Christine is off to Chapel Hill this weekend for the Merge 25 Festival (Neutral Milk Hotel! Teenage Fanclub! Bob Mould from Husker Du! So many more!), but before she goes, here’s a quick story to tide you over til next Monday. It’s from Steve Mitchell’s debut story collection, The Naming of Ghosts. Happy weekend!
She’d built the fire in the middle of the living room floor, between the coffee table and the overstuffed chair, not far from the television. By the time I stumbled in, the flames were pretty high and it was hard to tell whether she’d used my clothes or her own. I backed into the bedroom, still bleary eyed, pulling the comforter from the bed and running at the fire like a drunken matador. I fell toward the flames, wrestling them into the blanket, inhaling great gobs of smoke and blackening my hands, rolling on the floor with the flames until I was sure they’d died; then I sat up, straight legged in my pajamas, catching my breath by the smoldering mound of ash and comforter.
It was one of the great things about Evie, she was always surprising me. I never knew what she’d do next and I never seemed quite prepared for what she came up with. The chunks of glass in my iced tea, the razor blades in my shoes. The blue-black glint in her eye and her roundhouse swing. The fights melting into rapturous lovemaking, her body bucking under mine, arms pinwheeling her head, clutching at my shoulders or the bedsheets, her breath ragged in my ear; or, the disastrous sex, bruised and raw, giving way to a new bloodletting, always somehow unique, both of us managing to find new weapons or use old ones in new ways.
The smoke alarm finally clicked off and the silence surprised me. I looked up; everything else in the apartment seemed intact, only the front door was ajar. I got up to close it, running my fingers lovingly over the scarred doorframe and the pitted wall of the entrance hall, remembering how she’d shoved me to the floor by the door and mounted me there, my body wedged tightly into the corner; or how I’d ripped her blouse open from the back and pushed her onto the shapeless couch. Her teethmarks on my chest, the bruise on her neck.
I was scooping the smoking corpse of the fire into a metal trashcan I’d retrieved from my office when the doorbell rang. I let it ring while I finished the job, let it ring until it became a knock, tentative at first then more emphatic. His hand was in mid-air when I threw the door open.
He looked like an accountant or a coroner, all sandy-boyish hair and sweater vest. He blinked at me with an innocent confusion. I don’t know whether it was my scorched pajamas or my sooty face. I studied him, imagining Evie standing over the bed as he slept, plotting his dismemberment.
“Evie sent me for her things,” he said. Then, extending his hand, “I’m Adam.”
“Yeah, I bet you are,” I replied, shoving the smoldering trashcan into his arms and closing the door.
Evie. Man, I love that woman.