MISS YOU - CINDY ROSMUS
“Miss You.” First appeared in Yellow Mama, Issue # 6, Copyright February 2008 by Fossil Publications.
You didn’t think it’d hurt this much. That you’d feel so strange.
Nauseous, though there’s nothing in you to come up. It’s like chunks of your gut and heart were carved out.
Of all places, you’re out on the stoop. Instead of playing it safe. Jumping on that ‘bus from hell’ to the City, or the train that’d get you to the Airlink. Still, without luggage, you’d look damn suspicious, booking a flight.
And where would you go?
Already you’re biting your lip. Scared the truth will burst out. That the first person who asks, you’ll tell.
It’s September. Squirrel season. Before you, they scurry around, duck under cars, shoot up trees, making those hissy, squirrel-y noises. But always watching you.
They know. And they’d tell, too. Cats could give a shit; cats are ‘live-and-let-live,’ but not these acorn-hoarding little fucks.
Squirrel-y tails high in the air, they saw it all from his window. The basement window you’re seated beside. Balls, you have, to be sitting right next to his window...
After killing him.
“Todo está bien,” he would purr. “It’s all good, Liz.” Wide, dark eyes filling up with you. Then laugh his obnoxious laugh.
God, how you hated that! What was good about anything, since you met him? Since he took that big, fat shit on your life?
A leave of absence, you took from work. A ‘mental health’ leave, from your social services job. How humilating. But how could you help others when you were one step from the padded room, yourself?
Things had been good, before. With that shield around you. Like four walls of ice that protected you. Work, eat, sleep... On weekends drink, sometimes way too much, then sleep, with married regulars from the bar, Spit’s. Only you never really slept...
“With married guys,” you used to brag, “you know what you get.” You were single, and liked it that way. Liked being a ‘safe haven’ for husbands.
“To be like Liz,” Maggie, the barmaid said about you, right in front of you. “That’s what I want. Not to give a shit about nobody. This way, guys can’t hurt you.” You smiled, wisely.
Rafael was single, too. And he dug married chicks. ‘Womens,’ he called them. He was almost like a male you.
The day you met him, something happened to you. It was like getting hit by a truck, but dying slowly.
And where you met him...was the cruelest stroke of luck.
In the cellar. Rafael was your new super.
Spanish music blasting, he was salsa-ing as he mopped the floor, using the mop as his partner. Not your typical stud.
You watched him, transfixed. This tall, skinny fuck, dirty-dancing with a mop. He’s not even cute, you thought. Too much forehead, a goatee that made his chin look dirty. Dark hair too curly, and fright wig-looking. Glasses that would’ve made somebody else look smart.
But when he looked at you...
You went down in a split.
A real one, like a cheerleader, in high school. Back then you were never popular, couldn’t do a split. Now down you went, like his eyes commanded it.
The floor was slippery, you told yourself. Bullshit. He willed you down.
“Mommi!” Real concerned, he sounded. “Baby, you okay?”
Across the room, he’d been, but suddenly was right there, with you. On your elbow, his touch was electric, magical. You were back on your feet, you swear just from that.
“Baby?” Up close, he was better-looking. It was the eyes: big and brown. And warm. Nights in the tropics, you thought of, though you’ve never been there. Magnified by those glasses, they should’ve been a turn-off.
“I’m...okay,” you said. Why couldn’t you look away?
“O-kay?” Those eyes were laughing. “Ba-by...” Three times he’d called you that, now. Like you were his.
“You’re more than okay.” With his fist, he tapped your chin, lovingly. “Sweetheart, eres...buena.”
He held you, like he’d never let go. You talked...about real life. How you hated your job. “Don’t take no shit!” was his advice. “Baby, you’re worth more than that.” Those wide eyes convinced you.
If you were sick, or hurt, wasn’t he worried? “What’s that?” he demanded, of Band-Aids on your arm, or leg. “Where’d you get that?” Your heart swelled, that he cared that much.
And the worst: “You take your medicine?” Almost angry, that you needed it. That, smart as you were, you still didn’t “have it together.” Your smile relieved him. But usually you...didn’t.
Those pills made you feel...strange.
“It’s like,” you hear yourself say, “he put a spell on me!”
Santeria, or something. Nah, he’d never been out that way. He was Puerto Rican. From Jersey City, yet. Not into fancy hocus-pocus.
“Rafael?” This is one dumb shrink. “The man you killed?”
