Rumpus Original Fiction: The Earth Revolves around the Sun

The phone rang then. ***
Rumpus original art by Lisa Lee Herrick. I had finished the glass by the time I got to the bikini area so I was slow, unsure. I realized then that the siren was coming through the woman’s phone, too. Seconds later, the squealing of tires—the spin, stop, spin, stop of someone stuck. I thought I could feel my tongue on the slick wet of his cornea. It was in stereo. She walked her border collie past our house three times a day wearing high-heeled boots, high-heeled sandals, high-heeled something. Find her at vanessacuti.com or on Twitter @vanessajcuti. Outside, I heard the wind killing things. “I’m sorry,” I said, scratching at the scratch. The wind had become even louder outside, and I could see the sweep of snow across the windows, sticking into the small holes of the screen. I wouldn’t let myself move, as if tethered to the desk by a cord. I shaved everywhere. He cut pâté into slices and picked them up, gelatin slipping through his fingers, sliding, coating the knuckles of his hands. After, we went downstairs and sat. It had been bothering me since we got the thing. The casement was old and a draft came through a place where the pieces didn’t touch. I asked him to get his gun from the liquor table and press the barrel to my mouth or temple. Efficient. The crackle and choke of him heaving. And then I placed the voice. They began to soften, to swirl. The siren had stopped and now blue and red lights flashed silently somewhere nearby. And you’re tired. She sipped something. So I uncorked the bottle and poured a glass and took it with me in case he came home while I was upstairs. Cocooning. The roads are shit. I smelled him then, too. Like breathing cotton, pure perfume. Her Tudor was situated behind our cape, and if you stood, on tip toes, at the left edge of the back bedroom window and it was evening and her lights were on, you could see squarely into her bedroom, plain as day. “Now all we do is wait,” I said as I sat there, patting his back then moving my hand in circles. He got up and rushed past me toward the bathroom, his open belt buckle jingling as he went. Make a baby in it, someone yelled from the back, over by the omelet station. Any other person would have just hung up. Thinking back on it, the outfit could have been a gag gift. With my luck, something horrible had happened to my ailing father. Cheeses, meats, a small jar of caviar. Everything looked brighter, harder, sharper. The Eastern Hemisphere, then, lit yellow by a cartoon sun. Though I knew it wasn’t my husband even without seeing the car. The mirror was a vintage medicine cabinet we had found at some farmhouse down South; I remembered waiting to pay for it, watching my husband take his wallet out of his pocket while dust swirled around us, the sun turning the trees and the blowing wheat golden. I had gotten the ideas from some decorating magazine and copied it all exactly. You are home. Let’s eat quickly.”
“For God’s sake would you let me get in? Look around. My skin tingled. Mesmerizing. I imagined her smooth brown hair in a bun, lines around her eyes. He’s mentioned how difficult you are. I skipped the salon where I had an appointment for a touch-up and blow-out and rushed home, trying to beat the snow that was supposed to begin around three. When I opened the box at the party the whole room squealed and laughed, already four, six mimosas in. And I was nervous because it was so loud. “Good night.” I put the phone back in its cradle and turned the lights out as I left the room. A teller at the bank. What do I know about these things. And again. Carol. Everything is fine. My new grays, my face pink and raw from his stubble. It is urgent.” Her voice was clear, just like that. “My God, I don’t know why I’m doing this.” Her voice sodden, thick with drink or hysteria. I ran my hand along the edge of the mirror and smiled. He raised his eyebrows at me and looked out the window. Though she didn’t hang up. She kept going, starting and stopping, “Is Ja— Is your— Is Officer—”
“Hon,” he said from the other room. I’ll have a bourbon.” It’s always something with him. We watched each other listen. “You go up,” I said. “Could you? You had a long day. I hated him for his messiness and his short temper. “Do something, for once, you fucking waste,” I said. I had never before seen him eat like that. “You’re late,” I said. It was too loud, synthesized-seeming. He stood, brushing the front of his coat, running his hand over his hair. I just got carried away.” I smashed a piece of Brie into the side of my plate and looked at the white moon it made under the tip of my nail. “You ate too fast, I think. His uniform shirt was still on but unbuttoned. The baker handing you a warm bag. When he was on the seventh step, I closed the bathroom door behind me and ran the sink. And here I felt filled by a wrinkled white sheet, its edges frayed from being dragged, from beating in the breeze. “Hey,” he said as he came in, shaking off onto the hall floor. It had been three years since we remodeled the downstairs bathroom and I was still pleased by the way it had turned out. I could hear the sound of the food in his mouth. The pulse of his heart shook the couch. My face became red and hot. His elbow hit his glass and it tipped and then circled, spinning, spinning, and then righting itself. I felt like my mouth just had to move. I exfoliated first, but then I shaved everywhere. There was a spot for it there between the good bourbon and a cheap wine that his aunt had given us, its label a picture of a large-breasted farm girl or goddess, I couldn’t tell which. It had come with a matching strappy undergarment, which I was also wearing. &laquo Previous post like this

Rumpus Original Fiction: The Earth Revolves around the Sun

By Vanessa Cuti
July 11th, 2018

We had only five days a month, give or take. “Hello,” I said quickly after that, not wanting to wait the beat and make the mistake of saying it in unison again. The TV flashed light though the sound was down, and when I looked away from him I saw a depiction of the solar system, however many dimpled planets, colors correlating to their colored names across the bottom of the screen. On and on. Orbits marked by twinkling white lines. I did the best I could. And then, the people in the West, tucked tight into beds, or drunk at parties, standing on city rooftops, watching the whites of their exhales spiral away and then disappear. One afternoon, I bought a case of champagne. I said many other things, too. I could have been sick if I didn’t stop thinking of it. Stop it, I said out loud, though quietly. Perfect, I thought. The colors reflected onto his face. They spun and circled, caught up in the water, and finally went down the drain. The whole thing. I held it up and blushed. I don’t even know how I made it to the liquor and back. “You okay?” I asked as I opened the door. He was asleep when I got up to the bed. This is because I’m in this strange situation with this strange phone call. And my tongue was too big in my mouth. “I’ll be right there.” I stood. I thought of the way he sometimes left his dirty underwear on his nightstand, how he didn’t even try to fold it to conceal whatever things should be concealed. He seemed to be aging right then at that table. I’ll get in touch with him tomorrow.”
