You really hammer down the nail, my boyfriend says the second he swipes shut this phone call.
Not a compliment, he says.
I arrange a hurt, pouty look on my face, a look that does okay with ticket-threatening male cops. I say, What are we talking about here?
He pushes a hand through his hair, bristling it. I checked his hair products online: thirty bucks a bottle. Innnn. Sane.
He’s twenty-six years older than me, grateful to have hair.
What are we talking about? he says, mocking me, are you for real?
I pinch my arm. Smile. Appears so, I say.
Though I do guess what we’re talking about. His credit card. Which I used. It’s platinum. When he hauled it out at dinner when we met, I confessed platinum was my favorite color. He said, Me too.
That spikey hair of his would be platinum if he didn’t color it at the place in Georgetown where his wife goes.
Goddamn it, he says now. I want to love you.
Then do, I say.
I can’t trust you, he says.
We’re at a baseball game, by the way, in a fancy box next to the owner’s box. Shrimp on ice keep coming. I’ve eaten maybe fifty. He’s telling everyone I’m his research assistant. No one believes him. Oh, and the Nats are winning, up by seven in the fifth inning.
I say, I want to love you too.
Not technically a lie because I do want to love someone.
Oh, his wife is in the box, too. Sure I’ve met her. She’s pleasant. She doesn’t care. Never you mind why we stay together, he said to me once, we have our reasons and our arrangement. It’s spelled out, he said, in writing.
Like I don’t know what “spelled out” means.
I’ve seen everything. I don’t even care anymore.
Earlier I told someone I was a sophomore at AU (true), wanting to be a doctor (false).
The Nats rack up another run. Everyone in the box roots and hollers except the two of us. Did I mention it’s a playoff game? Everything—Amped Up! It’s cold for October, like forty. His wife is wearing this gaudy National League leather baseball jacket with a shitload of garish patches and logos. It’s unbelievably ugly, I mean unbelievably so. Guess the platinum card paid for it.
He’s been spiraling out this long, whispered hiss, badgering me to do this or that instead of that or this. You know, it’s not awful. I’m getting paid. Not trashy, in cash, but he takes me places and buys stuff. I grew up in a family where everyone down to the last cousin wanted something they didn’t have and couldn’t possibly get, not even in a thousand lifetimes.
We met on Craigslist.
I catch the wife glancing. She gives her head this tiny shake and zips up her ugly jacket. I feel dismissed. I feel like the people here know things I’ll never know, not in a thousand lifetimes.
You’re the hammer here, I say, can’t we watch the game?
Why’d you steal my card, he murmurs, when I buy you anything you want?
I point to his wife and say loud enough for everyone in the box to hear, I want a jacket like hers, like your wife’s. I love it, I exclaim.
The game is on pause, between batters, so everyone catches this. The wife laughs and unzips the jacket with a loud, slow ratchet that grits my teeth.
Oh, honey, she says, take it. She slithers it down her torso like shedding a skin, extricates her arms, and hands over the heavy, ugly thing. All yours, she says.
In front of everyone, I have to slip on the jacket, cozy-warm inside from her body. People stare at me, sort of, or maybe just to stare somewhere.
He seems confused now that I look like his wife.
Oh, god, he mutters.
There’s a crack of the bat, and it’s back to the game.
He pats my head like I’m a dog. I let him because that’s how this goes.
Yeah Nats! he shouts.
I stand there in this jacket then push my fists into the pockets. It’s the wife I want to love me, actually, not in a lesbian way, but in a way where she’d hand over a jacket and say something simple like, You look cold, honey. Here, take this. Take this, honey—it’s all yours.
Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. This Angel on My Chest, her collection of linked short stories, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in October 2015. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in many publications, including The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Gettysburg Review, The Sun, Shenandoah, River Styx, Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, New England Review, Washingtonian, and Cincinnati Review. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Pietrzyk is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program and teaches in the MA Program in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. For more information: www.lesliepietrzyk.com