You’re almost amused. But laughter triggers off tears. Like a marionette, you are. Somebody’s always pulling your strings. “That’s him.”
Why else would you be here, bound? In this room with marshmallow walls?
“A love spell?” She can’t be that stupid. “With a lock of your hair?” She fingers her own blonde curls. “And candles, and shit?”
You just look at her. If she is that stupid, none of this is real.
Behind you, you try to loosen your hands, realize they’re free.
As you study them, you know this is a dream. Maybe a vision.
“Rafael? My Rafael?” This shrink-who’s-not-really-a-shrink is Marilyn. Rival Number Two. “But he’s not dead!” Wild-eyed. Panic-stricken. “He’s...not...dead!” Grabs you, digging her long nails in you, till she draws blood.
But you feel no pain.
“Not yet,” you tell the Dream-Marilyn.
Blondes, he dug, more than anything else. Trish, the gap-toothed one, had short, sandy hair. Marilyn, a bleached, outgrown perm. Rivals # One and Two.
Only you had black hair. Jet-black, and straight. But it was falling out, big-time.
Stress, you thought.
Your black hair was all over his house. Nobody’s but yours. Unless Cher had dropped in for a fast fuck.
In his bed, he was sprawled, nude. As he collected long black hairs from the pillow, he wasn’t smiling. “That’s not good,” he said.
You looked away, embarrassed. Your guy, you feel, should never know your secrets: your weight, your true feelings. This...shedding. Like a cancer victim, you felt. Instead of an ‘hysterical pregnancy,’ maybe it’s ‘hysterical cancer.’ You’d start wasting away. Soon you’d be a hairless sack of bones.
Then he’d be sorry! you thought. Boldly, you wrapped yourself in the covers.
“Stop that!” He yanked them off you. Eyes blazing. “What’ll Trish think, if she finds these?”
Your long, black hairs. Not that many, really. Just enough to fuck him.
“Or the cops,” you joked.
“Qué?” He was really pissed, now. “Estás diciendo?
“They’ll think,” you said gleefully, “I killed you.”
It’s close to eleven. Almost an hour has passed.
When his clock chimed ten, he was still breathing. Blood pumping to his heart. Now that heart is dead meat.
At ten, he had a shot. ’Cos you got him nervous.
Blackhaus. Like a spiked jelly donut, it tasted. After he gulped it, remember you grabbed and kissed him?
You can still taste both: the kiss and the shot.
How weird, you think. How you can still taste somebody...and they’re dead.
When that clock chimes eleven, will you hear it from out here? Your post on the stoop. Staring up at the squirrel-gray sky.
When the sun was out last, he’d squinted from it. Searched for his shades, his favorite prescriptions, the real dark ones. “Dope glasses,” he’d called them, laughing.
But they were upstairs, in your apartment.
“Go get them!” Again, the eyes blazing. “Trish paid for those glasses.”
Trish... Trish... Trish...
“Liz, can you believe it?” He seemed so amused. “They’re jealous of each other!”
Like a clenched fist, your heart felt. “Trish and Marilyn,” he said, smirking. Like you’d never heard this before.
Even, in your apartment, in your bed, he loved torturing you. Rubbing shit in. “Marilyn knew she was there, so she just showed up. To fuck things up.” He leaned across you for his smokes and lighter. Kissed you on the tit. “Can you believe that shit?” he said through his cigarette. “To just show up?”
You would’ve, too. But he’d never know it. You smirked back. “That’s fucked up.”
No commitments was your agreement. Well, his. You didn’t mind sharing. Long’s you had a piece of him...
If he knew how you really felt, he’d be gone.
“If I had to choose between the three of youz,” he began.
No, you thought. Not again. Your heart raced.
But, as he tightened his arm around you, really cuddled you...
Me? you thought, not daring to relax. Not yet. Would it be me?
“I’d say...” Your eyes were shut tight, but you felt him staring. Felt his breath on your cheek. “Trish.”
Skinned alive, you felt. You wished he’d leave, right then, before you cried.
“We both love to dance.” Tears burned your eyes. You remembered him dancing with that mop. “She’s a wild thing. Loves to fuck. And such a tight...ass!”
He had to see your tears. Still, he went on. “And she does so much for me, man...”
But it wasn’t just sex, you’ll tell somebody. The warden. A real shrink, this time. Anybody who’ll listen.
That first time was so...special.
His touch: on just your elbow had thrilled you. But, on your clit. Oh, man! And...Oh, God, what that tongue could do!
