The Side Sleeper

Winter, 2012–2013 / No. 29
Art by Matthew Daley
Matthew Daley

He has slept on his side for four nights now, four nights facing away from her. Christyna doesn’t much care, except that it means she always wakes up to a back—blank and long. She stares at the back and feels like she is looking at a wall.

The side sleeper’s name is Russell Mark—not that it matters, not to Christyna, who hardly ever uses her own last name. Usually she goes with Everett, or Johnston, or sometimes Johns. Christyna Johns. She likes the way it sounds. That is her name tonight and the past four nights. Every night when they go to bed, he tells her he is sorry, but he has to turn over. It is the only way for him to fall asleep. Christyna wedges herself against him. She sleeps on her back, but pressed right up to him, or sometimes on her side, facing the same way he does, so that she is spooning him. It’s not that she feels it should go the other way around—it’s just the back when she opens her eyes, that’s all.

She doesn’t sleep in one set position herself, she sleeps any which way: back, side, stomach, curled fetal, one arm under a pillow and one leg on the outside of the blanket. She sleeps as if she has been thrown over a cliff onto a rock bed beside the sea, and she always wakes up cold. Suddenly she finds herself turning over, taking solace in a square of light coming through the window where the curtain gaps. A pillow has made its way beneath one leg. He has good pillows, like someone else maybe bought them for him and spent more than he would have. She has slept enough places to know good pillows from bad pillows, and is always happy just to have any. He continues sleeping. She gently raises herself up on one arm, then pushes herself off the bed and finds her way around its perimeter, awake now, so awake, her fingertips probing the darkness for the wall.

Christyna finds her way out into the hall and down its narrow pathway—linoleum floor broken, and sloped enough that you wouldn’t need a marble to tell you it isn’t even—toward the kitchen. The apartment is on the second floor of an old house in Leslieville, not a great neighbourhood but not a bad one either. The house is landscaped in the front, but it’s not his doing; instinctively she knows that it doesn’t fit with his personality. Probably the owner or the downstairs tenant.

The hall continues to the bathroom, but Christyna has stopped. She doesn’t turn any lights on, just stands considering what she is doing here in this man’s apartment for the fourth night, and what she might want.

When she takes something, the relationship changes. Sours or ends, begins a descent. Christyna knows this.

There are things that you take for use, and then things you just take. It’s the second kind that gets her into trouble. She has held regular jobs, but then one day she’ll alienate her co-workers by pocketing something that isn’t hers. Then there’s a brouhaha and drama, like the time she snagged the photo of one of her friend’s kids, and usually she either quits or is fired.

Once, she walked out of a restaurant where she’d been waiting tables for eight months, and when she got outside she found the entire grey rack of utensils hanging between her hands—about twenty pounds of forks, knives, and spoons—for what? She’d stood there on the street, breathing in great gulps of air, young women in kitten heels and shrug sweaters moving around her lugging Roots and Banana Republic bags. She carried the tray of utensils for two blocks, feeling incredible, invincible. Then she realized its absurdity and flung it into the bushes of a parkette. The heft with which she chucked it amazed even her—the weight was suddenly gone as the container flew. A stack of white paper napkins fluttered in the April air; a rain of silver fell through the juniper, forks snagging in the thick green branches. Steak knives impaled the scrubby grass. The tray landed upside down, half in and half out of the garden, and Christyna walked on, laughing like she had a case of the hiccups.

In Bloordale, and Parkdale, and Cabbagetown, Christyna has lost rented rooms and even half-decent apartments, ones that maybe had mice but also had hot water, damn it. She has had her things dumped out in the alley. She has been dumped out in the alley herself. She has lost friends, lost time, because you can’t go back and you keep getting older and needing more, and nothing you take can change that.

Her favourite job is always telemarketing. She can last the longest at those companies—there’s nothing much to take. Pens. The telephone itself. It fit perfectly in her purse. They didn’t even notice. Someone just said, “Where’d the phone in this booth go?” Then went to the back and got another one and plugged it in.

