by Leah Mueller
You climb the staircase to your ex-lover’s bedroom. He’s visiting a new girlfriend in Seattle but left his front door unlocked. No one ever secures their doors on Vashon Island.
The 100-year-old farmhouse sits on a winding, two-lane road at the edge of town. Rows of abandoned greenhouses perch on the opposite side. Some of the glass panes have collapsed, while others are opaque and cracked from wind and rain.
Years ago, roses bloomed here. Workers loaded flowers into boxes and shipped parcels worldwide. Customers ripped open packages and found fat bulbs. They unwrapped baby rosebushes and placed the roots in backyard holes.
Once the largest commercial greenhouse operation in Washington state, the complex is rubble now, sheets of loose plastic flapping from busted windowpanes.
You peer at the debris from your ex’s hallway window and remember a night you almost left him. The two of you screamed at each other for hours, until you finally stormed out of the house.
You wandered through the empty greenhouses until you talked yourself into staying. Rehearsed words of apology until they sounded perfect. Once you crawled back into bed, your ex was sound asleep. You swallowed your words and closed your eyes.
The bedroom door is wide open. Your ex’s bed perches on the far end of the room. He pulled up the covers hastily before leaving for Seattle. The white sheets look disheveled, but that’s nothing unusual. For an attorney, his sense of décor is remarkably casual.
You approach the bed like it was a wild animal. It appears hostile and alien, though you slept there on and off for three years. Sometimes you took breaks from your lover for a few months and rented rooms in Seattle. He always left his door unlocked so you could return. You got used to coming and going.
Everything always went fine for a few weeks, but then the arguments reanimated. Old bullshit, hashed over and over. Why don’t you get a real fucking job. Why do you spend so much time drinking. He didn’t like the fact you were getting fat. Extra flesh meant you weren’t working hard enough.
New Girlfriend is chubby, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Two months ago, you surprised the two of them on his sailboat at Shilshole Bay. They were ready to embark on a stupid one-day yuppie excursion. The lovebirds wore matching loafers, khakis, and sunglasses, like they’d done their best to dress for their roles.
He hadn’t expected to see you. Girlfriend, as usual, was wiser. She set her jaw in a smug “I told you so” expression and rolled her eyes.
“What the fuck are you doing here,” he exploded. “I think you need to leave right now.”
Such a stupid B-movie line. You laughed and shook your head. Your ex looked enraged, like he’d deck you if Girlfriend weren’t there. He turned around, placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Be right back.”
“Sure thing,” Girlfriend replied.
He grabbed your arm, hauled you from the boat, and ordered you into his car. You protested for a few seconds, though you knew argument was useless. Attorneys were pathological liars, anyway. He said he was meeting some sailing buddies. Oldest trick in the book.
But you had your ex’s number. You’d heard his whispered end of the late-night phone conversations with Girlfriend, when he thought you were asleep.
None of it mattered. He drove you to the ferry dock, threw open the car door, and told you to find your own way home. You burst into noisy tears, begged him to reconsider. Without a vehicle, you’d be stranded five miles from town.
“Get there on your own power. Then pack your shit. We’re done,” he said.
Two months later, you still feel like somebody took a bat to your head. You sleep on friends’ couches and remember when your ex wanted you to marry him. He asked several times, but you always said no. You could’ve raised a family, like a normal person. Instead you spent your time fucking other men and screaming at your ex for fucking other women.
You inch towards his bed and stare at the rumpled covers. Up close, the setup looks friendly, like it finally recognizes you after a long period of confusion. You lower your ass to the edge of the mattress. Your eyes sweep the room’s perimeters. The hardwood floor looks more bare than usual. You wonder if somebody swept it.
A wastepaper basket sits a few inches from the bed. A strange curiosity overtakes you, and your hand snakes over to the receptacle. Scooping it from the floor, you peer inside.
The interior is empty, save for two wads of toilet paper, wrapped into cylinders. You pinch one, place it inside your palm, nudge it with a forefinger. It gives way slightly under pressure.
Your fingers unwrap the multiple layers in slow motion. The tissue reminds you of a mummy’s bandages. Reaching into the folds, you pull out a medium-sized tampon. You hold the stained cotton wad in front of your face, stare as its long string dangles between your fingers.
There’s hardly any blood. Your menstrual flow stains tampons bright red and sometimes leaves puddles in the sheets. Girlfriend removes her tampons before she even needs to use them. Must be nice to be rich.
Her tampon reminds you of a dried rosebud. Tiny dab of red at the end, turning browner with each passing day. Like your heart, only smaller. You carefully re-wrap the cotton wad and lay it beside the other bundle at the bottom of the wastebasket. No one must ever know it moved.
The last ferry already left the mainland. Your ex won’t return until morning. You pull back the covers and crawl inside. His sheets smell clean, like they’ve barely been used. You know better, but it doesn’t matter. You just want to sleep in his bed one last time. God, you’re so tired.
Leah Mueller is an indie writer and spoken word performer from Tacoma, Washington. She has published books with numerous small presses. Her most recent volumes, "Misguided Behavior, Tales of Poor Life Choices" (Czykmate Press), "Death and Heartbreak" (Weasel Press), and "Cocktails at Denny's" (Alien Buddha Press) were released in 2019. Leah’s work also appears in Blunderbuss, The Spectacle, Bad Pony, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, and other publications. She won honorable mention in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'Hidden Behind the Sapphire Crystals'
'How to Dip Your Face into the Ocean and Leave This World Behind'