September 2018 Fiction Feature: Marina Klimenko
Content Warning: Contains some language
“I wish I were a man,” said Olive.
She unzipped her boots and left them on the floor, lifting her feet onto the couch.
“You’re in love?”
“Very funny. It’s like she said in that story I gave you, people feel like they can interrupt a woman reading on the train. They won’t interrupt a man.”
Adam picked up the boots, still wet with snow, dried them and put them in the closet.
“I met a crazy man on the train today,” said Olive.
“I see,” said Adam.
“I hate when you do that.”
“Put your boots away?”
“I mean say that. Like you already understand everything.”
They were silent for a while. Adam went to make tea, then came back and passed Olive a cup.
“He was the one from the bar. From the writing group.”
“A crazy writer. How unexpected.”
“You’re being condescending again.”
Adam finished his tea and took his mug to the kitchen. Olive heard him wash, dry, and put it back in the cupboard. She spit into her cup.
Adam came back and sat.
“Want the rest of mine?” Olive asked, “it’s too hot.”
Adam took her cup but didn’t drink.
“So, he sits down next to me and asks what I’m writing.”
“No, it’s not, it’s condescending. Like what can I possibly have to write about.”
“Fine, it’s condescending.”
“Right. So, I tell him – “
“What did he say.”
“I don’t think he understood.”
Adam was sitting upright on his side of the sofa. Olive looked at him and leaned back.
“I ask the guy, the crazy guy, what he’s writing. And do you know what he says? Adam? He says ‘nothing’.”
“You said, ‘he says nothing’.”
“I mean, ‘he says’, comma, quote unquote, ‘nothing’.”
“I’ve heard some wild pitches, my favourite being the one about the otter and the beaver who fall in love and save the world.”
“Isn’t that in Guardians of the Galaxy?”
“No. It’s just a racoon there. And a tree. And some people. I’m trying to tell you a story.”
“So tell it.”
“Drink your tea. It’s getting cold.”
Adam got up and went into the kitchen again. Olive heard him pour out the tea and rinse the cup. Then the sound of the cupboard door. Then him sitting down.
“He’s sitting next to me, telling me how he used to write a poem a day when he was ten. How he’d write and write these poems and then wake up the next day and write some more. But then he moved to Canada and bam! Couldn’t write anymore.
“I ask him if he’s trying to get back into it. Into poetry I mean, and he says ‘no’. He wants to write a book about a city with no money.”
“The protagonist goes around preaching the money free life. Then he starts a group online of supporters and he’s going around still spreading his message so the group keeps growing. And then after the government tries to kill him the city become money free.”
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘this guy is really crazy’. It’s hard to tell with writers sometimes, but this time I knew. I get off the train at Union, six stops before I need to, saying I’m almost home. But he gets off with me and asks where I live.”
Olive crossed her legs. It was dark out so she could see their reflection, hers and Adam’s. Both on the couch facing the window.
“And you know what Adam? I’m really scared. He asks if I live in the neighbourhood. Follows me to the escalator. I say I’m waiting for a friend, and I stand there, on the platform for ten minutes, so he won’t follow me when I get on the next train, thinking how if you’d come with me tonight nothing would have happened.”
“He raped me.”
“Jesus Olive. Why do you say things like that?”
“I was scared Adam. Really scared.”
She crossed her legs.
He raised his eyes but didn’t turn.
“I’m leaving. You, I mean. I’m leaving you.”
“To become a man?”
“You’re not funny.”
“I beg to differ.”
“Then get on you’re knees.”
“You’re projecting again.”
“I mean it. Adam. I’m leaving you.”
Olive heard the glass crack before she felt it. She was looking at Krystall. At Adam, next to Krystall. At Adam putting an arm around Krystall’s waist.
She saw Krystall’s eyes go wide and heard the crack of the wine glass stem. It was only after she looked down, realized it was her stem that cracked, that she felt it.