Things that you take for no reason at all: lipsticks, compacts, jewellery, watches, pencil sharpeners, salt shakers, coffee cups and creamers, half-packs of cigarettes, Zippos, ashtrays, jackets.

Things that you use: chequebooks, E-mail addresses, names.

Things that you use are not the same as the things you take just because, Christyna tells herself. Things that you use are things that you’re owed. You’ve put out and you’ve given. You deserve to be kept alive a little longer. It’s just common sense to take them. These are things that don’t really even belong to the person who has them. What is a name or an account number? They’re the most impersonal things in the world. Christyna already has two of the side sleeper’s chequebooks. They were in the obvious place, the top desk drawer in the living room, and she took them while he was in the shower the first morning after she came home with him. She had gone over to look at the glowing Macintosh laptop. Then her hands found the drawer, and it was open, and her work was done for her. She slipped them into the lining of her jacket through a hole in the shoulder. She could have left then, but she didn’t. He wouldn’t notice or he would think he mislaid them.

His kitchen is moon-coloured, that hue that is neither white nor yellow nor green, but somehow also all of these. Like the inside of a pear, she thinks, and she sits down at the side sleeper’s table and runs her palms along it, as if measuring it. It’s a fine table, and feels like it belongs with some other life he may have had. There is food in the refrigerator, she is thinking, and she could take it. The light would spill from the open door and the breathing sound of the apartment might change, but the side sleeper wouldn’t care. In the morning he might notice something was missing, but she was his guest after all. He’d still offer her coffee and toast, just as he did the day before. Anyway, it isn’t really hunger that has woken her.

The side sleeper has treated her well. He has wanted to feed her and make a fuss for her, the way men do when they have female guests, as if to prove their existence is somehow full, that they are capable, that they ordinarily cook and clean and behave as humans do, that they have things and lead good lives. Christyna isn’t fooled. The way he keeps it, the place is only a step up from a dump. It’s pretty outside, but inside it’s old, the paint is scabby from many layers on the baseboards, there’s dust, and you can see that the windows have been painted shut in some rooms. She guesses it costs him eight hundred dollars a month. Which means he is banking most of his salary—or perhaps drinking it, as he was when she found him. She imagines it could be nice if someone cared. But Mark, or Russell, the side sleeper—he only began caring when she came home with him. She can see that. He tidied up as he went, apologizing, and then they’d landed on the couch, falling together with neither one on top, and the groping began and their wine tongues tangled. They had the kind of sex strangers have: so hard it’s not entirely satisfying, but hard because it is so needed, because it has been so long since one was satisfied.

Except that it hadn’t been that long for Christyna. She is waiting for him to ask her to leave, but he hasn’t yet. She finds places to go during the day; there are the usual inventions. Something she noticed early on was that people—male or female—will suspend all logic and forget every detail if they think there might be a chance of orgasm. She knows she could draw the whole thing out a while longer if she spent a couple nights away from him. Tomorrow night, she will go to her sister’s. She looks at the clock on the microwave, and its stick numbers tell her it is quarter to four. So tonight then, tonight she will go to her sister’s, Christyna tells herself.

She is always staying with her sister, when they ask. Her sister with the pot-belly. Her sister with the five-o’clock shadow. Her sister, Kenneth, and his younger brother, Bob. Christyna guesses they’ve known her longer than anyone. They know her shit. Kenneth always tells her, waving his hands around like the queen he is and taking clear pleasure in doing so, “That big unwieldy pile of mental shit of yours? Get it together, miss.” And he means it in no uncertain terms, but he also means it as emphatically when he says her biggest problem is that she likes the bad Bowie years—his eighties hits. Kenneth and his brother let her keep her things with them when she’s “in between,” which is how Christyna always refers to it. And when Kenneth’s patience is worn thin, which it is frequently, Bob will sometimes stash a few boxes for her in the back of his junk shop. Gem’s Antiques. Who is Gem anyway? Some of the shoppers call Kenneth that. What a load of crap. The Sunday men come for the furniture, which Bob drags onto the sidewalk while Kenneth, hungover, gives snide commentary they all find adorable even though he’s aging and won’t get away with it much longer. Bobby, as Kenneth sometimes calls him, is six years younger. He tokes a lot and never cares what she takes. She’ll crash with them, just for one night, and then she’ll come back to the side sleeper and say, “My sister’s going through something right now. Can I stay here with you? Anyway, I know we said we’d take it slow, but I couldn’t stay away. You’re addictive, mister. This is something else.”

