As Gracefully As I Knew How
by Elizabeth Ellen

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          I waited in bed until Eli fell asleep then carried my shoes down the stairs and out the back door. Three miles separated one side of the town from the other and I was conscious of driving the speed limit the entire three miles. I already had seven points on my license from speeding tickets. I couldn’t get any more without some sort of restrictions being incurred and restrictions of any kind were to be avoided at all costs from here on out.
          The key was still in my pocket from earlier in the day when the lady in the office gave it to me and I’d been shoving my hand down there every five or ten minutes since. I pulled it out as I drove and it was already warm in my hand when I parked the car and walked up the sidewalk toward the door. It was late evening in March in Michigan and the sky wasn’t so much dark as devoid of light and I had to go at the lock with the key a few times before I finally felt it slip into the groove and turn. I gave the door a push and there I was standing in the dark on the other side of town and I could make as much noise as I wanted and no one but the people above and beside me could hear and I didn’t give a shit about them yet because I hadn’t met them and so they were still faceless nobodies and you can’t give a shit about people until they at least have a face, and even then, as long as your only reason for proximity is cheap habitation, you probably won’t.
          I was thirty-two years old and hadn’t had sex in two years. I’d masturbated a handful of times over the course of those two years but mostly I’d avoided feelings related to sex and masturbation entirely. But now there was the key in my pocket and the darkness on the other side of town and the faceless people above and beside me and avoidance no longer seemed necessary or warranted. There was no furniture and I lay on the floor in the shadow of the candle touching myself first with my clothes on and then with them off. I fingered myself and stared up at the ceiling and did not think of the faceless people who might be watching TV or sleeping above me. I hadn’t felt anything but my own fingers inside of me in a very long time. I stood and looked around the room but there was only carpet and paint and so I walked to the kitchen and stood in the small closet that was labeled a pantry on the brochure and there were a can of soup and bottle of Crisco leftover from the previous tenants and I grabbed the bottle of Crisco and lay back down on the floor. I held the bottle in my hand and turned it around and over. I was worried something could happen if I stuck it inside of me but that didn’t stop me from wanting to. I examined the lid to ensure it had never been opened and when I felt certain it had not, pushed aside any further worries and eased the top of the bottle inside me with one hand while rubbing myself with the other. I leaned against the wall with my legs spread out in front of me and my eyes closed and imagined a portal in the ceiling through which the people above could watch me because now I wanted to be watched. I pushed myself deeper against the bottle and moaned loudly and tried not to think about the lid unscrewing and vegetable oil streaming out inside of me or of hurting any of my female organs with the roughness of my sex. I was rubbing myself this whole time as well and the Crisco bottle was not in me long before my body clenched around it and my hand stopped moving. I lay there a while with the bottle still inside me then eased it out and rinsed it off in the kitchen sink and set it back in the closet and reminded myself to say “pantry” instead.
          Earlier I’d brought over a bottle of shampoo and a bar of soap and hung a shower curtain I’d picked up on sale at K’Mart. I already had a shower curtain, of course, but I didn’t want that shower curtain anymore. It was faded and had mold growing on the bottom and this shower curtain was new and had the words ‘mold resistant’ written in big block letters across the packaging. I set my clothes on the bathroom counter and acknowledged my body in the mirror and stepped into the tub. I closed the shower curtain around me and it smelled like plastic and not like mold like I was used to and the water was hot and came out strong and it was the best goddamn shower I’d taken in who knows how long and I knew I hadn’t made a mistake.
          I stood in the shower twenty minutes or so and then got out and put back on my clothes and shoved the key back down in my pocket and locked the door from the inside. I walked to the car and my hair was still wet and I could feel it stiffen in the cold. By now it was one in the morning and mine was the only car on the road. I drove cautiously, watching the speedometer the entire time, and turned off the headlights before pulling into the drive. The house was silent and I moved across the floor and up the stairs as gracefully as I knew how and climbed back in bed beside Eli and my head crunched against the pillowcase as I turned on my side and I closed my eyes but did not sleep.