The Woman You Don’t Expect

Elizabeth Kate Switaj

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The woman you don’t expect to leave your door unlocked, because no one but you and the leasing agent had the key, wears tall, slender heels. If they were Crocs or shredded boots discarded by the door, you wouldn’t see how her untucked blouse fluttered with her breath or how her body (tall, slender) curled itself into native indentations on the couch. A familiar scent? Is it her? Is it your favorite meal burping and steaming on the stove? So you say, maybe, this must be home.

But there are women who do not speak your language of meat, wheat, and veg. There are women who do not speak any tongue of kitchen and oven and pot and pan. The woman you don’t expect opens her eyes when you close yours and closes her eyes when you open yours. She dreams to balance your dreams: yes/no, no/yes, flying/falling, life/death. The breath you forget she inhales and presses against the retreat of your skin. Do you feel her when you find memory verdigrised on the street and declare the marks you can’t see the sign of a foreign mint?

For the flat-footed woman who speaks a language you don’t know, memory is memory. For her, you wouldn’t check your finger if you didn’t remember a wife. You wouldn’t tug the band over your swollen knuckles to check for an inscription for either of them. For the woman you don’t expect to leave your door unlocked, you’d test it with a kiss and call it nice to forget there ever was anything to remember. You’d call it trusting the present.

The woman you don’t expect on the train is always sitting next to you in her faux-leather flats. You don’t notice her face until one day she says, Come on, this is our stop. She’s short; she has a belly―not your child, not anybody’s child. Her nose is pierced instead of her ears, and she doesn’t wear lace beneath that oxford shirt. Your oxford shirt. Your mother’s pearl. In her nose. You keep asking how. Her hair is too short to be tossed. You keep asking how, as she undoes the buttons.

The woman you don’t expect to leave your door unlocked is asking where you’ve been. I’ve been waiting. Dinner’s on. The woman you don’t expect is writing you a poem. You chose before you met them, before you knew you liked the curve of a calf on tiptoe, the ghost of leather and the smell of blush.

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