[BIO]: Cristina is completing an MFA in Fiction at The New School and is a food blogger.
I wake up sticky, my legs hooked around our blue-checked comforter. Today is the eighth Thursday since your departure. The alarm frets on your bedside table, because I still haven’t changed it. I wake from a dream in which the cat and I discover the remains of Sherlock Holmes, separated and neatly labeled in parcels, in a closet. It’s been hot here this summer. I guess it’s pretty hot where you are, too.
I haven’t seen anyone but the doorman and the jeweler for three days. I’ve only left the building once. I know what you will say, that I should be out and about and making plans, but I don’t think you realize how tough it is, to be between jobs. I check the want-ads most days, but nothing really gets my motor running.
I forage for an ad that reads: Seeking dedicated Pisces with a passion for design and construction of classic American bicycles. Knowledge of drum brakes and internal gearing a plus. Propensity for mixing paints preferred. Flexible hours required, in order to accommodate candidate’s filmmaker fiancé’s mad-hatter schedule.
Instead, I inquire after the analytical-content-interface-development position I told you about, a slight intellectual promotion from my last job, but probably for less pay. Sometimes I envy you. Sometimes I wish I had an aspiration with enough passion fueling it to drive me to South America for three months.
Lately, I have been keeping the television on throughout the day. You’re surprised, right? But I like the noise. It’s almost like conversation and I’m having a hard time without you here. I watch a show about a famous fashion designer who yells at her assistant over and over again. After that, I watch a program where two bakers compete to build ten-foot-tall models of famous landmarks—the Sears Tower, la Sagrada Familia, the Chrysler Building—always made entirely out of cupcakes. I won’t bore you with the details.
At night, even if I have spent all day in the apartment, I still check the closets before I go to bed. Who knew we had so many closets? First, the one in the hall – I look behind the vacuum cleaner, I root among the video equipment you left behind. I wouldn’t have to check them if you were here. Your presence drives away my fear of ax murderers and Velociraptors.
I peer into the bathroom, behind the shower curtain. Afterward, the walk-in in the bedroom. That one is the trickiest. Your shirts, some still in the dry cleaner’s plastic, are too short to conceal man or dinosaur. But I make sure to inspect behind my dresses, our winter coats. You just never know.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that, without you here, Oscar has lost his joie de vivre. He only picks at his Fancy Feast; he barely scratches his scratching post. I am really worried about him. For his sake, I think you should finish the film and come home. He really misses you.
Yesterday when you called, your voice crackled on the line and I thought about the sound waves leaving your mouth and shooting into the sky. I don’t remember the name of the town you were in, just that someone had generously lent you the only satellite phone for miles. I agree, those Peruvians do sound like accommodating people.
As I listened to your report of the last few days, your plans for procuring location permits in the next few, and how you aren’t sure if the documentary will be finished by October as planned, I felt outside of myself. What could I say? I have never petted a pink dolphin or tasted a honeyed uvilla straight from the branch. I can only imagine those things, just like I must imagine you now. Have you grown out your beard? Do you still tuck a napkin into your collar before you dip toast soldiers into a baked egg?
I know I was short with you at the end of our conversation yesterday. It felt good in the moment—to punish you for being so far away, for leaving me to file your tax returns, and to feed our cat. But, truth be told, I regretted it the moment I hung up. You know that the distance between here and the Amazon presses on my chest—it’s a feeling like the second night of summer camp. Then I was the one punished.
Because you told me to get out of the house, I thought about visiting the Neue Gallery today, where we saw The Embrace and drank strong Venetian coffees in the chestnut-paneled café. Do you remember, we played a game of cat and mouse? Me turning corners, you slinking around them after me. I was so surprised when you caught me against the wide doorframe between two exhibition rooms. You pressed an illicit hand under the peony-splattered sundress I used to wear, your fingers reaching the laced edges of new underwear. But traveling across town just felt like too much of a production without you here.
This afternoon I should go to the supermarket. I ate my granola today with the remaining tablespoon of milk in the fridge, and you know how I approve of their aggressive use of air conditioning. Lately, I enjoy standing in front of the vegetable section. I don’t know why, but it feels life affirming to watch bright endive and Scotch Bonnets have a misty shower. And there are so many different kinds of meat in the deli section! Hickory Smoked Mangalitsa Bacon, salt-cured slabs of speck. I gaze through the glass like an appraiser and pretend to contemplate a purchase.
The last time I went to the grocery (I bought coffee filters but forgot paper towels), I returned to find a sparrow caught in the vestibule. It was sweet, I think because it was so small. It flew four feet into the air and straight into the glass doors of the buildings entrance. Not hard enough to seriously hurt itself but more like a clumsy child bumping its nose.
I moved around him in a loping circle. He was so alive! It was really remarkable, the frenetic fluttering of brown wings. He turned right around and found his way out of the hall. Because there is nothing worse than a trapped animal, am I right? I checked the mail on the way in, because I hadn’t all week. What is the point? I don’t enjoy the magazines you subscribe to. Architectural Digest, honestly.
Do you remember how you proposed to me the night before you left, and then how the ring was too small, and how I told you I would have it refitted immediately, the very next day? The truth is, the ring remained in its box until a few days ago, when I finally took it to the jeweler.
In fairness to me, I was just trying to prolong the excitement. I needed that ring to serve as a bridge between your leaving and your coming home. But truthfully, that excitement is getting harder and harder to locate the longer you are away. Like a word I can’t summon to mind, the more I try to zero in on it, the more elusive it seems.
I am telling you this now because I picked up the ring this morning. The jeweler handed it to me in the same box you presented it to me in. It’s easier to be honest in writing, don’t you think? When you gave it to me, in a restaurant far more lavish than any you’d taken me to before, I thought, “How could such an interesting man choose such an unexceptional ring?” It was odd, the flush of happiness I felt, tinged with what I now understand to be dissatisfaction. I am just trying to be honest.
As I sit on our couch staring at it, the ring is no more palatable than when I first saw it. In fact, maybe it is a little less. I slip the ring on my finger, spin it around in a circle or two. It fits my finger now, but it also sort of doesn’t fit, without you here to make it real. Do you know what I mean?
I take the ring off and lay it on the coffee table. I’m looking at it as I write this. Where are you? A thin gold band, and just one, smallish diamond – alone, like a house in an empty field. It rises steeply, sticks up in the air like a bad attitude. Even the way it sparkles bothers me. The way it catches ochre and fuchsia in the light, so kitschy. I think that’s what the problem is.