Virago

It was Tuesday, and the blue porcelain teacup her mother-in-law had lent her made her wish it wasn’t Tuesday. She had chipped the scalloped rim five days ago, and coffee had been gluing itself in the chalky crack.

A chunk of brown hair made its way to her forehead; she pursed her lips and exhaled.

“Jesus,” she said. She pulled her pink-gloved hand from the depths of the sudsy sink and tried to brush her hair back into her bun. She was sticky with pomegranate soap and bubbles.

Joy watched Rupert give her a half smile, which lifted his right cheek. He had silently listened to her fucks, shits and darnits all morning. He’d told her years ago he loved her for her darnits.

“Do you think you could take out this trash once you’ve finished being a dictionary?” she asked, pointing a dripping finger at the overflowing bin.

She watched as he looked up from the newspaper where he had been working on seventeen-down of Tuesday’s crossword puzzle. Her face was as bony as a greyhound’s. His mother had said she was attractive, and maybe she was, but he had told her once that all he cared about was how his thoughts spun like racing clocks when he was with her.

“What’s a six letter word for a domineering woman?” he asked.

“Virago,” she said, her right eye squinting at him.

He rolled his eyes behind his coffee mug as he brought it to his pursed mouth. She knew he wouldn’t laugh, because, if he did, he would spill his coffee. And he refused to spill his coffee. He sat the overly milky liquid back on the grainy surface of the table letting his fingers play invisible piano notes on the handle.

“No. That doesn’t work here,” he said. He chewed on the eraser of his pencil before tapping it against the side of his mouth.

He was working at their kitchen table, and every so often she would see him glance up from his position to look at her. He would look at her through eyes that were bluer than the kitchen sink sponge she was holding. She enjoyed watching him, because he didn’t seem to care about the pencil he was holding. Every few minutes he would scratch his left collarbone, run the penciled hand through his hair and rub his thumb up and over the point.

“Do you want to talk about what’s bothering you? Or would you rather let whatever it is fester until it stinks?” he asked her without looking up from his puzzle.

“I do not let things fester, Rupe. That’s an ugly word.” She crossed her arms, ignoring the wet gloves still on her hands.

“Putrefy,” Rupert said.

Smolder,” she said, clenching her jaw.

“Come sit, and let’s talk about your smolderings.” He tapped the seat next to him as she snapped off the dish gloves. She was wearing one of his shirts, and she felt his eyes watch her pull the bottom of it away from her body to shake it. A drop of water slid down her thigh and over her knee.

“I’m smoldering over the trash.”

“Me too. Someone should really take it out.”

“You don’t have to be impossible all the time, Rupe!” she said, fisting her hands in her hair.

“Joy.”

It was simple; the way he said her name still made her toes ache. She leaned forward in the white whicker chair tucking her feet up underneath her and twisted her hands in her lap. He ducked his under the table and cupped her knee between his long, slender fingers and gave her a shake until she met his eyes. Then her breath hitched when he squeezed tightly.

“Rupert!”

“You are the most ticklish person I’ve ever met.”

“You’ve tickled other girls?” she asked, smirking.

“Once or twice,” he said, raising his shoulders. His right arm sneaked back to his pencil and began tapping it against the side of his mouth again. She reached across the table to flatten his bedridden hair.

She had awoken from sleep earlier that morning from a pain in her side. She had tried to wiggle out of his grasp, but Rupert had locked her in place on her back. She remembered the way he gripped her ribs and how each of his fingers fit safely in the empty spaces between. She had laughed with him; she had despised him.

“This isn’t fair!” she had giggled and pushed at his arms. She’d pulled her eyebrows together and tightened her lips after she realized she wasn’t going to win. She watched his face change; his smile left and solemnity replaced it. His fingers left her sides to dust up her neck before tightening his hold and brushing his cheek across hers before he whispered her name.

“Joy,” Rupert said, reminding her the morning was bleeding into the afternoon, “I don’t think my mom is going to be here for more than a few days. I don’t want you upset over her.”

She rested her chin in her left hand and rolled her eyes to him, “She’s going to notice the teacup.”

She watched his fingers mindlessly dog-ear the corners of the newspaper, “Maybe she will break her hip walking into the airport and be unable to visit.”

“That’s terrible,” Joy said. She leaned over and poked his chest.

“Oh, come on. Don’t act like that would be the worst thing. I can think of far more terrible,” he said, reaching for his coffee, “and interesting ways for her to go.”

“Proceed.”

