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I Once Was

by Brianna Johnson

I don’t remember what she looked like when we met. I do remember it was raining, a light morning drizzle that made the sidewalks glitter. I remember she asked to come in. I don’t remember why I let her. 

I also don’t remember why I made her tea – hibiscus with honey. I told her it was my favorite. She said it was her favorite too. I told her how I liked it with a slice of pecan pie. She grabbed my arm, eyes wide, and said she did too. She asked me to make one. I don’t know why I did. 

Over plates of pie and ice cream, I told her how my favorite month was August, how I used to play the flute, and how birdsongs made me cry. “Me too,” she said, “Me too.” She was such a good listener. 

We talked until the pie was crumbs and the ice cream puddles. She asked me about my childhood. I told her about school days and Thanksgivings – how when I was seven a bottle of peach schnapps struck me over the eye. I never knew who threw it; my father and mother wouldn’t confess. I showed her the scar still faint on my forehead. She ran her fingers over the mark. I remember they were warm, almost burning to the touch. 

She lifted the hair from her face to reveal a similar, no, identical mark on her forehead. I told her everything from first loves to last heartbreaks, joys and jokes, questions and cares. We had so much in common. 

Our conversation carried on this way until my husband came home. I remember he looked beautiful, a fresh haircut and curl in his smile. We both stood when he entered the room. I smiled. She smiled too. I opened my arms to him. She did too. He hugged her first.  

The three of us moved to the living room. She asked about our life together, how we met and fell in love. He always liked to tell this story, the one where our eyes met across a crowded library floor. He got my attention with the book he was reading.

The Bluest Eye,” she said. She even smiled when she said it, the way I always did. 

“Exactly!” said my husband. 

I don’t know how she knew. She placed a hand on my husband’s knee.  

We recounted our life together from first date to wedding day to present. She took in every detail, her eyes wide and shining. She said we were beautiful. She squeezed my husband’s hand, the one I had been holding.  

We told her all the details of our love, our likes and dislikes, our quirks and kinks. She asked us how we fucked. My husband answered without pause. He told her every move and place and moment. How he liked me on my back with my legs over his shoulders. I told her I was flexible. “Me too,” she said, “Me too.” 

He told her about the last time and how he choked me with his belt. She nodded and smiled, knowing. I didn’t remember this. 

She asked if she could try it. I don’t remember why he let her. I don’t know why I didn’t stop them. 

I watched her wrap her legs around his head the way I did. She kissed his chest the way I did. I watched him loop his belt around her neck. I watched their muscles bulge and strain. Their movements, at first familiar, gradually became unknown. He never pulled my hair that way. My back never arched that way. He never bit my neck. 

When they finished I told them they were beautiful.  

She walked to the kitchen, naked, and brought back a pot of tea – hibiscus and honey. She served the tea on a platter I’d never seen before. My husband thanked her with a kiss. He called her “sweetie.”  She had a crescent scar on her right knee. I touched the matching one on mine.

She said she was cold. I stripped naked, then and there, and gave her my clothes. I don’t know why I did. We were the same size. She looked lovely in them, so lovely I wondered if they’d ever been mine. 

We sat and talked some more, a pleasant conversation, the type that fills empty air. My husband looked at the clock, “Wow, look at the time.” He yawned. 

She kissed me on both cheeks. She showed me to the door. A wave goodbye. She was such a charming host. 

I looked through the window, her window, at the scene. A lovely woman draped across her husband’s lap. She ran her fingers through his hair. I knew it smelled like Irish Spring. They were young and in love, the way I used to be. 

I don’t remember when this happened. But, now I find myself outside a home, knocking on a door, waiting for my new life to begin. 

Brianna Johnson‘s stories have appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Gigantic Sequins, The Molotov Cocktail, Wigleaf, Kenyon Review, Obsidian: Literature & Arts, and elsewhere. An alum of the Tin House Summer Workshop, she is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee with work longlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50. An MFA graduate from The University of Tampa, she teaches college English in Orlando, FL.

Lead image: “Tea set” (via Flickr user Lummmy)