Addie Hopes

Not a Love Story

This is not a love story. It’s not a break up story, either, I promise, although there are certain unfortunate, unavoidable resemblances: a soft-spoken husband, a woman, her charming but inconsiderate lover. This story is not about the woman stuffing boxes she dragged down from the attic, and not about her apple-faced husband who offered to help, who brewed them all some coffee, who shook the lover’s hand and then spent a quiet night in the emptied house drawing thick black Xs over KITCHEN, BOOKS, and BEDROOM he’d stenciled into that same cardboard three years before. This is not a story about the lover, who tends to flex his pectorals in conversation and whose intentions are unclear, or about the woman, who might be beautiful with a little work but who is, as it stands, a late twenties blond with an embarrassing crooked tooth and eyebrows plucked with fury. This is not even a story about Charles, the kitten the woman bought for a dollar from a fat boy who came by last year with a mewling wagon. He clattered up and down the sidewalk, knocking on doors twice, three times—“but my daddy says he’ll drown them”— until the woman drained another glass of wine and agreed to take the orange one if the boy would kindly go away and let them eat their dinner. This is not about how Charles the cat loved the husband, loved him inordinately, though it was the woman who fed him and not only filled his water dish daily but rinsed away the slimy skin that grew on the bottom. This is neither a psychological study of the woman, how she always feared this, exactly this, would happen one day with their children, nor an apology for her monogamist failings with the handsome clerk at the hardware store who sometimes slams doors and often uses idioms improperly. This is not a story about selling the house they bought as newlyweds, nor a story about what to do with the things they’d amassed as a unit. There’s no scene to expose the war they waged over Charles (the lover is allergic, the husband’s new apartment pet-free) and no descriptions of the glass shards from the only real shouting match they ever had. This is not a story to tell how the lover became the hero, plucking a blue glass curl from his foot, suggesting the parking lot behind his hardware store, an abandoned place sour and loud with cats. A real family for Charles. This isn’t about how the woman, feeling vindictive and betrayed because they all knew whom Charles would choose, if he could, insisted that that they pack him—the trusting bundle—into the cardboard box marked DEN beneath the X and settle him among the prickling weeds. This is not about the husband in the backseat of a car he used to own, legs pressed to his chest, slipping one finger into the box for Charles to rub softly, relentlessly against. This is not about the smell of misplaced pets pissing, spraying, marking this unloved place as theirs with defiance that went unnoticed. Not about the husband’s change of heart, his surprisingly stubborn refusal to “put the goddamn box the fuck down” despite the lover’s persuasive requests, and not about Charles’ equally surprising escape, his flight from box to weeds. This is not a story about the ride home when words formed and fell in useless packages, when the woman chatted to the windshield about change and moving on; not about the hollow sound in the husband’s new apartment when the lover slammed his door goodnight, and not about the woman’s damaged sleep. This is not a story at all. It is a man on his knees in an overgrown parking lot, calling for his cat in the urine-thick dark. And it is a woman, watching.


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