Underwear Man


I sold the car after she left me for the man who tucked his shirt into his underwear. I sold the car, and I sat down in the rocking chair by the old boat and I waited. I waited until the sun burned low in the hills, and I lit a pipe and I put it out and I waited.

There’s something misleading about the motion of a rocking chair. The way it makes you feel like you’re moving when really you’re just carving lines in the grass. My only comfort that day came from a couple of squirrels rooting around in the yard toward evening. They’d forgotten where they put their nuts. Thank God I’m not a squirrel, I thought. That was the best I’d felt all day.

The reason I sold the car is this, it’s not really mine. I bought it, sure, fixed it up, changed the oil and kept the tires full. But it was ours. That passenger seat with the leather worn through, the quarter glass that sometimes worked, the broken eight-track, the gunmetal shift knob rubbed smooth, it was hers as much as mine, and I can’t drive around alone with an empty seat of memories.

Maybe I should say we got back together. Maybe I should say she found me again and pressed her hands against my chest, weeping, and pulled me in until her tears were hot and bitter and begged me to protect her from underwear man. Or the man after him, or the man after him. Maybe I’d steal our car back and we’d go away, and I’d be glad to be hers, to hear my name on her lips, like it was only my name when she said it. But that’s not how it happened.

I was spending a lot of time at the park watching kids eat colored snow and ducklings follow their mothers around the lake. Sometimes I’d talk to strangers. The organic honey lady who is also an author. Or the friendly homeless guy who was once an aircraft mechanic. Other times I’d stand by my new car, a hateful machine. I’d stand by the door and wait and hope someone would ask for a ride.

The homeless guy came up to me on Monday. He had a villainous pencil-thin mustache and a laugh that tore a toothless hole in his face, and if he had asked me to drive him a hundred miles I would have done it just to spend a day in his life. He didn’t need a ride, but he did ask for the empty cola can in my hand. He put it in his grocery bag and moved to the next trashcan, as thankful a man as I’d ever seen. He has something I’m missing or I’ve lost. And he doesn’t have anything.

I did see her again, to be fair. She was alone and drifted over, pretending to examine the pavement. I was standing by my new car, which I hated, hoping someone would ask for a ride.

“What are you doing here?” she said in a voice like an actress, like she was happy to see me, like she was surprised, like she was everything.

“I come here every day,” I said.

She had a ticket in her hand and she waved it at me like a laundry list of faults. “Would it be too much to ask for a ride to the metro?” she said.

I looked at her hard, at the scarlet ribbon in her hair, at her flickering eyes, her blood red lips, at the pout I used to kiss away. I breathed her Givenchy perfume and felt her clever form sliding soft and tight around me, holding me until we were tangled, arms and legs and beating hearts, indistinguishable. All that I am, buried deep, until my body was only an instrument of hers.

I put my hands into my pockets and leaned against my fender, sliding down the chipped paint, the warm, curved metal, just to feel my own body distinct against it. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m waiting for someone else.”

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