I’m just appreciating what’s pleasing about Trent when it all goes wrong. He phones me, his voice less sweet and friendly than it was an hour ago. There’s a crackle of anxiety present now.
“Den…” he says.
After he’s spoken my name there is a sharp little silence. I break it with a sigh.
Trent has called me three or four times today already. He is working on his article but is afraid he’s going to miss the deadline. The pity word blows through me each time he rings. It’s my immediate reaction. My legs lurch forward as though they’ve been programmed to run to him. But wait a minute. Is this not the method he always uses to get people, by which I suppose I mean women, to do his bidding? He is writing a piece about myths and legends. I’m fully aware he wants me to go through the material on his desk but he doesn’t say this. He expects me to offer. Out of sympathy. We are lovers, after all. And once upon a time, fairy tale like, I would have. If I don’t help I will have been the cause of the suffering he is going through now. This is bad; it is more than bad. It’s unthinkable. In the once-upon-a-time way of seeing, I would have been a witch because I am responsible for his pain. And there are plenty more witch role models than assertive women in the stories, aren’t there.
“Den,” Trent goes. This time there’s a feeble whiny something in the way he says my name. “Do you want to come over?”
He makes it sound like an invitation. But his voice isn’t inviting in the least. Bitch is the put-down he’s throwing together behind the words. I can detect it. If I refuse, that is. Bitch not witch. This is the now-alternative. Dirty doglike but with very little power attached.
“I’d love to but I can’t today,” I tell him, hanging tightly on to whatever power I have. It isn’t much perhaps. There’s a distant urge in me to run to his rescue but, no. I stop myself. I’ve done this so many times before. Never getting so much as a thank you.
“I have to go now,” Trent tells me curtly. And I get the impression he’ll be phoning someone else. “Do you think I ought to ask Julie to give me a hand?” he says next minute, still on the line to stick the knife in. He digs in the reminder that he has others. I’m not the only one and I better believe it. He doesn’t say this but he might as well.
“Do what you have to do,” I tell Trent in a firm undaunted voice.
“Thanks,” he says, a cutting edge now sharpening his tone.
So yes, I’m a bitch pure and simple. There’s no supernatural side to me but you know what, I am big and bad enough to live with that. Less is more.
Jay Merill is published in Cheap Pop Lit, Entropy, Epiphany, Hobart, The Literateur, Matchbook, Prairie Schooner, SmokeLong Quarterly, Thrice Fiction, and Wigleaf. She is a current Write Well Award nominee, Pushcart Prize nominee, and winner of the Salt short story prize. She is the author of two collections published by Salt, God of the Pigeons and Astral Bodies.