Browsing Tag

Melissa Martini

emotions, Fiction, Guest Posts

Cups of Murky Water

May 6, 2022
bridgette

Rosie was wrapped up in her blanket like a newborn baby being swaddled, laying in fetal position, her sandy tresses falling in messy waves against the couch cushions. Bridgette examined her girlfriend – beautiful, even when relaxing on a Sunday afternoon adorned by their dog, Lily. Bridgette found herself biting the skin around her fingernails again, Lily staring at her from atop Rosie, silent judgment in the dog’s eyes. Bridgette sent a glare at the powdered donut of a pup, who quietly whined in response.

Bridgette sat on the living room floor beside the couch Rosie lay on, coffee cup in one hand and cell phone in the other, knowing damn well if she tried to squeeze onto the couch with them she’d not only not fit, but also disturb the moment. Instead, she took a sip of coffee and raised her phone, steadying it so Rosie and Lily were both in the frame. As she tapped the screen to take the photo, a pop-up of “Storage Full” made her angrily place her mug on the floor a bit too haphazardly, coffee splashing out and staining the rug. She sighed, knowing it was about time to toss the rug anyway, the only piece of her ex-boyfriend Jamie still left in the apartment.

Glancing from her phone screen to the coffee stain and then back to Rosie, Bridgette noticed that Rosie seemed less saturated, like a faded painting, ever since they’d moved in together. They say if you leave out a photograph, the sunlight will ruin it, and something like that has happened to Rosie. She was still attractive, of course, but she wasn’t as new and exciting as she used to be, as if Bridgette was a child opening a gift from her parents on Christmas, playing with it non-stop for two weeks straight, and then growing bored of it but still forcing herself to play with it so that her parents wouldn’t feel like she didn’t like it anymore.

Bridgette found herself staring at Rosie, admiring her pale skin and pink accents. Her eyebrows were delicate and sparse, shades darker than the hair on her head; a limited edition porcelain doll, she looked unattainable, yet there she was, asleep in Bridgette’s living room, which had slowly been overrun by Rosie’s canvases and paints. Despite Bridgette not getting it at all, Rosie declared Bridgette her muse, a muse she always dreamed of and finally had.

Bridgette recalled the start of their relationship, Rosie asking Bridgette to pose for portraits and sketching her while they sipped coffee in the morning. For a while, Rosie’s presence made Bridgette feel beautiful for the first time in her life, but eventually that faded, too, Bridgette becoming hyper aware of the flaws Rosie painted into portraits like her freckles and bushy brows, all things Rosie claimed were quirks.

“Why don’t you just look in a mirror and use yourself as a model?” Bridgette inquired once, to which Rosie rolled her eyes.

Shifting her focus back to her phone, Bridgette groaned quietly, not wanting to wake Rosie up. Rosie’s naps were the only quiet moments Bridgette got anymore: all morning and all night, and most of the day, too, Rosie wanted to do nothing but lay around half-naked, talking and touching. Bridgette shifted in and out of the present moment, aching to get through the routine of it all.

Opening her Gallery to start deleting old photos, Bridgette stumbled upon a nude Rosie had sent her when they first started dating, something she was surprised hadn’t been deleted yet. Every time she saw it, she felt like shit about herself, which is probably why she kept it for so long – some sort of addiction to feeling bad.

This time was no exception: as she studied the photo and evaluated the shape of Rosie’s breasts and length of her legs, she looked down at her own body and sighed. She wore sweatshirts and sweatpants most days, while Rosie wore tiny tank tops and shorts even while snoozing underneath blankets right beside her.

They hadn’t had sex in weeks. Any time Rosie initiated things with Bridgette, she froze up: Rosie stripped down while Bridgette shut down, comparing every inch of their bodies. If Rosie pulled off Bridgette’s shirt at night, she flinched away, which usually ended with an argument and going to sleep without speaking.

Rosie’s routine was painful, uncomfortable, and left Bridgette wanting to rip her own skin off. Or maybe Rosie’s routine was just new and overwhelming to her – her entire life  had shifted like the seasons in such a short amount of time, her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Jamie, dissipating like a Lush bath bomb in a warm tub of water, a new one with Rosie being assembled like a clumsy toddler playing with building blocks.

