Dreamers with Empty Hands

When she is in the shower, I turn away. That’s a rule of mine. Looking would be an invasion of privacy, even for two women trapped in such a small room. Practically Antsville. But sometimes I can hear her sigh over the molten stream, steam curling over the tempered glass doors like the tail of a ghost.

Once the plush cotton towel is wrapped tightly around her chest, I watch her. 

I watch her prod at the purple bags beneath her eyes, apply a dab of white cream. I watch her rake her fingers through damp, tousled hair, dry it impatiently with a second towel. I watch her squeeze a pink pimple tucked into that tight space between her nostril and her cheek, a line of ooze appearing.

I remember poking at the same, difficult spot in this very bathroom, thinking I wasn’t good enough. Like I know she is also thinking. 

I hate seeing her unhappy. Hate watching her pick at her imperfections. I wish I could tell her she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen; Donna, Katharine, and Jayne combined

A few months ago, I focused all night, until my finger, which is usually wispy and translucent, was soft and fleshy. And in the morning, before she woke for her daily shower, I wrote, good morning, gorgeous in a delicate scrawl on the mirror.

When she smiled and flushed, I nearly died again. 

But she assumed it was her husband, and this hurt me. More than the ceramic edge of a tub ever did. 

I’ve gotten to know him too, by watching. But I don’t turn away when he’s in the shower. He doesn’t deserve the courtesy. And it’s not because he pees in the tub, a gross, golden whirlpool disappearing down the drain. It’s not because he sticks a finger in his nose and flicks his findings in the rose gold trash can next to the toilet. It’s not even because he hums Frank Sinatra songs when he’s brushing his teeth, like my Eddie used to do.

It’s because the walls are thin, and I’ve heard what he says to her. Eddie used to belittle me like that too. He used to whittle me down to nothing but tears. Used to say, “Suzy, this roast is tough as shoe leather.” Used to ask me, “What the hell have you been doing all day? This house is a mess.” 

When he talks to her like that, I know she makes a brave face. And then excuses herself to hide in the can. She thinks it’s safe in here. Like I did.

When she’s crying, I wish I could touch her. I wish I could reach out and rest my hand on her shoulder, give it an empathetic squeeze. Show her someone’s listening, someone cares, even if it’s some lost soul with a permanent beehive congealed with blood.

But corporealization takes so much time and energy. It would probably take me days to materialize an entire hand for her to feel. And, if I did, she would really flip her lid, wouldn’t she? That’s the last thing I want to do. So, I remain unfocused, unseen, a trick of the harsh fluorescent light.

He’s yelling again. This time it’s about a shrunken pair of socks. I wish she’d tell him to get bent, like I used to tell Eddie. But I don’t want her to get hurt. Men can be dangerous, after all.

Speaking of, doesn’t he know the most dangerous room in the house is the bathroom? Slips and falls happen all the time.

I’d focus for a lifetime if I had to. If only I could wrap my hands around his neck, press my thumbs into that delicate apple bobbing around his throat…

It’s quieter now. He must have gone into the living room. If I strain, I can sometimes hear the murmur of the television, but I’ve never been able to determine what he’s watching. So, I just picture Johnny Carson, a favorite of Eddie’s. It fuels the hate just a little bit more. 

The door’s opening. She’s been crying, of course. I reach out to comfort her, but my fingertips slip right through her wet cheek. I tear up in frustration. As she starts to undress, I look away, press myself into the corner. Not that she would ever notice me. 

When the shower comes on, I hear her cry in earnest, great, gulping sobs. And the scene is all too familiar.

I’ve made up my mind. I have to at least try. For her. Starting tonight, I’ll focus harder than I’ve ever focused before. 

A finger. A hand. 

A push. A fall. 

Lannie Stabile (she/her), a queer Detroiter, is the winner of OutWrite’s 2020 Chapbook Competition in Poetry; the winning chapbook, Strange Furniture, is out with Neon Hemlock Press. She is a back-to-back finalist for the Glass Chapbook Series and back-to-back semifinalist for the Button Poetry Chapbook Contest. Lannie currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Barren Magazine and is a member of the MMPR Collective. She was named a 2020 Best of the Net finalist. Her debut full-length, Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dogs Zeus, is out now with Cephalopress. Find her on Twitter @LannieStabile.

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