Christyna can say anything if she puts on lipstick. If she puts on lipstick it isn’t her who says it, but just a mouth. A red mouth on a girl who only looks a little like Christyna.

Kenneth and Bob are always a pain. A few years ago, Bob thought she was his bitch. It was unlike him. Normally he let everything roll right off. He got so possessive Christyna wrote herself a cheque, cashed it at the Money Mart, and got out of town for a while.

She went to Niagara Falls, where everyone was a tourist and things were easy. She pulled the Melon Drop all day. She would dig through restaurant recycling bins, find the best champagne or Scotch bottle. Fill it with water and shoplifted food colouring. Get herself accidentally jostled by some tourist and drop the bottle. Curse a blue streak or start to cry. “That was thirty-dollar Scotch. Forty-dollar Scotch. Hundred-dollar Scotch. For my boyfriend. For my boss. For my brother’s university graduation present. I’m sorry, but it wasn’t mine. You have to reimburse me. Dammit, but you bumped into me. Is this the way you always treat women? You can see by the label. You owe me. Please, please. He’ll be so angry with me. He’ll be so disappointed. What am I going to do?”

But Niagara was small and lonely: 80,000 people. They got to know her too well.

Sometimes she does the door-to-door. She sells magazine subscriptions. “Part of a work program to help the unemployed. To help women gain skills. To help disadvantaged women. You don’t sound like you’re from here. Really? That’s where I’m from too. What school did you go to? No, I didn’t, but I know it. Do you know Matthew Bloom?” She has some photocopied forms, all the magazines you can choose from. “Wouldn’t it be nice to get something in the mail every month?”

Other times she sells and plants oak trees. Little clusters of sticks tied together with string. They cost her nothing, and she can work her way neighbourhood by neighbourhood, pulling them in a borrowed two-wheeled cart. A bundle of burlap and dirt. No tree, just branches. It takes a week or two before the buyers realize it won’t grow, can’t grow. The shovel costs seven bucks at the dollar store, but she can sell a tree for a lot more than a subscription. “You have a lovely home. Wouldn’t you like a nice tree for your yard? Proceeds help breast cancer research. Proceeds go to the Hospital for Sick Children. Proceeds go to the Humane Society.” (When she can hear a dog, that’s an easy one.) “Watch your tree grow year after year and know that you’ve made a difference.” She doesn’t feel bad about it. They do make a difference to Christyna. It’s no less honest than any other business.

Christyna goes to the cupboard and opens it slowly. She can hear the side sleeper breathing in his half-naked room at the end of the hall. He has lived here a while, she can tell by the dust, but still hasn’t hung anything on the walls of the room where he sleeps. Inside the cupboard are the four plain white plates and two white bowls he placed there the previous evening when they did the dishes together like a yuppie couple. There are also several mugs with logos on them, the kind of things that look like someone might have given them to him. Impersonal totems. Niagara Falls and a rainbow. Dubble Bubble. I.B.M. Dow. A mother and baby grizzly bear. A bikinied woman fighting the surf and the word “JAMAICA.” There is one wine glass, probably remaining from a set that has since been toppled, and two short whisky glasses. Christyna turns the logos on the mugs so that they face the back of the cupboard, and their white sides are now facing out.