How could Bridgette know what to expect? Bridgette may not have been Rosie’s first girlfriend, but Bridgette was a stranger to same sex relationships: she was used to being an average straight, ugly girl, having sex with straight, ugly guys. Now she was supposed to be something entirely new, putting on the performance of a lifetime for Rosie each and every day, who stared at her expectantly, as if she knew what the fuck she was doing.

Sometimes Bridgette missed the shitty sex she used to have with Jamie. There was no pressure with him – all she had to do was take off her shirt and he was satisfied, impressed even. They worked through the motions, him grunting and her sighing, ending things with hugs and kisses and hand holding even when Bridgette wanted to do nothing but stare at the ceiling until it was over with. She was allowed to be vacant. But with Rosie, she had to pay so much attention to the body in front of her or it would start questioning her, crying to her, doubting her – the same body that left her filled with self hatred.

Getting up, Bridgette walked past a frame on the wall that was filled with Post-it notes, tiny flowers painted on them in various colors and styles, which Rosie would create and stick to Bridgette’s things when they had painting class together back in college. The frame was obscured by light peeking into the bedroom window through blinds Rosie pulled down hours ago. All that was visible was the glare, a white wound slashed across the glass, as if someone took a sword to the flowers to chop them all in half. Bridgette knew they were whole, pieces of their friendship turned relationship, all glued together and sealed within a frame.

        Taking a seat at the kitchen table, Bridgette returned to her phone, her thumb hovering over Jamie’s name. She glanced into the living room at Rosie shamefully, as if she had already dialed. She hesitated for a moment, remembering Rosie might wake up at any second. Inevitably, though, she dialed. She picked and bit at the skin around her fingernails, knowing that if Jamie were there with her, he’d tell her to stop. When he answered the phone, she did stop, her nerves increasing and calming at the same time.

The conversation between her and Jamie was quiet and light, refreshing, almost, bringing Bridgette back to what once was – the moments she took for granted and let go of, or as Jamie put it, threw away, all in one night. The dog let out a high pitched bark and Bridgette’s chest pounded suddenly, eyes darting to the couch to only see the cloud of a dog moving around rather than a forlorn, expectant Rosie. Bridgette knew that if it had been Rosie, she’d have hounded out a “why did you leave me,” drowsy like a child waking late on a Sunday morning, even though Bridgette had only gone one room away.

“Was that a dog?” Jamie asked.

“Yes.”

“I always wanted a dog.”

“I know. Rosie wanted one, too.”

“You told me you didn’t want a dog yet. That we weren’t ready.”

“I know.”

Jamie hung up. Bridgette stared down at Lily, who had joined her in the kitchen, for a moment, unsure of where she had left to go or what she had left to do.

She heard rustling coming from the living room, Lily’s head snapping up and glancing towards Rosie. While Bridgette knew she needed to go amuse her waking girlfriend, it didn’t feel like much of a place to go. She headed back to the living room, leaving her phone on the kitchen table.

She joined Rosie on the couch, Rosie mumbling a “good morning” even though it was the late afternoon. When Bridgette didn’t immediately respond, Rosie parroted, “Hey, I said good morning.”

“Oh, sorry. Good morning.”

The painting class they met in was a required elective. Neither knew anyone else in the class, so they ended up sitting next to each other. While they sat far enough from one another that they weren’t bumping elbows or anything, Rosie’s thin frame seemed to hover in Bridgette’s peripheral vision. They couldn’t not notice each other, and they didn’t.

Rosie may have been the first to speak up, but Bridgette had been paying attention to her all through attendance and introductions. Bridgette noticed that while she had no experience holding a paintbrush, Rosie was well-practiced and comfortable in all things crafty. When, on the first day of class, each student was asked to design name tags using only an index card and acrylic paints, Rosie created an intricate piece of artwork in which the letter “I” within her name resembled a rose. As if Rosie hadn’t presented herself as corny enough already, she tacked onto it by turning to Bridgette and saying, “Isn’t it funny how my name is Rosie, but you’re the one with red hair?”

The joke was so unexpected, unprecedented, and utterly stupid that she wasn’t sure if Rosie was serious or not. Glancing over at Rosie’s name tag again, she realized she probably was serious and let out a forced laugh. It was like squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube – at first, there was nothing, and then an uncomfortable, awkward burst exploded out. Her cheeks burned as she shifted her attention back to the assignment at hand. But, inevitably, just as Bridgette ran out of room on her index card for the last three letters of her name, Rosie leaned over intimately, asking, “Is Bridge short for something?”

