Sometimes When I Talk, It’s Like You’re Not Even There

by Danny Goodman

You'd been gone two years, to the day, when I put the first sledgehammer through the kitchen wall of our Park Slope duplex. Japanese knives, the only gift I kept from the wedding, leapt onto the tile floor, their clanking reverberating through my toes. An old Calphalon, riddled with scars probably inflicted during your college days, snuck out from behind the cookbooks and landed on my foot. I closed my eyes, sucked in the fusty morning air, and took another crack at the wall. 

The smell of bedrock and plaster filled the kitchen. As I reared back, a flash came over me, and I imagined you, body fractured and wet, dripping through a newly created hole. A heat wave had swept through the city in recent days, and I pictured my mind slipping. I swung hard and felt the mist of wall innards on my face like a sunshower.

As my arms rose again, I swear I could hear Charlie barking in the back yard, chasing the neighborhood tabby. The sound shot through my legs and made them unsteady. It would have driven you mad, the barking. I heard it vividly, as if I were standing beside the black Labrador once more. You denied for days, weeks, that you left the front door open. I simply wanted you to say on purpose.

When the barking, real or imagined, subsided, I gripped the splintered wood handle of the sledgehammer and sped its iron head through a stud. The old porcelain sink trembled like skin against cold rain. Scanning the kitchen shelves, I remembered our first day in the house. You, balanced on the stove and countertop, sliding those wicker baskets into place on the shelves: three per wall, evenly spaced, each matching the other. Symmetry, you demanded, made a room pleasant. I moved into the room slowly, hands outstretched, prepared to slide my fingers into the ball of your foot and tickle. But instead, you fell, landing in my outstretched arms. I'd never seen you so frightened. Your pulse raced as you said my name, Peter, like it was the first time. I put you down, waiting for your feet to take hold and said, they look good.

The ghosts of those baskets hovered over the shelves, their silhouettes outlining the kitchen despite their absence. I climbed up, balancing my feet on stove and countertop. I swung hard and fast, the first shelf collapsing like a piece of cardboard. The catharsis was overwhelming. I felt stronger, the sledgehammer weightless in my cracked hands. The second shelf became a pile of confetti on the kitchen floor, and I began to feel as if I were breaking you. Turning to the third shelf behind me, I slipped. I heard, rather than felt, my back hit the floor. The radio above the sink crackled in and out before settling on a song—words battled static and echoed through the hollowed kitchen—three a.m. cellophane, suffocates my favorite things—and I closed my eyes to the taste of iron swimming over my gums.

I awoke—hours later I had presumed—but in reality, only moments. The top of my T-shirt had turned crimson; I hovered over the sink, spitting goblets of blood until my mouth was dry. My lower lip throbbed and was split in two. I fought the urge to take a shot of bourbon. As I surveyed the havoc that I'd created, plaster and wood and metal coloring every square inch of space, I remembered, in perfect detail, the moment I found you on this floor: there was leftover pasta on the counter. A half-empty can of Diet Coke in the sink. The refrigerator door left slightly open. The way the morning light, through the kitchen window, reflected off of your sweating, naked back as he came inside of you. The aging wood floor trembled with you.

I thought there'd be music of some kind, rhythmic and sad, when I walked into the house that day, a pivotal moment in the low budget, poorly-lit indie film of my life. The camera would dolly with me walking into the house, looking oblivious and euphoric. Perhaps I smell something perfumed in the living room; I might lean down to pet Charlie before realizing that he's no longer there. The music would be strong and difficult; I hear the song from the radio as I reflect on it. Edits, though, would make the moment, cutting back and forth from my ignorance to your bliss as the music grew louder and more profound. I would open the kitchen door, slow and precise, as the song climaxed with you—now my lover smells like rain—and the camera would jib around, catching my eyes in mid-blink, closer and closer as the pupils filled in the white and shattered.

But there was no music, no camera angles to consider. Only the reality of what you had done. I saw it every night, as I tried to sleep and hoped that something, anything, would turn it off.

David knocked loudly on the front door, the reverberations reaching into the living room where I had found solace on the plastic-covered sofa. You alive? he yelled through the door. The thickness of his Scottish accent dripped like marmalade. His daily attempt to rescue me from myself. He was a professor and, therefore, mostly drunk at any given moment. I thought of leaving him there for a while, as a test of our friendship. He yelled once more and pounded the door with added mania. He was all that I had left after you, a point I fear he was always aware of. I could never shake the feeling that, despite how close David and I were since college, the friendship was now more charity than anything else.

“Are you kidding me?” he said as I opened the door.

His mouth only a few inches from my face, the stink of morning breath and McEwan's overwhelmed me. He stormed past me, my hand still resting on the open door, and he caught sight of the kitchen.

“Dear God, man. Have you gone mad?”

“Perhaps, a little,” I said, smirking.

“What the fuck did you do, Peter?”

He looked at me, lost as ever and a bit drunk, and I hugged him. I pulled him close and held on.

“It's begun, then, has it?” he asked.

I let go and met his eyes. “It has.”

David pulled a flask from his back pocket. I drank first, then him; the sting of warm whiskey stuck to the insides of my cheeks as David lifted the sledgehammer and left a hole above the stained sink. “Well done, eh?” he asked.