“I’ve thought about knocking her out with her gardening shovel,” he said. Rupert’s eyebrows had risen, widening his blue eyes in excitement, “your turn.”

Joy looked out into their living room. “I considered smacking her with my skillet over breakfast once.”

“Or stuffing her precious, world-famous flowers in her mouth while she’s sleeping,” Rupert said.

“Or strangling her with that orange silk scarf!” Joy bounced in her chair.

“I loathe that scarf!” Rupert placed his arms on the table. “One of her boyfriend’s gave it to her after Dad died. He asked her to wear it every time he came over, and then he would touch it all night.”  

“It matches her hair these days,” Joy said.

Rupert chuckled as he ran his hand along his chin, “She’s holding on to her youth.”

“Not well.” Joy brought her knees to her chest, “We could poison her?”

“Or light her car on fire.”

 “Post nude photos of her on the internet,” Joy said. “That would kill her.”

“Brilliant,” Rupert said.

Joy picked the clear polish on her fingernails.

“I’m so sorry about the cup,” she said. She watched his forehead furrow before he grabbed the legs of the whicker chair and yanked it harshly towards him. She felt her body jolt to the left before Rupert clasped her wrist and pulled her tiny frame into his lap.

“It’s a teacup, Joy.”

“But she’s going to blame you,” she said as her hands began to ball into tiny, brave fists on his collarbone. “She’s going to come into our house and blame you for the broken teacup.”

“I did frighten you the other morning in the bathroom.”

“She’s going to say that her bed is too hard. Say your hair is too long.”

“I do need a haircut,” Rupert said tossing his hair with his free hand.

“Tell you there are no good places to eat.”

“You know she only eats authentic.”

She pushed herself out of his grip. She needed to walk around. Needed to speak unspoken thoughts. “You have no rich friends.”

“I thought you were rich?”

“You have no future!”

“You’re a sweetheart.” He tightened his grip around his pencil, and the smile he’d been holding back broke loose on his face.

“You don’t deserve me. How dare she tell you I’m too good for you! We aren’t too good for each other. Your dad-”

He cut her off by standing. He leaned against the kitchen doorframe with his arms folded across his chest, “Your passion is scary, Joy.”

“She treats me so nicely,” Joy said, rubbing her eyes.

“It’s interesting.” He didn’t fool her. She knew him well enough to see the sadness in his forehead.

“I know she’s your mother, but she’s horrible,” She said, walking towards him to rub his arm.

“Just stop,” Rupert said, brushing her off. “It’s a goddamn teacup, and I’m an adult. I think I can handle her without your help. I dealt with her condescending mouth long before you came along.” He walked back to his coffee.

“I just want to fix it.”

“Well, you can’t!” Rupert said. Joy’s eyes snapped up from the floor as he spun back to her. “The cup’s broken.”

“It’s just chipped; I can fix it-” Joy said. Rupert grabbed the porcelain cup and pitched it towards the maple cabinets above the counter. It burst like a solar flare. Joy felt her chest thump like tennis shoes in a dryer. She stood in silence with Rupert as his eyes paced the mess on the floor.

“I’ll clean it up.”

“I’ll help,” Joy rubbed her teeth over her bottom lip. She knelt on the floor next to him, and watched his pale fingers drop broken bits into his left hand.

“That was good. Kind of sexy, and good,” Joy said.

“I can probably find another one to throw around,” Rupert said, glancing up at her, holding the chips of porcelain in his hands.

“Only if you scratch the other cabinets too,” Joy said. She pushed herself up from the floor with her knees before dusting her hands over the bin, the chunks of cup ringing as they hit the plastic bag. She didn’t know how to proceed, she couldn’t think of a word to describe how wonderful he was to her, and how she wanted to save him from the world. Never let him hurt. She watched him carefully as he lifted himself from the floor to brush the crumbs into the bin along with hers. She lifted herself on her toes and rubbed her nose against his cheek, back and forth.

“Do you still want to post nude photos of her?” Joy said.

“We’ll get her in the shower,” Rupert said, winking and squeezing her waist. “She’ll never see it coming.”

She let him move back from her to yank the trash out. He wrapped his arm around her neck, and she felt him pull her to his chest, before his lips kissed her temple. She pulled the door open for him and leaned against the frame after he stepped out and turned to face her.

“Did you know Virago didn’t start as a pejorative?” He said, “It was used to describe a heroic woman.”

She felt herself smiling shyly at him from under her lashes, and she loved the laugh he gave her as she closed the door behind him.

 

 

 

 

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