Sins and Misdemeanors: Fiction by Cezarija Abartis

Sweet Talk
Draw a line on the floor thus, an imaginary line in the sand. Tell him he has to straighten out, be more accountable. “I’m not an accountant,” he’ll say and wink. Tell him you can only take so much. He’ll sit on the couch and put his elbows on his knees. Tell him you love him but. . . . He’ll raise his arms wide open. “I know that.” Tell him you want him to change: no more being late, forgetting to pay the bills, forgetting to fill the gas tank. No more not doing the dishes, no more playing poker, no more drinking during the week, no more pissing off his boss, no more sleeping in. “You’re right to be mad at me,” he’ll say and hang his head. “I won’t get fired from this job. I like stocking shelves. I’m helping customers. I’m moving the economy.” Tell him no more “borrowing” stuff from the store. “I was just bringing you presents. You deserve presents. I wanted you to have a new watch, lace panties for your birthday.” Tell him his parents raised him to be upright. “No, they didn’t,” he’ll say. “You gotta watch out for yourself–no one else will. They loved me and all, but the world doesn’t care. You love me, I know. You’re the breath in my chest. That porcelain box for your earrings? With the pink roses on the lid. I’ll sneak it back if you want me to. I might get caught. Wouldn’t you call that love? Who else would go to jail for you?” Tell him you’re pregnant. He’ll look up and grin. “The world needs another copy of you,” he’ll say. “Come here, baby doll,” he’ll say and pat the sofa cushion.
Telephone Calls
I get to keep all the pencils and paper clips I can sneak. Perks of the teaching job. Paper, envelopes, letterhead stationery (useless), stolen franking privileges (as if there was anybody I wanted to write to). 
At night, I go home to my cat Homer. Before him, Voltaire, who loved me inordinately and died of feline leukemia. I listen to Debussy while I microwave a low-cal vegetarian stroganoff. 
I call my mother and tell her this is not the life I expected. 
“There are worse lives,” she says. “Victims of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma.” 
Thank you, Mom. 
“I don’t need your sarcasm. Call your nogood dad if you want sympathy. And his new chippie.”
Are you still smoking? I say. You should quit. I ring off. 
I call Dad. “Is something wrong? Good to hear from you, Baby Girl. How’s your mother?” 
Fine. The same. And you? 
“Great. Ashlee and I were just going out to dinner when you called. Fajitas.”
Don’t let me keep you. 
“How’s your Grant?” 
Not my Grant anymore. We’re–splitsville.
“Well. Sorry to hear that.” 
Don’t be sorry. I’ll find someone.
“Someone better. Someone who deserves you. You’re one in a million.” 
We millionaires are hard to please. 
“How’s the teaching going?” 
Swell. I can hear Frank Sinatra in the background, belting out he did it his way. 
“You have a good job, a useful job. Good working conditions. We’re proud of you.” 
Me too. I’m proud of me. 
“Ashlee and I, we’re going out now.” 
I call Grant. I want to tell him about my life. The charcoal in my heart, my sucky job and colleagues. Which he knows about already from my previous whining. He isn’t in. “You know what to do,” his message says. “I’ll get back to you when I can.” 
I change the CD, put in Ravel. Much better now. 
I know what to do. I can always go and steal more pencils.

Oh, the indignity, she thinks, wiping up her own pee on the hall carpet. She’s tired, has to get dressed for the day, for appointments with her doctor, dentist, and now this. She didn’t make it to the toilet in time. She should surrender. This project was never going anywhere. Just go on to the next project: dark air, damp ground, deep hole.

Her little Puff was in the ground already. Long time ago. She was little herself then. Now she has Samuel, not as soft and cuddly, irritable, getting old. Accidents on the carpet. She is becoming her cat. Fifteen in cat years is seventy-six in human years. Perfect symmetry. 

She peers out the window, at the clouds with their shifting human faces and cigars and coughing into new shapes. She thought that when she retired, she would have canyons of time. She wouldn’t have to grade papers, construct handouts and syllabi. But now the canyons are devoted to filling out forms for Medicare, visits to the optometrist, the doctor, the Social Security office, friends in memory care units, funerals of the departed, dear and not-so-dear, the ones she tauntingly outlived. And for what?

This is because Eve stole the apple. She snorts. There she is, blaming someone else for her own rotten apple of a life. So typical. Bob would have laughed too. She hadn’t thought of Bob for hours. Did that mean something? Or nothing. Was she going to join him in the Great Beyond?Certainly at some point. Maybe sooner rather than later. Maybe today. The signs are everywhere: she saw his face in the clouds; she peed on the floor; Samuel peed on the floor. 

Perhaps she should just stop taking her medications: atenolol, Lipitor, Fosamax. But who would care for Samuel? 

Skin flaking away, she is getting to the essence, blood, bone, nerve. A creaking voice. She might as well be a cricket. Her name is Sybil, after all. Let her move into a cricket cage. Let her chitter alone. 

She lies down on the floor of the living room, stretches out to practice the corpse pose, hands relaxed at her sides, head sinking into the carpet. The posture feels comfortable. 

There is a knock at the door. Maybe she can give Samuel to the visitor.

Cezarija Abartis has published a collection, Nice Girls and Other Stories (New Rivers Press), and stories in Bennington Review, FRiGG, matchbook, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. Recently she completed a crime novel. She teaches at St. Cloud State University.

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