Krystall went for the first aid kit. Adam stayed with Olive in the bathroom. He leaned against the wall. Olive sat on the vanity. She could hear the party outside the door, the sound of the women’s heels muted by the hotel’s carpeting.
“I like your tie,” Olive said, “it’s very blue.”
“Fuck you,” said Adam.
They were quiet for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” said Adam, “I know it wasn’t your fault. Lots of people would have reacted the way you did.”
He looked at her hand.
“You should wash that out.”
Olive turned the faucet.
“Have you told her?”
“You know Sylvia Plath?” asked Adam.
“Not personally. The head in oven part though.”
“You know she was married to a guy called Hughes.”
“Also a poet.”
“Right. Well after Sylvia, and some say even during, Hughes was with this other poetess, Assia Wevill. They were lovers. Happy as clams. Then six years after Sylvia, Assia goes and gasses herself too. Takes her four-year-old daughter with her. Now I don’t know about you, but I think it would have been smart of Hughes not to mention Sylvia at all to poor Assia.”
“You’re afraid she’ll leave you too?”
“No actually, I’m not. I just don’t want to bring that in. That kind of luggage.”
“I don’t blame you. I don’t want you to think I do,” He was closer to her now, leaning on the vanity, “I don’t blame you.”
“Good,” she said.
“It’s not like you lost her in the grocery store. You just lost her. Doctors said it wasn’t your fault.”
“That’s what I told you.”
“Anyone can lose a child. Now, most people wouldn’t leave their husbands of six years after that without even a note. But again, I don’t blame you.”
“I told you I was leaving.”
“You told me that every day.”
“So, you’re not going to tell her.”
“What would I tell her? I had a wife, she got pregnant, then she wasn’t pregnant and wasn’t my wife?”
Krystall came in with the first aid kit from the hotel lobby. Adam told her to go back to the party.
After she left, Olive looked at her hand. The cut was smaller than she’d thought.
“Are you going to marry her?”
“You mean am I divorcing you?”
“It shouldn’t take too long, we haven’t seen each other in three years, we don’t have any shared property.”
“No shared custody.”
“Adam, we kind of do. A little bit.”
“We kind of do a little bit of what?”
He looked at her without speaking.
“Custody of Rachel. Our Rachel. Our daughter.”
Olive had finished wrapping her hand and was looking at Adam. He wavered for a second reaching for the vanity, then changed his mind and slid down along the wall to the floor.
“You lost her. You left me because you lost her.”
“The doctors were worried, said there might be complications. I told you, and frankly Adam, you weren’t that crushed. Then suddenly it was okay. They said she would be born. But I was already thinking. You didn’t really want her. You didn’t even cry when I told you. Then when I got home, we were talking and I said I was leaving you. And I thought, ‘that’s what I need to do’. Make a clean slate of things.
“A clean break,” he said absently.
“Right. And I did. But then I heard you were thinking of marrying. Because you know, it might make things a bit tricky in court. You not knowing you had a daughter. So here I am. Telling you.
“Why did you break the glass?”
Olive looked down at her hand.
“You just surprised me is all.”
It was two weeks after Rachel said she was going to live with Adam for a while that Olive got Kevin. She thought he would be better than a dog. He was hairless, ate only carrots and hay, and lived in a cage. He’d be easy to sell if Rachel came home.
Kevin lived in Olive’s room. On the first night Olive brought him home she’d called Rachel with the news.
“You bought a guinea pig?”
“A skinny pig.”
“What makes him skinny?”
“He’s hairless. He’s a hairless guinea pig. Google him.
Olive could hear Rachel typing on the other end.
“He looks like miniature hippo.”
“You’re not sad are you Mom?”
Olive said that she was fine. She said she was keeping busy, buying a cage, and food, and toys. She spoke quickly.
Over the next weeks, Kevin and Olive adjusted to each other. She made sure to put down a puppy pad wherever he was and he stopped climbing into the space between the bed and the wall where she couldn’t reach him.
