THE SHORT AFFAIR
By Olena Jennings
I feel my hair brush against my summertime skin. It reminds me of the way he touched me. He has a girlfriend. I imagine her sitting at home waiting for him, biting her nails and taking photos of the space without him, part of her photography project. This is what she did with his absence.
I met her once at an art opening. She wanted to talk to me about my art, about how I landed an exhibition in one of Soho’s most desirable galleries.
He came into my space, took a cab because he was running late, lateness his habit. I photographed him with my cat. I wanted to remember that he’d been there, a souvenir of our meeting. He brought red wine that we drank before he started to touch me. I saved the bottle.
I wasn’t much better off than his girlfriend. I tried to imagine he was still with me. I put the pillow to my nose, buried my face inside it, and breathed in his scent. He always smelled spicy, like nighttime, as if he had just eaten at the Indian restaurant on Bedford before heading to my apartment.
I went to the bar every Thursday night. He was there alone. We danced to whatever ethnic tunes that the DJ spun, sweat dripping off his black hair onto my shoulder. Sometimes we danced to disco versions of Ukrainian folk songs I remembered from my youth. He bought me a drink, gave me his phone number, and walked out the door.
His phone number sent me into a state of euphoria beyond what was called for. At 4 am I walked through empty subway tunnels. I still felt his sweat on my body, mixed with my own. My heart beat fast.
I called him in the middle of the day when I couldn’t concentrate on the class I was teaching and he answered the phone with a groggy voice. We agreed to meet at his favorite restaurant where he had seen Scarlett Johansson.
At the restaurant he seemed more than human and I couldn’t imagine him doing human things like eating and yet there he was with a knife and fork cutting into his medium-rare steak.
I started a countdown. It had been twelve days since he called. On Thursday night I put on make-up. I covered up sunspots. I painted my lips crimson. I went to the bar. He was not there and something about my demeanor prevented me from meeting anyone else. I stood in the corner alone with my Bulgarian beer.
He gave me gifts. He took a watch off his wrist and gave it to me. It was much too big, but I slept in it for days. The second hand left an imprint on my cheek. He gave me a silk flower, an orchid that I put in my brown hair. We were fated to end before we began.
Even when he didn’t call, I waited for him. I washed my hair and shaved my legs, nicking the skin and turning the water blood-rose. I cooked enough food for two. I slept a lot, hoping I would wake to messages from him. I moved on, only in protest of his absence.
Olena Jennings has published fiction in Fawlt, Joyland, and Projecttile. Her poetry can be found in Poems By Sunday. Her translations of poetry can be found in Chelsea, Poetry International, and Wolf. She has read her poetry with Yara Arts Group, at the Shevchenko Scientific Society, and at the Ukrainian Museum. She completed her MFA in writing at Columbia and her MA in Ukrainian Literature at the University of Alberta.