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Problems, страница 1



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  Copyright © 2016 by Jade Sharma

  Cover design by Karl Engebretson

  Book design by Ann Sudmeier

  Author photograph © Tracie Williams

  Coffee House Press books are available to the trade through our primary distributor, Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, or (800) 283-3572. For personal orders, catalogs, or other information, write to [email protected]

  Coffee House Press is a nonprofit literary publishing house. Support from private foundations, corporate giving programs, government programs, and generous individuals helps make the publication of our books possible. We gratefully acknowledge their support in detail in the back of this book.


  Sharma, Jade.

  Problems / Jade Sharma.

  pages cm

  “An Emily Books Original.”

  ISBN 978-1-56689-443-2 (eBook)

  I. Title.

  PS3619.H356416P76 2016




  Thanks to David Gates; everything I write, I write for you. Thanks to Ruth Curry and Emily Gould for believing in this book. Thanks to Lars Fanning for being my best friend, and Corey Judies for rooting for me. Thanks to my love, M. K., for daydreams, distractions, and love. Thanks to all the good people at Coffee House Press for their hard work.




  Funder Acknowledgments

  Somewhere along the way, there stopped being new days. Time progressed for sure: The rain tapered off through the night; near dawn, cars rumbled and then zoomed away. Sounds folded back into the world, moving on, light-years from the living room where I lay around, hardly living.

  The soundtrack of the night looped every twelve hours: the hum of the refrigerator, the blare of a siren going by, the sound of someone turning on a faucet somewhere in the building. The Saturday night remix of the chatter of drunk guys, who smoked cigarettes in the courtyard and called each other “bro,” interspersed with the chorus of drunk girls’ high-pitched squeals every time a rat scurried out of the bushes.

  Sometimes in the early morning, a man somewhere in the building would yell about the music being too loud. But I never heard any music. I only heard him yelling.

  A buried alarm clock went off somewhere else in the building.

  I puttered around my apartment in my fuzzy pink slippers, wearing purple boy shorts and a wifebeater. My husband, Peter, slept in the bedroom.

  Peter. To the outside world, he was my nice, handsome husband who had to deal with me. When I cried, he held me and told me he loved me. Sometimes when I cried, he said, “Do you want some ice cream? I’ll get you some ice cream.” Sometimes when I cried, he said, “Have you run out of drugs?”

  Sometimes in bed he held me as if he was a selfish little boy saying, “Mine, mine, mine,” to the world. Sometimes he took care of me because he took care of things that belonged to him.

  I was the one who lost things. I was the one who wanted to talk when it was time for bed. I was the mess, and he was the one who rolled his eyes. I was the one who bought dope with the tips he brought home. He was the one who came home drunk. Who the fuck was I to tell him he’d had too much to drink when he had to deal with me? When he wasn’t being a saint, he was telling me what a saint he was to put up with me.

  He was an idiot. A beautiful idiot who slept at night, woke up early, went for a run, went to work, came home drunk, passed out, and then did it all over again.

  Whenever a man told me he loved me, I imagined how one day this same man would tell me I was a crazy bitch, because I am a crazy bitch.

  An unlit cigarette between my lips, I looked for a light. On the coffee table: half a bottle of ginger ale, scratched-off lotto tickets, loose change, and a matchbook I kept forgetting was empty. I tried Peter’s Zippo. Spark. Nothing. Spark. Nothing. Dead. I tossed it on the couch and went to the kitchen to light the cigarette off the stove. I felt like one of those women on Intervention, smoking alone at some weird hour.

  On the couch, I pressed my fingers along my rib cage, ran my hand down my belly to the crooks of my hips. I imagined my hand was Ogden’s. I stuck my hand in my underwear. I thought of how he would feel how smooth my pussy was. How his fingers would feel through the folds to my clit. How he would feel how wet he made me.

  Ogden had been my professor when I was doing course work for my master’s degree in English. I had always wanted to fuck a professor, like it was the kind of fuck you could check off a list: celebrity, artist, European, fireman, another girl (check), threesome (check), etc.

  I got wet when I listened to Ogden lecture. I loved his deep, masculine voice when he said feminine words like “beautiful” and “sonnet.” I watched the way he patted his chalky hand on his jeans and left a white smear like he didn’t give a fuck. I thought of his deep voice in my ear, saying, “Yeah, you like that?” The way the cuff of his shirt was unbuttoned. I saw the dullness of his eyes, as if he had spent a lifetime staring at the color gray. I wanted to see how different his eyes would look when I looked up while I blew him.

  After the semester ended, we met for a cup of coffee and ordered drinks instead. I waited for him to come on to me, but he didn’t. He told stories that had the air of being told before. He ate bread like a caveman: gnawing at it, crumbs falling onto the wooden table. Why couldn’t he talk to me like a normal person? Ask me about my childhood, where I was from, or about Peter, and then tell me about his high school girlfriend. Volley the ball around instead of talking at me. Even when you are ready to put out for a guy, he has to go and fuck it up. I didn’t care about hooking up with him anymore. I wanted to go home.

