Devotions

Fiction / Calvin Gimpelevich

:: Devotions ::

Made­line had two lovers. Judith fixed com­put­ers for work and played soc­cer. She was big-hipped and ath­let­ic and slim, with long hair that peo­ple remem­bered as being cut short or tied in a cap, despite its being worn down. Antho­ny had tight curls shorn close to the scalp and worked as an ambu­lance dri­ver, lift­ing peo­ple in and out of the cab. His shifts changed week­ly, some­times giv­ing night hours, some­times start­ing mid­day. On meet­ing, the two did not like each oth­er. She called them Tony and Jude.  

In the ear­ly days, they fought and sab­o­taged one anoth­er, Jude insist­ing that only a woman could pro­vide the inti­ma­cy she required, while Tony argued that Made­line need­ed com­ple­ment, bal­ance: a man. Both viewed her as hav­ing the soft­ness of anoth­er era, yield­ing and gen­tle, in need of their pro­tec­tion. In con­flict she did not fight but stub­born­ly went her own way, wear­ing her lovers as water carves its own banks. She saw her­self as a per­son formed by con­straint, like a bal­le­ri­na or a plant forced to unnat­ur­al shape. She had a good fam­i­ly, who had bent her to good­ness as well. From unruly girl­hood they extract­ed every­thing but man­ners and blush­ing kind­ness. As an adult, she taught chil­dren and was beloved by them. Her part­ners stored the defi­ance and anger that she did not allow her­self to have.  

Even­tu­al­ly, they grew used to each oth­er. Jude refur­bished Tony’s com­put­er; Tony moved couch­es as Jude refin­ished her place. Made­line and Tony drank beers and cheered at Jude’s soc­cer games. Made­line refused to live with either of them and kept an apart­ment alone. Both part­ners secret­ly imag­ined the tri­ad (or them­selves with Made­line singly) even­tu­al­ly form­ing a home. They joked that, with sci­ence, Made­line could take Tony’s sperm and Jude’s ova to car­ry a baby from each of them, but Made­line did not want chil­dren. Every year she had class­rooms full of them.

Made­line had one oth­er suit­or, this one attached to her work. Bri­an worked in the office and, when she was hired, made his inten­tions abun­dant­ly clear. Some­how, at some point, he learned of the tri­ad, after which he ref­er­enced her home life con­stant­ly, sur­rep­ti­tious­ly. He thought that if she slept with two oth­ers, she should sleep with him too. Being dou­bly part­nered had turned and made her sin­gle again—he was insult­ed that she did not like him. At the office, her files were lost; if she need­ed assign­ments copied, the print­ing would not appear. Inevitably, at meet­ings, he blocked her path with his chair. These inci­dents came with­out obvi­ous mal­ice, seem­ing, at worst, from the out­side, like care­less­ness, like some­thing formed in her head. She did not know how to address the deni­able series, let alone dis­ci­pline him. The only proofs were emo­tion, her own, and the hos­til­i­ty chim­ing off him.  

The school year went by in a fog of chalk dust and gram­mar, of chil­dren remind­ed to push in small chairs. Leaves turned and fell, and their build­ing trans­formed to a cor­nu­copia of sug­ar as the hol­i­days approached. Paper snowflakes cov­ered the win­dows; par­ents brought cook­ies, cup­cakes, gift cards for the teach­ers to vis­it cafés. Made­line grad­ed papers, look­ing to the long break.  

After the last day, she went home and show­ered and changed. The staff par­ty was held at the man­sion owned by their prin­ci­pal, who was wealthy and worked with­out pay. A few hours in, some of her col­leagues were so drunk they were doing impres­sions of dif­fi­cult par­ents and kids. Most had brought part­ners and spous­es, but Made­line hadn’t intro­duced either of hers to any of them. The punch was too strong; she had not felt well before com­ing, and now she was dizzy and sick. Win­ter brought children’s snif­fles. She feared com­ing down with some­thing. She wan­dered, look­ing for some­where to sit and be qui­et, but the man­sion seemed to grow before her, going in cir­cles, lead­ing to the main par­ty again. The walls had dark wood­en pan­els, match­ing the ceil­ing, enclos­ing the space. A huge win­dow reflect­ed and dou­bled the par­ty with­in. Guests jug­gled cheeses and fat­ty salmon with drinks. Beyond their faces were lights set into the ground by the pool. Bri­an fol­lowed her, talk­ing, refill­ing her glass.  