“That’ll be fine,” I said, smiling. He was touching me and his hand was filthy and rough and it caught on the delicate fabric of my robe; I felt the little pulls, heard the ticks of each catch as he moved. Show us, my fool of a future sister-in-law said from the couch, her legs crossed sloppily at the knees, exposing her floral cotton underwear, the whites of her thick thighs. The landline from the bedroom we call the office. Waiting for a package, for a date, for the car of her father or husband. He sat up straighter. I started to cry and didn’t wipe my face. My last sight of him: raising his glass to his mouth, beginning a sip. “It’s freezing. Can’t I take off my coat?”
He stepped into the foyer and stamped his feet. I’m sorry to call your home like this, but I need to speak to him. He gulped bourbon while his mouth was still full, his cheeks puffed and moving. I was almost overwhelmed with the urge to bite them, to break and chew and swallow. He woke when I approached the couch and he pressed his empty glass into my leg. I finished what was left in my glass. It filled the house, singing along with the wind, until it stopped. “Go ahead,” I said to the woman. A mouse of a thing, really. The faintest strain of a siren had also begun in the spaces where the phone was silent. It is urgent you transfer funds to the new account. She received her MFA from Stony Brook University and lives in the suburbs of New York with her family. The shower ran, filling the bathroom with a steam so thick my throat and lungs felt full. So wildly. “I didn’t mean anything. I did a bump in each nostril and wiped my face with the underside of an embroidered guest towel just before the room exploded. I imagined people in Perth, sunbathing on terraces while their water glasses sweat silently next to them, while they saw shapes from behind their closed eyelids, created by the brightness in the sky. He handed me his coat and I turned to hang it up. “Don’t move,” I said, already up, already walking to the back of the house. “Why are you late?” I tilted my head and smiled, though it was a tight and uncomfortable smile and I didn’t show teeth. He looked at me just in time, just as it crested my cupid’s bow and rolled into my mouth. I had drunk another two glasses by then just so the bottle wouldn’t get flat and I may have been in and out of sleep. I saw the small piles of packed snow starting to melt where they had fallen onto the hardwood floor. Stop it now, you will ruin everything. A shame, I thought. My head felt a little loose, like I had just forgotten something important. My feet ached in my shoes. Come sit. It will be so special. It was revolting. But attractive, I guess. And here something in me came undone, some sort of unraveling. I knew he had a soft spot for sadness, for victims. His nails: bitten and too short. Those tires were spinning for quite a while. This is because I drank too much, I thought. I smiled—a huge, fake disaster of a face—and felt my hot, round cheeks pressing my eyes closed. His lips were wet. The dental hygienist. But then. Inflamed, red crescents bordered each one. I saw words in my head like a typewritten page. Something something something. And here he looked at me, and I noticed the unevenness of his eyebrows, the day old growth of his beard, the seam of a scar at his temple, all this humanness. At five, I arranged everything on the dining room table. Too much. It looked like a bit of pink putty. I ate one grape while I waited, counting to ten in my head. “He’s not home right now. Go get changed. The low gleam of the oil rubbed fixtures, the gray grout. He was biting his lower lip and letting it roll out from his teeth slowly. I had wanted to light candles but forgot and the overheard lights blazed down on us. It had seeds, which I crunched and swallowed, though I made a note to complain at the store. And all the snow is blowing in.”