  It was his idea to share a cab. I climbed into the back, my hands on the leather seat. He told the cab driver where to go. I stared at him staring out the window. He was totally content with the prospect of sitting in silence for rest of the ride and then never seeing me again. There was something about a man not caring if he ever saw me again that made me want to suck his cock.

  “So you don’t want to have sex with me?” I said, like it was a dare.

  “It doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen, so maybe that’s for the best,” he said.

  “Yeah,” I said as I stared out the window. The way you could see all down the street between blocks. “But you know,” I said, “there is the conquest factor. This has been my objective for a semester . . .”

  He laughed. Then he said, “Come here.”

  I got on top of him, and he shoved his tongue into my mouth. I am totally making out with Ogden Fitch, I thought as I made out with Ogden Fitch. He didn’t kiss how I imagined he would. His tongue greedily pushed into my mouth. The car pulled over in front of my building.

  “I shaved my pussy for you,” I said into his ear.

  “Aw, how sweet,” he said, looking genuinely flattered. I shoved my tongue back into his mouth.

  I had been married to Peter for seven months.

  It wasn’t because I didn’t love my husband that I had cheated on him.

  Sometimes I didn’t know if I loved my husband.

  I didn’t know. It was a marriage. Marriage is boring, and sometimes you want to kill the person, and sometimes you feel the truth of a million clichés about having one real partner to grow old with when the world is cold and full of strangers. But most of the time I didn’t feel anything.

  Seeing the same person so much makes you not see them at all. Sometimes I awoke from the haze of the living-room-watching-television funk and that fuzzy figure next to me on the couch would come into focus: a real-life human being whose mind was as vivid and whole as mine. I would think to myself, Who in the fuck
is this person? And I would ask, “Peter, what are you thinking?” And he would say, “Nothing, really.”

  Lorrie Moore wrote, “For love to last, you had to have illusions or have no illusions at all.”

  Sometimes I tried to hold on to him, but I was always losing my grip, and he was always fading into the background.

  I had cheated on every man I had ever been with. It was stupid to think there was something wrong with loving more than one person at a time. Sometimes the thought of who put their thing in whose thing seemed like the most absurd concern in the world. I thought I might as well fuck as many people as I could before my cunt dried up and nobody wanted me anyway.

  You shouldn’t put out right away. That’s what I’ve heard. I have no idea because I’ve never not put out right away.

  After I started having an affair, Peter and I fought less. Sometimes I thought we were closer than we’d ever been.

  I never imagined any man would ask to marry me. I wanted to try it on: a grown-up’s life of grocery lists, laundry, and arguments about who was supposed to buy new lightbulbs. Peter was a badge I wore that said to the outside world, “How crazy can I be if this normal person has decided to spend the rest of his life with me?”

  On Valentine’s Day I sat across from Peter in a restaurant on the Upper East Side. Candlelight flickered, my man wore a tie, and I felt empty. At some point you realize you aren’t waiting anymore for your life to start. Your life’s happening right now, and it’s pretty dull.

  I ground my hips on the throw pillow, imagining that it was Ogden fucking me.

  Ogden understood me. Ogden pulled away when I tried to hold on. He said, “You’re weird, aren’t you?” He barely touched me, and I wanted more.

  Being on all fours. Ogden’s hand pulling my hair. Going in and out of me. I lost the thread, replaying the same image over in my mind. It was like listening to a song on repeat. After a while, you can’t hear it. I contemplated going into the bedroom and getting it on with Peter.

  Peter would not be psyched about being woken up. Peter would say, “Do you realize I have gotten five hours of sleep in the last two days?”

  A woman masturbating in the living room while her husband slept in the bedroom. Sad. It was a waste of ready-to-go pussy.

  I picked up John Updike’s The Collected Stories off the floor and read by the nightmarish light of the muted television. I skimmed some and then put the book back down. Sorry, John; it’s not happening today, buddy. A life spent alone, in a room. Before I’d married Peter, I wrote. I used to think I had something very important to say to the world. People write to be remembered forever, but when you’re dead, how can you care? So what’s the point?

  My mother was dying of MS. People actually did get sick out of nowhere and suffered for no reason. My mother suffered alone in rooms. My father died of a heart attack five years ago. It was a shock. I hadn’t realized he’d had a heart.

  Having MS means having lesions on your brain and spine, which means your entire body is fucked-up. Only one of her eyes worked. She had periods of general wellness and then periods of sickness they called “flare-ups.” In the beginning, I didn’t understand the seriousness of her illness. I would see her walking with a cane, and then a few months later, she would be walking normally. What happens is, every time you go through a flare-up, not everything gets better when you get better. So her leg that was useless for a month would work again once the flare-up subsided, but she would walk with a limp forever. It is like walking down a street and every so often someone beats the shit out of you. You mostly heal, but some injuries just don’t, and then you go out and walk some more, and someone comes by and beats the shit out of you again.

  I subsisted on tea, single servings of Greek yogurt, cigarettes, bottles of cold Starbucks coffee, and sometimes an ice cream bar.

