A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Embarrass"
Originally featured on 12-28-2007
As part of our series "Relatively Forced Holiday Laughter"

Dearest Camilla,

Even at this late date, I am confounded as to the nature of our acquaintance—in all its incarnations, an anomaly of social pairings, and one that can only do the world great damage.

It’s an absurdity to introduce you as my “friend.”

“Lover” would be just plain perverted.

Arch nemesis?

In texture that term has its honesty, but we’re not rivals on any discernible playing field, and our values don’t tangibly conflict in theory nor in application.

Dopplegangers—that’s a word for fifteen-year-old geeks who watch too much science fiction and lack any concept of human relationships.

Siblings…it’s been suggested in jest, and I can only shrug, having never had one. Whatever block of material in the universe I was carved from, therein we overlap. If that abstraction extends to distribution of chromosomes, then “sister” would work in sarcasm.

You always yawn and tell me to get to the point. I can’t find my tennis rackets, and I think you might have them. I need them for a retreat next month.

I remember walking arm in arm down Nineteenth Street after our first incidence of coitus, and it being a strange and unfamiliar feeling, as I’d always expected it would be: part victorious (in the most machismo, carnal sense, but also on a very specific and personal level), part explorer-taking-his-first-steps-in-a-foreign-landscape, part relief. And I remember your words to me after walking those two blocks in silence while the sun retired itself behind the low-income housing to our left and cast tall shadows on the fast-food pillars to our right.

“We’re not romantic partners, are we? I mean, yeah, we just did the hallowed societal act that stamps the IN LOVE barcode on our astral ID card, and we did it on a rented mattress in a basement apartment,”

(inasmuch as I’m paraphrasing, this transcript is compelled to note your use of full-bodied hyperbole: the words “hallowed societal act” were spoken in that avuncular, bellowing, back-arching, finger-air-quotationing, eye-widening, infectious affectation that is the domain of rural gray-haired men with beer bellies, and that coming from the mouth of a nineteen-year-old prom queen is phenomenally hysterical)

“and yeah, we both know that we’re inexorably tied together, bla bla bla, but what the fuck is a romantic partner? Sounds like an expression my parents’ generation would make up.”

A ‘romantic’ confluence of trajectories, was that it? I could only shrug. Walking backwards in time as my typewriter inches southward on the paper, I remember that first evening of groping in the loft at the top of the stairwell. We persisted like two untrained factory workers stranded together in an abandoned mill after an evacuation, left with only frayed, coffee-stained pages from operation manuals and knowing that the world relied on a full day’s worth of production from the two of us to keep on turning. And knowing we would be so generous as to grant the planet continuance if it took us all night. My favorite moment was when your back struck the handle at a statistically impossible angle and we accidentally pushed open the door to the rooftop and the security alarm woke up the entire building.

And then things got ugly.

Or perhaps they got mundane before they got ugly. The fact that both conditions are inevitable in monogamous arrangements is typical, and I began this missive with the express statement that our acquaintance is anything but typical.

So how then did we arrive at this current situation?






Dorkiest Matthew,

I have always been nothing other than a figment of that gay imagination of yours. If you prefer. Get some sleep, you silly silly man. p.s. Sorry things didn’t work out.

If that wasn’t a load of phlegm. I’m still writing this, so I guess that wasn’t a ps. Secondly, I’m obviously not sorry. And third of all, “things” has no meaning, and the failure of a nonentity is, as you would say, "a fiction built on a vacuum." I wonder how many times this month you’ve used that phrase to woo some chick’s pants off. It’s another way of saying the word "bullshit," while inflating the word bullshit with bullshit, and I know you're rereading this sentence to stroke that paradoxical loop of observation until you soil your tighty-whities. Such a dork.

I often wonder what job-title you pin me with (and being the “egomaniacal bitch” that I am, I naturally assume you mention me nine hundred times a day, and your coworkers are ready to strangle themselves if they have to hear the battery spring sandwich story one more time).

“Ex” would be like calling Michelangelo a blacksmith. Was he? I’m not a historian, fuck if I know. Those Renaissance guys all had like thirty careers, and he probably was proficient with a forge and anvil. You were proficient with your manvil, I’ll give you that. And as I always say in such matters, if the penis fits, wear it. But you get my point. No, you don’t get my point. You're sitting there scratching your head. I forget sometimes what a flipping dork you are. Like you said, we’ve gone through "incarnations." We’ve been friends, bedfellows, adversaries, coworkers (let’s not repeat THAT again- [imagine me grinding my teeth and lowering my eyes until you know I’m looking at that disgusting mole on your hip]), conspirators, many things, which makes us kind of a Renaissance relationship, if that makes any sense. Do you get my stupid analogy now, or do I have to keep talking in this patronizing voice until you lock yourself in the bathroom and punch the sink? I love when you do that—cracks me up. You crack me up. I'll never forget the time you stomped out of the bathroom with your arms crossed and asked me for a band-aid. You were so pissed off, and the way you said it in that monotone… you're a weird cat. Um- oh yeah, my analogy;

you're not a mistake, but dating was.

While we’re breathing construction fumes in this traffic jam on Memory Lane, how about that time I brought that stray cat home and forgot to tell you? I didn’t really forget to tell you, I just wanted to see you react. You got startled and cursed. Centaurian ran away from you, and I told you what a white-trash meanie you were, and then I refused to kiss you until you could make him purr. You told me later that you hated me for that. Not just hated me, but hated me.

