Short Fiction

Regular Joe

CW: mentions of suicide; biphobia

Rain falls into a box full of the things you couldn’t take with you. It’s coming down hard now, sticking my hair to my face and turning my grey shirt black. I was supposed to go back into work today, but I asked for a bit more time and they said of course. So I stayed home, trying to actually get something done.

I need to go back into our apartment - our old apartment - and paint the rest of the walls a neutral shade. But I got almost halfway through the living room before remembering how it had taken you two months to find the perfect red to match your entire wall of bookshelves. I think of how you got a little smudge of it on your nose as you pushed your hair out of your eyes. 

That’s when I stepped out for some air. Or maybe I wanted to drown.

No. I didn’t. I wanted to get on with my life, finish painting the living room, and go into work. Because some of us don’t give up that easily.

Whenever I start getting mad at you I do something. I make tea, go for a walk or, in this case, take some stuff to the curb. It generally takes about ten seconds of anger for me to never want to feel that way towards you again. And it takes entering another space for me to reset and forgive you for going.

You had your reasons. We all have our reasons.

Without even noticing my feet have moved - except for that awful squish that becomes mushier with every step I take - I make my way past the shiny mailboxes in the lobby, up the small flight of stairs and to our door. It’s open and the smell of paint hits the back of my nose. Our neighbour standing in our doorway gives me that old familiar look. The misery grin. The are-you-doing-alright-hon? smile that is made of tight lips, dim eyes, and raised eyebrows.

I’m not alright, and I don’t want to talk. Everyone wants to know if I want to talk, and wants me to want to talk. I do want to eat, though. And our neighbour, whose name is either Tina or Leena, has a box of chocolates and some lilies. I will devour the chocolates, in front of her or alone. I’m not picky right now with comfort foods. I will chuck the lilies into the trash. I’m moving out. Why do people keep buying me flowers?

Okay, I know why they’re buying me flowers.

Dripping through my apartment, I invite Tina-Leena in if she’s okay with English Breakfast tea, because everything else has been packed, and we lean against the kitchen counter and talk about you and me.

About your and my little band, how she’d seen us playing open mics all around town, how sweet she thought it was that we’d perform together every Thursday; she couldn’t get her husband to do anything with her, not even watch Grey’s Anatomy. About how her nephew always thought our apartment is hers and once burst in on our game of strip poker. About how when she learned we weren’t just roommates, her first thought was, “I’ve never lived beside lesbians,” and she realised she had a lot to learn. She seemed thankful enough, standing awkwardly in my half-packed kitchen, to have lived beside us.

She’s being sweet, but I’ll admit I’m a little offended by her assuming we were both gay. Because you weren’t. I “made you see the light,” as we used to joke. You'd said it to me so many times, and I keep thinking of it recently: “If only you hadn’t been such a big, fat flirt, I could have ended up with some regular Joe.” But no, I’d batted my lashes and you were under my spell.

I consider explaining your sexuality, since she seems open to learning, but before I can finish my chocolate, she asks if she can use the bathroom. I choke and she starts patting my back.

Not a lot of people know. How you died, or why. I don’t tell them. Only your parents and I know the whole story, sharing our guilt.

You’d told your parents about us. Like I kept pushing you to do. How your mom cried into the phone. Your dad went silent. They eventually hung up. They told you to stop coming home. Stop asking for money. Stop calling.

I haven’t showered in my own apartment since the day you died. I even go to the McDonald’s next door to pee. They think I really like their coffee; they ask how you are and I tell them you’ve been better.

The rain is trickling against the window, so similar to the dribbling of the bath, the sound that I heard right when I thought, “That’s not right. She’s been in the tub for so long.” Stepping into the bathroom to see you. And your neat writing on the note on the mirror.

I sob into my neighbour’s shoulder as she holds me like a child. I keep telling her it’s my fault. I did this. You’d never dated girls before. I made you tell them. I made you love me. If I hadn’t smiled at you under those crappy bar lights, hadn’t bought you a drink, hadn’t put my hand on your knee and whispered in your ear.

If only I hadn’t been such a big, fat flirt. You could have ended up with some regular Joe.

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Lindsay Clarke

Lindsay Clarke is a Toronto-based writer, an alum of George Brown College’s Novel Writing program, and a professional closet-crier. She has been previously published in QT Literary Magazine. You can find her at