  This was how I made tea: I held the pot under the faucet and filled it with water. Sometimes I would scrub a smudge to see if it was dirty or just a worn part of the pot. A roach could have crawled around in there, shitting, or two roaches could have fucked in the twelve hours since I had washed it. When I boiled the water, the germs would boil out.

  I dated this guy named Caleb in college who spat in his food while he was making it. When I asked him why, he said, “I dunno, the germs boil out.”

  Caleb never wanted to do it. We would be making out, and then he would get up and put on Leonard Cohen, and then he’d get back into bed but turn around, so his head was hanging off the edge. He’d sing softly along with the music. I would be lying there, wide-awake in the dark, with his feet next to my face. Sometimes I was pretty sure Caleb had been my soul mate.

  Caleb told me he used to eat his boogers. He told me that one time, while he was driving, he picked a really big one and actually cursed when it fell off his finger.

  I sprinkled fennel seeds and cardamom into the pot and dropped in a cinnamon stick. I stared out the window at the stray cats. I smoked a cigarette. I poured almond milk into the pot, turned off the heat after it boiled for a few seconds, and then poured the tea in a mug. Then I squeezed the honey in. I licked it off my fingers and poured more on my fingers and licked it off my fingers and poured more on my fingers and licked it off my fingers.

  Tucked away on the second shelf of my bookcase in The Eden Express was the last bag for a real emergency. Careful. Remember the time you ripped it wide open and it went everywhere? Poured out the powder on the cover of the book, a few bigger chips, like paint. Used my debit card to cut it. I imagined Bobby Flay: What you want to do is get the heroin as finely minced as possible. That will make it nice and even, and easier to snort. Rolled dollar bill. Rachael Ray: You want to be able to see through the bill without any folds in the way. And you don’t have to use a dollar bill. That’s what my husband likes, so that’s what we use at my house. Some people like straws because of germs. One time, I couldn’t find anything, and so I tore a page out of a book! Whatever works for you!

  Heroin had brands. They worked like any other brand to signal quality and consistency.

  Elizabeth said something about it being mixed with fentanyl. Whatever that was. I should have Googled it probably.

  A sitcom was on where there’s a fat guy and a frowning wife with a bin of laundry seemingly attached to her waist. Cute child actors who will grow up to become criminals. The women were always dramatic and mad and the men were always trying to understand. Was that what men wanted? To fuck a skinny version of their mothers? They sometimes let the single aunt have a personality, but having a personality meant no man would want you. After the wife left the kitchen, the husband stole a cookie. She shouted from the living room for him to put the cookie back. In twenty years, this will still not be funny.

  I didn’t know what to do when men gave me flowers. I would always think, Great, now I will have to watch these things die.

  Sometimes I tried on this fake woman persona, and I knew Peter liked it because he got to try on his version of a male persona. I put my hair up and talked in a high-pitched voice and moved my hands around, all animated, like Elizabeth. I talked about how I wanted to get my nails done. Sometimes I would put lotion on my hands. I acted stupid so he could feel smart.

  Sometimes I was in love with who I was when I was with him.

  If I didn’t try to act feminine, I felt like a dude.

  A few more lines. You shouldn’t do too much because then you will have to do more to get the same effect, but then again this was the last of it, so you may as well get blasted.

  Nothing was on television.

  Raymour & Flanigan. I could hear the catchy jingle just seeing those words on the TV. Then some middle-aged man looking out a window. A commercial for DeVry University. Can you imagine your life being so shitty you’d call up DeVry University to get a degree in computer animation?

  Drip down the throat. Warmth spreading out, like pee on a blanket. Music from the speaker plugged into the laptop.

  “And the sun pours down like honey / On o
ur lady of the harbor, / And she shows you where to look / Among the garbage and the flowers . . .”

  Dope felt like leaning back in a chair, and right before the chair tipped over, it froze, and there I was, suspended in midair but not falling at all.

  I heard Peter’s alarm go off. Eight o’clock. I snorted what was left on the book.

  The door wasn’t easy. You had to jerk it.

  “How’re you feeling?” Peter asked, without looking up from the iPad. The light came through the wooden Chinese blinds, making his brown hair look golden.

  When Peter woke up he looked like James Dean. I woke up looking like I had been in a barroom brawl: matted hair, hunched over, scrabbling for a lighter that still worked, my body feeling like it had been slammed against pavement.

  When we walked down the street, I could hear people’s thoughts, Why is that handsome man with that scowling, smoking hag? People would always ask me what was wrong. I must have looked pissed off all the time. People probably thought he was gay and I was a fag hag secretly in love with him.

  Women don’t have trophy husbands the same way men have trophy wives. Men can be disgusting and walk into a party with a sexy bitch on their arm and feel like hot shit. But being a woman walking into a party with a handsome man on your arm, the only thing you feel is insecure.

  When I imagined myself through Ogden’s sixty-three-year-old eyes—my smooth, wrinkle-free skin, my long dark hair, my unsagging breasts, my flat stomach—I felt hot. Sometimes my hair fell over my eyes, and I grinned and looked up at him, and I loved being in my own skin.

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