belonging

“I own you,” he told her, at a time when he didn’t.

And back then, she found the words bizarre, egotistical, naive.

But more recently he’s become the conduit for her gaining a reality so lucid that she can’t help but submit to the truth in the statement.

And she wonders how he knew before she did. Or if he knew.

Knows.

Does he know what he’s done by having led her down his seductive back alley of trust?

For one, he’s proven to her that he knows even more than she does.

And she’s delighted by this, as she’s delighted by the recognition that he doesn’t need her, only wants her.

Early this morning she sees him in the corner store, downtown.

She walks in, still in her pajamas, sunglasses drawn, and as she heads towards the coffee stand, he’s there.

In the white linen shirt handed down from his grandfather. Or a replicated version of it.

The identifying aspects of him dizzy her, and for some reason she can’t immediately determine she becomes frenzied, and races down an aisle to hide.

In the dimly-lit back end of the store, there is a foreign man cleaning the floor with some strange noiseless machine. It’s early yet, for a Saturday. She comes familiarly close to him as she steps over the device and lowers herself behind some boxes to watch her captor, unseen.

The cleaning man eyes her curiously, and she’s briefly aware of how funny she must look, her crouching position, the side-to-side craning of her neck.

She’s unusually good with strangers, often takes them as her closest confidantes, but this morning she simply can’t be bothered bringing this man in on her secret. So she blocks his perception of her from her mind, and focuses on her game.

“Is it really he?” she wonders. It would be so like her to imagine the whole thing, preternaturally vexed, heightened, aroused.

But the white linen shirt, the khaki pants, the posture, the sunglasses.

The sunglasses. She thinks back to their one horrible morning together. How he put on the sunglasses and tried to tell her something, and she couldn’t listen. She was in her rebellious mood. Mad that he went too fast. Put them on a course where her brain couldn’t keep up.

But yes, it’s definitely he. The man who owns her. She knows him better than she realized. It’s a good feeling. The one-way intimacy of seeing him out in the world, outsmarting him.

He’s sharing words with someone next to the coffee machine and her jaunty insides scream, “Flee! Flee!” So she hops over the silently-whirring thing cleaning the floor and sidesteps towards the front of the store, thinking, “I’ll go right out the door and he won’t turn. He won’t turn, and I’ll escape.”

But when she’s within a few feet of the door he does in fact turn, and she throws herself back into the safety of the aisle. Practically scrambling on the ground back to the cleaning man.

She loves herself like this.

And yes, he owns her now. Unless she surpasses him, he will own her until someone better can claim her, and the possibility of that happening seems small. She’s not even looking.

Still, her life has a funny way of dropping possibility in her lap.

Look at how she met him. Look at where she finds herself now. Just last night she missed his face. And now here it is, attached to his body and everything.

She picks herself up off the ground and tip-toes along the back of the store, waiting for him to leave.

Her eyes aren’t good and she thinks she sees him now with his regular glasses, but it could just be she’s piecing together different looks he’s shared with her from memory. From behind the marshmallows.

His pace is patient and she wonders about the exchange he’s having with the teller. Thinks he must be asking for cigarettes, the New York Times.  He’ll go home to sit on his patio, smoke, read, be beautiful.

She moves bravely up to the coffee stand as he leaves. From the big glass window she can watch him pass. She pours herself some coffee, not paying enough attention, spilling it everywhere.

Somehow she misses his going by. The moments of time are no longer connecting and she can’t tell how long it’s been. Perhaps he took a different route?

She mops up the spilled coffee with about fourteen paper napkins and pours way too much sugar into her cup. She’s shaking by the time she reaches check-out.

“Does the side alley go through?” she wants to know. “There’s someone I don’t want to see. I don’t know where he’s gone.”

The teller is languorous in his concern. He slowly rings her up.

“I wouldn’t take the side alley, no,” he advises.

“But does it go through?” she asks again. “Do you have a back door?”

The teller evaluates her and she smiles nervously.

“I could escort you out, protect you,” he offers.

“It’s not like that,” she thinks to say, but doesn’t.

“I’ll be fine,” she says instead, passing the coffee-soaked napkins from her trembling hand to the open palm the man extends.

She leaves the store and turns to her right, into the alley.

It does, in fact, go through.

She catches not another glimpse of the man who owns her.

He’s perhaps long gone.

Occasionally, she’s a quick study.

And she is always, in fact, fine.

~

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