Dressing Room Fashion Show from an Ex-Fiancée
in Iowa

by Mike Joyce

I’m looking hard out the window of this boutique clothing store, trying to believe that sticking your fingers inside someone changes nothing. With a battery-exhausted cellphone and sex-exhausted forearm resting across my jeans, hiding my erection from the clerk, I watch a cardboard cup caught between the rushing cars and the wind of a snowy Iowa spring. Maybe I’m trying to divine a way to be less predictable in its haphazard movements, to find inspiration in its chaos. But mostly, I’m trying hard not to look at the drawn curtain of the booth and the naked calves and bare-feet coyly posing behind it, across from me and this empty, this sweat-smelling, this turquoise-piece-of-shit-15-foot-long-couch. 

Everything that I tried to forget came back to me last week. It stood there at my door with an overnight bag and a smile that punched through time. Years telescoped into nothing and so did the better part of me as she bubbled there, dropped the bags and hugged me with that daytime PBS face I had spent my happier years trying to ignore. 

Since then every day she laughs and every day it’s like my STD enlightenment never happened. I check-out and pretend we’re still teenagers playing house: before her OxyContin cocktails but after the time she leaned topless over the iron banister in the small-city night, flicked her ashes at me and asked me to hit her. It’s convenient to fake a past and forget about dropping out of school. Forget about spending three years eking out a living at strip-malls and five dollar restaurants. 

Since then every night she sleeps and every night I lie awake by her side. Each 5AM sunrise is a fucking rock on my grave. I spend the hours trying to pinpoint the exact moment during her absence that indiscretions ceased to be an uncrossable line; I already know I’m the problem, I’m the reason I am transmuting into everything I hate and everything she wants. The clerk deliberately steps in front of my Iowa City and gives me the dirtiest look. I give her my scowliest. I try and look through the clerk’s tight legs as she folds a shirt, and I imagine walking outside and haruspexing a crow’s entrails. It’s got to be easier than all this indecision. 

I hear the curtain rings shuck with speed, in my periphery the heavy linen flaps like a cape. I turn to look at my nightmare; she is looking a lot like California. Her $300 hair is wavy and soft white, like energy light-bulbs or like she has Ocean salt dusting it. Black mascara and red lipstick, bruised skin around her wrists. She looks like the perfect advertisement for Quazepam. 

And I—I’ve sat here for an hour, watching the inflamed red heat on the back of her thighs turn more obvious with each new flash show, coloring her black and blue. They’re visible just barely with the highest hemlines–and all the hemlines she’s chosen are high. She has her back to me and her head turns in a Monroe oh-my! look. As she twists and bends I see the faded permanent marker poke out on the naked flesh between her belt and the loose-fitting, pastel pink hipstercore shirt that she’s pulling tight, bunched up in her little fist. The open neckline tugs below her bra. The letters I wrote on her body are now exfoliate-clean but still legible, still showing the top of a scribbled, a slanted C

It could be I was created for this: making her hurt. This is my nature. But if I am violence, violence cares.


When not editing literaryorphans.org, Mike Joyce bums around Chicago staring at people. Last Tuesday, someone stared back–and asked him to fill out a simple survey regarding his opinion of the perforations in paper towel rolls.
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