The Grief Cycle
By Clint Margrave.
Grief and I have been living together for a while now. We spend most of our nights at home in front of the television, trying not to argue. I don’t know how it got like this, but everything Grief does just makes me angry and everything I do just makes her upset.
Grief’s awfully sensitive though.
Still, as the months go by we remain entangled. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t let her go. I always come back. It’s a vicious cycle. The truth is, I’m in love with Grief. She’s in love with me too, and it helps that she’s so loyal – not to mention those irresistibly big brown eyes of hers. But lately, things have been changing between us, and I’ve been longing for someone else, someone more seductive, someone that’ll make me…
“Happy,” says Grief, when I finally confess. “Everyone knows that bitch is a tease.”
She starts crying, storms out of the apartment, goes over to her best friend Misery’s house. Grief likes Misery because she’s reliable, and she knows that Misery loves having her around. Besides that, Misery’s always throwing parties, and despite her hideous personality, people are attracted to her, which is something I just don’t understand.
But at least with Grief out of the house, I can contemplate my next move to bring Happy back. How I long to stare into that face again. We dated briefly before I met Grief – which is why it bothers Grief so much. I haven’t forgotten her and Grief knows it.
“She’s too young for you,” Grief told me recently, when we ran into Happy at a bar we like to go to after work. Grief doesn’t know it, but this was the moment my feelings changed for her. It also didn’t hurt I was picking up a strong signal from Happy, which Grief insisted was just the booze talking.
Once I gather up the nerve, I dial Happy’s number. Two rings then directly to her voicemail. I leave a message to call me back as soon as possible. After all, I’m a free man now. I’m ready to embrace her.
Hours go by, and when there’s still nothing, I dial her number three more times. On the third try, however, Happy answers.
“Listen you creep,” she says, “can’t you take a hint?”
Before I even have a chance to respond, she hangs up the phone.
“I know what’ll make you feel better,” says my friend Apathy, who I call for advice, shortly afterwards. “A good, honest, detached fuck.”
We decide to meet at our local dive to look for women when almost immediately, I spot Grief and Misery on the other side of the bar, taking shots of Jagermeister, practically falling all over themselves. They’ve brought along another friend, Jealousy, who’s embarrassing herself by flirting with all the married men.
“I told you those girls are nothing but trouble,” says Apathy. “Let me be your wingman tonight.”
After a quick scope of the room, Apathy’s eyes land on a dark-haired woman in a black dress, with faint scars on her wrists, sitting a couple stools over from us.
“See that one?” he says. “She’s a shoo-in.”
He slides over to the stool next to her, signaling me to follow.
“What’s your name?” he asks the woman.
“Melancholy,” she tells him.
“How do you do, Melancholy – that’s a very pretty name – I’m Apathetic, but my friends call me Apathy. This is Nic.”
“Nice to meet you,” says Melancholy. “I don’t have any friends, but you can call me Mel if you want.”
She extends her hand to me and I notice her cracked blue nail polish. Out of nervousness, she reaches into her purse sitting on the bar and pulls out her cell phone, looks at it, then shuts it.
“Come here a lot, Mel?” asks Apathy, nudging me in the ribs not to be chicken shit and say something. But I’m too distracted by Jealousy, who’s watching every move I make in the mirror behind the bar.
“Sometimes,” Mel says, peeling the label off her beer bottle. “I don’t usually get out that much.”
“I was gonna say I’m surprised I’ve never seen you before,” he says. “I’m here almost every night.”
“You probably know my sister then,” says Mel. “She’s more of a regular than I am.”
“What’s her name?” asks Apathy.
“Yeah, I know Rose. Where’s she tonight?”
“It’s too early,” says Mel. “She usually gets here later.”
Apathy decides to order us some shots, and we toast one another when they come. Meanwhile, I catch Grief watching me in the mirror while she pretends to hit on some sucker playing video poker.
“You’re better than that,” Apathy tells me, when I point it out to him. “Don’t get your feathers all ruffled. Let’s get fuckin’ plastered tonight.”
Grief tells me that whenever I hang out with Apathy, I just kinda follow along with whatever he orders, and I must admit, this time isn’t any different.
Before I even realize it, I’m fucked up and sitting at the bar alone, staring into the mirror, as Apathy and Mel make out against a pool table. Meanwhile, Grief and Misery keep putting dollars into the jukebox to replenish the selection of Ryan Adams songs they’ve been playing.
“Anyone sitting here?” says a girl, standing at the abandoned barstool next to me. She’s a short blonde – not really my type – but has large breasts, and her face reminds me of Scarlet Johansson with a lot of makeup.
“No,” I say. “Go right ahead.”
Almost immediately, Grief, who has been put on emergency alert, notices the girl talking to me, and comes stumbling over with Jealousy.
“Isn’t he handsome?” she says, as she pets my head.
