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Say It with Your Eyes Closed

Tucked away in a red vinyl booth, next to the jukebox that no one ever used, Audrey Blatt and her boyfriend, Whitney St. James, sat among the regulars—dusty men in canvas coveralls, trucker hats, and unwashed denim. The pair shared a posture of stunned silence—eyes glazed, bodies forward, untouched shots of whiskey and half-drunk glasses of beer in front of them. This noticeable distance manifested not long after Audrey’s boyfriend took her hand in his and, with a sincerity so profound it required he avoid direct eye contact, said the words Audrey most hoped he would not. He told her he loved her.

She wondered why she didn’t want to hear those words from him. With his mass of curly dark hair and blue eyes and that flawlessly contoured jawline, Whitney was a beautiful specimen. She was not alone in this assessment. Whitney St. James. Audrey often repeated those three words to herself like a mantra. A name so preposterous it sounded like the flimsy invention of a shady porn producer. She loved it. She told him how, when they first met, she delighted at the thought of introducing him to friends and family alike, thrilled at the possibility saying, “This is my boyfriend, Whitney St. James.” He had sulked at first, especially when she laughed into her beer after being introduced to him by her friend Meagan. That was at a house party near campus before the start of fall semester. It was clear that Whitney was used to people reacting differently to him, either out of politeness or adherence to some unspoken rule that one not ridicule a creature so beautiful, at least not to his face.

Moments before Whitney uttered those unwanted words, just as he was placing Audrey’s hand in his, she had snapped her fingers at the bartender, Casey. With his straight-razor cheekbones he was almost as pretty as Whitney, though he had aged out of being the kind of sexual conquest Audrey could make and still live with herself come morning. Like Whitney, he was the proud owner of a mass of dark hair, which, much to her dismay, had been tied in a fierce knot atop his head. Casey nodded at Audrey’s sweeping hand gesture over the drinks that said, “Pretend these glasses are empty.”

Audrey’s snap had also grabbed the attention of Crystal, a barnacle-like woman of indeterminate age—she was either a hard-bitten fifty-something or an impressively-pickled septuagenarian—who was the bar’s most prominent and ostensibly still functional fixture. Churlish and confrontational with everyone but Audrey, who she referred to as her “little Rhonda”—a moniker Audrey had yet to discern the meaning of—her unexpected kindness was repaid with a complimentary round or two of her drink of choice: a fishbowl-sized glass of pink Chablis.

Casey had told Audrey that Crystal owned a small house across the street, the basement of which was rented out to a procession of incoming freshman, most of whom never made it to their junior year, having succumbed to the bar’s easy temptations and negligent ID policy. One night, swaying violently under the gale of cheap wine, it had been necessary for Casey to help the woman home. He said he felt her press her slight frame hard into his body when they reached the front door. That pressure soon became a feral gesticulation on his left thigh, a pinched, scraggly seduction that culminated with her yelling, “I want the bone!” over and over again. Casey insisted he didn’t do anything, that he just waited until she tuckered herself out and then covered her on the couch with a frayed afghan. “That was all,” he said, but Audrey wasn’t so sure. She knew a few things about Casey, like how he would stick his dick into anything that moved and how she had once let him talk her into having a three-way with a broad-shouldered grad student from Milwaukee named Donna who wound up crying into Audrey’s mouth while they were making out. Donna’s tears didn’t upset Audrey as much as the sharp realization that this woman had deemed her lips unsuitable for kissing. Mostly, she was just annoyed that, instead of stepping in to ease the situation, to help get Donna’s Midwestern bullshit under control, Casey just sat naked on the edge of the bed, strumming his acoustic guitar.

In comparison, Whitney had never been the type to leave her stranded like that. He had a sixth sense for rescuing her from the discomfort of undesirable social interactions. That kind of reliability was hard to come by. Maybe that made what he’d just said a little better? But rather than make her happy, Audrey felt as though Whitney was engaged in a kind of emotional heist, the goal of which was to take something she had not yet offered.

It’s not like she hadn’t thought about it. After all, they had been together for a while now and had shared important and awkward things she couldn’t fathom sharing with anyone else. The first time they had sex, she had straddled him while he was doing this kind of amazing thing with his fingers. She couldn’t recall how she’d wound up in that position, practically balanced in the palm of his hand. Then something shifted and she went from feeling really good to feeling ticklish and squirmy all over. Audrey couldn’t help but laugh. That laugh sent a spasm to her stomach muscles, which were already working overtime, and so the inevitable happened: a little fart escaped, right into his open hand. Rather than recoil in terror Whitney had laughed and kissed her face.

The decency of his response had earned him a kind of sexual blank check, one that he cashed a few weeks later when he asked Audrey what she thought about birth control. It wasn’t what Audrey had expected, but she was grateful he cared enough to ask. Up to that point, she had always relied on the condoms in her backpack or purse, because whatever guy she ended up getting physical with seemed to have conveniently forgotten to bring some.

