Johnny America


Sug­ar Sugar


Vala spelled out ‘I Love You’ in her break­fast ce­re­al, but by the time Emi­ly came to look, a cou­ple of O’s wan­dered. It was text­less. If Emi­ly had got­ten out of the show­er quick­er it would have been ok: the re­la­tion­ship. Maybe Vala shouldn’t have yelled. It may not have been im­por­tant, al­though it wasn’t al­pha­bet ce­re­al. They were toast­ed O’s and she had to line them up; a re­al chal­lenge. It didn’t help that Emi­ly was still wet from the show­er. Wa­ter was drip­ping in­to the bowl from the dark curls of her hair, mak­ing the ab­bre­vi­at­ed love let­ter sog­gi­er. Emi­ly rushed from the show­er and didn’t grab a tow­el. There was a trail of wa­ter from the bath­room. Vala looked at it an­noyed. She knew she would end up clean­ing it.

“What are you talk­ing about?” Emi­ly asked. Vala point­ed with the spoon.

“You got me out of the show­er for that?”

Vala of­fered her a full spoon, part of the L. She re­fused. Emi­ly stood there wait­ing for some­thing. Vala ate the spoon­ful. She could feel Emily’s stare.

“Can’t you see it’s ro­man­tic?” she yelled while chewing.

In hind­sight she shouldn’t have yelled the sec­ond time, but the taste of wa­tered down ce­re­al with a hint of mint sham­poo was terrible.

On her way back to the show­er Emi­ly slipped on her trail of wa­ter. She fell and broke her wrist. Vala felt it wasn’t her fault. Emi­ly was the one that want­ed tile in the kitchen. The old linoleum of­fered bet­ter trac­tion when wet. She told her to hur­ry to the bowl of ce­re­al, not hur­ry away from it.

Vala thought the ce­re­al in­ci­dent would burn out and be over with; like most of their fights. They didn’t speak all day Mon­day. Tues­day Vala ate Raisin Bran but couldn’t get enough raisins to spell any­thing mean­ing­ful. She drove to work ear­ly won­der­ing if Emi­ly had pur­pose­ful­ly de-raisined the box. Emi­ly slept in af­ter her late night vis­it to the emer­gency room: alone.

In the af­ter­noon Vala felt guilty about her raisin ac­cu­sa­tion and for not go­ing to the hos­pi­tal with Emi­ly. She texted her lover OOOOOO. Vala fig­ured Emi­ly couldn’t get any an­gri­er and the up­side was that she would get the toast­ed O ref­er­ence, laugh and for­give her. Emi­ly texted back: XXX; a good sign. Vala came home late to find her on the couch hopped up on pre­scrip­tion pain pills. She leaned in for a kiss and Emi­ly balked.

“I thought we were good.”

“What gave you that idea?”

“Your text mes­sage… triple X rat­ed? Tonight?”

“Oh sor­ry, I thought that meant poison.”

Vala grabbed Emily’s pills, poured half of the bot­tle in­to her palm, popped one in her mouth and threw the bot­tle back to Emi­ly. Sat­is­fied, Vala went up­stairs. She was in the bed­room re­lax­ing in a med­icat­ed haze when she got a text mes­sage from Emi­ly. She picked up the phone and pressed a se­quence of keys. Her text mes­sage read, “XOXOXO”. She lost her Zen. That woman poi­soned my Chee­rios! She popped an­oth­er pill and passed out.

On Wednes­day Vala came home ear­ly to the fa­mil­iar sound of wa­ter run­ning up­stairs. It was a good sign. She turned on the tele­vi­sion a lit­tle too loud and heard Emi­ly call­ing on­ly af­ter it turned to yelling. She paused the tele­vi­sion and walked up­stairs. Vala looked in and saw a trash bag float­ing in a pile of suds. Emi­ly loved bub­ble baths and her bro­ken wrist wouldn’t stop her from relaxing.

“I was call­ing to ask you to turn on the ra­dio for me.” There was a small ra­dio on a shelf, far enough away for safety’s sake, but it made it in­con­ve­nient. It had be­come a rit­u­al for them. Emi­ly would ask her to turn it on and then in­vite her in­to the tub. Fi­nal­ly she thought.

“Sor­ry I didn’t hear you.”

