Rhetoric’s apartment was in a block between a no-name bodega, (that’s what he called it) and a small laundromat. The locals were a mix of college students in trendy non-prescription glasses and folks with crunchy hair and meth teeth. I was there because he asked me to be there. It was quick, he called me and said, “Stop doing that coffee shop bullshit and come live with me.”
In the morning, he’d wake me with a donut with a tall glass of orange juice and sit on the edge of my bed and talk to me. At night, we’d watch a movie. On weekends we’d lay in bed as something would cook in the crockpot. I was happy.
By the month’s end, I started working at the local Starbucks. Rhetoric had begun teaching art classes at an elementary school. When the leaves changed colors, he arrived home with a bottle of Banker’s Club, and drank it all in less than an hour.
Three months later, we were broke. Rhetoric didn’t have enough for his half of the groceries, and I had resorted to breaking packages of ramen noodles in half.
One night, I asked, “What happened to us?”
“We’re not in college anymore Augustine. We don’t have the luxury of sitting around and talking about our feelings.” He rolled over and remained silent.
It was November when Rhetoric told me that the hot water heater was being replaced and wouldn’t be working for a few days. I had begun washing up in the kitchen. While the large pot of water simmered, I laughed to myself about how the both of us had college degrees, yet I was washing up in a dirty kitchen.
I squeezed body wash into the basin and swirled my hand in the cold water to make bubbles and ladled some of the boiling water in. Rhetoric walked into the room and sat down, watching me.
“You look sexy like that.” He whispered. Rhetoric came over to me and took the washcloth from my hands and rubbed the soapy water over my back. The cloth glided slowly down my spine.
“You’ll end up with some pussy named Simon. He’ll be a lawyer or banker and move you to the suburbs with other bougie folks, where you’ll spend time comparing credit card interest rates.”
The washcloth traveled up my back and over my shoulders.
“You’ll go out and eat in fancy places, do pretentious things like antiquing and wine tastings. You’ll forget about me.”
He rested his neck in the crook of my wet shoulder, the cloth making its way up my stomach and between my breasts.
“Your kids will go through a box of your college shit and a picture of us will fall out. You’ll tell them I was some poet you hung out with, when you were ‘roughing it,” He said kissing my shoulder.
“Is that how you see me?” I asked.
He took a long pause while holding on to me by the waist.
“You gonna lie and tell me you want to live like this? I know when you get things right, you’ll leave. This is not a life you choose, this is how you end up.” He dropped the cloth in the sink, and I faced him. I allowed my body to touch his, my breasts against his chest, my arms around his waist. Rhetoric brushed me away. “You don’t want me.”
“But I love you.” I replied. Rhetoric left me naked and alone.
I knew things with Rhetoric would never be steady, he had a string of small jobs, quit a couple, fired from some, and then a slew of temp jobs, then no work at all. The only way I knew the day passed was from the additional bottles of Banker’s Club on the floor. Although I wanted to be understanding and empathize with Rhetoric, I couldn’t.
The next day, I saw the first-floor neighbor as I was coming in from work. “Hey, are you having any issues with your water?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” she balanced her black handbag on her shoulder.
“Our water isn’t getting hot. I heard it was being worked on.”
“Really?” She began walking down the stairs. “My water’s been just fine.” She shrugged and walked down the street in the direction of the PATH train.
I could no longer ignore what I knew to be true, Rhetoric wasn’t paying the rent or the utilities.
“Why hasn’t the water been hot?” I asked. Rhetoric answered me with a shrug.
“The landlord has been having a hard time getting the contractors to come and replace the hot water heater.”
“Why don’t you just admit that you haven’t paid one bill since I’ve been here?” I angrily waved a ‘Past Due’ notice in front of his face. “If you are paying the rent, why are we getting evicted?” I walked back into the kitchen.
“We aren’t getting evicted, I paid the rent,” he yelled.
I walked around the couch kicking at the empty liquor bottles. “Don’t you want better than this?” I asked. “Are you honestly going to tell me you are ok with this?”
“You think I like not having a job?”
“You had a job. You just couldn’t stop drinking enough to keep it.” Rhetoric put down his charcoal pencil and gave me a wounded look. I continued, “You say you want more money, you say you want to be more serious about your music, but you haven’t done anything. It makes no sense to me. If I had half of your talent, I’d be rich.”
“But you don’t.” Rhetoric snarled picking up his charcoal pencil and beginning to sketch again.
“Talent or not, I’m the only one that’s fully employed.” I yelled, slamming the bedroom door behind me.
While Rhetoric slept on the floor, surrounded by paint and vodka bottles, I cleared the bedroom and packed the items into the car.
It was time for me to move on.
Author Pietra Dunmore writes short stories, creative non-fiction, and poetry. Her writing has appeared in Philadelphia Stories, Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly, Penumbra Online, Causeway Lit, Hippocampus Magazine, and The Journal of New Jersey Poets.