The light on my side of the bed is not working. You switch sides with me, so I can stay up to read Richard Bausch’s short story collection Something Is Out There, while you sleep.
I’ve made a job out of longing for you. And here we are. You’re sleeping naked, facing away from me. I’m reading.
The story is about a waitress in downtown Memphis. She’s the woman on the cover of the book, a little out of focus, a white dress, a figure in an empty field with trees in the distance.
When I lean over to see if you’re asleep for real, you’ve got your own hand with its guitar calluses, clean nails, and swollen knuckles folded against your wide chest. You’re holding yourself like I’ve been doing every night in my twin bed up north. I even try to do it the way you would, one arm across my chest.
I’m the woman from the cover. I’m not exactly lonely but I’m nearly always alone. I find joy in small things—a billowy cloud, The Allman Brothers on the radio, riding down the highway with the windows down and A/C on.
You begin to snore slightly beside me. I put my left hand on your shoulder. My right hand holds the book.
The woman in the story has a small exchange with an older patron with a kind face. She wonders if she could love him, if he could love her. He leaves without suggesting they ever speak again. He accidentally leaves behind a post-it with his phone number on it.
I wish there was a number I could call to start the conversation we always meant to have. We’ve tried and will try for six more years.
I rest my bent knee on your hip. You stay asleep but lean in.
Sometimes fitful love and extreme desire, even admiration, aren’t enough. We breakup every few years. Fall back together.
The story ends with the woman picking up the post-it to call the man. It rings. No answer. No answering machine. She puts herself to bed with her own arms over her own chest.
The bed is a field and I’m wearing the white dress from the cover, a hand-me-down cotton nightgown. You used to think it was matronly then realized it was see- through and asked for it.
We’re always just out of reach of one another, even side by side.
The bed is a field. The walls of our little room become the trees. I look at you and lean into your back. Start to feel a lightness. Stare at the ceiling. Feel drunk, floaty.
A train somewhere, a boat in the canal. A skateboard goes by on the sidewalk out front. Maybe somebody’s playing a horn, but not close. Then I hear only your light snoring, your breathing.
I can almost hear the air moving around your tanned arm. It’s lined in static, a line of light.
The thought that, one day, I might die before I ever get to be this close to you again shocks me. Quick, slightly erotic.
A faint melody somewhere.
I turn off the light and put my body next to your back. I get as close as I can without climbing inside you. My thigh is between yours. My rib bones push in. I place my face into the curve of your neck. Your still wonderful hair touches my nose.
You let out a long sigh then another short whimper.
You turn over. Put your face to mine, eyes still closed. Lashes. You fold into my arms, as if I’m the case you’ve always been in.
Jessica Kinnison’s stories have appeared in Juked, Fiction Southeast, and The Southern Humanities Review, among others. She served as a Kenyon Review Peter Taylor Fellow in 2018. Her story “Bone on Bone” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012. She serves as Director of Programs at Project Lazarus, a nonprofit transitional housing facility for people living with HIV/ AIDS. She currently teaches creative writing in the New Orleans Writers Workshop. She is co-producer of the Dogfish Reading Series in New Orleans, Louisiana.