She opens the refrigerator after all. She takes the lid off a jar of apricot jam and smells it. She can’t decide if it has gone bad.

The night before, the side sleeper made her lamb chops. He told her to come at eight, and she arrived early. She’d stayed away as long as she could but it had been raining, the kind of dreadful bright rain where the sky seemed to mock her as it poured so hard, the sun shining somewhere behind it, and there were only so many coffee refills she could get. So she had turned up early and found him overwhelmed. It warmed her to think he cared that much, going to so much trouble for her, some girl he met in a bar who was “new to town,” who was “staying with her sister,” who had a story. But it was only Day 3, and the side sleeper had no idea how soon he’d tire of her. They were often naïve in that way.

The lamb chops had taken longer than she thought she could handle. The smell made her salivate, and he kept trying to engage her in small talk about her day, but there was nothing to tell, and Christyna had tightened the sash on her faded wraparound blouse to try to hold in her hunger. He would want dinner and more conversation, there would be wine or maybe gin or vodka, and sex—which wouldn’t be as bad as the first time. He would be slower now and last longer, but she didn’t much feel like it, and he might say some things, more tender or perhaps dirtier than the first time—and then finally, finally she would be able to use his shower. The hot water, God bless hot water.

She screws the lid back on the jam jar. It smells like childhood and Christyna feels a strange pit open in her stomach. She closes the fridge door.

She’ll have another bath. She deserves it. The side sleeper is still in slumber, and he will continue in this state until his alarm goes off at 7 A.M. sharp, at which point he will stir out of his precious side sleep, one arm mosquito-swatting at the alarm clock. He works in an office, doing something tedious with numbers. The side sleeper has told her what it is, but she can’t remember exactly, as it seemed, even as he explained it, that he himself found it tedious. If she wants to keep him around a while, she’ll have to invent something better, some tales to tell him, things that will make her seem exotic and interesting, but believable at the same time.

Christyna enters the bathroom and shuts the door behind her before turning on the light. She runs the bath and watches the mirror mist, the whole room sweat, the old radiators glistening with the moisture and heat. She takes off the oversize Hanes the side sleeper gave her to put on after he came. It’s not the one he was wearing earlier, it’s clean—from his drawer—and it smells like Tide, she’ll give him that. The tub fills up and she stands, transfixed, looking at herself in the mirror. Her body looks like someone else’s these days. The only parts that aren’t bone are her breasts. Inherited from her mother, they are large enough even when she wastes away; Christyna guesses she got at least one thing that is good for something. Her hair is at half-length, a ragged red cloud around her face, dyed to cover the thirties grey that is coming in faster and faster, twisting through her own like snakes. She dyed it this colour because men like it, notice. And because her natural hair colour is too dark to go blond without a lot of effort. It takes more than one box of peroxide, and that adds up. Even now her roots show, an inch of brown and silver forking out from her sloppy part. She should sleep while she can, she knows this, but the bath is too tempting, and the hours when she can be indoors here—the hours she can really think—are so limited. Besides, the side sleeper won’t think this is weird if he finds her here. If he does wake in the middle of the night, if he reaches for her side of the bed and she’s gone and he comes down the hall looking, this is normal. “Couldn’t sleep,” Christyna will say. “Cramps.” She will smile sleepily, wistfully, up at him from his bathtub, which is not all that clean but will do, and Christyna will look at least for another night or two like someone you could love, like someone with a life.

It isn’t that hard, coming up with reasons why he can’t have her phone number. She’s supposedly staying with her sister after all, who doesn’t like it given out. “She had a real problem with a man a few years ago, had to take out a restraining order. Sorry, and my cell hasn’t worked since I got here. I’ve been back and forth with my service provider and it’s just not happening—they’re not doing a thing for me. I have to wait and see what they can do. No, you can’t call me at work, I’m on the road all day. I do seminars for bars and lounges, teach them about the wines they serve. I promote for Rémy V.S.O.P. Courvoisier.” (Because she likes its name.) “I do fundraising for charity, so I can’t take any calls. My job is being on the phone—there’s no time for personal calls. I’m sorry, but it just wouldn’t be right.”

