Two Short Stories by RL Goldberg


I do have an anticipatory view of my life. What I expect: someone, a woman, or maybe a very muscular woman, always waiting on the other side of the door. When I open it, she says, “I’ll give you something to cry about.”

We begin to talk about this, my therapist and me. She says, “Are all of your dreams nightmares?” “No,” I say. “Just the nightmares are nightmares.”

She pulls a large gilt mirror from behind her desk and sets it on her lap so I’m staring at me, in her lap. She says, “What do you see?”

I say, “Myself, obviously.”

“I said, what do you see, not who,” she says and laughs her tight little laugh, enormously pleased with herself.

I say, “Right-o.”

She says, “I want you to stare at your reflection and scream, loud as you can.”

I open my throat, but all that comes out is a bark, a striated, loose bark.

My therapist looks down into her lap, despondent, at my reflection staring up at her.

“Well, I guess I’ve had my say,” I say.

Having a Coke Off You

Susan Sontag is in my kitchen, wearing my black slippers. She’s ruined the heels, stepping on the backs. She opens the refrigerator, takes out an old Tupperware of orzo, smells inside, then asks me to smell. I tell her I’ve been sick, I can’t smell anything. She fishes two spoons from the sink, rinses them under the faucet. They were in the sudsy standing water. We haven’t done dishes in weeks, we’ve been too busy in bed. Not always having sex, but always in bed.

Susan crawls into bed with the Tupperware, careful not to spill the orzo on the sheets. She sprawls out, takes all the blanket. She says, “Tell me again about the time we went everywhere,” then she offers me a bite. She’s using the two spoons like chopsticks, using the flat ends.

I’m not hungry; instead I find the small bag of coke in my top dresser drawer. Susan says, “Speaking of which, when do I get my own drawer? I’m here often enough, aren’t I?”

I cut our lines with my library card. Susan is wearing an old college t-shirt of mine, fingering the holes in the fabric. I ask her to tell me again about all the other women, the ones before me.

She says, “You’re always on my ass about getting your pronouns right, and now you want to call yourself a woman?”

I say, “Okay, okay.”

She says, “Don’t feel so special. You’re my sixth—or ninth—girlfriend.” She puts the Tupperware on the side table and says judiciously, “To be sure, you are my first boyfriend.”

Then she tells me, for a moment, while her mouth is full, about the other women: the playwright, the photographer, the woman she met in LA at a club, or maybe not in the club but after the club, and kissed in the cab on the way home.

Then she stops, suddenly, reconsiders, theorizes: “Repetition only communicates so much,” she says, “before it’s just cruelty.” 

She lets me snort my lines off her bare chest. I say, “Your body’s cold.”

What I want to say, instead, is this: Five years ago, I stood outside of your old house on Chauncey Street. It was winter, snow was piled on the sidewalk like great mountains of coke, and my nose was running. I saw you through the window—you were dancing in your socks, only your socks. The cigarette fell from your lips; I watched as you watch it burn through the rug. I daydreamed for us a very happy future. If you knew, then, what I wanted, would you not have given it to me?

RL Goldberg lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.