“Relax,” he said. I imagined myself from the outside: the picture of a woman waiting. Get me another?” He sat up. In that she wasn’t fat or old or marred by housework like the rest of them. The woman said “Hello” before I was able to. A gentle panic began, licking at my stomach. His mother was sitting right in front of me but I was drunk, just like the rest of them. “You useless, brainless animal. He usually changed from his uniform immediately. Silencing. It is urgent that you keep these warm, three-hundred degree oven. “Hi,” I said. I imagined us then as two larvae: blind, wriggling, too small for the big pupa we had made, bouncing around inside, our soft bodies into its walls, bruising, leaking fluids, beginning to shrivel. His eyes seemed all one color and I worried for a moment that he wasn’t going to react. Or even worse, to my healthy mother. The key was rattling in the lock as I got up to find my heels. Wait, I thought. He had taken off his gun belt, however, and it lay on the table where we keep the liquor. I waited, listening to her breathe, to the sound of the wind, to the siren swelling and swelling. I drummed my fingernails on the door and cleared my throat, shards of the seeds still prickling, lodged in my tonsils or larynx or whatever it’s called back there. He was folded in front of the toilet, his arms crossed on the open seat, head down and facing the wall away from me. My husband would never get stuck. “Jesus, hurry up and close the door,” I said and tightened the belt on my robe. I pulled at my eyebrows and let the dislodged hairs fall into the sink. “Of course,” she said. My face in the mirror: reddish lips, pale, a small patch of dry skin on my left eyelid. “Who is it?” He had put on the television; I heard the murmur of the evening news. He started talking when I sat down. He was pale, thinner. Anyway, no problem. He dipped a potato chip into the caviar, bit, then dipped the remainder into sour cream (the small market said they were out of crème fraîche). How did I wind up like this?” I said between breaths. I knew it was Carol, the redhead from down the street. “I’m not even in the door and you’re starting.”
“Okay, okay. Polite. He must have flushed as it hit the water because I didn’t hear anything after that other than the running of the toilet. He used a spoon to scoop the caviar tin clean and I let him; I didn’t correct him. He sat on the couch without taking his shoes off, without changing from his uniform. Just something else to fix, to redo. The oil from artichokes rolled golden down his chin and disappeared into the shadow at his neck. I always tried to make them special. The sound was within me, at that point, and I have to tell you I was on the verge of something. Outside, the night had started to quiet. Be right there.” It was mean, evil. For our first time, I said. I could see only the top of a wavy brown head, a glass raised in celebration. “Not the champagne; it’s too sweet. Down the street, the headlights of a slow-moving car. I sighed as I felt a tear reach my lip because I wanted him to see. It’s a goddamned Nor’easter. “Right. I had had my nails manicured that morning and they gleamed and shone, little red jewels. Shhh, I wanted to say to myself. A mass of throbbing, squirming hatred. More from this author → I asked him to handcuff me. “This was a mistake,” she said and then began to cough. Bite and roll, bite and roll. I handed him a glass of champagne and sat down next to him, tucking one leg underneath me. It began at two. Lotioned, radiating heat, I watched out the front window, elbows at the ledge. It was a cunning hatred that had multiplied and divided and subsisted on small daily happenings and personal tics and I was infested with it. Each hair danced and swayed. When I finally saw his headlights arc into the driveway, it was a quarter after six. He piled crackers with cheese and ate them—one, two, three at a time. But you can rest now.” I touched his shoulder and looked up toward the window. From your mouth to God’s ears, I’d say now, considering. I was still trying to get into my right shoe as I went toward him, though he probably didn’t notice. Whipping snow into the beds where the crocus and daffodils had already started pushing their way out, the tips of new spring green just visible. The bins should have been marked. What do you want from me?” The bubbles in his glass rose and burst, furious to escape. Vanessa Cuti’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, Indiana Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, The Southampton Review, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Word Riot, and others. Regardless, something that was better managed in private. Too sweet, not sweet enough. “I’m sorry,” I said. It killed me to watch him. The day of wear in his clothes, the dark warmth coming from the creased places of him. I imagined a nurse at her station, trying to dial 9 to call out while gurneys and beds and attendings busied the polished linoleum around her. Every single day. It is urgent that you floss everyday. I felt my lips brush his long lashes. I leaned on the edge of the desk and looked at the scratch there. “Go ahead.” My insides then. You’ll have to try another time.” And then, answering to no one, I took the phone a few inches from my face and yelled, “No one, hon. “You are a pig and I will never forgive you,” I said, whispering into the black sockets of his eyes. Fuck, I said, and fingered it, picking. From the side, it looked like there was a storm in his eyes, swirling gray. This is because I’m ovulating. Like a strip of skinned animal. Light from the neighbor’s patio reflected off the snow and made my bathroom look like I had never seen it look before. It snuck into the front of my robe: a stupid pink satin thing that I had been given at my bridal shower. I felt my eyes welling up. “Are you serious right now? The meat of it pressed against all of my teeth. Linen napkins. But I climbed on top of him and kissed him with enough urgency that he eventually responded and rolled me onto my back. Positioned grapes on the edge of the cheese plate, two flutes by the ice bucket. Then we both said it again at the same time. He always has been such a good-looking man. He moved forward and opened his mouth. “I need to speak to him.