But the story of her life, the story she normally tells, goes like this:

“I married young. I was so naïve. I know. In this day and age, who gets married at nineteen? But I did. My folks just hated it. He was a good twenty years my senior—it was what he wanted. Mel. Me and Mel. Mel and Christy. We had a good life. He was good to me. I thought mine was the perfect marriage. He managed a bar and grill, I waited tables there. He had a house in the Beach. I did the garden, everything was beautiful. But it didn’t last long. A year or thereabouts. I got suspicious. He worked till close every night—but never on my shift. The girls, the girls. Waiting tables in short skirts. I knew what they would do for his attention, because I’d done it. He was a slick one. He was a charmer. He had dimples, and experience, and cash, and made everyone feel special. Everything just fell apart. I drifted for a few years…I mean, the pain. I really drifted. My parents told me I made my bed, and didn’t let me home again. But then one day, you just say, ‘No. Enough.’”

In the story she doesn’t tell, Mel is Melissa. A woman can be as bad as a man, that’s what Christyna has learned. It goes pretty much the same way—Mel’s betrayals, the sneaking around, and the girls, except that there wasn’t a marriage certificate and it ended in Mel’s garage in Mel’s car (everything was Mel’s), with a hose and carbon monoxide. It wasn’t Mel—with her solid hands—who reached Christyna and hauled her out. The hands were small and fast: Lucia’s maybe, one of the other servers. At the hospital, they wouldn’t let Mel in to see Christyna, because she wasn’t family. At least, that is what Christyna told herself. She recovered, but nothing has ever been the same. She can’t say, “No, enough.” She drifts, she keeps drifting. As if when her lungs filled, her heart also bloomed into a balloon stretched with helium.

And she can’t stop taking things.

Before the accident, as she refers to it in her mind, she never took a thing. She worked the jewellery counter at the downtown Bay during her final year of high school, and never one thing. The other girls, her co-workers, found ways to avoid the cameras. Those sixteen-year-olds had it all mapped out. They knew which cameras covered which areas of the department store. They would unlock the stock under the cabinet and straighten it, roll fresh water pearls into their palms, hide them between their fingers while doing other tasks, and when enough time had passed that no one who was watching the tapes would notice—whoosh—into their pockets. They emptied earrings into plain envelopes, which they stuck with the unused Visa slips under their registers, and then nicked later so it looked like they were just grabbing supplies. Maybe, maybe when Christyna worked the perfume counter she did take a tester once, Calvin Klein’s Obsession, she seems to remember, but that was all. Peer pressure, a testing of social circles. There was no thrill to it. There was no compulsion.

Before she and Mel were involved, Christyna worked at the restaurant, and even with all that money in hand she never, never tried to pad her tips. Some of the other servers had a system of shot glasses that worked like an abacus. They would overcharge drunken customers, put the cash in the register, but do the math in their heads. When they had reached a ten-dollar surplus they moved a jigger over on one of the shelves. At the end of the night, they counted the shot glasses. Six shot glasses, they scooped sixty bucks out into their pockets. Christyna knew about the scam, but wouldn’t be part of it. But everything changed after Mel. “Everything changes,” Christyna reassures herself.

In spite of being soap-scummy, the side sleeper’s tub is the old-fashioned kind with the claw feet. It’s deep and the water is up to her chin. Christyna sinks into the water until it covers everything but her nose and mouth. If she fell asleep here, the side sleeper wouldn’t find her until morning. Through her eyelids, the light is green. The image of a jade bird comes to her, settles, as if perched on the bridge of her nose. She knows this feeling, the shape of it.

