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Five Times Jim Wakes Up in the Morning
I. back when it was easy
The sun is too bright when he opens his eyes. He has to close them again right away because it’s glaring off the paint on his walls, and when he does, he sees bluish whitish splotches on his eyelids. They remind him of clouds and oceans and other things he’s seen and thought weren’t so great compared to her.
The blanket draws a line across his lower back and he kicks a leg out from under it, letting the cool air hit his skin. He flexes his toes in the warm sunlight, watches dust drift lazily through the air, and sighs deeply. It fills his ribcage, and he tries to imagine all that empty space inside him, but he can’t because she’s everywhere, especially there, and he’d rather have her there than any sort of nothingness.
He knows he should get up but he doesn’t, just lays there and watches the dots on his clock blink. He thinks about how he would feel if he could reach over right now and put his palm to her head, feel her hair fuzzy and mussed from sleep, kiss the corners of her eyes and her lips and the sharp points her collar bones make where they meet beneath her throat. He’s going to see her in an hour and a half, and that makes a wave of warmth pass through his belly.
He loves her. She doesn’t know yet, but he’s going to tell her. Soon.
II. it’s like every sad movie you’ve ever hated
He can feel the sun shining on his face, streaming in through the window, and there’s heat boiling in his chest: red, like the blood through his eyelids, like the no in her answer, like the bold strikethrough on the list of things he can’t live without because he can’t force her to be there if it’s not what she wants. The sun is still shining and the world is still turning but sometime in the night his heart dropped straight out of his chest and it’s somewhere beneath his bed, buried and dusty among all the other things he doesn’t want anymore.
It’s the stupidest fucking thing he’s ever thought, but he knows it should be raining. He hopes he slides off the highway and into a tree on the way to work because he can’t go in but he can’t not go in, and if he’s dead no one will blame him. You can’t work when you’re a cadaver.
III. somewhere else that isn't here
He wakes up to an unfamiliar room, and it takes him a minute to realize where he is. This is home now. Stamford. Not Scranton, not his old room in the house with Mark, not the hollow of her throat, the vacant space between her palms. He’s always cold these days, even when the weather’s warm, even when he feels waves of heat slide along his skin beneath his sweatshirt, the one he doesn’t need because he’s got blankets and a furnace and the sunlight. The tips of his fingers are always cold and he thinks if somehow it were to happen again, even the slide of iridescent silk beneath his fingers wouldn’t dull the numbness, even the feel of her skin wouldn’t burn. She is remote now, and untouchable, and she doesn’t want him anyway. He rolls over and presses his face between the two pillows, pretending he can smell her perfume. It’s something like lavender.
IV. let’s play like this is what we want
Something is tickling his nose. He sniffs and turns his face away, tries to stay in that realm between sleeping and waking long enough to drop back into blissful blankness, where there’s no thinking and hurting, wishing and breaking. It’s not really working because he can tell he's waking up. It feels like rising up from the bottom of a lake, liquid pressure on all sides, floating up toward the watery sky. The thing, whatever it is, is brushing against his chin now. He tries to turn over, tries to ignore it, but there’s a heavy weight on his chest and he can’t. He’s still half-asleep and his brains are half-addled, so he wonders, It couldn’t be, could it?
It’s not. Karen's skin is honey-colored and smooth. Her hair is all over the place, including his face, but it is soft and it burns a bright color in the light. She is attractive and intelligent and she’s perfect for him in every way except for the one way she’s not, which hurts him less than he’d like to admit. He wishes he cared more. He wishes things were different. He winds a lock of hair around his finger and holds it there, silky strands against his skin, and he tries to pretend. It’s too hard, though, because if it was curly, it would cling to his finger. Instead, it falls flat to his chest, straight and easy and not at all what he needs.
V. this is for those who wait
It’s a sound in his ear that wakes him, the soft vibration of vocal chords accompanied by a warm rush of air. His eyes are impossible to open. He struggles with them for a few seconds, trying to open them as quickly as he can because he knows that voice and that smell and he wants to see her, to know she’s really, really there. She laughs again, a warm sound from the back of her throat, and his bones tingle in response. His eyes are almost there, but still sleep-ridden. She is a blur, her face a darkened shadow against the bright outline of the window. But there—there, now she’s in focus, but he doesn’t have much of a chance to look at her because suddenly her face is too close. She’s dragging her lips across his cheek, down over his chin, grasping at his stubble with her hopelessly soft mouth. Her hair is just as frizzy as he imagined it would be. “Hey, sleepyhead,” she mumbles, catching his lips with hers, and he has never, never been this happy.