His cock. Bent, it was, from some shit he got into, years back. “Kid stuff,” he called it.
But how you sucked it was no kid stuff. “Oh, Mommi!” he gasped. Eyes twice their size. His sweaty chest jerked back. “Qué rico!”
All day, you could suck that curvy cock, from all angles. His little nuts, too. He couldn’t crack a beer, light a cigarette, without you grabbing at him. You could live on that cock. Who needs food? you thought.
How you sucked him, was how he fucked you. In positions even you’d never tried! Fucked you like he hated you. Like he knew you loved him. Like if he fucked you hard enough, he’d kill it.
He held you, whispering...in Spanish! That made it sweeter, or spicier, like how flan was richer than pudding. Whispered throaty nothings in that language you always hated. Spic talk, your folks had called it, when you were growing up. You had no use for it, then...
His last words were in Spanish...
Before he got sliced.
“When me ’n Trish come in, remember...” Those eyes meant business. “You don’t know me, girl.” Your heart sunk.
’S bad enough he took over your home. But your bar?
For years, Spit’s was your place! If you were short on cash, you ran a tab. When the jukebox got old, the owner asked you for song updates. ‘Miss You,’ that old Stones tune, was your favorite.
Maggie, the barmaid, was your friend! When jealous wives showed up, eager to kill you, Maggie warned you, in code. “Can you babysit tonight?” would show up on your voicemail. You’d know. And if your latest fling stopped in... “Don’t forget to take out the garbage.”
Rafael ruled. Dancing around, twirling the pool stick, running secret card games in the back...he was ‘The Man.’ Buying rounds, leaving fat tips for the bartenders, the fattest for Maggie.
“You sure?” Maggie asked him, as she pocketed the twenty.
“I’m sure, baby.” Baby, again. As he took her hand, you felt electricity surging. “I know if I ever need help...” He flashed that smile. “You got my back.”
And cock, you thought, seething with jealousy. How you hated Maggie, now!
He didn’t work. Not really. Beyond the super’s job, nothing you knew of. So where’d he get all that money?
As ‘Just a Gigolo’ came on his radio, you began to wonder.
“You hear me, Liz?” His sharp tone brought you back to reality. “When we come in that place, stay away from us!”
You forced a smile. Lately, you even sickened yourself. And “Sure,” had a sob behind it.
Somehow, you knew it’d be tonight.
All day long, no word from him. Mid-morning, well, you knew that was Trish-time! Eleven, eleven-thirty, you knew what he was up to. That stupid husband of hers dropped her off, in front of your building.
“Thinks I’m a chick.” Rafael always howled with laughter. “Her sister’s friend.” Then he got serious. “Liz, you just don’t know...” He gripped your elbows.
Your heart raced, thinking maybe he’d kiss you.
“What she goes through. He beats her!”
Wonder why. You tried not to smile.
“Well, here I am,” he said, “to save the day!”
And this day he wasn’t calling you, or even answering his cell. If your ceiling fell down, you’d sit there, covered with rubble. All the tenants he ignored, when his cock tripped him. Hey, he ignored them, when he was with you.
But today he wasn’t.
The sickest part was, you wanted to see her. Live. Her photo on his nightstand wasn’t bad enough. The short, blonde hairs entangled with your long black ones in his bed.
Wanted her to see you.
“Rafael?” As she poured the chick’s wine, Maggie’s tone was casual. “No, I haven’t seen him.”
With hatred, you eyed this chick. Curly blonde perm, too much make-up. Perched on that barstool, she looked at least six feet tall. But harmless. She wasn’t out to kick ass. Her eyes brimmed with tears.
Marilyn, you realized. Rival Number Two. Suddenly, your hatred was gone. You felt like sending her a drink.
Instead, you sucked down your shot and went for the jukebox.
When the side door buzzed open, without turning around, you knew it was them.
The Stones came on, loud. Still, you heard everything.
“What happened to you?” Marilyn. Frantic, at the end of her rope. Like you would’ve sounded.
“Shut up!” Him. “You crazy? What’d I tell you about coming in here?”
Your neck hurt from looking straight ahead. But where was Trish?
You jumped. Literally ‘in your face’ was a face: small, with glassy eyes and a gap-toothed smile. “Play me a song!” she said. “Something I can dance to!”
As ‘Miss You’ came on, she said, “Fuckin-A!” And started dancing.
“Marilyn,” you heard, in his poisonous tone, “get out, and don’t come back, you hear?”
