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.