Holding Stems
A Short Story by Shanna Seesz
Written using the suggestion "Call one thing another’s name long enough, it will answer."
Originally featured on 01-26-2011
As part of our series "The Benefit of Doubt: Stories Written to Explore Domestic Violence and Abuse"

So this is love: locked in bathrooms, staring at bare floors. There was a time when I took comfort in them, their frigidness, in college, when we first met and we were fumbling drunk and urgent hands and boozing our way through silence. Waking up love-sick, booze-sick I lay on the bathroom floor, its cool tile soothing the pounding inside my head. I considered whether you loved me with each alternating tile like that game we played when we were kids, pulling the petals from flowers reciting he loves me, he loves me not. I never finished until I landed on he loves me. Even then, it was usually a half tile, but looking back now most of our relationship was half tiles.

I watch the door, you yelling behind it. It nearly rattles off its hinges. I swear I can see your face in the wood. I should’ve known things would be this way. I should’ve known by the way you grabbed my arm in crowds of people.

My father made a life out of tile, out of laying down floors. He told me that any high spots, any imperfections, if neglected, would gradually show through and ruin the floor’s appearance. Truth is I’ve built a life on high spots and loose boards. Dad said, “Sometimes you don’t have the right tools, but you use the tools you have. Anything to pull the bad tile up and set the good stuff down.” Now, locked in this bathroom, in this house, all I can find is a wrench. All I can hear is the pounding inside my head and your incessant pounding at the door.

Truth is nobody can make a life out of tile. Tile isn’t a life. It’s a floor. But I guess if you call one thing another name long enough, it will answer to it. Someone or something has to take responsibility. I’ve begun hating this room, my time spent hiding. None of this belongs to me—not these walls; this floor; my time here, and it takes everything I have not to peel at the floor and rip off all the tile, right down to its stifled, bare wood.

I can hear you through the door. I can hear you breathing.

“I love you.”

I suppose if tile is a life then pain can be love, and you really do love me or you wouldn’t get so angry. I do love you, or I did. I don’t know. I mean, if pain is love then what do you call love? There aren’t enough words to go around replacing one word with another. And it doesn’t matter really whether you love me, you love me not. Either way: a trail of petals behind, holding stems.

I can hear your footsteps trailing away from the door. I hope you can hear me. I hope you understand me when I say this: I’m sorry about the floor. I found the wrench from that time you promised to fix the sink. It’s still leaking, in case you were wondering. Anyway, there was a slant in the floor, and I thought you should see it. Thanks for the wrench. I love you.

Read More By Shanna Seesz

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Portland Fiction Project

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