“Bridgette.” Bridgette shifted in her seat, trying to move away, but a pull in the air kept her secured in place. Or maybe it was just Rosie continuously leaning closer making her feel like she couldn’t seem to get away, and the scent of her bubblegum chapstick. Bridge wasn’t her nickname and never had been, but she didn’t know how to tell Georgia O’Keefe over here that she just had really bad judgment when it came to how much space she had left on her index card. Instead, she pretended that Bridge was in fact her nickname and allowed Rosie to call her that for the remainder of their relationship despite absolutely fucking hating it. Sometimes, it seemed like Rosie knew the truth and was doing it out of spite, a smirk creeping onto her face when she called out to Bridgette.

Not only did she lie about her nickname being Bridge, but she also lied every single time she laughed at one of Rosie’s stupid jokes. Rosie compulsively cracked jokes without any rhyme or reason. They spilled out of her mouth like an overflowing bathtub at the most inappropriate times and rarely stirred up any kind of genuine laughter from Bridgette, and yet she always laughed anyway: Rosie had an untouchable confidence in her jokes that made Bridgette feel obligated to laugh, too, because Rosie’s laugh was always this loud, contagious boom – not contagious like a disease, it was more of a force tugging, no, yanking at Bridgette,  commanding her.

There were things she just had to do for Rosie, laughing being one of them and allowing her to call her Bridge being another.

A couple weeks into that semester they first met, Bridgette found Rosie to be the kind of girl she tended to study on Instagram late at night when she felt bad about herself. That’s exactly what happened, too, after another evening of less than satisfactory sex with Jamie. She felt her body moving under the covers, but it was like it was on autopilot – not just that time they had sex, but each and every time for the last few months. In fact, she couldn’t remember a time that it wasn’t like that, but she knew in the back of her mind that it used to be good: it used to be beautiful, warm, exciting. The sweat dripping from his forehead sometimes got into her eyes, made them sting, but that was nothing compared to recycled lines and phrases from overdramatic porn. Did he think she didn’t realize he was just saying what he thought he was supposed to be saying? After a while, she started to block things out as he said them, focusing her attention on the ceiling behind him and just trying to get through it. A moan was a pretty good response to just about every single attempt at dirty talk he threw at her, so that’s what she stuck with. Plus, it helped get him done faster. A win-win situation for both of them.

After getting sex with Jamie over with, Bridgette rolled onto her side to face the wall. She saw him walking around the room, running his fingers through his mop of brunette curls, and turning on the air conditioner. Even though he wasn’t dark, his features were, so when he flicked the lamp off for the night, he seemed to disappear. Or maybe she just wanted him to. With her phone being the only source of light left, he lay down in bed next to her, big-spoon style, and peered over her shoulder. “What are you up to?”

This question was better than his usual “was that good for you?” because she was sick and tired of saying “yes” and not really meaning it. She much preferred him nosily peeking at her phone screen even though that was annoying, too. Bridgette was on Rosie’s Instagram, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. She typically did this after they had sex, feeling empty like someone had just removed all of her organs and resorting to staring at other women’s bodies just to feel. Occasionally, she opened one of Rosie’s photos to study, taking in each and every one of her features: her blonde, wavy hair; her Photoshop-blue eyes; her Kardashian-contoured nose that was natural, not contoured. Rolling over to face Jamie, she said, “This girl in my painting class is so pretty.” She turned the phone to him.

“You’re so pretty,” he said, as if on cue. He pulled her into a hug and fell asleep almost immediately, a pool of drool forming on the pillow in between them. This was the worst part about living with Jamie – not the sex, not the nosiness, not even the drool. It was the hugging. The feeling of her skin pressed against his skin made her cringe as she struggled to get free just so she could resort back to facing the wall and scrolling on her phone.

Before they moved in together, she melted into his arms like snow landing on not-cold-enough concrete, traced his features with her fingertips, and played with his rough hands. She often thought about home being a person, not a place – a sentiment she felt for the first time back when they initially started dating. And now that person was living in her place, and nothing felt like home at all.

Bridgette found herself looking forward to painting class more and more as the semester went on. By the end of the semester, Bridgette and Rosie were looking forward to graduating and assigned their final exam, which was nothing more than a portrait painting.

“Pick a partner and paint each other,” the professor announced, and Bridgette and Rosie immediately looked at each other and locked eyes. That is when Bridgette received her first Post-it note: a light pink square of paper with a red flower painted in the corner alongside Rosie’s address.

