[Creative Non-Fiction] The Deepest Part
The night I get a DUI, I’m driving to the home of a forty-something-year-old I had sex with two weeks ago. I picture her as I drive—her long curly hair, the curve of her hips and breasts. My headlights shine brightly into the darkness of the rural back road.
My stomach tingles. I didn’t plan on driving tonight. I wanted the woman’s husband to pick me up at the bar, but he changed plans last-minute, and now here I am, navigating a darkened road I’m not familiar with just to get to her. My hands shake.
The first time I slept with her, I didn’t know what the rules were. I thought maybe she and her husband were swingers, or maybe she did this with other women all the time. Truthfully, it didn’t matter. I was desperate for her. I shook the hand of her husband before taking her home with me, dragging her jeans down her legs, and shoving my face between her thighs.
Near two am, she pulled me into her, cradling me in her arms, and touched my face. There was something in her eyes when she touched me; like I was the only person she wanted.
I’m thinking about that moment when the blue and red lights of the cop car flash behind me.
In my third semester at graduate school, I worked with a brown-haired writer with a long, lean body. She was in her mid-forties with short, brown hair and a wicked sense of humor. She wore a constant smirk and swam religiously in the outdoor pool in the mornings. I watched her from the veranda while I sipped coffee, my eyes on the navy swimsuit that curved across her body.
We had a meeting in a coffee shop near the end of the semester, and she told me about a story written by a British author she loved. She sat on a large chair on the second floor of the shop, her lean legs twisted over one another. The smell of sweet milk and cinnamon wafted through the space. I was hungover, shaky. I sat in a skeleton chair, the wooden bones pressing into my spine.
“There’s a scene where the man pulls out her tampon with his teeth,” she said and smiled.
Warmth flooded my body. I shifted in the seat, then looked out to the coffee shop floor where dozens of people milled about. Steam lifted from an espresso machine. I tasted alcohol from the box of wine I drank the night before, trying to forget how much I wanted her, how she was married. My professor. How it would never work.
That night after the meeting, I drank again. This time it was beer and shots of whiskey. I tossed them back, breathed out the burn, and went back for more.
After graduating, I moved to the Florida Keys where I bought bouquets of sunflowers for a woman with reddish blonde hair and a laugh that only peeked out through her eyes. She was freckled, a heavy breather. Her hair smelled like salon shampoo. I ran my hands through it as we sped south on US 1. We’d just worked eight hours at a concert for the rotary group she volunteered for and her body was slick with summer sweat as we settled in the car. Her hair was damp with it, stiff in some places where it dried. We stopped for creamer on the way up, so she could drink it with her coffee the next morning in the house she shared with her boyfriend.
I bought a pack of chips on the stop and in the car, she stuck her fingers in the bag, smirking. Her eyes were blue, creased with sun streaks in the corners. “Share,” she said.
I snatched the bag away. “Only if you’re good.”
She turned back to the darkened road, shoving one last chip into her mouth.
After that, I was careful to watch her eat. I watched her lick food from her fingers. I watched her tongue sandwiches and wrap her lips around chicken salads with spinach, her lips smeared with grease or dressing or faintly popping bubbles from club sodas. Every time we ate together, I imagined it was me she was ingesting, something desperate and needing she slipped past her teeth to settle at the deepest part of her.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day when I get pulled over, and even though it’s late March, it’s still cold in Vermont. The cop’s breath mists as he shines the flashlight down into my eyes.
“You crossed the middle line once or twice,” he says. “I’m going to need you to get out of the car.”
I turn my phone face down on the seat. Exit slow. In twenty-degree weather, I pass my calibration test but fail the breathalyzer. My eyesight is fine, but I can feel the dredges of the alcohol on me, the weight of something warm and heavy. He handcuffs me and orders my car towed, then takes me down to the station.
It’s my first time being arrested. I sit in fluorescent light, my heart buzzing in my ears and cry. It’s not just the arrest. It’s everything; I’ve been single for years now. I work a job I dislike and live in a town I don’t feel I fit in. I’m broke. I keep trying to think of ways to make my life feel better, but the only thing I’ve found to work is alcohol.