The cup tast­ed like straight gin, but she was too drunk and ill-feel­ing to care. She excused her­self and stum­bled upstairs, found a bed, and real­ized he’d fol­lowed her in. He put his arm around her, and she pushed him away. Or intend­ed to push him away. The inten­tion and result were so clear she did not under­stand how she had got under him, how she had start­ed cry­ing, or how to escape. Every­where there were limbs, as if she were pinned by a mam­moth spi­der instead of a man. Quick­ly, both were half naked and he pushed him­self in. She couldn’t tell if she would black out or not, if she would remem­ber that it even happened—and, in fact, did not remem­ber any­thing but the begin­ning, how or when he had left. She woke, ashamed, some time after the par­ty, dressed, puked, and made an escape.  

At home, she swore to tell no one but con­fessed when Judith came over and real­ized that some­thing was wrong. Jude called Tony, who showed up with­in the hour, and the three sat in Madeline’s kitchen as the whole his­to­ry of Brian’s behav­ior became a cohe­sive sto­ry with the pre­vi­ous night as its goal, insults lead­ing to hor­ror, her lovers won­der­ing why they had not destroyed him before.  

That night, for the first time, they slept all togeth­er: Jude and Tony lay­ing as body­guards on either side of the bed. For the first time, they might have made love with each oth­er, to com­fort Made­line and secure their bond against the ter­ri­ble other—but it seemed impos­si­ble to touch the exhaust­ed woman, to do any­thing. Instead, in the morn­ing, the two got break­fast togeth­er, intend­ing to let her sleep in. It seemed clear that action was demand­ed and that the bur­den of it was on them. Made­line could not return to a work­place with Bri­an when the hol­i­days end­ed and school came again. Any jeal­ousy they had felt toward each oth­er flared and point­ed to the new man. Clos­er in hate than shared affec­tion, Jude and Tony brought food to the park, lay­ing out their options, their access, their friends. This was how the plot formed, on a bright winter’s day, hold­ing bagels, amidst birds and chil­dren shriek­ing in mit­tens, to bring the fire out of their hearts and into his home, while Made­line woke with her own thoughts, ten­der, won­der­ing why they had left her alone.





From the writer

:: Account ::

I was on my way to the Zen tem­ple when a seed plant­ed, and I spent the hour more focused on a blos­som­ing sto­ry than the in-out of my breath. I wrote a few notes against my bicy­cle before rid­ing home, woke think­ing of it, and took the morn­ing off to draft the full thing. My work is usu­al­ly slow and research-heavy. “Devo­tions” is one of the only things I’ve writ­ten with­out an out­line or plan.  

I could talk about queer com­mu­ni­ty, with its many rela­tion­ship struc­tures; about the seem­ing­ly infi­nite harass­ments that my inti­mates (and self) have expe­ri­enced at work; about gen­der, attrac­tion, pro­jec­tion, etc., or how I was read­ing Isaac Babel—but it seems mis­lead­ing. I don’t know why I wrote this, and at first I was embar­rassed to show any­one. 

 

Calvin Gim­pele­vich is the recip­i­ent of awards from Artist Trust, Jack Straw Cul­tur­al Cen­ter, and 4Culture, in addi­tion to res­i­den­cies through CODEX/Writer’s Block and the Kim­mel Hard­ing Nel­son Cen­ter for the Arts. A found­ing mem­ber of the Lion’s Main Art Col­lec­tive for Queer and Trans Artists, Calvin has orga­nized shows at venues and insti­tu­tions through­out Seat­tle. His short sto­ry col­lec­tion, Inva­sions (Instar Books, 2018), was a final­ist for the Lamb­da Lit­er­ary Awards.