Her tortured sob gave you chills. The door buzzed open, and then he was right next to you, at the jukebox. Your heart leapt.
Ignoring you, he punched in a song, then turned to Trish. “C’mere, baby,” he purred.
He’d played your last song. Out of your money.
As they danced together to ‘Miss You,’ the words hit you, as if for the first time. Something about ‘lying to yourself,’ and how you loved him, and nobody else. And something else...
About being crazy...
When you woke up the next day, you knew it was over.
The lack of sun, though it’d rained on and off for four days. But there was something different about this day. Rain drumming on your A/C seemed to warn you. It was supposed to clear up later, but you didn’t care. Life as you knew it was history.
Home alone, you acted different. No music blasting, no TV, either. If you were extra quiet, maybe he wouldn’t say it. If you lay there in the dark, he might think you were out or...dead.
You couldn’t go out, without him hearing you. I always know when it’s you, Mommi, he said smugly, months back, when things were good between you. When you dump your garbage, or wash your clothes... Baby, I know.
Why, you asked God, did he have to move here?
Your phone hadn’t rung. No news is good news, you thought, for the first time ever.
As the day wore on, you felt worse. Shivers so bad, you couldn’t take it. Fear, you smelled, like gas from your faulty burners.
Oh, God, you thought then, what if there’s a fire?
Then you were crying. No matter how long you avoided him, it was coming.
Your garbage stunk. So out you went, with it.
Heart pounding, you passed his windows. Lighted, cheery-looking, in this rain, on any other day. At his kitchen table, he was, alone, on his cell. His back to you, but you knew he saw you.
You rushed back inside, but not fast enough.
On the stairs, he was, blocking your way. “Gotta talk to you,” came out weary. Like the bomb he’d drop would wipe him out, too.
You just stared.
“Me ’n Trish, okay?” he said, real fast. “It’s just us from now on. Okay?” Now he looked scared. “Just me ’n her.”
When you didn’t answer, he looked even more frightened. The burners, you were thinking about. The ones that wouldn’t light. You felt yourself smiling.
“I mean it, Liz. She’s leaving her husband. This weekend. Moving in here. Downstairs, with me...”
He was still talking, as you walked away.
“Liz?” He followed you to your door, which you slammed in his face.
“Mommi?” you swore he said next.
After that, you don’t remember.
Paint, you smelled, when you woke up this morning.
Stinky semi-gloss. And you knew where it was coming from. Not upstairs. That stuck-up chick...the fireman who was always off hunting...none of your second floor neighbors were that ambitious.
Just him downstairs.
Of course he’d be painting. For her.
What colors would they choose? Pretty pastels? Mauve, she might like, for their bedroom. Or a rich plum.
But him... Mustard yellow, tangerine, lime-green... Spic colors, your folks called them. A combination, maybe. Like Easter eggs all over San Juan.
Up in bed, you sat, sniffing the air. Could you tell colors apart by the smell?
One spic color from the next?
Sad, isn’t it, you worked for Social Services. Before you went nuts. Most clients Spanish, or black. You, they all said, had no prejudice. Dug people for who they were. Took shit to heart. Had their backs.
Rafael, you thought, what’d you do to me?
Tears...oh God, would they never stop? Like a hot shower you couldn’t shut off. Deep, gasp-y tears. Like with each bout, your heart would come up.
Abandoned baby tears. Human, and animal. Kittens, you saw, drowning in those tears. Through eyes so swollen, bees might’ve stung them.
Then, suddenly, the tears just...stopped.
And you smiled.
In a flash, it came to you. He doesn’t know, you realized, that I love him! You never told him! If you had...
You hopped out of bed. Even made it, with fresh sheets. Humming.
He would’ve chose me...
“¿Quién es?” he said, when you knocked on his door.
You didn’t answer.
Dizzy, you were, from the stench of paint. And not eating, the past few days. Just soup. You couldn’t even drink.
The door flew open; his face fell. “Liz.”
Your forced smile stopped him from shutting that door. He’s got to think, a little voice said, you’re happy! With or without him.
Still, he looked wary. Never, you thought, had he looked so hot. So…Spanish. In your favorite t-shirt. Once white, now it was splattered with paint. Avocado green.
Your smile works, finally. He flashes his own. Even his glasses are speckled with paint.
I love you! “I smelled paint,” you said, instead. “Figured it was you.” Your voice sounds choked. It’s the most you’d spoken in days.
“Yeah,” he said, almost shyly. Still gripping the door, he couldn’t look at you. “Just getting shit ready.”
