art by Alan Bao
by Brooke Juliet Wonders
I'm training my replacement. Things I know about you that he'll need to know: You like your cappuccino made with skim milk, with a chocolate cookie on the side (you call it your morning defeats the purpose). You like sex with the lights off, high thread-count sheets, and your favorite color is blue.
I show him where the spices are kept, the way they're not alphabetized but rather organized according to frequency of use: lemon pepper, thai spice, thyme toward the front; salt, cinnamon, turmeric to the back. He nods absently through my explanation, his eyes drifting toward the basketball game blaring on the TV, and I check out the muscles under his muscle shirt and try to see what you see in him. When you come through the front door, just off work, you're graceful and elegant even with your brown hair fallen down around your face (is that what I'm supposed to think?), and his eyes unfocus as he looks at you. I wonder, when mine do that, if I mean it.
Today I trained him on the answering machine, taping over our old message.
"Hi, this is Jenny."
"And this is her live-in sexual companion."
"We're not in right now, but you can leave a witticism for us after the beep."
Your friends left some good stuff after that beep. I know, because I could tell your real laughter from your fake laughter, the difference between them and me. Maybe that's why he's replacing me. He refused to leave a message, even after I'd erased us. I set it up so a neutral machine voice answers your missed calls now.
Mr. Jenny is what the kids at school call me. You loan me out to the nearby elementary school as a substitute teacher, five days a week while you're at work, and I mostly hang out in the special ed classroom. It's a job I love. There's Kara, who has Down Syndrome and drinks whole containers of gravy for breakfast; and Vincent, who loves screaming obscenities and falling down laughter; and David, who hates crowds larger than two. None of them ever throw spitwads at me, or do the robot, or try to get me to cry--which I've never done. I'm not sure if I can.
I didn't see it coming, when you said "we're through. I'm tired of your shut downs, your passive aggression, the monotony of us. I'd like you to meet John." My replacement. I remember your words precisely. I'd had some hope you were joking, that this wasn't really the end, until you introduced me to him.
"John's a musician. He works nightshifts at the Quickiemart, so you'll mostly be training him during the day, when I'm at work." Your voice imperious.
He held out a sweaty hand, and I shook it, but I couldn't take my eyes off of you in your corporate suit. God, I love your corporate suit, your sleeked-back hair, the way you button your sleeves and roll your collar with precision. One of the first things you ever said to me: "I play by the rules; I don't need to advertise cleavage to sell advertising," your diction clipped. I never knew what you did at work, not really, and I'd have waking nightmares of executives slowly unbuttoning each pearlized button of your blouse, if they were male whispering, "I want you," and if female, "When did you know? You liked girls, I mean?"
John doesn't make you coffee like I would, and he doesn't respond well to criticism. I saw him mix the last bit of your espresso grounds in with the Walmart-brand coffee he prefers, and he let us run out of chocolate cookies. Sometimes when you forget to turn me off (you've been forgetting more often lately), I'll watch the two of you sleeping together, his huge hands and strange proportions, you tiny and collapsible. With him, you leave the lights on.
I never expected this. If I'd known, I could have gone back to school--maybe tried for a teaching certificate, done something with my... life? May I call it that? We could have adopted a baby, gotten a dog. What about the plush bathrobes, his and hers, and the monogrammed towels in navy? What about the crumpled bedsheets? Who will make the bed? I tried to teach him hospital corners, but he's hopeless. You were standing right there, and I thought you'd say something, because he was so clearly hopeless at the folding and tucking. But instead, right in front of me, he said:
"I'm not doing this. My feet need to breathe. How else can I wrap myself around you, if I'm all restricted?" And he grinned at you, a dopey, disgusting, sexual grin, and you smiled back. At that point I knew I was done training him.