When God Closes a Door
We were halfway through the crab Rangoon when I knew I would ghost him. I was sitting in the sticky red booth across from him, swirling my fork through some kind of jellied yellow sauce, but inside I was somewhere else, like I’d said yes but every part of my body was saying no and all I could picture was being back in my tiny room in bed with the pillows piled behind me and the puffy quilt up to my neck and a soft, three-times-read book whose pages held no surprise, only comfort, and a big dumb dog named Maxine who snored when she slept, but just enough. Just enough to make you feel lazy and ready to sleep, and I wanted to be in that bed so bad but there I was instead, in the worst Chinese restaurant ever, in a random remote town, why did he want to take me here, why did I agree to go?
I knew why. And knew I wouldn’t go through with it. I would leave him sitting here, asking the waitress awkward questions, checking his phone, drinking tea alone, or would he order another umbrella drink, with umbrellas for two, waiting for me to return? I could picture the droop of his thinning hair, his hangdog eyes, as he realized the terrible sort of person I was. Like that song that says you always hurt the ones you love, but that wasn’t me. I hurt people I kind of liked, or thought I should like because they liked me, or maybe they loved me, maybe I didn’t know what love was and that’s why for me it always translated as somebody wanting to give me something but then wanting me to give something back, something I couldn’t give.
He could see I’d had a tough start in life. He’d said that. It was hard being young in this world today, and he wanted to help me out. Like he was some Daddy Warbucks, and I was his little orphan girl, but if he had money then why did he bring me to this old-people restaurant with the glass booth in the lobby you could put a quarter in and try to pick up a stuffed animal or a Pez dispenser. I stared at it when we got there because it was just another way to delay going in and he asked me, with this maybe-she-is-that-dumb guffaw, if I wanted to try my luck, and I saw that the green felt bottom of the booth had dead flies and the Pez dispensers were from old movies like Indiana Jones and the stuffed animals’ eyes were dull with dust and I said no and so we had to go in, and the inside smelled as sad and shabby as I’d known it would, like Pine-Sol and congealed chow mein, and he bullied me on the menu because he wanted to get the three-for-one special and I just said yes because it wasn’t worth arguing over, I wasn’t going to be able to eat anything from this place anyway. His knees kept pressing mine under the booth and he wheezed when he talked and I already knew he would snore, but not a happy background snore like Maxine’s; it would be the kind of snore that made you press the pillow over your ears and wonder how many more hours till morning and I did my first bathroom break right away and then another, after the weak tea in the handle-less mugs and the crab Rangoon, and he made some joke about me having a bladder the size of a peanut, get it, a pee nut, and all I wanted was a magic ring like somebody had in a book, Frodo or Harry Potter. I could put it on right there and he’d be calling my name, looking up and down, peeking under the booth, but I’d be all invisible and gone, or maybe I could walk through walls, maybe I could melt away, and I wouldn’t have to worry about making rent or buying food for the week, maybe I’d be an elf and sleep in the forest on a bed of pine needles, maybe I’d live off acorns and honeysuckle, drink dew from the bell of a flower, and I knew I couldn’t do any of that but the bathroom window looked big enough that I could climb out of it. I stood on the sink and it was, and even though he hadn’t paid me yet and I had no ride home and I was in this weird hick town, the window had that frosted glass that looked like dirty thumbprints and it opened out to just a slice of parking lot and one scrubby tree with some white flowers just starting to bloom but looking at it made me feel better, because now I could tell myself I didn’t have to go through with it. I could tell myself you can run, you can still run.
Kathryn Kulpa was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her flash chapbook Girls on Film (Paper Nautilus), and she won the First Series Award in Short Fiction for her story collection Pleasant Drugs (Mid-List Press). She has work published and forthcoming in Longleaf Review, Bending Genres, Fiction Southeast, and Evansville Review, and she serves as flash fiction editor for Cleaver magazine. Kathryn leads writing workshops in public libraries throughout Rhode Island and has been a visiting writer at Wheaton College. She was born in a small state, and she writes short stories.
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