After some back and forth with her friend Megan, who remained a staunch supporter of the little latex sheath, lest she be saddled with an STI, Audrey opted for an intrauterine device. She chose that over the pill because she didn’t trust herself to not miss a day or two. She called the IUD her “baby blocker,” and joked that it brought her closer to being a boy—mostly unburdened by her period and free to fool around with whomever she wanted. Free from the dreary consequences that had upended the lives of so many girls she’d gone to high school with. She detested them, those girls who posted their sad, worn-out faces on Facebook and Instagram, failing time and again to make parenthood appear to be anything other than an endless hell scape of snotty noses, tantrums, and shit-filled diapers.

Whitney liked the IUD, too, and often said so, usually right after sex when he didn’t have to leave the bed to remove his condom. At first, this made Audrey feel good to have it and to have him, to have done something that made them both feel, if not entirely happy, at least closer, more comfortable with one another. He kept calling it an “IED,” though. Normally, that sort of thing wouldn’t bother her that much but she couldn’t reconcile her continued attraction to Whitney with the fact that he was also the sort of imbecile who would use the wrong word or call something by the wrong name, even though she had taken the time to correct the error. Then again, she had to admit, maybe Whitney was on to something. The term “IED” was sort of fitting. She recalled the pain of having it put in, the way the gynecologist told her she would “feel a little pinch.” That was downplaying the sensation quite a bit. Instead it felt like the doctor had detonated an improvised explosive device in her abdomen. The insertion was horrendous, yet nothing compared to the devastating cramps that cascaded over her in a violent wave and almost caused her to pass out in the medical center’s parking lot. She survived and now regarded the ordeal as her Vietnam, her Iraq, her Afghanistan—a contentious endeavor entered into with no real comprehension of the emotional and physical toll to be paid, much less a sensible exit strategy (that thing was going to have to be yanked out at some point). Lately, Audrey found herself wondering what was worse: that she could be driven to alter her body to stifle chatter of an unexpected bout of coital flatulence or her willingness to let a doofus such as Whitney repeatedly come inside of her.


When Audrey collected the drinks Casey had left at the end of the bar she was relieved to have some distance from Whitney and his expectations. She also didn’t want Whitney near Casey without her as a chaperone. The bartender took on a stiff artificiality when Whitney was around. She mostly chalked this behavior up to residual feelings Casey might have for her. Then again, it could also be because Whitney had a pair of gym-sculpted arms that made it easy to imagine him throwing Casey a whole half-block.

She told him to put the drinks on her tab. The one attached to the credit card her father was still paying for her.

Audrey had convinced her father the bar tab was her way of networking and making business connections ahead of graduation. She felt a little bad about fleecing her old man, but it wasn’t like those credit card payments were totally free; she still had to listen as he spread the gospel of a strong work ethic. This included tedious sermons about “pounding the pavement” to look for a job as he had after graduating from college. He said it as though it was just that simple. He said it as though he knew what the job market was like for a woman in her early twenties with zero real-world experience. Her father’s futile and infuriating efforts to catapult her through the glass ceiling made the buzz from the free drinks somehow even more euphoric.

The hazy concept of a career was Audrey’s least favorite topic of conversation. But it wasn’t like she would have to commit to finding one anytime soon. So long as she kept feeding into her father’s demented capitalistic fantasy, which mostly involved nodding along to his tacit assumption that upon entering the workforce she might finally make him proud, he would continue to fund the lifestyle to which she had grown accustomed for a few more years. That included the European backpacking trip she planned to take after graduation. She wasn’t going to tell him about the trip ahead of time. The plan was to play it off as a spur-of-the-moment thing she didn’t fully think through, and could he please not shut off her credit card until she got home safely? She would feed him a line about some handsy Eastern Bloc guy in a Slavic hostel who thought he was entitled to a piece of American tail because his father waited in line for bread during the Cold War. That would get her father going; he thought Liam Neeson was a real man’s man, told her so almost every time they spoke on the phone, and with his only daughter lost in the socialist nightmare he envisioned Europe to be, this could be his Taken. Audrey was confident Daddy Blatt would use his particular set of skills to continue funding her untenable lifestyle for at least a few more years.

There was even a tentative plan for Whitney to join the trip, but backpacking was supposed to be fun, a time for her to cut loose and to have the sort of experiences that would sustain her through the coming years, when she was under the specter of responsibility and unrelenting obligation. Already, she felt the inexorable weight she would have to carry with her overseas—this oversized homunculus who was, as of this moment, so in love with her he had to say it with his eyes closed. She thought it had suddenly become necessary to end things with him right now.

But something held her back; she couldn’t commit to the idea that this was the end. Or that it needed to be the end. Whitney was pretty and he was loyal, as far as she knew. He was also really close to losing enough weight that she could see his abs, and she kind of wanted to be there for that. But there was something else there too, a growing awareness that the reflexivity of her non-response had not been the Truth. Her Truth. Not the whole truth, anyway. It may have been true at the time, she thought, inasmuch as she didn’t want him to say those words at that very moment. And she especially didn’t want Whitney to have meant them so completely that he couldn’t bear to look at her as he spoke. She thought it was wrong, then, to have not said anything. Audrey knew she had to say something, for the care and maintenance of their collective emotional wellbeing, which had, despite her best efforts, become tied in a hopeless knot.