I wish you could have seen the look on his face, eyes glazed and skin sunburned. He never said your name out loud to me, not even once.

We took turns over the next few hours, each destroying another piece of the kitchen that you had so meticulously worked to decorate. My arms throbbed and burned as the afternoon progressed, unaffected by the shots David dispensed every few minutes. He handed me the sledgehammer after taking down the cabinets, in which, we discovered, remained the two beer steins you and I brought back from Hamburg. David stumbled off to the bathroom as I stared at the ceramic shards. The wordsDu bist frei und deshalb bist du verloren were scattered in pieces across the chipping hardwood. Alcohol rushed to my head like a traffic jam finally unclogged, and my worn legs found comfort and gave way. I spread across the kitchen floor and felt myself melting into it.

Night had come and gone before I awoke on that floor. Something about the room, humid and syrup-sticky, made me think of the first time that we made love. You put on that awful Dan Hill song; I thought, until you were riding me, that it was a joke. But his voice seemed to push you, as if he was the one doing the touching and kissing and fingering; the higher he sang, the louder you screamed. Your nails left scars on my chest. I was distracted by your breasts and didn't notice till later. They were perfect: milky white, like something from Italian renaissance, though petite and firm; sweat slid onto your nipples and tasted of apricot. I could have come then, tongue to skin. You were too good for me, I knew. It was all I could think when I felt you around me, your naked body lithe and shivering as you sucked in the damp, Brooklyn air.

David's arm was draped across my chest as I tried to stir myself from the floor. It was a sight that no one had witnessed, thank God. He wore a smile that cracked into his fatty cheeks. He looked like a pig in shit lying on that floor, and I was jealous.

In the living room, I could hear the echo, every so faintly, of the walls shifting. Taking deep, must-filled breaths. The duplex felt like a symbiont, that kitchen and me feeding off one another. It, too, felt the change, starting with your kitchen, making it my kitchen. The rest would follow.

The upstairs, though, was unchanged. I couldn't bear our bedroom. The room still looked the same; there were probably clothes folded in piles on the bed, forgotten crumbs atop the sheets. You were supposed to be home with me. You said we would be fine. But you didn't mean we.

The first signs of morning broke through the window and woke David, who gargled like an old man. Drool and alcohol had crusted to the lines around his lips.

“Sleep well then?” he asked from a room away.

“It's a good floor,” I said, wiping the last remnants of a shower from my chest.

“Ah, she is,” he said. “I think we made love last night.”

“Me and you?”

David laughed. “Me and the floor. She's a gentle mistress.”

I snickered as I tossed him a fresh towel and demanded he shower. The smell, I said, had crossed from uncomfortable to ungodly overnight. He took in a sample of armpit and agreed. While he showered, I found myself staring at the kitchen, or rather, what I had done to the kitchen. What would you feel if you walked in right now, I wondered. I hoped you would be a stranger here.

With David no longer reeking, we left the house in search of food. Park Slope was stagnant and hot, and we walked quietly until David broke the silence.

“You all right today?” He avoided looking at me. “I know you've been in a rough way.”

“I'll get there,” I said, “no worries.”

“Aye, but I do worry. Constantly, brother. You're not well, you know that, right?”

There was no right answer to the question. “I'm better than I was.”

“That much is true,” he said and slapped my back. “You haven't been Peter in a long time. I miss that sonofabitch.”

“I'll get there,” I said, hoping. “I will.”

“We bloodied that kitchen well enough, eh?” He grabbed my shoulder and gave it a shake. “Fucked it up good.”

I laughed in agreement and pointed to a coffee shop just up the street. The heat had nearly drained us both already. We made our place in the corner, equipped with iced caffeine and pastries, and tried to avoid the subject of you.

“Did you see the Arsenal match yesterday,” David asked, knowing full well that I didn't watch soccer. “van Persie looked fantastic.”

“They'll miss Henry,” I said, regurgitating information David had given me weeks before. 

“Damn right they will. Damn shame.” He made gulping sounds as he drank his coffee.

I thought of you then, of seeing you at the concert in Prospect Park. You didn't know I was there. We were so close to one another. Maybe only a few feet. You were with him, his arms wrapped around your waist. It felt like nothing we had done, or said, or promised, had ever been real. In the indie film of my mind, the camera would stay on my face for an uncomfortable amount of time, making the audience shift in their seats. Then, slowly, it would lift away, perhaps on a crane or helicopter, pulling back farther and farther until I was nothing but a fleck in an unrecognizable sea of concertgoers. The band on stage would begin to play as the picture faded to black.

David and I walked back to the house, incapable of further banter. The sun beat down on my neck and shoulders, but it felt good, right somehow. The sound of the front door opening and closing echoed through the house and sounded, so much, like Charlie baiting the tabby. I grabbed David a beer then sat with my back against refrigerator, in the middle of the kitchen. With dry wall clinging to my legs, I stared at the holes. The place looked beautiful. David called to me: the time had come to move on. Living room, he said. I was ready. I stood in the doorway and told him to take the first swing. He smiled and choked up on the handle. I kept my hands on the doorframe as he buried the sledgehammer into the wall, the collision of metal and bedrock resonating through my bones.