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About the Time

by Marian Ryan

This is about the time I cracked your paunchy dick of a roommate across the face when he said a man was a wuss if he didn’t use women because “that’s what they’re for” and you said I was putting you in a “bad position.” This is about the time I cursed you in the stairwell of the dorm and you launched a Frisbee-sized chocolate-chip cookie at my head but I ducked. This is about the time a year later you asked me in your yellow legal-pad letter would I say yes if you asked me to marry you and I said I would, but I’d keep my own name because I wouldn’t be your property and marriage should not be about one person owning the other, and you wrote back in your black block letters how could I think of marriage that way and what would your family say, and I replied that they didn’t have to know what my legal name was, but you never forgave me for being afraid of losing myself. This is about the time I stayed at your house instead of a motel when I visited your city and your grandmother told us “No monkey-monkey!” in the parlor and waved her finger at us in front of her framed photo of JFK and I vowed never to stay there again. This is about the time I arrived in your city and I was crying and you asked why and I said you knew why, because you wanted to see other people. You’d written it out carefully on the yellow paper, black ink marching across the page. You’d folded the letter, slid it into the envelope, licked the stamp, walked to the mailbox, and dropped it in, final. This is about the last time we had sex, on the motel bed with me on all fours because it was my idea. This is about the shiny-rough polyester against my hands and knees. This is about the sun squeezing through the cracks around the curtains and the way I wanted to eat your sweat. This is about my undoing your dingy braided cotton belt and pawing down your jeans and snatching at your Fruit of the Looms and crushing them into a ball and dumping it in the corner near the nightstand. This is about your climbing behind me with the three hairs on your chest and assembling yourself above me. This is about you navigating by my hips and ass. This is about the smoke and ash reek of strip-mall motel room, its cum-stippled carpet, this is your hands one last time on my body, fishes circling a tank. This is about the pull of your teeth on my earlobe, this is about your palm pressed at the hollow place of my back. This is about me showing you how you could ride my body like a coin-operated machine and wouldn’t have to look at my crying face asking without words. This is about the scrape of my cheek and the snap of my jaw, the collapse of me when you were through, this is about the blank pink pocket of you holding me as if we were still going to be. This is about all the times I tried again, to keep or calm or soothe a man with sex, to counter bruises to the limbs or swellings of the skull or sneakers smashed into the wall or a snarl in the hallway, as if sex were my secret sauce or a hot bath or a cough suppressant or a china cup of chamomile tea. This is about all your puny resolutions, your sorcerer’s spells that say this will be the time, at last, it works. This is about the time you admit it never really will.

Author's Note

I’m a reader who loves language and voice over other elements of narrative prose, and language and voice are usually the most important elements to me as I work. I can also have an unseemly, counterproductive urge to rush ahead to the finish line, and this piece allowed me to do so guilt-free.

Marian Ryan has never owned a framed presidential photo. She lives in Berlin, where she’s working on a researched memoir. Her work has been published in Granta Online, the New York Times, Catapult, Cosmonauts Avenue, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. Find her online at and on Twitter at @marianryanese.

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