the smell of happiness

I’m just climbing into the bathtub with Gramma’s old quilt and my completely thrashed copy of Invisible Cities when there’s a small, decisive knock on the door. 9 PM and I’m not expecting anyone, nor do I really want to see anyone; I’m having a day that makes me want to stifle all my senses so I can just be a rock. A metamorphic rock, because then there’s still the possibility of change. Some people are like plants, all in need of light and water. I am a rock person. I need a pack of cigarettes, a beer, and Gramma’s quilt wrapped around me as I fall asleep at night. Light and water do nothing for me. I exist in the darkness and the deep.

I abandon my reading post and tiptoe to the door. I press the side of my face to it and feel the coolness of the wood invading my pores. Then I peer through the peephole.

Lauren. And she’s not empty handed.

I open the door somewhat reluctantly. I want to read my book, I want to bury my nose in the quilt and remember Gramma’s hot cups of tea. But I also want company, I want a beer, I want something to eat. I don’t get paid until Wednesday and it’s Monday. I’m out of money because Jonas took off with it. He decided on Saturday that “Jasmine is my future” and before he left he raided the cookie jar. It had all my tip money in it. He took the cookies too.

It’s been two lonely nights without him. What I miss about Jonas are his flannel shirts. That smell like Jasmine. I like wearing them to bed at night and thinking about her. What is she like? A female drummer in a band full of males means that she has to be kind of hardcore and tough. You know, with a lot of tattoos and dreads and porn star boobs.

I am decidedly not built like a porn star. As I open the door, Lauren says, “Damn, girl, you look like a twig that got run over!”

She shoves a Styrofoam container into my hands as she walks into the apartment. She’s peering around. There’s nothing to see. Jonas and I don’t have much. We couldn’t afford floor lamps so we strung Christmas lights around each room. It’s my personal opinion that everyone should have Christmas lights up all year round. They make everything more cheerful.

It’s chicken chow mein. I sit on the shapeless brown couch and dig in. I don’t even bother with plasticware. I’m starved.

“Thanks,” I say, noodles falling out of my mouth.

“You’re disgusting, Katie,” Lauren says, laughing, and she’s right. Tangled hair and holey jeans and the shirt I got the one year I danced in The Nutcracker. I’ve been picking at my face again; there’s blood under my fingernails. I miss ballet, my leotard and gauzy skirt, my pink shoes. I was good; I knew how to feel the music.

“So where’ve you been?” Lauren asks, finally satisfied with surveying the amount of nothing in my shithole apartment.

“Just … you know, here and there. Working. Moved here a couple of weeks ago.”

“It’s fucking cold in here.”

“Yeah, the heat’s out.”

“Fucking slumlords.”  Lauren spits the words out like she is one tough broad.

“Yeah, I guess,” I say.

“Did you hear that Michelle had her baby?”

“Yeah,” I reply, wiping my mouth with my sleeve. The chicken chow mein has completely disappeared. I am impressed with myself. I don’t even feel the urge to throw up.

“She’s totally gone straightedge.”

“Yeah, I know. Breastfeeding and all that.”

“That shit will ruin her tits.”

“Well, who cares when you’ve got Mr. Awesomely Supportive Husband, right?”

“All guys care about tits.”

“Yeah.”  I have no tits.

I’d actually seen Michelle and her baby girl a couple of days before. Right after Jonas left, I went for a walk and ended up at her apartment. I hadn’t seen her in months, since she told me she was pregnant, actually. She looked tired and swollen but blissed out and she let me in immediately. She sat me down on the couch and then put this little person in my arms. Her name was Emma and she smelled like milk and happiness. She had a little patch of blonde hair on the back of her head and as I held her, inhaled her, I could not stop stroking the softness of that patch of hair. I wanted to die there, holding Emma, who smelled of happiness. Michelle’s husband kept popping into the room and staring at me pointedly. I hadn’t brushed my hair that day, I’d been crying because of Jonas’s stupid bullshit, I’d been chain smoking. Michelle looked like an actual mom – you know, the kind that make cookies and go to PTA meetings – and I was just a skeleton with brittle hair and bad skin.

My stomach ached the whole walk home after I left baby Emma and Michelle and Mr. Awesomely Supportive But Disapproving Husband. I drank a glass of water immediately after walking into the drafty apartment and then promptly threw it up. My uterus felt like a cavern. Echoing. I fell asleep in the bathtub that night because the bed smelled like Jonas.