There was one time when she worked at the jewellery counter, a man, older than Christyna was then, in his mid-twenties, came in to buy a necklace for his girlfriend. Nothing she showed him seemed to satisfy him. Christyna was in the twelfth grade, couldn’t he see that? Why would she know anything about jewellery? She showed him the Majorca pearls first. The pearls were cultivated underwater for ten years; they were one of the most expensive items in the counter.

“She’s got really good taste,” the guy said, running his palms down the sides of his cargo pants. He was wearing a collegiate T-shirt, but Christyna hadn’t heard of the college. “She likes American southwestern stuff, turquoise, Navajo motifs—do you have anything like that?”

Christyna showed him everything, but it was the Bay. In downtown Toronto, Canada. There was nothing southwestern-themed. Christyna was seventeen and a half, she was pre-Mel. She had given a partial hand job to a guy from school to see what it was like, and had kissed her best friend once, but had never been in love. Still, she knew instinctively: this poor guy wanted his girlfriend to love the present. If she loved the present, she would love him. But she wouldn’t.

The man paced around for nearly two hours.

Christyna found a gift, in the end. It was a necklace she’d seen before but never understood. It was black jade, a strange upside-down L-shaped pendant on a sterling silver chain. It cost a hundred bucks, which was more than Christyna made in an entire shift. The guy was won over. “Yeah, maybe…,” he kept saying. “Maybe, yeah. I think so. What do you think?”

She had already taken his cash. She was removing the tag and putting it in the box. That was when Christyna turned it over and held it for a second and saw what it really was. She’d thought it was abstract, but now she saw it was, in fact, meant to be a bird with its wings spread in flight. It was just that it was broken—a bird with one wing. It wasn’t an L at all, but a T with one part missing. She’d already taken his money. To give him a refund she would need to get her supervisor. And she couldn’t go through the whole process again, the search for the perfect thing. He would give the broken bird pendant to the woman who couldn’t love, and because she was obviously difficult to please she would see immediately that it was flawed. “Why did you get me this?” she would say.

Christyna closed the box and handed it to the man.

She had just wanted off her shift, but the guilt had followed her for days, weeks. He’d been a tourist and couldn’t ever return it. At the time, Christyna had thought it was the worst thing she’d ever done, would ever do.

The memory has the weight of a stone in her stomach and Christyna comes up for air, slicking her hair back, rubbing her hands down her face, blowing air hard from her lips, water sloshing almost over the edge of the side sleeper’s bathtub.

The side sleeper doesn’t get up and come down the hall. He sleeps on, oblivious, as Christyna reclines again in the tub, and cries, with joy, or possibly relief, at having survived, or something the opposite, she is never sure any more.

When she gets out of the tub, she dries herself off, watching in the side sleeper’s mirror as she does, feeling like she is in a movie or a commercial. Like he should come in now, in jeans and bare-chested and put his arms around her, enjoy some new scent or soap or skin cream she has just used. Except she hasn’t. The towel is white but not as fluffy as a movie or commercial towel. It’s the same one they used earlier that night, last night. She used it, then he used it, and now she is using it again. She shrugs on the T-shirt and wraps the half-soaked towel carefully around her hair in a turban, feeling for just a moment like she knows how to take care of herself—she does, doesn’t she? Who else is going to, who else has gotten her through this life?

Christyna opens the medicine cabinet. There are the uninteresting drugs she has been popping over the past couple days. Nothing much. A handful of anti-inflammatories and a drugstore box of sleeping pills. Something that sounds like an antidepressant. Cough medication. The first time she came in, she dumped half of them into her purse. Now, every time since, she culls a couple extra caplets of this or that and tucks them away. Some she will sell, and some she will give away, but most she will take herself.