“Get lost Grief,” I say. “I told you, it’s over between us.”
“Let me handle this,” says Jealousy, who pulls the girl’s hair and drags her off the barstool then pushes her up against a window. The rattling blinds get the bartender’s attention and he turns to see what’s happening.
“You again?” he says to Jealousy. “Didn’t I already tell you not to start anymore trouble in here? Now get out!”
Grief leaves with Jealousy. Only Misery stays behind, telling them she’ll catch up after she exchanges numbers with some new friends she’s making.
“At least that’s over with,” I tell the Scarlet Johansson look-alike, who is wiping dust from the blinds off her sweater, but who’s more eager than ever to know me now that I’m such a wanted man. “Can I buy you a drink?”
Eventually, we go back to her place.
I’ve forgotten to get her name, but it’s too late to ask and it might just spoil my chances. Besides, I’m too drunk and I’ll probably forget it anyway.
At her place, we have a bottle of wine, smoke cigarettes, and at some point I black out, because the next thing I know it’s morning and I’m being blasted by a loud rooster cockadoodledooing in my ear.
“Sorry,” says the girl, leaning across me, hitting a button on her cell phone, “that’s my alarm clock.”
She smiles and her morning breath reminds me of going to the dump as a kid.
The memories of last night are trickling back in and I suddenly realize, on top of it all, I’m naked.
“Did we fuck?” I ask the girl.
She looks at me as if I’m crazy.
“Are you kidding?” she says. “You don’t remember?”
I shrug my shoulders, mumble some joke about being roofied, and feel a pounding headache coming on. With the sunlight creeping into the bedroom, this girl is definitely not Scarlet Johansson nor could she even pass for a distant inbred cousin. I skim the floor for my pants, only to find them lying next to a pack of unopened condoms.
“I tried to tell you,” says the girl, as I scuffle to find my shoes. “But you refused.”
I can hear Grief saying that’s what I get for taking advice from Apathy.
“Where you going?” she asks.
“I’m sorry,” I say, tying up my shoes. “I forgot I have an appointment at the DMV this morning. Gotta get my license renewed.”
“Wait,” she says, as I head toward her bedroom door. “You never even told me your name.”
She is sitting up in bed now, holding the sheet across her significantly smaller breasts than I had thought.
“Nice to meet you, Nic,” she says, “I’m Remorse.”
My head’s still pounding when I turn the corner toward my apartment, where Grief is sitting on the front steps, smoking a cigarette with the filter ripped off and thrown on the ground.
“You locked me out,” she says. “Where’ve you been all night?”
“Don’t ask,” I tell her. “Where’s your key anyway?”
“Remember? You said I didn’t need one. You said we’d never be apart long enough.”
I climb the steps, feeling guilty about ever putting that thought into her head, and turn the key in the door to unlock it. Grief snuffs out her filter-less cigarette then follows me into our apartment.
“By the way,” she says, “whatever happened to your dream girl?”
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“I told you the bitch was a tease.”
“You want an award or something?”
“Sometimes,” she says, looking up at the ceiling.
I throw my keys down on the kitchen counter before reaching into a cupboard for a glass, which I fill with water then take a swig.
“I knew you’d come back,” she says. “I knew you weren’t really gonna leave.”
“Don’t be so sure all the time,” I tell her. “I’ve been coping with you for long enough, Grief.”
“You won’t be able to cope with anyone else,” she says. “No, I take that back. No one else will be able to cope with you.”
“You’re going to insult me now?” I say to Grief. “As if you don’t already make me feel bad enough.”
I’m bringing the glass of water up to my mouth, when I realize what I’ve just said.
“I mean, no offense or anything. Nothing personal.”
But it’s too late. Grief’s already starting to cry. She’s even threatening to call her sister Hysterical.
“You know I can’t help it,” she says. “You know it’s not my fault.”
“I’m sorry,” I tell her. “I didn’t mean it like that. You’re still good, Grief. Everybody’s always saying that.”
A piece of her hair is sticking to her cheek, wet from falling tears, and the mascara she wears around those big brown eyes of hers is starting to smudge. She pulls the hair away, and wipes off the last remnant of a tear.
“You’re giving me a complex,” she says. “I wish that just once, you could accept me for who I am.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, pleading with Grief not to cry anymore, as I set my empty glass down on the kitchen counter then pull her toward me. “Maybe it’s just a stage I’m going through.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Clint Margrave has published poetry and short stories in various small press magazines, including New York Quarterly, Pearl, Chiron Review, Heeltap, Spillway, as well as in the anthologies So Luminous the Wildflowers and Incidental Buildings and Accidental Beauty by Tebot Bach Press. In 2004, he released a collection of poems entitled Come, Armageddon (Foreword by Gerald Locklin). Currently, he teaches English and Creative Writing at California State University, Long Beach.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, September 1st, 2009.