“To Have and To Want” by Sophie Mulgrew

To Have and To Want

On a Monday night it is raining and he stands at the window, broad-chested and valiant, daring the world to drop its tears on him.

On a Monday night it is raining, but he only knows because I told him. Because, in the quiet moments between the stanzas of our conversation, I could hear the droplets making their way down the walls. I could smell the moistening concrete. The thickening plume of clouds.

I want to tell him that rain tastes like grilled cheese triangles from my mother’s kitchen. That the a-rhythmic pattering of the droplets crack open my heart like backseat car windows through which little fingers reach without knowing what for.

Our bodies slip into one another like the buckle on a seatbelt. Safety net. Each crook and groove settles into position, and it is as if I can hear my bones nestling into each other; reassembling themselves into the place his arms have created. 

Water molds to fill the space it is given. 

He starts smoking again on a Tuesday. Says he’d rather smoke and die young than live to a hundred without his stooges. He has to explain the slang to me. 

I am envious of the ease with which he departs the bed. He seems to look forward to the act of leaving – to the anticipation of filling his mouth with a taste other than my own. 

He is reclined on the balcony in that familiar fashion of man- limbs expanding into the space no one asked them to fill. His lips kiss his cigarette with a gentleness my own will never know. Love me like your stooges, I think. He breathes life into the air from dead lungs and sets his eyes upon the yet unwritten stories of the world. He knows his place among the pages, revels in his own agency to pluck words from the paragraphs of strangers and make them his own.

My heart is a tropical ocean storm. Its tides fold and wrinkle like my bedsheets once we have left them. They remember the score. Keep track of the quiet moments in which the wind shifts from leave me to love. When he has gone I will lay my cheek on the cold fabric and trace the memory recorded there. I will search through the flicker of his eye, the way his hand glides effortlessly through the space between us, and I will try to decipher the Morse code of his uneven heartbeat. 

He moves through this city like wind. I move like water; dripping and undulating and splayed on the floor. When I fall I splatter.

Later in the night we will swipe through each other’s dating apps. Neither of us will accept any matches. Are you having sex with other people, I’ll ask. He’ll say he isn’t, and I will know, somehow, that that is the truth. 

Wednesday the city is anxious with the fleeting promise of spring. The mortality of the moment is everywhere. I lap it up anxiously; feel the drunkenness of warmth and unknowing seep through my veins. I feel as if I must announce my love to the world. 

I wish I had love to announce. 

That I might rush to his unsuspecting door and pour my love into the space between us. Please, I would say, take it. 

On a Thursday night we are out to dinner at what other couples might call “their” restaurant. He speaks to the waiters in Italian and says he feels like he is home. I watch him with wide, pleasant eyes, enjoying the way the sounds tumble from his lips and flit like lightning bugs through the air between us. I exist only on the outskirts of his joy. In moments like these, I can feel it’s warmth tickling my arm, teasing me. 

Sometimes during these conversations, the waiters turn and apologize to me. Mi piace ascoltare, I learn to say. I like to listen. 

It is the same phrase I said to him the first day we met. Four hours in he realized he hadn’t learned anything about me. He said, I’m talking too much. 

No, I replied, I like to listen. 

It is at the same Thursday dinner that he suggests I join his family reunion in 

Kenya. Come, he says. Why not? 

I laugh, trying to imagine the scenario. Hi Mom and Dad, this is Sophie – the girl I fuck and hold hands with on the street and sometimes take to dinner. 

You don’t actually mean that, I say, and we both fall quiet. 

It is the kind of silence you can listen to. 

He goes away for a weekend, and I spend Friday wondering whether I should have told him to text me when he landed. For all I know he is dead. 

Once he joked that if he were to die in New York it would probably take a few days for his family to even find out. The eggshell casing of my heart quivers at the thought, but he is unfazed. 

Yeah, I reply, I might be the first person to realize. 

I try not to think about making that call to his mother.  

For most of my young adult life I believed I was the kind of girl that guys fall in love with. That I was that perfect concoction of sweet book-reading non-smoking home cook early dinner animal lover girl-next door, with more-or-less average hair and a more or less average body. Who was just pretty and endearing enough to be loved and not lusted. Who men would want to marry whether I wanted them or not– a homely Artemis. 

I believed that if I waited long enough; sat pensively on benches in the park, read my book in the not-quite-obviously-but-obviously visible spots in The Strand, smiled at attractive strangers parking their Citi bikes, that love would show up for me. That one day, it would knock on my door, with sunflowers and frozen yogurt and maybe a kitten. 

Welcome, I would say, I knew you would come. 

Saturday morning my notebook lays bare chested and goose-bumped on my bed– pinned down by the weight of words I can’t bring myself to produce. 

Instead I transcribe tidbits from the notes app on my phone: 

the world seems to yield to him 
does a window crack on both sides of the glass
a place I haven’t touched you 

I want to write about love, but I am thinking about desire. About the hand that tears my organs from their sockets and leaves them wrapped and bowed at his bedroom door. About how the longer I spend in his embrace, the more intensely it aches when he pulls away. Like dried wax torn from skin. 

Perhaps simply spending a critical amount of time together, both intimately and not, necessitates a certain degree of affection. He is my friend, after all. We laugh like friends and we fuck like pornstars.

On a warm Sunday, he decides to be generous with his not-love. He holds my face in his hands and looks at me with something like tenderness in his eyes. His gaze is rounded and pillowy like challah. It tears easily at the seams. 

He traces musical phrases across my spine, tickles my feet where he knows I am vulnerable. In the evening he holds me to his collarbone and we watch the lights of the empire state building cast themselves over the city. I sense his eyes on me but won’t meet his gaze- fearing any move might shatter the moment’s fragile intimacy. 

I walk home at eleven, trying not to think about my six-thirty alarm. Rain falls gently on the unquiet grid of the city. Small puddles grow in the spaces between the street and sidewalk – water curling easily into the crevices it is allowed. 

Sophie Mulgrew is a writer and mixed media artist based out of New York City. She is pursuing a degree in multimedia expressions of literature at NYU, and works part time as an educator. Her work is interested in the particularities of the human condition, and how it manifests itself across and between artistic genres. Find her on Instagram, @thesophisticatedscrapbook.