Sorry for the smears. It’s the excitement. My hand’s got the jitters. I’ve waited so long to write this. I had to wait just a little bit longer till Shelly had finished screaming at me. When she left, she slammed the door so hard that the windows rattled. For a girl who’s only 5’1” she’s a real beast. She could open a jar with her teeth. Of course, I bet you know that already.
As you probably also know, Shelly and I live in the complex across your street. The first time we “crossed paths,” you were walking your domesticated sewer rat, and Shelly hailed you with a brassy “Good morning!” from atop our balcony. You saw her legs slip free from the bathrobe, a cig on her lips. You craned your neck and yelled back an introduction, your cheeks rosying at the glimmer of her underwear. Meanwhile, I was skulking in the dark kitchen, peanut-buttering my waffle. Told myself it’d be okay, since Shelly doesn’t latch onto random passersby. Of course, now I wish I’d confronted her sooner. That way, she wouldn’t have grown to love how there’s paint underneath your nails, tempera flecks on your jeans.
After you and Shelly had exchanged some sensuous repartee, you continued dragging your beast towards the park. I came outside and kissed Shelly, wishing for her sour-coffee taste. She gripped my face and tried making it a fat, sticky one, but the cigarette smoke streamlined into my nostrils and I had to break for my inhaler. When I’d regained my breath, you were a dot on the street corner. The only thing that remained of your visit was a pint-sized dog poop ornamenting the apartment lawn. At first I didn’t care, but by noon it had found its way into my sketchbook.
Honestly, you should tighten that animal’s leash. Remember the other day, when I ran over your toes with my bike? Malt jerked out of his collar, barrelling across the grass like a tiny, enraged boar. I slowed when I saw him break away from you and was rewarded with the prickle of teeth on my Achilles. You limped after me, cursing. I shook the mutt off my sock and sped away, too red-faced to apologise. Shelly laughed when I mentioned it later, but she stilled when I lay down the finer details. Not a lot of people have terriers less than a foot in length, not to mention you—your red, swinging braid, and those boots! I was never a fan of knee-high converse until I saw the painted koi swimming up your calves. A DIY-job, clearly. What type of fabric medium did you use? Actually, I ran over your foot trying to admire the job.
Shelly’s smile froze a little when I mentioned our run-in. Later that evening, she cooked my favourite meat-lovers lasagna. Then she gave me midnight massages while I threw paint around in the bathroom. In the morning, she stacked my failed masterpieces in a corner, all rosy smiles. I expect that, by the month’s end, she’ll go back to being alpha-bitch. The last time I caught Shelly cheating, she adored me for a week before reverting to crapping on me. She even claimed that she wasn’t cheating—that she was allowed to hold hands. And sit in her lap. And slap her ass. I saw the evidence on Facebook and said, “You’re bisexual?” And all she said was “What’s wrong with that?”
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the gays. Gay people are fine. I even have a gay friend. Difference is, he’s the glitterless, “one ass at a time” kind of gay. No double-dipping. Shelly though—with those hips, she must be reeling in the extra partners. I gave her a second chance because I’m a guy of great devotion. Shelly’s a nice girl—smart, cute dimples, and her hair’s got this swoosh to it. And she’s my favourite model, great for nudes. Maybe that’s why you like her too.
But even with Shelly, it’s been hard to paint anything satisfactory. The thrill I felt in my college days—exploring the face of the canvass, each stroke a silken surprise—has dwindled with the years. You, though—you’re alive. One afternoon, you emerged from the local studio centre carrying your masterpiece—a pancake with a purple eye glittering in the middle like a gemstone. That eye pierced right through my soul so much that my legs followed you to your truck. I almost followed you into the vehicle but I tripped over the uneven pavement and almost fell on my face. I then veered into the deeper parking lot to contemplate Shelly’s lack of artistry: when we’d first met, she told me that she did finger painting. I will not judge. Finger painting is still art, even if it is a tad rudimentary. But then later I found out that she taught finger painting to children. At least she likes art, though. She could have lied about that too.
