Albert is detoxing again.
“Like a cleanse?” my coworker Vanessa asks when I tell her that this is why we can’t join her and her partner for brunch this weekend.
We step onto the Manhattan-bound C train. “Yes,” I reply, meaning no.
Vanessa is the dance teacher at the school where we work. She tells me about manuka honey and braces herself against the subway pole to show me some stretches, immune to the stares of other commuters. I hold up my end of the conversation until I get off at 125th Street, where I go to the carnecería and buy Albert two pounds of ground beef and a cow liver.
I let myself into Albert’s building and walk up the narrow staircase to his fourth-floor apartment. I undo the padlock, slide open the metal door that covers his mail slot, and push the meat into the darkened apartment. The liver squelches and slaps against the floor. Albert groans from inside.
The liver squelches and slaps against the floor. Albert groans from inside.
“I love you, honey,” I say through the mail slot. I speak softly in case he’s groaning in his sleep; Albert tries to sleep through as much of his detoxes as possible and I’d hate to wake him.
I’m scrubbing my hands with baby wipes and hand sanitizer by the trash bins outside when I hear, “Hey, Celia!” It’s Ignacio, Albert’s downstairs neighbor, splitting a beer with his wife, Delores, on the fire escape.
“Hey,” I wave, still holding a pinkened baby wipe in my fist, “what’s good?”
Ignacio points upward. “Is Albert being all, you know,” he bares his teeth and curls his fingers. Delores glares at him, but he’s too busy pretending to growl to notice.
“Yep,” I toss the wipes into the trash, “it’s that time again.”
“Is Albert being all, you know,” he bares his teeth and curls his fingers.
I hear Delores chastising him when I leave, but Ignacio gets it; his father was like Albert in this way. When Albert went through his first detox after moving to the city, Ignacio helped him soundproof his living room.
Albert’s condition keeps us from living together because he’d want the privacy of a basement, but I stay with him more often than not. After three years together, my tiny studio on West 131st feels more like a hotel room than home, and I behave accordingly. I wear pajamas that I’ve had since undergrad (once lavender, now gray, with threadbare patches along my thighs and a rip across my left butt cheek), eat delivery in bed, watch movies of questionable cultural edification, and play the horror video games my students are obsessed with using Wi-Fi I steal from the bodega below me but probably pay for in breakfast sandwiches. It isn’t that I can’t do these things around Albert, but they would cause him to kiss my forehead and say, “Oh, you silly girl,” before turning back to Baudelaire or writing in loopy script in his notebook, and then I’d be reminded that working on my novel might be a more responsible use of time than fucking up zombies on my laptop.
Working on my novel might be a more responsible use of time than fucking up zombies on my laptop.
Albert is a poet, but he’s not obnoxious about it. If you ask him what he does, he’ll tell you about his adjunct position teaching creative writing. His poetry has gained some notoriety in recent years, but he never talks about his “craft,” and he drags his feet when he’s asked to do a reading. “I wish you could read it for me,” he’ll say, burying his face in the cloud of my curly hair. Whenever he’s published or profiled by a journal, it’s me who brags on social media and sends a copy to his mother.
Albert was one of four men in our graduate cohort of thirty. He would have been a hot commodity even if he weren’t tall and raven-haired with a dimpled smile and thick eyelashes. For two semesters, I watched him gently turn down our classmates’ invitations for coffee, noticed their longing gazes at his empty desk when he was out sick, heard their concerned cooing when he returned from his bouts with illness looking exhausted.
Albert approached me after I dressed down a member of a group project who contributed nothing to our presentation until he cried and then did the same to the professor who told me to calm down. I half-expected him to scold me, but instead he asked me if I wanted to go to the Hungarian pastry shop. He reached over a plate of rugelach and wrapped his long fingers around my short ones, then kissed them.
When we went back to his apartment, I barely noticed his unfurnished vinyl-lined living room or the pills on his dresser
When we went back to his apartment, I barely noticed his unfurnished vinyl-lined living room or the pills on his dresser.
The week before Albert’s first detox since we had become a couple, he was always tired even though he started sleeping more. His eyes were bloodshot and yellow, his skin pale, the hair at his temples white. He also was just a little bit irritable, which, for him, was his most unusual symptom. He told me about how his tolerance for the pills rises until they stop working, how he has to detox from them for a couple days every few months so they will work again, that detoxing is painful and ugly and he didn’t want me to ever see him go through it.
Nine months into our relationship, meat duties were transferred from Ignacio to me. I would close my eyes and toss ham hocks and chuck steak in from the doorway; we installed the mail slot after a pigeon flew in and cleanup was a bitch.
We installed the mail slot after a pigeon flew in and cleanup was a bitch.
Doctors in Scandinavia have created an experimental treatment that may cure Albert and people like him, but we don’t have Scandinavia money; we don’t even have basement money.
My buzzer goes off and I leap from the bed, convinced the haunted doll I’m looking for in a jumpscare-heavy trek through an abandoned house has come for me, but it’s Seamless with empanadas. By the time I pay, open a beer, and get back into bed, I’m dead at the hands of some demon. I curse the game’s lack of a pause button, consider watching the movie where the main character falls in love with the escort pretending to be her boyfriend at her sister’s wedding, and then decide to write. I type with one hand and dip empanadas into green sauce with the other, careful not to drip on my keyboard.
On the way home from work, Vanessa asks me how Albert liked the honey and I tell her it was great. At the butcher’s, I ask him to cut two pounds of corned beef into mail slot-sized pieces.
At the butcher’s, I ask him to cut two pounds of corned beef into mail slot-sized pieces.
I open the slot and Albert’s voice comes out. “Come in,” he says, “I’m all done.” I do and there he is in a viscera-stained undershirt and boxers, wiping down meat-splattered walls.
I hold my nose and wave at the air around me. “Need a hand?”
“If you don’t mind. What’s for dinner?”
“Corned beef for days. I think we have pickles.”
“Thanks, baby. I’ll make sandwiches.” He moves to embrace me.
“Wait, let me get out of my work clothes.”
We clean blood off the walls in our underwear, smiling and sneaking kisses as we do.
Corinne Elizabeth Cox is a writer, teacher, and expatriate. She currently lives in Yangon, Myanmar.
Designed by Meghan Murphy.