Holding on to Rhetoric
I smiled immediately when I saw him, popped my trunk, and watched as he loaded his duffel bag. I wondered how the night would play out, if he would sleep on the couch or automatically sleep in the bed next to me. I imagined what we would talk about since we were years away from college, and the messages we sent each other had become sparse.
When Rhetoric sat down, I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, my heart racing as I breathed in his smell of cloves and sandalwood. His locks were gone, and his face was shadowed by an angled dark colored fedora.
“Woman, you look beautiful, it’s like the sun shines through you. I love your hair,” he reached out and touched my curls.
“Thank you.” I blushed at his unusually long gaze. “You look great New York must be treating you well.” I quickly added gaining my composure.
“Naw, I’ve been treating myself well.”
“You gave up drinking?” I asked.
“Whoa, easy now, even Jesus drank.” His sinister laugh filled the car and it felt like we had never been apart. As we joked, I drove to the supermarket to grab things for dinner and breakfast.
We were like a married couple, putting things in the cart, strolling from aisle to aisle, laughing and talking, Rhetoric reached the counter first, swatting my hand away as I went for my handbag. As we checked out, Rhetoric took the bags with one hand.
“So what would you like to do tonight?” I asked walking towards the car.
“You already know the answer to that Woman.” He answered mockingly.
“Do I? I just want to make sure that I don’t assume anything.” I unlocked the door with my remote, and stood in the sunlight waiting for Rhetoric’s reply.
“Assume something like what?” He opened the car door and watched me sit down.
“I don’t know.” I put my keys in the ignition. He smiled at my shaking hands. He held the car door open with his hand and created a wedge with his body.
“You know, spit it out.”
I smoothed back the front of my hair and looked up at him. The sun was creating a halo around his figure. When I didn’t answer, he crouched down and placed the shopping bags on the asphalt.
“Look Woman, I don’t ever expect anything from you. I’ve known you for a long time. I honestly want to see you. You know I’m not into making women do shit they don’t wanna do. That’s some kid shit. You grown, I’m grown.”
“I’m sorry, I hope that I didn't insult you.”
“Listen, I’m always attracted to you in that way, but the way we chill is the way we chill. If I got liquor and weed I’m usually good. My habits are bigger than my need for pussy. I say all that to say I’m not pressed. I respect you.” He picked up the bags, closed the car door and let himself in on the passenger’s side. Placing the bags at his feet, he leaned over and kissed me on my cheek.
“We good?” He asked.
We continued joking around as I drove to my place. I parked and took him up to my apartment. I directed Rhetoric to place the grocery bags in the kitchen and I went about placing the items in the fridge. He looked around complementing my Roy Lichtenstein and Salvador Dali prints. I instructed him to put his duffle bag in my bedroom.
“You’re such a girl.” I heard him say as he mocked my bed covered with colored throw pillows and room decorated with vases of tiger lilies.
“Are you hungry? I’m going to cook dinner.” I called out from the kitchen.
Rhetoric put on the TV and came back to the kitchen, pouring a glass of vodka. I washed my hands, and began cooking, taking out my stainless steel nonstick pans and various utensils. Rhetoric grabbed himself a chair and sat watching me as I cleaned, then seasoned the meat.
“Can you hand me a green pepper? It’s in the fridge.”
He rooted through the fridge and found a plump green pepper. He handed it to me and sat back down. I chopped the pepper as his intense eyes clawed at my back. I glanced over briefly and smiled. He was doing that thing with his eyes where he looked at me like I was a biscuit and he had the butter. I quickly turned away, and tried not to let him work his magic on me.
I made dinner special for him; there were colored glasses filled with ice, bread blanketed by a textured cloth napkin set in a wicker basket; meat, vegetables, and gravy in serving dishes filling the table. I motioned for him to sit down. Rhetoric took the plate and began tearing into a biscuit.
I sat in silence eating and listening to the fan hum, enjoying the meal. In the hush, I observed him from time to time as he ate dinner. In two days, he'd be right back in the city making some girl crazy with his indifference. But at that moment I saw him looking into the flame of the scented candle, caught in his own musing. I saw the man I could fall in love with, if I let myself. Rhetoric, the man with copper skin and wayward hair, the man who could paint a masterpiece, speak bluntly, and look through me in one glance.
When we were finished, I placed the decorated dishes in the soap filled sink. Rhetoric poured himself another drink and helped me clean up. After drying the last dish, he wrapped his long arms around me, placed his furry head beside my ear and whispered, “Thank you Woman, dinner was wonderful.”
“Let’s lay down,” he said as he walked into the bedroom taking off his shirt. I took my tank and shorts into the bathroom and changed. As I washed my face, I had a nervous jitter of excitement. I moisturized with scented body oil, then braided down my hair. I took a deep breath and emerged from the bathroom. Rhetoric was sitting on the edge of the bed. I sat next to him and smiled. He returned the smile.
The moon’s blue light fought with the orange glow of the candles. The cool breeze from the open window blew over us. Rhetoric kicked off his shoes and socks, stretching out and laying his head on my lap. My fingers ran across his cheeks and towards his temples, landing in his curls, experiencing the contrast of his smooth skin and his thick curly hair wrapping around my fingers.
“What you thinking ‘bout Woman?”
“Whether we would have worked out in college.”
“No, I don’t think so. Not like this, not like we are now.”
“Probably not, I was a slut then.”
“Not so much.” He laughed his silly sinister snicker. He opened his eyes and his smile changed. Rhetoric gave me a long stare, his large dark almond shaped eyes conveying the sincerity he felt. He lifted up and kissed me on the eyelid.