It dawned on her that perhaps she was envious of him, this boy, this golden retriever in the body of a man because he had something she did not, and might never have.Whitney was blessed with the knowledge of what it was that he most wanted: to love someone, to care for and be loved by them. It had been that way since he was sixteen, when he had gotten an older girl pregnant. When he told Audrey this, it did not make her think less of him. Instead, it was oddly comforting to know that Whitney had always been a captivating presence, had always made others around him prone to making poor decisions that, in this case at least, had crossed the line into illicit behavior. He told Audrey how, even at sixteen, he was ready to “Step up and be a man”—whatever that meant. But the older girl was not ready to have a child and only told him about it after the fact. Whitney had been crestfallen; not only because the older girl scuttled their relationship soon after, but because he’d already fallen in love with this child and the thought that he might one day prove himself a better father than his own was. Whitney told Audrey this one night in bed. They were drunk and still in clothes that stank of the bar’s putrefied atmosphere. The room was spinning so much Audrey had to put a foot on the floor to anchor herself in the swirling darkness. Despite her disorientation, she recalled the way his voice softened to almost a whisper, how the words grew thick and heavy in his throat. She knew he was crying but she didn’t say anything. If ever she had genuinely felt shame, this would be the occasion: her inability to acknowledge his frailty, the utter humanness of his being.

Now, looking over her shoulder at Whitney as he sat in the booth, she felt the weight of his words, the crushing fullness of their conviction. She felt the strain of her father’s expectation that his one and only daughter join the army of desk-bound salarymen. She gulped her shot and then she downed Whitney’s. She hoped to become drunk so she could say, without too much effort, what it was Whitney wanted to hear. The farther she was from him, the less intelligible his words became. The more they grew into something altogether unknowable to her, and with that came the fear that she may never really understand them. Audrey was filled with dread that her mind was somehow incapable of appreciating the idea and the intent of Whitney’s words on any level. No sense of fulfillment for her had ever radiated from anyone saying, “I love you.” There was only the sense that she was participating in a kind of passing deception. She could be done with Whitney, Audrey thought, tell him she didn’t love him. But the idea of breaking his heart was hard, much harder than she expected. This was the boy who had dominated her thoughts longer than any other. And she knew exactly how he would touch her when she wanted him to. He always wanted to do the things she wanted to do. And when they were finished, Whitney never just smiled and rolled over and reached for his pants. Audrey never had to wait for the door to shut behind him because he never wanted to leave.

That idea felt important, maybe.

Whitney scooted out of the booth and closed the short distance between them. Audrey pretended not to notice; she looked away and met Crystal’s cockeyed gaze. The woman was still seated at the bar, but her whole body had shifted and was now aligned with Audrey’s like a sort of pink Chablis-powered radio telescope. Crystal raised her glass again. She winked again—or so Audrey thought. Upon second glance, the winking lid had just slid shut, closed up shop due to near-blackout conditions. The woman had overheard Whitney’s admission. She had seen Audrey pull away in what might have been shock or might have been disgust and had become aroused to the lurid possibility of domestic drama.

“He loves you, dear,” Crystal said. The bar’s tired onlookers, inured to such outbursts, did not flinch, did not look up from their drinks. Crystal didn’t seem to mind, her words were intended for an audience of one. “But do you believe it?” she asked. “I don’t think so. Not you. Not even a little bit. You’re more like me, sweetheart.”

Audrey felt Whitney’s hand on her shoulder, but still couldn’t bring herself to look at him. Whatever his reaction to Crystal’s assessment, Audrey felt it came in a distant second to whatever the woman had yet to say.

“Audrey,” Whitney said.

“Honey? Honey? Yeah, you, beautiful, I’m talking to you now,” Crystal said, snapping her fingers at Whitney. But he refused to look at her, was trying to get Audrey’s attention, to hold on to it. “Look at me when I say this to you, honey: I. Want. The. B—”

“Audrey,” Whitney interrupted, almost yelled, “I said I love you.”

She swallowed hard and took Whitney’s hand in hers. And for what seemed like a very long time she looked into his breathtaking, pale blue eyes and said, “I know. I heard you the first time.”

Kevin Yeoman has an MFA in Creative Fiction from Eastern Washington University where he teaches English Composition and Creative Writing. He is at work on a collection of short stories, some of which can bee seen in Clamor, Little Death Lit, and the tiny journal.

One response to “Say It with Your Eyes Closed”

  1. Mike Avatar

    Excellent story! I related to this: "She felt a little bad about fleecing her old man, but it wasn’t like those credit card payments were totally free; she still had to listen as he spread the gospel of a strong work ethic. This included tedious sermons about “pounding the pavement” to look for a job as he had after graduating from college. He said it as though it was just that simple. He said it as though he knew what the job market was like for a woman in her early twenties with zero real-world experience."

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