You’d die if you knew how many times I’ve walked in on you blasting that retarded 80’s metal song She’s As Cold As Ice, and rocking out to it. I used to purposely piss you off just so that I could spy and laugh at you. Maybe that explains a lot. It still cheers me up to picture you in that corner with spit flying out your mouth and dripping down the wall. Ya kill me, Matt. You looked so pathetic when you thought you were alone in a room. Maybe we all look pathetic when we’re alone, maybe that’s like one of those profound life statements or something.

Relax, you big goofball, and stop pretending like you’ve ever worn the pants.

I’d go with "colleague."


Yours (occasionally),

Icy Bitch.



Dearest demon,

You know I can’t resist alliteration, and even if I could resist, who would want to. Two words that start with the same positioning of the tongue and the lips, two disparate words that function together to create meaning, born from the same womb. It’s incest, I love it. Of course, I could have said Coldest Camilla.

I see you avoided the question altogether, and now you’ve forced me to write to you again. Do you have my tennis rackets? It’s kind of important.

That’s always been your mechanism; the deliberate omission of pivotal information, refined and crafted into a fishing hook. And a sharp one. Like the teenager who calls Johnny boy-crush to say "I’m such a ditz, I left my palm-pilot in your truck, tee-hee, I’d better come over to get it," only your hooks are never so pedestrian as that. You don’t have to be warm and charismatic or give signals of encouragement, you can be the abrasive bitch nature intended and still get the results of flirting.

It stunned me when I realized how often you're not aware that you're doing it. I’m sure it started as an art of manipulation (like a refined style of dance), and then the crucible of adolescence compacted it into such a rehearsed protocol that you no longer have to fake it. That’s how I first knew that you were hot for Alvin. When he came to repair our sink, you gave him a check from your old bank. You weren’t conscious of the attraction yet, so you were confused and didn’t understand why I was irritable that night. But I knew the moment you pulled out that checkbook- no, I knew it before then, when you first reached into the wrong pocket of your purse, that you wanted to bang the plumber.

But I digress.





Fucking idiot,

Do you enjoy this or something? I’m not going to acknowledge your petty instigation. I’ve moved on from Alvin long ago, and if he’s still getting your panties in a bunch, talk to your mother or something.

Matthew, you don’t even play tennis. If you did own tennis rackets, I don’t believe I ever saw them. Retreat next month? Matthew, don’t bullshit me. It hurts when you bullshit me. Not that- I mean, what I meant is, it hurts me that you're still so limited in your thinking as to surmise that you can get away with bullshitting me for an instant.

I didn’t twist your arm into writing me a second letter, and I didn’t force Alvin to ravage me by handing him a bad check. Has it occurred to you that some accidents are accidents and not me flexing my feminine wiles? You’d like to think I was that cunning. If you were writing this paragraph, you’d probably use a word like skullduggery, and you’d browse three different thesauruses to find it, and then you’d pour some wine and be all pleased with yourself. Dweeb.

If you want to cite my fling with Alvin as the initiation of The Collapse, go right ahead and keep deluding yourself with funhouse prism glasses. I could never compete with your image of me, and I know because I tried. You see what you want to see, you magnify people’s virtues and spot-reduce their shortcomings at will, like a photographer burning and dodging a print to get a National Geographic prize-winner, regardless of the actual shape of the object and position of the sun.

You gave me too much unconditional credit. Made me feel like a cheap whore sometimes.





Probation officer who holdeth the key to my sanity,

If you take that last letter of yours and read between the lines with a magnifying glass, I’m pretty sure you’d see a black-and-white portrait of my face in a perpetual wince, one picture for every three words like an old animation flipbook of me taking emotional punches. In fact, if you browsed the entirety of our relationship under a microscope, you’d see the same thing.

Centaurian didn’t like me and I never liked Centaurian, and I would have been perfectly content to live with a cat who I didn’t have to pet and adore all the damned time. I did hate you for that.

Sorry I couldn’t make you purr on command.

Actually, that’s what I liked about you; you're this self-contained ice cube always searching for that great thaw that doesn’t exist, but its nonexistence won’t stop you from finding it, and when you do you'll run right back into the freezer.

We should play tennis sometime.


Naked as I write this,




Matthew, Matthew,

I’d say don’t take this the wrong way, but then you’d take it the wrong way. I’d say don’t take this the right way, just to be witty, but then you’d, I don’t know what you’d do. (and by the way, don’t ever speak abstractly to me again, its cuteness expired epochs ago, and it’s now a rotting mass orbited by flies) So I'll just say it.

Matthew, I fucking love you. And no, we will never play tennis.


Put some fucking clothes on,

Cold As Ice





Do not expect me to reciprocate.






Matthew had no expectations when he put on his shoes and walked outside to place the letter in the mailbox. He turned the knob and let the front door swing open to an angle equivalent to one slice of pizza.

The sun stung and bit at his corneas which were raw from lack of sleep. He folded his arms. The fabric of his shirt flapped against his chest as he walked with the envelope hugged to his body.

A fiction built on a vacuum.

He tried to laugh, but the laughter apparatus in his diaphragm felt like an old lawnmower that wouldn’t start and probably wasn’t worth the effort.

Down the street a trio of crows were roosting on a bus-stop bench and squawking to each other in a language that had no vowels and only alliteration.

There was a newly paved tennis court behind the Davidson School on Court Center Road.

"Astral ID card," he whispered with a silent chuckle, and went back inside.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

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