On a Sunday, Bridgette headed over with a pizza and a box of donuts. They spent the day talking and laughing over palettes of paint and cups of murky water, two canvases set up in front of them with barely any paint on them. Eventually Rosie grabbed a paintbrush and dipped it in red paint, smearing strands of hair down the canvas dramatically, a piece of pizza crust hanging lazily from her mouth. She glanced from her canvas to Bridgette, hunched over her paper plate and wiping crumbs from her face. “You are gorgeous, Bridge.”

“Me? Nah.” Realizing Rosie was assessing her, Bridgette sat up straight and patted her lips with a napkin. “You’re the gorgeous one.”

“If I’m so gorgeous, why’s your canvas still blank?” She pointed at the white space sitting in front of Bridgette with the tip of her paintbrush.

“Um, because I suck?” Bridgette laughed, picking up a pencil and sketching out an oval. “Not only am I ugly, I’m also wildly untalented!”

Rosie scoffed, tossing her brush aside and kneeling in front of Bridgette. “Are you kidding me? Get a load of these facial features. Bright red hair, a nose goddesses would die for, cheekbones that could cut a bitch…” Rosie traced Bridgette’s features slowly with her fingertips, running them down the bridge of her nose, through her hair, and finally gently cupping her cheeks. “Eyes like pools of…”

They sat in silence for a couple of seconds, inches apart and staring into each other’s eyes. “Pools of what?”

“Pools of… paint?” Rosie burst out laughing, and Bridgette compulsively did too, the two girls grabbing at each other’s arms and embracing as they giggled. Rosie pressed her lips against Bridgette’s, and by the time their canvases were covered, Bridgette was texting Jamie that she wouldn’t be home because a celebratory slumber party was in order since, you know, graduation and all.

Days sitting next to each other in class turned into slumber parties just about every weekend. The Post-it notes kept appearing when Bridgette least expected it – inside her notebooks, stuck to her backpack, one time Rosie even managed to sneak one into Bridgette’s pocket. The closer graduation crept, the more Post-It notes Bridgette found, until one finally read, “I want to paint you every night for the rest of my life.”

That night, Bridgette went home to Jamie and they had sex, made love, whatever, and she didn’t, not even for a second, think about Rosie or her body, how perfect it was in comparison to her own, how she could never even compare to a girl like her. The small of her back, the curve of her hips, the collarbone that often peeked out of her tank tops, and for the first time in weeks, maybe months, Bridgette felt something as she lay underneath Jamie.

Bridgette never intended to break up with Jamie, but there wasn’t really any other direction the conversation could go in. As the Post-it notes from Rosie started to include hearts alongside the flowers, Bridgette’s disinterest in Jamie grew – eventually, he noticed, and pried it out of her like a dentist prying out teeth.

They sat on the bed together one night after another empty session of sex, Bridgette holding a pillow in front of herself to cover her naked body. A soft white blanket lay across his lap, his chest caving as he hunched over, picking his own fingers more than she was for the first time. “What’s going on, Bridgette?”

“Nothing.”

“I know it’s not nothing. You’re not even there anymore.”

“What do you even mean? I’m sitting right here.”

“You’re here,” he gestured towards the body in front of him before motioning from her chest to his own, “but you’re not here.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry, just talk to me.” He gently cupped her shoulders, his hands warm against her skin. “Is there someone else?”

She squirmed out of his embrace, groaning. “Jamie, please.”

He seemed to deflate, as if her words were a pin and he was a balloon. After a moment, he got out of bed, quickly pulling on sweatpants and a tee shirt. “Who is he? What’s his name?” He paced back and forth the same way he usually did after sex, but now with more force, quicker and louder. No longer deflated, but instead filled with hot air like a hot air balloon. Bridgette felt herself shrinking into the bed, slowly grabbing a sweatshirt, desperate to disappear, the tables turned.

Her name is Rosie.”

He stopped in his tracks, turning to face her. His face twisted into confusion. “Rosie? Your friend from school?”

Bridgette felt the tears beginning to roll down her cheeks. “Mhm.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” He laughed quietly to himself, the disbelief hard to hide. “This is a joke, right?”

“No.”

“So all the sleepovers…?”

“Yeah.”

