I Miss You When You’re Around
You follow me around the house promising to find out that I’m secretly a Republican. You say that when you uncover the evidence you will alert all my friends and probably the media as well.
I smile at you and tell you that it’s okay. But you look at me with bleary eyes, half-slitted and bloodshot. Your hair hangs down like old spaghetti. And you sit hunched over on the couch, fists tight, elbows on thin knees and stare at me, waiting for me to betray my secret conservative positions on social issues and the military.
Half the time you’re either drunk or high on something. The other half you’re both.
The drugs and the alcohol have altered you. I know about the bottles hidden in the back of the closet behind the towels. I know about them because I confronted you but because you are still drinking, still on the pills, you have forgotten that I know and have stashed new bottles beneath the soft linens.
One day you’ll slip, you say to me. One day and I will have the proof. The proof of what? I reply. That you are not the person I thought you were. And who is that? I ask. You know, you reply with a sneer, you know. And I look at you and I say, I don’t think you’re the person I thought you were.
The small house has become unkempt. Neither of us make much effort to clean it up. Not since we both lost our jobs, you first, then me. We thought we were protected by this type of thing, by our middle standing, but we find that we can fall so quickly, it surprises even us.
I’m not much better, I’ll admit. I’m occasionally a little more sober. I’m the one who has the savings in the bank that we’re barely living on but soon even that will be gone. When the call comes, I shower and put on a tie, try to find the shirt with the least wrinkles, get in my car with the dented back fender and the squeaky brakes and go to the employer who might be interested in me. I tell them what they want to hear and they say, they always say, they’ll call. What makes it awkward is the big white bandage I have across my nose from busting it a week ago by falling onto the hardwood floor. The dried blood and soiled bandage can be a tough sell to a potential boss.
Honestly, sometimes when they call, I don’t pick up. I don’t even return the message.
You peek around the corner of the living room wall, staring at me. The phone is in my hand. I have answered this call. They went a different direction. You are still staring at me. What? I ask. I know you killed Kennedy, you whisper, awe and fear trembling in your voice. I wasn’t even fucking born when Kennedy was killed, I say. That’s not a good enough cover, you quietly respond.
I find you passed out top of the washing machine, your head hanging upside down over the edge, your mouth open as if trying to take one last giant breath. Hey, I shake you. Fuck off, you mumble so I leave you there until the cold of the night air wakes you. You stumble in later and accuse me of trying to wash you in the washing machine. I’m searching through the nearly empty refrigerator. We have nothing to eat. Nothing in the cabinets. We’ve become ghosts in our own home. And I’m afraid, I’m afraid that I have to leave, that I have to get away, that I cannot save you and I can barely save myself here. That I should pack a backpack of some clothes and try to start again. I can call your parents. They’re only a few hours away. They will come and get you. They have money. They will save you. They would never save me. I dial their number and leave a message.
I go into the bedroom and throw some clothes into my black backpack that you bought for me a couple Christmases ago when we had money, when things were good. Are you going on another mission? you solemnly ask. I tell you that I am. Can you tell me what it’s about? It’s top secret, I say. Your eyes grow wide and you smile, that same smile from when I first met you and fell in love, that smile I haven’t seen in a long time, something so surprising it’s like a hard knocking on the door in the middle of the night when you wonder to yourself, should I answer that?
Ron Burch’s work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Cheap Pop, Eleven Eleven, Pank and other journals. He’s been nominated for a Pushcart, and first novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles. www.ronburch.com
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