We moved from our position, I blew out the candles and Rhetoric pulled back the covers. I eased into bed and he nuzzled behind me, with his hands around my waist, his hairy face tickling my cheek. I turned over, burrowing into his chest. I breathed him in, becoming intoxicated by his smell, his unique blend of sandalwood and cloves.
His hands leisurely traveled down my neck, and landed on my shoulders. I heard his heart begin to thump as his hand remained stiff on my shoulder. Then he quickly rolled the two of us over and went in to kiss me. This kiss wasn’t the same as the few times we kissed before. It was comforting and passionate. The tenderness of it caught me off guard and I closed my eyes trying my best to dismiss my anxiousness as all articles of our clothing fell to the floor.
The brightness of the full moon shone through my yellow curtains, as he touched my body with his fingers. Rhetoric’s hands and lips glided from the curve of my breast to the length of my leg, tracing each line, curve and crevice with his fingertips.
When it was over, I laid in silence, trying to comprehend my feelings. I wanted to imagine a life with him, making a true allowance for him to be who he was. I really didn’t know what to expect from a relationship. Although my parents were married for decades, their relationship seemed like a farce, they weren’t affectionate and they barely spoke to one another. There was always a feeling of tension and unhappiness as my parents glided about like soulless drones.
Rhetoric was nothing if not genuine. In my imagination Rhetoric and I could live in an apartment in some major metropolitan town, sharing the same building with bohemians, musicians, writers, painters, and other artsy folk. I would have Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk resonating throughout our place as I typed a novel on the computer, he’d paint a masterpiece.
I wanted to be the Tammi Terrell to his Marvin Gaye, not the Frida Kahlo to his Diego Riviera. I knew I’d eventually tire of wanting him to give me the kind of romance that I knew he was incapable of. He’d never be the guy buying me flowers, taking me to fancy restaurants or on vacations abroad. Rhetoric would never stop smoking or drinking. He would never be faithful. I could never truly have him; it would be as useless as holding on to fire. I was too scared to give into him, just to have him walk out with that damned duffel bag he carried everywhere with him like an appendage.
I turned around and faced him. I studied the shape of his face; noted the placement of his eyes, the outline of his lips, and the little highlight of red that grew in his thick beard.
“We alright?” He asked. I nodded my head.
“Don’t think that I came here for sex. I came here for you. I wanted to be with you.” He kissed me and let our foreheads touch. I never thought of him as sentimental.
“You know you my Woman, right?” He asked, looking into my face and holding my head in the palms of his hands.
“I’ve always been your Woman.”
“Yeah, you right.” He smiled and kissed me, his lips over powering mine. I closed my eyes becoming lost in the tenderness of it.
I was lured to sleep by the thump of his beating heart and the hiss of his exhale.
When I woke up, I released myself from his hold, going into the bathroom and beginning my morning routine. When I was finished I gave myself another glance, checking my unbraided hair, and walked out, returning to bed. Rhetoric rolled over and kissed me lightly on the forehead.
“Morning.” He said.
“Good Morning.” I answered, my heart jumping a little. I returned to the warm section of the bed covering myself with the comforter. Rhetoric got up and went to the bathroom, returning a few minutes later laying next to me allowing me to place my head on his chest. His hand landed lightly on the nape of my neck, twirling the curls of my hairline.
“Sleep good?” he asked.
“Best sleep I’ve had in awhile.”
“Me too, Woman.”
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
“Woman, if you’re cooking I’m always hungry.” I slid out of bed, covered my hair with a brightly covered bandanna and washed my hands, preparing to make a big breakfast. My body felt tingly and I replayed everything in my head. Rhetoric grabbed himself a chair and sat watching me again as he had the night before. I put a long flat pan on the stove and laid six bacon strips down, turning on the heat slowly.
“Want some orange juice?” I asked.
“With vodka?” Rhetoric’s malicious laughter echoing.
“Blend your own poison.” I said bothered. It was too early in the morning to start drinking. I poured him half a glass of orange juice and took his bottle of vodka and brought it to him. His hand grazed mine as I handed him the bottle and I thought about our love making, how with each kiss he brought his body closer. I watched as he poured the vodka, his hands shaking, unable to prepare his drink without spilling. This was in deep contrast to the strength of his arms, the muscle of his back, and the thick of his hair as he introduced himself to me over and over again the night before.
The kitchen was filled with the smell of cinnamon biscuits rising, fried bacon, buttery grits, and brown gravy. I placed all the finished foods in separate colored dishes and sashayed past him putting all the food on the dining room table.
“Breakfast is ready,” I called. I could never tell him that I loved him, Rhetoric was not a man that I could love directly, but I could impart those feelings in what I prepared. I would have to love him indirectly, and food was the only way I knew how.
Rhetoric walked over to me and gave me a strong hard kiss, sharing the vodka and orange juice he was sipping.
“This looks good Woman.” He said walking away slapping my bottom playfully.
We spent the rest of the day watching movies and catching up, all the while never talking about what happened or if it meant anything. I told myself that it was bound to happen. I now was one of the numerous collections of women he had slept with all of which had no name or face.
I refused to call him, and when I finally broke down a few months later and dialed his number it was disconnected.
Pietra Dunmore: "I am a New Jersey native who writes short stories, creative non-fiction, and poetry. My writing has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, The Journal of New Jersey Poets, For Harriet, Phati’tude Literary Magazine, Human Parts, and Let’s Mend."