He scoffed loudly, grabbed his wallet and keys from the dresser, and pointed a finger at Bridgette. He opened his mouth to say something, paused, and sighed. He shook his head.

“What were you going to say?”

“I have nothing to say to you, Bridgette. There are so many things I could say to you, but I’m not going to waste my energy on someone who betrayed me.”

Bridgette cried and Jamie moved out, but she never went home to an empty bed: Rosie moved in shortly after the breakup, both girls graduating and starting their new life together outside of college. In an effort to make Rosie feel as welcome as possible in an apartment previously occupied by her ex-boyfriend, Bridgette decided to get artsy like her girlfriend and create a collage out of the Post-it notes. She framed it and hung it on the wall, the room where they spent most of their time, getting to know each other more and more.

Living with Rosie, Bridgette no longer needed to head to Instagram to compare herself to her girlfriend – all she needed to do was look towards the body next to her in bed or across from her at the dining room table during dinner. While Bridgette struggled to even take a selfie she didn’t hate, Rosie sent Bridgette everything from selfies to nudes to lewds throughout the day. At first they were treats that made her smile while at work, but they quickly became painful reminders that Bridgette was the ugly duckling in the relationship.

While Rosie was now awake, she still resorted to lounging on the couch, occasionally leaning against Bridgette or petting the dog. Whether she was resting her head on Bridgette’s shoulder, propping her feet up against Bridgette’s leg, or laying her head in Bridgette’s lap, their skin was touching and it reminded Bridgette of after sex cuddling with Jamie. She recoiled each time Rosie’s body made contact with hers.

When Rosie finally decided to get up after clinging to Bridgette for nearly the entire day, she pulled off her pajama shorts and replaced them with a pair of Bridgette’s jeans that were balled up in the corner. She looked amazing in them, and Bridgette felt something like attraction, but it was hard to differentiate it from the repulsion welling up inside her. She wanted to scream at Rosie, but how could she? Instead, she returned to her phone on the table while Rosie played with the puppy for a while before eventually joining Bridgette, leaning in to kiss her and touch her.

“What are you doing? We can’t now, the dog is here.”

“What are you talking about? The dog doesn’t care, come on.” Rosie pressed her body against hers, feeling her hands brush against her stomach. She flinched. The first time Rosie ever touched her, she was overwhelmed. When Jamie touched her, it was annoying, but she still felt something like safety in his arms: with Rosie, every single touch was an invasion of privacy, an unwelcome visitor breaking into her house.

“You just got dressed, Rosie,” Bridgette protested, pushing her off. The puppy yelped.

“So what?”

Bridgette couldn’t think of an answer.

“Is something, like, wrong? You never seem into it anymore. Like the vanilla sex you used to tell me you had with Jamie. Are you bored with me now?” Rosie suddenly slouched into herself, defeated.

Bridgette was tired of watching people crumble in front of her. The balloon popped again when Bridgette finally said: “I wish I had never met you. Then I’d still be straight.”

“What’s that even supposed to mean?” Rosie pushed Bridgette away, stumbling out of the bed. “Is that what this is all about? I didn’t convert you into a lesbian, it’s not a fucking religion, Bridgette. You were gay long before you met me.”

Rosie stared at Bridgette expectantly like a teacher waiting for a student to raise its hand, but Bridgette had nothing to say. No response, nothing.

Rosie left the room and rustled around the apartment for a while, but Bridgette didn’t get up until she heard the door slam shut. She found a Post-it note on the bed that said she’d be back to get her stuff later and that Bridgette shouldn’t be there for it.

The puppy zoomed through the apartment playing with a toy, sniffing around to find something, anything to eat. Bridgette tried calling Jamie again but he didn’t answer the phone this time.

Alone in the apartment, she took a bath. Cooked herself dinner. Fed the dog. They watched TV for a while, and she wondered why she didn’t get a dog sooner. What a companion – sitting there and being satisfied with everything and anything.

At the time that Rosie said she’d be back for her things, Bridgette stuck the Post-it note to the framed collage and took the dog for a walk.

When she got back, Rosie’s canvases were gone.

Melissa Martini currently serves as Founder & EIC of Moss Puppy Magazine, as well as Prose Reader, Prose Chapbook Editor, and Newsletter Creator for the winnow magazine. She received her Master’s degree in English with a focus in Creative Writing from Seton Hall University where she also served as editor for the literary magazine, The Corner Pocket. Melissa can be followed online here.

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Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change