Things We Do to Stay in Line
Karina Berg Johansson
“This is what I want,” she says. The sheet draped over her shoulders covers her pale skin as she sits next to you on the lumpy mattress, her hands twisting and turning in her lap as if they’ve taken on a life of their own. “What you’re talking about isn’t even an option.”
You look at her, bewildered. Her words fill you with doubt. When she’s like this, you hardly recognize her. How did you ever come to love her, you wonder.
Gazing at the ceiling, her sigh is almost inaudible. “I don’t even know how it happened. I’ve been careful.”
You know she has. Stretched out beside her, she making sure to not touch you, the chilly proof of that carefulness clings to your skin.
“Please,” you say. “Just consider –“
But she won’t consider. Refuses to. Now that this idea has entered her mind, she can’t think of anything else. She has to, needs to rid her body of this unwanted presence, she says. With another you may have called her outburst melodramatic, but the naked urge is so raw, so persistent you can smell its metallic harshness. This is real. If she can’t do it she’ll go crazy, she says.
“Is that what you want?” There’s no accusation in her words, no twang of humor. She’s honestly curious, wanting to know if this is indeed what you want, to send her over this edge.
And no. You don’t want that. Don’t want to see her break down. Don’t want her to suffer. But to think that this life within her won’t see the light of day, will never look at you from that cradle you’ve prepared – the room with its yellow walls, the white laced curtains and the toys and the books all there waiting for the baby that you so eagerly awaits – it breaks your heart. It really does.
“Can’t we talk about it?” You reach out to touch her cheek, but your hand falls flat against the cold sheet as she twitches away.
“There’s nothing to talk about. We’ve talked enough. You got what you came for. You should leave.”
You sit back and stare. Can’t take your eyes off her. She still looks so much, too much, like the woman you love, but you have to face the truth – you don’t know this person. After sharing what you’ve shared, you’d think you’d know someone, but as soon as you’re finished it always turns out you don’t. And if you don’t know her now, will you ever?
She gets up, paces the threadbare carpet like a caged tiger, tail snapping at every turn.
Glancing at the clock, you too know your time is up. In fifteen minutes she’s expecting another.
“I’ll come with you if you want. Just let me know.”
She snorts. A tiny release of air. “Thanks, but no thanks. What good would it do?”
Even this final farewell she has to take away from you.
“I’ll come with you –“ you start again, but your words sound feeble. Cheap. You won’t be there, because she doesn’t want you there. You shrug. The room is suddenly cold. Relieved of the tenderness, the shabbiness of this rented space overwhelms you. You want to say something more, convince her, make her see the love you offer. But what else is there to do? Begging hasn’t helped. Tears won’t either.
You get up too. Find the clothes left scattered across the floor, get dressed.
“Well –“ you say. “Take care.”
You place the agreed sum on the bedside table without looking at her. The girls before her have taught you to handle the transaction this way.
Slipping into your coat, you slip out of her life.
The door slams shut behind you, the echo beating you to the stairs.
Bio: Karina Berg Johansson shares house and life with husband, four teenaged kids, an Ewok dog and a claustrophobic cat outside of
Motivation: What if a familiar and everyday discussion turns out to be everything but familiar and everyday?
Photo: Rodolfo Clix
Photo: Rodolfo Clix