She removes the box of sleeping pills, breaks open the foil and floats two into her mouth with a fistful of water from the sink—no glass, this guy. She reminds herself to bring one in here from the kitchen. Tomorrow, in the same way, she’s going to skip off for a while to keep him interested—absence makes the heart grow fonder—tomorrow. And tomorrow she’ll also get herself a new blouse some way, somehow, so that she looks like someone with a job—hell, a career. She could get an old one from her stuff at Kenneth and Bob’s, but a new one would cinch it. Because Christyna could stay here forever if she played things right. Christyna is in love with this man, this boring, ordinary, medium-dicked, fast-coming man, this man of one-towel, this side sleeper—in love, and you don’t forget your beloved’s name, even if you only met three days ago. Four. What time is it? Five. The name that appears in type on the bottles is “MARK RUSSELL.” Mark, she repeats silently, Mark.

The pills go down and as Christyna is wedging the box back in place, she notices the ring. It’s a woman’s ring. The style is simple enough that it could be a man’s, but when Christyna reaches into the back of the cabinet and plucks it up between her middle finger and her thumb, she can tell almost immediately by its size that it is, undoubtedly, a woman’s ring. She holds it for a moment. It’s silver, or maybe white gold. No ornamentation. A wedding ring. A very serviceable, very modest wedding ring. It’s worn, not scratched, but definitely worn by someone kind of careless, which makes sense to Christyna as it seems to fit with the personality of the side sleeper. No stone. It won’t trade for anything. Fifty dollars maybe, not much. It is close to worthless. Its only value is what it represents, what the side sleeper might imagine it means.

She is about to replace it where she found it, but then Christyna feels a brief rush of pleasure, a fluttering, like a dirty pigeon has got loose inside her. Christyna slips the band onto her ring finger, and when it feels too loose there, she tries it on her other hand. It still hangs a size too loose, like some older cousin’s castoff. A fat girl’s ring. The mirror cabinet is half open and only one side of Christyna’s face and neck shows, but suddenly this half of her is more recognizable, looks more like her—flushed, healthy, strong. Christyna licks her lips, unfolds the towel from her head and shakes her damp hair back. Christyna stows the sleeping pills in the cabinet, shuts it, and, still wearing the loose ring, opens the door to the cold sleeping night.

It is, she knows without a doubt, the ring of a woman who is not coming back. The apartment is too drab. He lived somewhere else with this woman, and now he lives here, alone, with some of their things.

Christyna edges her way down the side sleeper’s hall. Back in his room she hovers, gauging his breath, which is shallow, barely there. She feels the euphoria being replaced with something heavy. It’s too soon for the sleeping pills to kick in. She should go. She should just leave. Now. His room is so close to the door that leads down the stairs and outside.

He’s too kind. She says the right things and that, and that alone, makes him think she matters. Because he hasn’t been laid in a year or more and she followed him home like a puppy. She shouldn’t draw it out and begin to do that thing where she bleeds him dry gradually, where she takes things that are insignificant for no reason other than to take them. She already has his chequebook and that is all she needs besides the shower, and the food, and the bed, and the warmth.

She shouldn’t let him love her even for a moment. She shouldn’t let him come on her breasts, which he will eventually, and call her a whore, which he’ll also do. She knows he is a good person. A boring one, and not particularly well off in comparison to others she has known, but not above realizing he’s being used, duped. He will find out her lies and he won’t love her then.

She takes each step slowly, one foot and then the other, around his room, around the sleep of this strange, unfamiliar, unsuspecting man. She slips the ring off her finger and it falls into her purse without a sound, and in that moment all the fears and the feelings vanish.

She lies down and presses her mouth against his neck, which is turned away from her. He smells like milk and dry leaves, and the paprika of sweat. She can sleep now. She will sleep. The side sleeper has been to Niagara Falls and Christyna has been to Niagara Falls; it’s possible they were there at the same time. Maybe she Melon Dropped him on his honeymoon. “Who was she?” Christyna wonders about the woman who wore the ring. “Why did she leave it, and why did he keep it, and why do I want it when I can’t remember his name?” These are the things the back sleeper thinks just before she feels herself going under, a faint taste, a little like poison, lining her gums.