What Helps

by Brian Zimmerman

She’s standing in the doorway wet and clean, wrapped in a bath towel. She brought a man home. A man she met at work. A man she met sliding off the stage and into a lap. The man she brought home is sitting on the boy’s old mattress. He’s fiddling with a small razor blade, moving it from knuckle to knuckle. They had blown lines when they got back. She showered when she got home because she smelled like sweat and beer. She showered because she was covered in glitter. She showered because a man’s ejaculate had seeped through his pants onto her thigh. It happened. It happened occasionally.

He wants her to come to him, the man. The man she brought home from work. The man with the beard and the earrings. The man who tips her too much just for standing there.

The bedroom is bright. The walls are dirty—splotchy with dark spots and the occasional crayon squiggle. Dust is pooled in the corners. The linoleum floor is slick with it, the dust.

The tiny, naked bed squeaks beneath the weight of the man. He extends his hand. She takes a step forward. He pulls her to him, slotting his knee between her legs. The pressure drives the towel upwards. He puts a rough hand on her newly bare thigh. The other hand moves upward and releases her pinched grip. The towel falls away from her chest.

As her body folds onto his, she notices something red slipping out of the dark closet. She focuses on it, and the man puts his tongue on her neck.

She remembers what the red is. It was his Christmas sweater, Danny’s—knitted red wool with three white snowflakes on the front. They looked too much like Jew stars—that’s what her mother said when she saw the sweater. Her mother. His grandmother. Her mother who loved Busch Light, Busch Light and her Lincoln. Her big, bouncy Lincoln she drove everywhere. Her mother, the lady with big hands and a soft face. The lady whose skin didn’t seem to wrinkle. The lady who smiled, laughed, and smoked too many cigarettes. The lady who only had boyfriends, no husbands. She only liked boyfriends. Nice boyfriends. The kind that would sweep her daughter up and put her on their lap. They’d bounce her on their knees and she’d laugh. She’d choke on her own laughter as the air left her lungs, delicately slapped out by the gyrating knees of mommy’s boyfriends. Bulges wrapped in denim.

She closes her eyes and tries to push these things out of her mind. Push them back into the icy spots. The places that could freeze things and make them quiet.

She opens her eyes. The man’s mouth is moving downward now, past her neck to her chest. More of the red wool is bleeding out into the light. It looks like something dead. And then she can see them. See them in her mother’s Lincoln. Carelessly folded up like used wrapping paper. Her mother, the one who always picked him up when she couldn’t. The one who took him to school when her bed smelled like the club and she couldn’t get out of it. Her mother. The one with the boyfriends. Her mother: the doting, reliable, boyfriendless grandmother.

The man stands, grabbing her by the hips, and rolling her on her stomach. He’s stronger than she thought he’d be. His grip on her hips feels locked. Like something twisted too tight—like something tight enough to break. He unbuckles his belt and she can feel the warmth of him. The warmth alone is worth it. Then he is there and the noises come. The grunts and the sighs. She can feel his beard on her cheek, his hands in her hair. She feels it all, everything she’s supposed to. The pain, the good stuff, that feeling of full, of being powerlessly full. She can feel everything, but she keeps watching the sweater. The dead looking sweater her little Danny left behind. She expects it to crawl out, dragging a corpse behind it. She hopes it will. She lays with her face pressed tightly against the mattress hoping for her son’s sweater to come to life. Begging for a body.

And then it hurts. He hurts. More than he should.

But soon it’s over, and the man’s pants are buckled and then he’s gone.

She washes herself in the sink. She puts on a pair of men’s basketball shorts and cutoff t-shirt from Sammy’s, an old sports bar she worked at years ago. She sits in the living room and crushes a pill of oxy the man left behind for her. She takes one of the twenties he left and rolls it up. She snorts. He told her it would help with the comedown. She said I know, I know what helps.

Brian Zimmerman is a 28 year old up-and-coming writer. He was raised in central Illinois, but has since spent time in Florida, Kansas, and now Chicago. Brian has worked as waiter, bartender, and union laborer. He is currently working toward an MFA in fiction writing from Columbia College.

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