Fiction

Where the Gutter Flowers Wilt, pt. 1 by Kyle Summerall

Summer rain blankets the windshield, turning the parking lot into a canvas of mottled lights. I could never paint something so beautiful in its normality. Even if I had the time and the kind of thick paint that you couldn’t get at Walmart. The kind that came in the tubes with a screw off cap instead of the dollar fifty short bottles that littered my room. My ex-boyfriend told me that he wasn’t going to waste any more money on my art. He says I suck at it but sometimes admits that it maybe just because he doesn’t understand it. Then he goes back to griping about all the milk jugs that I keep, and empty two liters and Coors Light cans. I try to explain to him that they’re what my college professors set up for us to draw back when I was taking classes. He didn’t know me back then so he ignores it, only seeing the trash.

Here
6:42 PM
Sent from IPhone

Even after my parents screamed at me and I changed majors, I still went back to the art building. They paid students a hundred dollars a night to be nude models for some figure drawing classes. It wasn’t often enough to be money that I could rely on but it was worth it to be looked at in that way, studied down to most minuscule flaw and perfection. It had always been something I struggled with, being seen through a mirror of interpretation. No matter how skillfully etched, I was always a still and static image with no real depth or dimension. 

They are taking me back but I told them I’d wait
6:58 PM
Sent from IPhone

I wondered why I didn’t get to do it more often. I’d asked if I could but what I came down to was the fact that the milk jugs and stuffed animals never stayed the same. Something was always switched out for something new. No one wanted to draw the same thing over and over again. 

If the weather is too bad, we can reschedule
7:11 PM
Sent from IPhone

On mornings after I modeled, I’d get up early and go back to the studio. The drawings would still be set up on easels, the charcoal fresh. I’d search each tangle of lines for imperfections. Most of them were off here or there but I could still see myself in the dark scribbles. There was one, my senior year, that saw right through everything I was trying to present. Where the others showed a flat stomach, this one perfectly captured the pucker of my naval despite me holding it in tight the night before. The hair was a mess, how I saw it in the mornings, how I tried to make it look like a purposeful mess. The fingers were long, the boobs large and heavy. Unlike the other sketches I’d seen, this one didn’t shy away from the truth, placing that above the attempt at a perfect figure and a good critique.  I tried to remember who sat there the night before, tried to read the chicken scratch at the bottom of the page, but couldn’t, so instead, I ran my hand down the centre, side to side, and back again. When I left the room, my fingers and palm black, there was nothing left that even resembled a human form, just a smear, like an entryway into a dark room. I never went back.

We did say 7, right? 😊
7:19 PM
Sent from IPhone

I’m stalling. I try to tell myself that I’d have already gone in if it wasn’t raining but that’s not true. If anything, the rain was the only reason I hadn’t just gone back home yet. It will lighten up, then I will decide if I’m going in or not. 

I lean over the console and into the backseat before going bottoms up looking for an umbrella that I could have sworn was back there. 

I sit back down and stare at my open messages until the screen goes dark. I unlock it again and wait, seeing if he will send another. A few minutes pass and he doesn’t. I thumb into some old messages, Tinder usually being the place for a quick confidence boost. I have two still left unopened.


You have such a beautiful smile. Lol 😊 Why don’t you show more cleavage?
-Chad

Would you date a married guy? -Cody


I wasn’t going to respond to either, not right now anyway. Neither of those guys seemed like this guy. I think Terry’s first message was something lame, like Hey, What’s up? 

I hit the home button and wonder if he’s worried that I ditched him or maybe ended up in a ditch somewhere. I wonder if this has ever happened to him before or if I’m the first. Maybe he isn’t surprised. He might be thinking that he never had a chance with a girl like me anyway. That, or he’s relieved, hoping I don’t show, regretting this as much as I am. 

I decide that I’m not going in on my own in this rain.

Umbrella?

He responds too soon. I picture him, staring at his phone. Anxious. 

Yes
7:28 PM
Sent from IPhone

Can you come get me? East side of the building, silver corolla. I’ll flash my lights when I see you

He comes out under a black umbrella. It’s pouring and I can’t make out much. He sees my lights and speed walks to me before opening the door and hanging the umbrella overhead. He gets drenched getting me to the awning and I laugh because I’ve already ruined it. His blue button up is dark from the shoulders down and his hair drips  like a leaky sink. He wipes at it with his sleeve but it’s too wet to do him any good. Anything he’d done to make an impression is gone. 

He says we want a table before I even get the chance to protest. I’d have wanted to sit at the bar to keep from having to face him. 