Should’ve picked me. Smiling made your face ache. “It’s a pretty color.”
His chest-hair was splotched with paint, too. “Wanna come in?” he said. “And see the place?”
Sorry, he was, the instant he said it. You just knew it. But it was too late.
Inside, you smelled her over the paint. So strongly, she might’ve been there. But she wasn’t.
Too early for her, you thought, as the clock chimed... That clock she gave him... That...chick’s clock. Nine, or was it ten o’clock?
God, you hated that clock. Like you hated her face. That smug, gap-toothed...
As he looked nervously at you, your smile returned.
Chick-shit, there was, all over the place. A lacy pink bra draped over a chair. (“¡Me encantan tus tetas!” he’d once told you.) Makeup, hairspray, on the kitchen counter. Chick-shit everywhere, except...
“Which room?” you asked.
As he gestured to the bedroom, he seized the bottle. Blackhaus, he needed, bad. You scared him, but he wasn’t sure why. In his face, you saw it. In how fast he downed that shot.
Like something bad was coming at him, fast.
He went with you, into that room. Carrying the bottle. One shot wasn’t enough, not with you here.
Old newspapers rustled beneath you. He lifted one slippered foot, saw paint on the sole. You watched him, closely.
On the dresser, he set the bottle. Next to the knife.
A carpet knife, it was, though he had no carpet. With this scary, triangular blade. For scraping old paint, maybe.
He grabbed it.
Your eyes met. “I love you!” you said, at last.
“Mommi,” he said wearily, holding the knife behind him. “Please!”
He was begging. For you. Your heart swelled.
Behind his back, he struggled with the knife. Trying to close it, maybe.
Was there time, before she got here? For a kiss?
You’d make time!
As you lunged, he dropped it. Your kiss nearly choked him; he reacted. Shoved you away. Hard. Papers rustled wildly, as you stumbled, but stopped yourself from falling.
Then just looked at him.
Glasses all crooked, as he wiped his mouth, over and over, disgusted. Like your kiss was shit. “Well, I...love...her,” he said.
That fast, you snatched it up.
Slashed his neck, at a crazy angle.
The right spot. Blood poured out, splashed your face! For a moment, you were blinded by red. Covered your eyes, then saw what you did.
Blood everywhere. On his t-shirt, glasses, hands. Eyes wild. Glasses knocked off, as he clutched his neck, tried to save himself. From between his hands, a red fountain, like an offering to you. Please, he begged silently, help me, baby. I love you, too. Till now, I didn’t know how much...
Even the walls had blood on them. But, how? you wondered. Those new green walls. Like Christmas was coming. Holly and berries, you thought, almost cheerfully.
He went down, gasping. “¡Me mataste!”
And, finally, you understood.
An endless shower, you took, but why?
Long, black hairs, saliva, fingerprints, they were all down there. What could you say? You’ll never get out of this.
Your ass hurts, from sitting on the stoop. You shift your position, glance down at his window.
From the curb, a squirrel watches you, then ducks under your neighbor’s car.
From inside comes a mournful sound. Chimes. Just for fun, you start counting: one...two...three...
Up the block, somebody is coming.
The gap-toothed one.
From under the car, the squirrel peeks at you, then disappears. Your smile scares it.
As she gets closer, you sprawl on the stoop. She won’t remember you, from Spit’s. Never knew you both shared his bed.
With the third...
The clock stopped chiming, but you’re still counting. “Womens,” instead of hours.
So much shit, she’s carrying, for the big move. Sheets and stuff. Green and white, is the new color scheme.
As she reaches for her keys, she drops her purse.
It’s red. You snatch it up, smiling, as you hand it to her.
“Thanks!” she says, as she goes inside.
With her mucho short, blonde hairs. Mucho fingerprints. Mucho saliva.
And thank you...you think, affectionately now.
BIO: Cindy is a New York textbook editor by day, a hardboiled Jersey female by night. Her fiction has appeared in Black Petals, The Beat, The Cynic, Red Fez, Zygote in My Coffee, Hardboiled, NVF, MediaVirus, Mysterical-E, The Monsters Next Door, Out of the Gutter, Devil Blossoms, 13th Warrior Review, and Beat to a Pulp. She has four collections of stories out: Angel of Manslaughter, Gutter Balls, Calpurnia’s Window, and No Place Like Home. She is the editor of the e-zine, Yellow Mama. She is also a thrill seeker, a Gemini, and a Christian.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
11 hours ago