Vessels – Arielle McManus

She stood in the shower. She’d been in there too long and the water was getting cold. Still, she didn’t move. He was working on her, trying too hard to be sexy. Moaning, groaning, writhing. Slick soap-sudsed hands moving so quickly she could barely register their trajectory. Her body was a map, and he was certainly no cartographer. Nonetheless, she did have to admit that she admired his confidence and tenacity. Diving into valleys, hiking over mountains; he had no regard for what might be around the corner. He carried on, oblivious to any reality in which there were consequences or responsibilities.

She turned her face up to the water coming from the showerhead, noticing the grout between the tiles turning pink with neglect. Hadn’t she just cleaned? Hadn’t she just paid rent? Hadn’t she just gone grocery shopping? Why was time passing without her having any recollection of how she’d filled it all?

The bathroom tile was pink, which she’d thought was charming when she first moved in. Four years later, it just looked sickly; less reminiscent of the sweet stickiness of bubblegum and more like the inflammation that accompanies an eye infection. It was grotesque, really.

They’re arguing. He’s saying it’s fine to be friends with Republicans; she’s imagining a person holding up a sign with a photo of what could have been compared to what is. She continues to bicker while he turns wordless. He inserts two fingers and she accepts them with indifference. A hairline fracture in the tile runs from eye level upwards, disappearing into the conjunction between wall and ceiling.

Men think things like this are hot because they’re taught that makeup sex is hot. Really, makeup sex isn’t all that hot; isn’t hot at all, actually, the more she thinks about it. She looks down at herself, seeing the fingers moving in and out, barely registering the feeling of it all. She looks back up at him, his eyes glazed over, the corners of his lips turned up in a smile that feels as if its aim is to mock her. Suddenly he seems even more grotesque that the molded grout and eye-infection-walls.

Get out.

What? he asks, fingers halfway in.

Get the fuck out. She’s livid, spitting in anger.

His face falls, which only angers her more. How dare he have the nerve to look confused. Get the fuck out! Get out of my house! She storms out of the shower to lock herself in her bedroom, but halfway between the two rooms, standing next to the oven, she realizes she’s sopping wet and doesn’t have a towel. She walks into the bedroom anyway, resigning herself to stay in there until she hears the sound of the front door closing. It takes a few minutes, but finally he does, and only then does she step out of the bedroom and lock the front door behind him.

She walks into the bathroom with a small bottle of bleach and a coarse-bristled brush. She starts to scrub at the tile, bleach getting under her fingernails, burning the hairs inside of her nose. The brush against the wall makes a grating sound, nails on a chalkboard, but the immediate gratification of the gleaming tiles makes it worth it. Bleach runs down her gloveless arms making her wonder if she could get even more fair-skinned than she already is. Any fairer and she might disappear into the white walls of the living room altogether.

She finishes with the bathroom, but she doesn’t feel done. No, she’s only getting started. Standing under the skylight in the living room, she takes survey of her 120 square foot kingdom. She starts with the couch – a sickly chartreuse in color, the pile of the faux-velvet on the back worn down to the toile by the cat, one of the cushions stained by a splash of cheap beaujolais – grabbing it by the right arm and dragging it down the steps and out the front door to the curb. She next lifted up the coffee table, a narrow, white rectangle made of cheap cork board that weighed almost nothing, and dragged that out too. The rocking chair in the corner – the broken one – followed. She took the paintings off the walls and sat them on the floor. They were both of her own making, both of the same design only in different color schemes. She was not much of a painter, and she often considered throwing them out, previously unable to let go of something that came of her own hands. She made them. Still she propped them up against the coffee table on the cracked cement outside. She walked over to the bookcase, gingerly taking the books out and taking them downstairs in piles of eight or ten. There was one book she considered keeping, the one about the color blue, but that, too, she let go of. Blue was a sad color, anyhow. The bookcase resumed its spot next to the couch, coffee table, and rocking chair: a living room for the outdoors. It was quite queer looking to see living room furniture sitting on the concrete like that, perfectly arranged as they had been indoors. It was almost enough to make her second-guess herself. Let them be taken by the garbage men, or the less fortunate, she willed.

Back upstairs, there was nothing left of the life she lived, no hint of the kind of person that lived there. The walls were a drab off-white, the color of rain clouds, or the haze of fog, or three-day-old snow. She grabbed her wallet and left for the store two short blocks and then two long blocks over. It was July, and July in Brooklyn was miserable. She was drenched in a layer of sweat in no time, could feel it sliding down the back of her neck, though all she was wearing were denim cutoffs with a one inch inseam along with a white ribbed tank top. At the store, she bought the following: one gallon of paint – which she figured would suffice, as the square footage of her apartment really wasn’t all that impressive – a paint roller, and a paint tray. One thing about her: she was never the type to use a plastic bag. She carried the roller and tray in her right hand, and the gallon of paint in her left hand, the stronger one.

Back at the apartment, she didn’t bother to lay a tarp down or to tape the crown molding or the spaces around the electrical outlets. She mixed the can of paint with a chopstick left over from a dinner ordered in long ago, poured it into the tray, admiring how it looked like custard, thick and sweet and creamy. She fought the overwhelming urge to spoon a bit of it into her mouth and she started rolling. She stood atop a small stool to reach the higher parts of the walls, and crouched like a feral cat, hurting her lower back, to get the spaces by the floors. She noted that it took much longer than she’d expected, shocked to find that four hours had passed in the time between when she’d started and the time it was now. The sun outside the one window in the room hung low in the sky, threatening to give out on her. She stepped back into the doorway between the living room and the kitchen to admire her work. On the left wall she had gone a little outside of the lines, getting some paint on the ceiling. On the back wall, there was an uneven patch, which she stepped forward to cover up. Near the right wall, on the floor, were some drips of paint from when she’d stopped being so careful about the process. What was the point in being precious about anything anymore?

The walls shown like the rising sun in the waning days of summer, an attempt to encapsulate a moment, or a feeling, in the hopes of using it as a balm. Just then, her intercom rang. On the screen, she could see him standing there with a bouquet of flowers: red roses from the bodega on the corner. She could tell based on the price sticker on the cellophane. Red roses struck her as tacky, and it dawned on her then that they were two completely different people who had nearly nothing in common. Struggling to remember even a single conversation that they’d had over the last two months, she stood there, watching him talk. The intercom had no sound, but she could see his lips moving. He was speaking so quickly, his mouth moving in so many different shapes. He looked ridiculous, she thought. Pathetic. She tried to keep up, thinking at one point she maybe saw him mouth the words “I’m sorry”, but just as he was no cartographer, she was no lip-reader. Shame, she thought, as she turned the intercom screen off.

Arielle McManus is a writer, learning as she goes and crafting one liners from a tiny, sunlit room in Brooklyn. Her writing has been published by a variety of literary publications including Passages North and Entropy Magazine. She is an assistant editor at Atlas & Alice. More of her work can be found on her site at

Image via Pixabay

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