As she turned on the ra­dio Emi­ly con­tin­ued, “That’s right, you on­ly com­mu­ni­cate in writ­ing. You’re a writer.”

“What’s that sup­posed to mean?”

“A ca­reer pays bills, oth­er­wise it’s a hob­by.” Clas­si­cal mu­sic played in the background.

“I’m an artist. Don’t get on me about work.”

“No, why would I do that when there’s so much mon­ey in Toast­ed O syntax?”

Her face dropped.

“Oh look ba­by come here; look what’s writ­ten in the bubbles?

Vala start­ed to walk away when her cu­rios­i­ty peaked. Maybe she still want­ed her to join in. Maybe she was in for some kinky trash bag sex. Emi­ly could make her be­lieve any­thing. Maybe there was cloud like writ­ing in the bub­bles. Maybe it was her way of apologizing.

“What does it say?”

“Ac­tu­al­ly, it would read. It wouldn’t say any­thing, but you’re the writer eh?”

Be­fore Vala un­der­stood that a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion wasn’t hap­pen­ing, Emi­ly changed her tone. “I’m teas­ing sweety, come clos­er it’s hard to see.”

Vala was hope­ful. She went to the edge of the bub­bles. They were pour­ing out of the tub and she couldn’t wait un­til even more poured out.

“See it?”

“No, where?” Vala was search­ing the skin tones in the tub, not pay­ing at­ten­tion to any­thing else.

“It’s writ­ten in the bub­bles. It says fuck,” she paused. “you.” Emi­ly splashed a hand­ful of bub­bles in­to Vala’s face. Vala’s eyes burned. She jerked back; slipped on the suds. Her hands flailed as her eyes clamped. Her body reached for sta­bil­i­ty. Vala’s right arm found the ra­dio shelf. It didn’t hold and sent the ra­dio fly­ing through the air. She forced her eyes open enough to see Emi­ly jump­ing up. She was stand­ing in the bath­wa­ter when she caught the ra­dio with her trash bag wrapped arm. It hurt. Her eyes and mouth opened wide. The pain re­cep­tors in her bro­ken wrist be­trayed her. The sec­ond Emi­ly caught the ra­dio, she was forced to drop it. The ra­dio fell in­to the suds. There was high pitched sound and Vala couldn’t tell if it came from the ra­dio or her girl­friend. She tugged the cord un­plug­ging it from the sock­et and hud­dled over to her body on the floor. There was no pulse. She tore her cell phone out and di­aled 911; put it on speak­er. Vala start­ed mas­sag­ing her heart and she yelled for an am­bu­lance. She was giv­ing her CPR when they arrived.

Two days lat­er Emi­ly was dis­charged. Vala re­al­ized how much she al­most lost. Emi­ly re­al­ized how much she was still in love. Vala start­ed ther­a­py even be­fore her court man­dat­ed dead­line. Emi­ly joined her on a ses­sion and a half. They made progress. The fight­ing end­ed and the bit­ter­ness start­ed to fade. Vala and Emi­ly worked to­geth­er nur­tur­ing their frag­ile re­la­tion­ship. To cel­e­brate its re­ju­ve­na­tion and her cast com­ing off they booked a first class cruise.

From the mo­ment the limo dropped them at the port their smiles were in­sep­a­ra­ble. They en­joyed overeat­ing dur­ing the day and read­ing with a buzz in the af­ter­noon. Nights were a reg­i­ment of drunk­en gam­bling and danc­ing in­to morn­ing. To­ward the mid­dle of the week Vala found the gym and Emi­ly found a yo­ga class. They spent the evenings to­geth­er and dur­ing a worn Cabaret they de­cid­ed to duck out and take a walk. The clouds dif­fused moon­light in­to the wa­ter as they walked hand in hand. Their va­ca­tion was start­ing to breed warmth back in­to their re­la­tion­ship. Vala smiled. To­ward the back of the ship Emi­ly stopped and looked over the rail­ing. The churn­ing from the ships en­gines caused the phos­pho­res­cent al­gae to shine cre­at­ing a trail of in­tri­cate pat­terns. It was beau­ti­ful. Vala stepped on a low rung and leaned over the rail to block out the am­bi­ent light. Emi­ly checked out her butt, as she did when they were first dat­ing. She joined her on the railing.