Rachel was settling in just fine at her Dad’s place. She told Olive so over Skype. Olive tried to be subtle when she said she was leaving Rachel’s room exactly as it was.
“I haven’t even been in there since you left. Not even to dust it.”
“Because you normally do so much dusting.”
“I won’t even let Kevin in there.”
It was a month after Rachel left that Kevin started biting. It was around three in the morning and when Olive heard it she hoped it was just rain, amplified the way sounds are when you’re trying to sleep. When it got louder, Olive turned on the lamp. There, in his cage across the room, stood Kevin. When he saw her watching, he lowered his head, bit down on the plastic boarder of his cage, pulled back, and released. The boarder hit the cage wall not with a snap but with a kind of reverberating sound that seemed to Olive otherworldly.
Olive got out of bed and went into the kitchen. She got a carrot from the fridge and went back, dropping it into the cage. Kevin began to chew and Olive got into bed and turned off the lamp.
Around four it happened again. Olive turned the light on, but this time Kevin didn’t stop. He watched her as he did it. She went into the kitchen for another carrot.
The door to Rachel’s room was through the kitchen. When Rachel was little, Olive would get up around this time to wake her up for swim practice. She would watch the sun rise for a minute before waking her.
Olive turned back to the fridge and got another carrot.
Kevin ignored the carrot. Even after she waved it in front of him and dropped it in he wouldn’t move, would only stand in the same spot across from her bed and bite down on the boarder, sending it crashing into the cage wall.
She closed the door that led into the kitchen and set Kevin down on the floor. He stood for a while then ran a little, looking like a miniature rhino Olive had seen run in the Toronto Zoo once. She sat down on the floor.
“See Kevin? This is your room. You can run around tonight because I guess you’re still adjusting, but at night you have to stay in your cage. You have to sleep.”
Kevin started smelling the door. Olive picked up a book from the stack next to her bed. It was Emily Dickinson.
It was half an hour later that Olive woke up to the biting. The book had fallen out of her hands, or maybe she had put it down, because now it was on the floor. Kevin was biting it. Olive nudged him but he stayed, his jaw firm around the cover. She pulled him off, a chunk of the cover still in his teeth.
Kevin was facing the door now, so close to it his nose rubbed off the paint. Olive picked up the book.
“This is Emily Dickinson Kevin. Dickinson. You see what this says? ‘The Soul selects her own Society —’ and I selected you Kevin. I selected you, and you do this.”
Kevin didn’t see. He was looking at the door.
Olive stuck her hand under Kevin’s belly and picked him up. He wiggled his legs. She went into the kitchen, through the living room, down the stairs, and into the backyard. She walked to the center of the lawn, then put him down.
Kevin stayed unmoving on the grass. After a minute or two he looked up at Olive.
The sun was almost up. Kevin’s back reflected the last few sunrise rays. Olive realized she hadn’t put sunscreen on him.
Kevin turned his head and looked at her.
“Fine,” Olive said, picking him up, “I guess now you selected me too.”
After she put Kevin back in his cage, Olive looked for the phone. It was behind the bed.
She didn’t say hello.
“I just tried to set Kevin free.”
“I just tried to set Kevin free because he was biting his cage. He was biting and biting and he bit Emily and I took him to the back yard to free him but he didn’t leave. And I’m lonely, even though Kevin chose me, I’m lonely.”
“Mom –,” said Rachel, but Olive had hung up.
A year later, standing next to Rachel and Adam, at graduation, Olive wondered if Rachel remembered that morning, that phone call. She hadn’t had a chance to ask, even after Rachel moved back in, having decided to spend a few days a week at each parent’s place.
Now she was leaving for school, enrolled at McGill, and Olive wondered if now was the last chance she’d get.
But Rachel wanted to say goodbye to some teachers and Adam asked Olive about her new novel.
“It’s going well,” she said, “it’s about people who love each other but can’t live together.”
“I guess that’s most people,” said Adam.
“Yeah,” said Olive, “I guess so.”