Jennifer Mattern

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The second-best shower

He loved me when he was drunk. There was a simple equation at work, not hard to follow: the drunker he was, the more he loved me. He grinned red-faced on that June night in his corner of the backseat of the cab. The red-faced grin: the closest thing to love I'd come to know on his face. Some people need to be drunk or humiliated to love another; no one's fault. Just the way it is. The birthday he'd planned for me was a gift to himself. I would not shame him by pointing this out, not right then at least.

The taxi. At the other end of the seat, I opened the cab window. I dipped my phone into the glimmer-dark of the city, ladling photos from the air overhead. He loved my loving the city from our moving cab. This stirred something in him, something proprietary, but that was fleeting. His red-faced drunken love was mostly gone by the time we reached the hotel room. He passed out on the bed, and I was glad for it.

I had the second-best shower of my life then. What floor? I recall a seven, spreading its luck. Seventeenth? Twenty-seventh? What mattered was that the wall of the shower had a small square window that overlooked the city. I switched off the lights and let the water course over the back of my skull, over my pale freckled skin, over all the vulnerable places. I swallowed the nightscape. I was greedy, gulping it in. It was 3 am. He would not love me for much longer. I was messy, you know. I would get paint on the dogs, suggest new ways for everything.

But that night in June, the city was beautiful and gentle. From my high, wet perch, I heard the city whisper to me. It told me that I could keep it for a few more minutes, and no one would ever be the wiser.