“You really do look like shit, Katie,” says Lauren. “I’m kinda worried about you.”

“Eh, don’t worry about me,” I scoff. “I’ve been through breakups before.”

“Jonas is an ass,” Lauren sneers. “You can do better.”

I want to believe her but I know she’s lying. I really can’t do better. It’s not possible. There aren’t any nice guys out there who want a skinny girl with daddy issues and a history of eating disorders and sexual abuse and cutting. No one’s going to marry me and buy me a minivan. Sure, there are plenty of guys out there who will spend a Saturday night pressed up against me, but they don’t want to stay. Jonas wanted to stay. Until he wanted to leave.

I am quiet and my legs are folded under me. I have no words inside me. Rocks don’t talk. They sit around and take up space.

“I should go,” Lauren finally says, after studying me for a minute.

“Thanks for the food,” I say, and I mean it.

“No problem, girl. See you soon?” She taps me on the arm with her fist and lets herself out.

I stay on the couch and feel the glow of the Christmas lights on my skin. For a moment, I am all colors, I am magic. I wander into the bathroom and crawl back into the claw-footed bathtub to read. It’s the only place where the overhead light is decent and with Gramma’s quilt wrapped around me, it’s pretty damn comfortable. I read Calvino late into the night and I spend the night in the bathtub where it doesn’t smell like Jonas or Jasmine.

It’s the knocking that wakes me up, loud and insistent. I know immediately that it’s Jonas and I brace myself for – what, I don’t know. Something big. It’s always something big with Jonas. I open the door.

“Hey,” he says, giving me his dumb sheepish smile. He’s holding a pink box.

“What do you want?” I ask softly, rubbing my eyes. It’s bright out.

“I brought some donuts. Figure we could talk.”

“Eh,” I mutter and I walk away from the open door. He eagerly follows me inside. I sit on the shapeless couch and I put the box of donuts on my lap when he hands it to me.

“Sorry I took off,” Jonas says casually.

“How’s Jasmine?” It’s a pointed question, and I’m surprised at the pain behind it. And the curiosity.

“It’s not working out.”

“Sorry,” I say.

“Can I come home?”

“What, here?” I ask, glancing around the place.


I’m quiet, I’m back in my rocklike state. I’m waiting for the words.

“Jonas, what do you want out of life?” I ask suddenly.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” and I pause here, “what do you want to do with your life? What do you want it to look like?”

“I just want to play music, man.”

“Anything else?” I’m searching for the real Jonas.

“Uh, an endless supply of seven layer burritos from Taco Bell,” Jonas grins.

I sigh. And then I start. “You know what, Jonas?”


“I want to have a baby.”

“What?!” Already he looks panicked. He’s inching further away from me. I open the box on my lap and pick out a glazed donut.

“Oh, relax. I don’t want to have a baby with you, you loser.” I laugh. I haven’t felt this good in weeks. Months. Maybe even a year or two.

“I’m not a loser,” he sputters.

“Yes, you are,” I say, “but you know what? So am I. We’re both a couple of fuck ups. We can’t even afford a goddamn floor lamp.”

“But you like Christmas lights.”

“Yeah,” I say, “but maybe I want a fucking floor lamp, too. Maybe I want an apartment in the nice part of town. Maybe I want to have dinner parties and shit. You know, a normal life.”

“Sounds fancy,” says Jonas.

“Goddammit, I want a baby,” I say and I feel my uterus rumbling as the words come out of my mouth. I’ve never wanted anything so much, my own little person with its own patch of hair that I could stroke all night.

“We could have a baby,” says Jonas. His brown eyes are like twin caverns in his face. I notice his hands are shaking. I realize that he’s high.

“I don’t want to have a baby with you,” I say again.

“Come on,” Jonas insists, “I’d be a good dad.”

I am quiet again, the words are like lava inside me, I am a rock, I am looking for the water, I am searching for the light.

I am metamorphosis.

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Tara Roberts challenged me with “‘Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination’ -Mark Twain” and I challenged Hannah with “‘She was everybody’s else girl, maybe one day she’ll be her own’ -Tori Amos.”


4 thoughts on “the smell of happiness

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