new section—It’s anyone’s call, but I have a gut feeling there’s a feeding frenzy on the horizon. Everyone and their brother has hit rock bottom. But maybe I’m being too clever by half.—She called my sentences fresh, claimed to like them.
Maybe no relationship with a librarian will work out—maybe no existing librarian is suitable. I can imagine a librarian who enjoys her work, who would be as happy doing and talking about her work as I am about mine. But do I want to hear about library work? Not often, or in much detail.
So I wonder what to do about my relationship with the government. Should I leave her, and if I do, should I ask out the other librarian? What about the good times? What about the partying? I can’t decide, but it doesn’t matter. The government leaves the country with a colleague. She sends me a letter, saying we’re breaking up. She is not sorry, she has exhausted my credit and left me with bills; speaking of bills, she can’t remember the last time she sent out a check for the rent. She expects the landlord will contact me soon. She invites me to join her and the other librarian if I survive the debt; they will be spending time in a small, foreign country known for its many beaches and the way that its beautiful citizens, most of whom live in abject poverty, cater to the wealthy. She says I will probably want to note the phrase “abject poverty” for my book of clichés; I note “spending time” instead. Then I remember I already used it.
I don’t particularly want to join them. I continue my work at home, with the dog by my side when it wants treats. I rejoice when the people of the small beach country rise up, kill the rich and a few bystanders, and take back their government, though I pretend to be horrified like everyone else.
© Destanie McAllister, 2016
Destanie McAllister's fiction has appeared in Word Riot and LIT and is forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle. She is a fellow of the CUNY Writers' Institute and has studied philosophy in Virginia and San Diego. She tends to pad her bio with book recommendations. She’s currently advocating (and welcomes conversation about) Andrei Biely’s St. Petersburg.
My Girlfriend the Government was read by Jere Williams for the Short & Sweet Flash Fiction edition on 3rd August 2016