“Who can we call to pick you up?” the cop asks.
I sit there. My chest hurts. Everything hurts. It’s like pinpricks all over my body—something dark and dank that’s laid root too deep inside me. “I’ll spend the night here,” I say. “There’s no one.”
A month after I left the Keys, I sat down early in a café for an interview. I’d just finished eating a bagel when my soon to be boss walked in. She had lighter hair than the picture I found of her online, large breasts, and an even larger engagement ring. She was soft when she spoke, and timid around me in a way I didn’t expect from the president of an association.
She hired me in September, and by January, I’d fallen for her. A month after that, I sat at the bar with her after a work event in the dead of a Vermont winter, staring at her mouth, her eyes, the way they crinkled when she smiled.
Later, when we were both heavy under the weight of the glass of Disaronno we shared, my hands found the crux of her blouse, where her lace bra peeked out. I tugged at the fabric, pulling it over her breasts. I wanted to touch more of her, any part of her she’d let me.
“Do you need me to buy you a new bra?” I asked. “Or maybe a new shirt?”
She laughed. She was warm and soft, like she was the day she hugged me after my friend killed himself, her hair curling against mine as she told me I was loved, though she didn’t say by her.
The morning after being arrested, I walk to the impound to pick up my car. The temperature is in the teens, and my eyes water, my head bent, the wind blowing directly into my face. My mittens are in my towed car, so I shove my hands deep into the pockets.
I take a right, heading down a salt-lined street to the impound. The trees are all dead here, even this late in March. Spring remains somewhere far away. My headphone falls out of my ear and when I reach up to put it back in, the cold burns my hands.
Being in Vermont just hurts. It hurts walking, driving, clearing my car off. Taking out the garbage. Sitting at work watching that damn engagement ring filter light.
I think of my boss then. Her smile and the curl of her hair but I’m stuck on the image of the precinct and the way the handcuffs felt against my wrists. I pass the river, half frozen, bleeding slowly into the canal. It seems like everything in Vermont is slower than normal, sluggish and weighted. This is how I feel all the time now. Like I’m not even really here.
The next day at work, I sit quietly at my desk. My body feels numb. I catch up on emails, make website changes, filter through mail and deposit checks. Sunlight streams in through the window just down from my desk.
“How are you?” my boss asks. “How was your weekend?”
I smile. “It was good. Fine.”
She lingers by my desk. Usually, we gab for longer. Usually, I make jokes and she gives me that grin I love. Things are lighter, ungirded, but there’s this anger in me, this silent, dark thing brimming in my chest. “Are you okay?” she asks.
Her curls spring around her ears. I look down at my desk. In two weeks, I will lose my license for six months. I’ve never been in trouble with the law before. I was a 3.9 student in undergrad and earned scholarships to graduate school while working as a program director to pay for the rest. I used to be the girl who didn’t drink during the week, and who never drove after consuming any alcohol, not even one beer. I never imagined I’d resort to fucking women with husbands, driving to them in the middle of the night, in the dark so no one could see.
I look back up at my boss. She’s like an angel in the light. Looking at her used to give me a hopeful feeling. Now, I just feel angry. Not at her, but myself. At my life and where I’ve ended up. For wanting her. “I’m fine,” I say. “Tell me about your weekend.”
She gives me a look I haven’t seen before. Her eyes are calm, not twinkling like they usually are. They’re stark and still. It’s almost like she’s finally seeing me for who I am. I wish then that I could go back to the beginning—before I met her, before I moved to the Keys. I wish I could make it different somehow so it would hurt less. “My weekend was good,” she says.
The lamplight above us flickers. She hesitates, and for a moment her eyes meet mine. The glow of the lamp makes her skin look pale, her freckles like a trail of stars across her chest and arms.
Chelsea Catherine is a queer writer living in Vermont. She is a PEN Short Story Prize Nominee, winner of the Raymond Carver Fiction contest in 2016, a Sterling Watson fellow, and an Ann McKee grant recipient. Her short story collection ISABEL was a finalist for the 2018 Katherine Ann Porter prize. Her novella, “Blindsided” won the Clay Reynolds novella competition and will be published in the fall of 2018.