Elizabeth Ellen

And Rin Tin Tin Died in Jean Harlow’s Arms

I’m on my bathroom floor. I’m reading Joan Didion. I’m masturbating, but noncommittally.

I am easily distracted. There is the confusion of past encounters with cinematic history. The Misfits, specifically. Your head – on the outskirts at first - was gauze-wrapped and downcast. Suddenly here I was, the one of us up-sitting. I kept my eyes open. I was careful with the names Monty and Perce. I called you honey, sugar, darlin’. I was working a diner counter in my mind. Your shirt was ripped up the back, the result of a dance or bullfight or unsatisfied woman. I said: Don’t say anything, just be still.

I fisted your hair then spread open my fingertips just as easily. I searched my purse for a needle and thread, pushed you forward onto your knees for better angling.

I’m not a man, you said. I don't know what I am.

(This wasn’t any great realization though I pretended for your sake that it was.)

Didn’t anyone ever cry for you before? I said. I hadn’t been crying but I wanted you to know I was willing. Bull or no bull, I’d leak out a tear.

I’m not human, you said, which felt for the most part a reiteration.

You’re the only person I know who is in worse shape than I am, I said, which was my way of saying when you wreck your car I’ll be the first one on the scene; I’ll run from the party in my heels, pull your upset body from behind the wheel into my lap. The configurations will be much the same as they are now: the immaculate wounds, the distraught face.

Maybe you’re not supposed to remember anybody’s promises, I said, but you were already gone. You had shuffled off somewhere I couldn’t see, into the arms of another jealous woman or barside another roughneck ready to stack dollars on your backside.

When they write your biography it will be absent the singular love that is a requirement of the genre. To fill this section the author will scramble for female names, of which mine will be one. There will be speculation as to the true nature of our relationship. They will retell the story of your crashed car, of you leaving my party in an inebriated state. They will mention my nine husbands; the men and women squandered. They will refer to us as “lifelong friends;” to feelings defined as maternal.

This is the way it goes when I masturbate to Didion. The sentimentality spills forward. I have trouble getting off. I have trouble distinguishing my history from what has been set before me in books and on the screen. I remember everything that was said. The years will do nothing to diminish my affection. I have a needle and thread with me still. I remember no promises.

Elizabeth Ellen is editor of Short Flight/Long Drive books, has published a few things online and lives in Ann Arbor.

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