Shumaita sat legs against her chest, thighs gracious and worn inside her purple pajama pants. Her coffee mug was filled to the top with microwave spaghetti and marinara sauce from a can. We did this quite often since we’d started dating — venting our frustrations over lazy pasta — but this night, I couldn’t get her to talk.
Her and her mother were no longer on speaking terms. That endgame was all my fault.
Shumaita insisted that it wasn’t, but her voice had the gait of erroneous statements. She didn’t want me to touch her, much less provide comfort.
My own cup was in my hand with the same pasta and sauce glaring up at me from its cardinal froth. We sat there in silence, angrily eating our noodles until I coughed and said, “The pepper you put in this is too spicy.”
She smiled, her first genuine one the whole night. “That’s got to be the whitest thing you’ve ever said.”
“Well, sue me for my mother’s Polish genes.”
The jovial mood was gone at the mention of my parent and she cut me off before I could apologize. “It’s not your fault.” Sigh. “Maybe it’s not mine either.”
I assured her that it wasn’t, but she pushed me back before I could hug her.
“Stop. I’m depressed enough, I don’t want to cry.”
I stayed perched on the other end of the couch while she threw her utensils on the floor, frustration brimming her cheeks like pepper. Distracting myself with my food, I sucked down the mug until it was empty and there was nothing else to stare at except her.
Setting her mug down and stretched out her feet, the monkey socks glaring against tense toes. “She never did good job of loving me. It’s like I was waiting all these years for…what’s the expression? The ball to drop?”
“Ball, shoe.” Shrug. “Hits the ground all the same.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but instead asked for the rest of her food. As she obliged, she chuckled again and said, “You look like a damn fat ass right now.”
To make her laugh more, I chugged down the remnants in one big gulp. The watery bottom splashed down my chin and shirt, which made her giggle until she snorted.
“I hate you.”
She wiped her eyes. “No you don’t.”
Using the blanket, she leaned over and wiped my face. “You’re such a dork.” Her hand lingered on my cheek long after I’d been cleaned and she let herself really take in my presence.
She hesitated on an embrace, so I pulled her against my breastbone, waiting until her shoulder blades went slack. Here, it was easier to take her in, hips against my calves and galaxy knotted hair nestling in against my collarbone. Her breath smelled like parsley and there was still a film on her lips from the olive oil, all these details blending into a girl that was a little too mauve: too full of ardor and the complexity of the three a.m. sky that I wasn’t chop down to concepts I could manage to swallow.
I asked if she was okay, and for a while, she didn’t answer. She sighed against my breast until she could form words. “Why does she hate me so much, Indigo?”
Not expecting that amount of candor, I managed a vague noise as means of an answer.
“She taught me how to use a spoon. How hard can it be to show me genuine love now?”
I wanted to say something to fix this, or at the very least, make her feel better. Taking a deep breath, I reminded myself this was never my struggle to disarm. It made no difference to my parents whether I dated men or women, and I foolishly assumed that everyone’s experience would match mine, the main reason I pushed Shumaita to come out to her mother in the first place. We were both consenting adults, with a relationship solid enough to give us footing. I didn’t see when the concrete was kicked out from underneath her.
Shumaita’s foot dropped from the couch to the carpet, kicking aside the fork she’d discarded earlier tonight.
Mouth against her head, I managed a half sincere, “Give it a few days. Maybe she’ll come around.”
She didn’t move or respond, fed up with my buoyancy, even if it was placed with the best intentions. I apologized for the hundredth time today. This time, knew better than to say I had nothing to be sorry for; it was too much for both of us to maneuver.
Sitting up, she pulled my socks off her feet, knocking the nightstand and my cup to the floor in the process. Unable to fully give in, she sat in seat adjacent to mine, crunching her body into small middle seat and its unused cushion. The birds on her pants scrutinized me as I manned the gap between us, giving it the room to grow and breathe and function.
This was my fault. We had to find a way to be okay with this. Grabbing both of our cups, I went to clean them out before I could see Shumaita cry.
Anastasia Jill (Anna Keeler) is a queer poet and fiction writer living in the southern United States. She is a current editor for the Smaeralit Anthology. Her work has been published or is upcoming with Poets.org, Lunch Ticket, FIVE:2:ONE, Ambit Magazine, apt, Into the Void Magazine, 2River, and more.