She was always giving, taking back, giving, taking back. Every time she took back he promised himself it would be the last. Then he would think back to the beginning, and before he could go, she was giving again. So he stayed. They built a life together, working odd jobs, they bought this double-wide, made some friends. But every time he got comfortable, she’d let him fall. She’d go back to an old boyfriend, spend food money on her drugs, tell the neighbors his secrets.
This time was different. No amount of rainbows and wine would convince him. He turned off the lamp and rolled over on the couch, suddenly aware of his nakedness. He tried to get up, reaching for clothes that weren’t there, and fell back with a thud. The sound of crickets and the light from the streetlamp hurt his head. He realized he hadn’t closed the door and pulled himself off the couch, across the musty room. As he reached for the knob, he saw her staring in at him. She smiled, but it wasn’t kind. She laughed and turned away, walked toward the sound of women’s voices laced with liquor. He heard his name and slammed the door. He didn’t bother locking it. She had a key. He fell to his knees and dragged himself back to the couch. He put the pillow over his head. It stank of her cheap perfume and someone else’s body.
The world spun. Then gentle hands took the pillow. He saw a face he didn’t know. He felt her breath, heard the sound of her voice, but couldn’t make out words. She took the horrible blanket off the back of the couch and laid it across him, looking away. He opened his lips to tell her no, it gave him a rash, but the blanket felt like a cloud wrapped in the sun’s warmth. He lay back down and closed his eyes, expecting the world to swirl around him. But it didn’t. He slept and she stayed with him. Still speaking without ever moving her lips. She spoke to him all night, telling him all she knew. Telling him what was next. She told him she was not the youngest child. The woman he lived with was.
When he woke he was alone. The woman from last night was gone. He smelled her breath and felt the sound of her voice in his veins. Her invisible hands caressed his face, his neck as he pulled himself off the couch and made coffee. He was dressed in clothes he’d never seen before. They were clean, untorn. How had she changed him he wondered. How was she here but not? Why was he erect after so much wine? And where was the woman he lived with?
While the coffee brewed he went to the closet and removed everything that wasn’t his. He put it in a box and addressed it. He understood why he’d never been able to leave. This was his home. He opened the door and carried the box down the step to the truck. He tossed it in the back. The post office would deliver it East, and he knew she’d follow. She would wander until she found the box. It contained everything she needed. Everything but him.