“Look Vala, in the water.”

Vala scanned the water.

“See it?”

Emi­ly point­ed. “It says ‘I Love You’” She put her hand over Vala’s guid­ing it to the words writ­ten in algae.

For­give­ness is frag­ile. When a wound is con­front­ed it’s brought out to be re­mem­bered in a dif­fer­ent way. A bad event can be­come a mod­i­fied mem­o­ry, or an act with an as­ter­isk; a blan­ket on a foot­note or a warm coat­ing. There is how­ev­er, a mo­ment just be­fore for­give­ness when the as­ter­isk hasn’t been placed, the mem­o­ry not mod­i­fied, and the wound is fresh fresh fresh. The wrong words in that mo­ment, a mis­un­der­stood look, a mis­placed word, an in­ter­rup­tion, can mean dis­as­ter. It can in­flame the dam­age ex­po­nen­tial­ly. If salt is thrown in this in­stant, the wound bleeds wide open.

It was at this mo­ment, some­thing in Vala’s mind couldn’t re­sist the op­por­tu­ni­ty for in­sti­ga­tion. It was a de­fense mech­a­nism. She thought things were go­ing too good on a path she knew she was afraid of. It wasn’t even as if she knew she didn’t want it. But it was dif­fer­ent. Fight­ing was safe. Vala threw a pound of raw salt.

“Ac­tu­al­ly, ac­cord­ing to you it would read I love you. The al­gae wouldn’t say anything.”

Emily’s mind erupt­ed; flood­ed. She stopped breath­ing. Her mind set­tled enough for a few sec­onds of calm. With the re­main­ing air in her lungs she replied. “You’re right. I was wrong,” Emi­ly held her hand, “any­way I was mistaken.”

That’s when Emi­ly breathed in. Her mind ex­plod­ed with re­lief in the knowl­edge that every­thing would be over soon. She breathed out quick­ly tug­ging Vala’s hand just enough to shift her cen­ter of grav­i­ty. “it reads ‘fuck you’”

Vala fell. The churn of the pro­pellers drown her splash.

Ac­cord­ing to an in­de­pen­dent study ap­prox­i­mate­ly twelve peo­ple per year go miss­ing on cruise lines. Caus­es of cruise deaths in­clude al­ler­gic re­ac­tions to shell­fish, food poi­son­ing, chok­ing, pool ac­ci­dents, stray golf balls, falling bunk beds, moor­ing lines, open hatch­es, and in­sect bites. Most falls are lumped in there some­where for pub­lic re­la­tions sake.

Emi­ly re­turned to the Cabaret in time for their last dance num­ber. She looked over at the emp­ty chair be­side her, com­plete with cup hold­er and half filled daiquiri. Lean­ing over the top of the cup was a cher­ry speared with a pink plas­tic sword. Vala had stolen it from her ear­li­er. She reached over and took the half filled drink. She plucked the sword out and ate the cher­ry. Vala al­ways stole her cher­ry whether it was in a drink or on a sun­dae. Be­fore she popped it in her mouth she looked in the froth and thought she saw a cou­ple let­ters, but smiled when she re­al­ized she was mis­tak­en. She plucked the cher­ry stem from her mouth and gulped the last bit of Vala’s daiquiri. She grinned.

Mean­while, in the eeri­ly pleas­ant dark­ness of the trop­ic wa­ter, Vala float­ed. She stroked once every few yards, con­served her en­er­gy and lis­tened for a ship. Her thoughts af­ter the pan­ic sub­sided were wish­es of Emi­ly get­ting food poi­son­ing or be­ing hit by a stray golf ball. As the night passed she thought of the fish that would in hours be feast­ing on the ex­ploits of her di­ges­tive track. She dreamed they would grow up strong; some­day be caught and be served to Emi­ly. Hope­ful­ly she would choke on one and die. They weren’t far from port. She had a fifty fifty chance. Vala grinned.

Filed under Fiction on December 1st, 2008

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Reader Comments

Sylvia North wrote:

Bruce Bright­ly:
Re­al les­bian­ism is­n’t like in the movies, you know. In fact, usu­al­ly it is­n’t pret­ty at all. This is some sick shit. Burn in hell, pig.

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