Terry is everything I’d come to expect from a man in his mid-thirties with no kids. That was a rule. I don’t expect anything from them that I too don’t have to offer. I’m a white whale. I’d been waiting for someone to call me that, tell me how special I am to be in my thirties, never married, and no kids. Instead, I had to deal with the preconceived notions that came along with it. 

Terry is from one of those serious dating apps that didn’t give a shit what your favorite color was. It wanted to know if you believed in God and how many kids you wanted. It made the whole thing seem urgent, like time was running out. I bet he’s on those other ones though, the ones where you meet to screw, the ones where the pictures are filtered and everyone is beautiful. I had a few of those godless profiles, but I’d never met anyone from them, we just talked until I got bored or they got too pushy about meeting. I was still with the ex-boyfriend when I made those profiles. That was around the same time that his sister moved in with us, before I found out she wasn’t really his sister and that he loved her more than me now, but didn’t know how to tell me. He didn’t want to hurt me.

The place is crowded, and we have to sit next to a party of adults. Their waitress keeps bumping into my chair when she passes. He asks me what I do and I lie. My profile still says I’m a realtor despite that being three jobs ago but it’s the most interesting thing I’d done. I ask him if he’d seen any of the signs around town with my face on them, knowing there were none, but he thinks that he might have seen one or two. He tells me he likes my eyes.

The waitress comes and she’s only a little taller than Terry is, sitting down. He gets a sweet tea and I tell her I want Dos Equis and I can sense him making assumptions about me getting a beer. 

The waitress, she said her name, but I don’t remember, is gorgeous. Terry is probably thinking it too because when she brings the bread on the wood tray, he cups his hands under it as she trembles trying to set it down. When she sets my beer down and walks off, he feels the need to tell me how thin she is, trying to make it seem like a bad thing. I check my own wrists. They are just as thin and pale as bisque clay. Our waitress is mixed, with what I could never guess but it makes me feel bland. She looks nineteen, but I’ve been that girl who was twenty-seven and still getting carded over boxed wine. In reality, she was maybe twenty-three. Terry is watching behind me, and I bet she’s back there. About that time, she rounds the corner with my soup and his salad. Twenty-three wasn’t fun. College was over, I didn’t get pregnant even though I thought a few times that I wanted to. I still went to the college bars. I still made them take me back to their dorms despite me having an apartment. A guy would go down on me and I’d end up dry by the end when I was used to seeing them pull their fingers out with me webbing between them. I’d end up apologizing even though the guys never cared. I learned to read for fun again but then got a real job. I hoarded books now, but only read magazines with short articles while I sloshed around on the water bed that used to be my ex’s new girlfriend’s when she first moved in. 

Terry tells me about how he works at the shipyard. He’s a lead designer in a big office. A low level, middling talent people pusher. He tells me about how they model the ships on their computers and how ten people could all be working in the same space at the same time and how really, he gets to tell people what to do and play with pretend shapes all day. 

He’s very proud of this, despite it sounding boring to me. I ask him if there is anyone he hates there and all the sudden he’s full of stories and petty complaints that don’t amount to much.

My ex works in the yard as a pipe fitter, and he’s said that the bunch up in the offices don’t know anything about what really goes on. They don’t even use the drawings that design makes most of the time. Some of the guys have been building ships for forty years. They know what works and what doesn’t.

I wonder what else he has besides work to provide any meaning to his life. I wonder what he’d do if he figured out that what he enjoyed so much was meaningless. I felt that way, going from job to job, trying to find a reason to stay beyond the rent. It was hard getting up for a while. I couldn’t find meaning in anything that didn’t involve going back to sleep. I couldn’t commit to the meaninglessness, although I had no idea how to reasonably get away from it. My body wasn’t what it used to be. I complained about that a lot and got told how cheap Planet Fitness was but I didn’t want to work out alone. Everyone else I knew seemed content to hate themselves because their job was great or they had kids who looked up to them no matter what. I didn’t have the drive to get there on my own. My face was starting to wrinkle, like around my eyes and one side of my mouth where I guess I smiled more from. I have cream on the counter for that, expensive moisturiser I didn’t need but wanted, and I never use it because it takes effort to rub in and works best after a shower. I don’t give myself time for that in the mornings when it’s easier to spend the first ten minutes after the alarm staring at my phone and coming up with ways I could call in sick.

The waitress comes back. She sets our food down. I got a small steak and potato. Terry asks her to stay while he cuts into his. He tells her its medium, not medium rare and sends it back. He apologies to her, I guess for being the way he is. Mine bleeds when I cut into it, making my stomach turn.


Follow Kyle on Twitter: @Alpha_Lupus

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