After you drove away, I ran home and pulled out my brushes. Shelly hovered over my shoulder and gave me advice like she knew what she was talking about—“This dark red color would really amp up the energy and yadda yadda”—while I sent paint flying Pollock-style. The splattered canvass had the appeal of a doormat, but Shelly squeezed the fat on my sides and said she loved it. Once she left, I splotched a giant purple eye in the middle of the chaos, though its gaze was lacklustre.
That day you had also been wearing Shelly’s sweater, the one made from wool so soft it’s like wrapping yourself in a cloud. She said she lent it to a friend as part of a clothing swap. You two must be really close because she came back with your underwear. I found it when rooting through our bed for my wallet. Funny, since she’d stamped out my previous requests to see her in lingerie. She pouted when she saw it in my hand, as if I’d ruined a surprise; said that we’d been doing well lately and that she’d try one on after all. She dimmed the lights and shook it while I knelt on the floor, mesmerized by white lace on dark hips. I leaned close and smelled your perfume—thick, fibrous paper.
That night, we lay naked, reveling in the warmth of each other’s beer bellies. Lulled by Shelly’s snores, I gazed through the ragged curtain and saw the constellations we’d traced together on sleepless summer nights. I recalled the tang of Shelly’s favourite sorbet, felt her fingertips trace icy circles on my back. As her drool began puddling in my clavicle, I felt my chest tremble and tighten. I strained for air but no matter how I heaved I couldn’t fill my lungs. Shelly burned hot and heavy, a curvaceous elephant. I fumbled for my inhaler and grabbed the underwear and filled myself with your scent. Shelly rolled aside with a mumble. I lay back down and fell asleep.
The next day, I decided that I had to know for sure. I was certain I would find evidence—Shelly’s sweater, lipstick, anything, something—in your apartment. After your truck had turned the corner, I dug the spare key out of the potted plant by your door. Malt charged me, but I paid no attention; my every nerve had been seized by the paintings upon paintings upon paintings collaging your walls, not an inch of white space to breathe. Mice bathing in coffee cups. Withered pears growing beards of white mold. A Frida Kahlo portrait in cosmic Picasso cubes. Some of them were framed while others crawled off the canvasses and onto the walls. I forgot about Shelly’s sweater. I forgot about the underwear. I just felt your paintings squeezing the life out of my gut and forcing it up to the surface so that I erupted in a long, happy wail. I found the pancake with the purple eye mounted above your bed and almost ran my hand over its lashes before I remembered that it was your purple eye and I should always ask for consent. I tore my hand away and raced back to my apartment before I could do reprehensible damage.
When I barged through the door, Shelly stood up from where she’d been sitting on the sofa, a storm cloud raging on her face. She asked me what I was doing stalking the girl from the complex across the street. She called me all sorts of things, like “Degenerate!” and “Sex offender!” even before I got a chance to explain myself, and when I did, she looked at me like I was nuts. Then she looked furious again—the sort of furious when someone realizes they wasted years of their life on a flaming retard. Then she packed her bags and left.
Don’t worry, though. She’ll come back.
Yesterday, I knocked on your door and said that I lived across the street. I shoved a tray of chocolate muffins into your hands—the ones you microwave and then eat in precise quarters. Take them because I heard that someone had broken into your home and you could use some sweets. Your eyes brightened because you’d run out, and you were too flattered to ask how I knew your tastes. I’d buzzed my head and ditched my usual sweatshirt so you wouldn’t recognize me from the park. But you did look at me strange, like I was a little too embarrassed to be just your neighbour. I told you that I couldn’t visit the art museum anymore because I felt violated by all the horrendous white space. You squinted and asked for my name. I replied that I’d seen you walking your dog and that you had a hundred treasures hiding inside your apartment—from what I could see from your open door, of course. You nodded and shut the door real slow, keeping an eye on me. I slipped this into your mailbox because I knew I’d be too nervous to verbalize what I’d really come to tell you. You rarely get any snail mail, so you’ll have ripped open this envelope and read its contents by the end of today. I suggest we meet next Thursday to confirm whether you’re the Other Woman for sure.
P.S. Are you opposed to threesomes?
L.D. Nguyen lives inside of comic books but frequently emerges from this 2-D universe to write short fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Broken Pencil, Curve, Vine Leaves, and others. She lives in the Bay Area, California with her cat.