Anna Tomasulo
SMALL WORDS

We sit at the bar. Our glasses sit at the bar. He and I sat first and they followed. Something about the night makes me want to talk. So, talk I do, about other hes and hims. There are times when I start to talk and I think the words aren’t welcome but I say them anyway. It’s not always clear what is only my fear and what others can welcome or bear.

I find myself walking on a sandy path. I don’t tell him this—I just need something, someplace to get me started. Students outside. Soccer balls and feet in too deep sand. Their legs must be so strong, firm among the shifting grains. Sand in blurry circles around their knees, stuck to the sweat. I’m walking to a room.

The story I tell begins on a mat on the floor. When he—another he from another time—moves, I see the single fluorescent light that hangs near the door. The light makes him a shadow over me. The mat covers a small bit of floor between the bed and the desk. The walls are bare and the room is small. What can happen in this room? Study. Sleep. And on the mat? But I leave the mat behind because my brain is like kernels popping over heat. Spurts of incomplete thoughts, of almost questions. The brain goes fast and the body goes slack and the mouth forgets that it can open to let all the words out. Or maybe it doesn’t forget but it is conflicted. The mouth waits for instruction but the brain can’t find the right words among the pop pop pop, isn’t sure quite how to paint them softly enough. No, thank you. No. What? Nothing.

He walks me back to my dorm on the sandy path. It is hot. I don’t think it, the air, knows what it is, what time it inhabits. Late night early morning dark limbo. A nothing time. Once, he told me the djinn come out at night. He is walking me to my room because of the djinn, I think. It doesn’t matter that he walks with me—we are both there for the taking, with gasps of sand at the heels of our feet and streetlights on the crowns of our heads. I feel words on the tip of his tongue, but this time, it is he who can’t find the right words, so he says nothing.

I shower alone and the cold water tickles my skin. Five minutes. Twelve minutes. More. I stay until I am numb. What starts as droplets gathers in my hair and moves down my back like streams, like ice rivers. Arms hug knees and I don’t let my bottom touch the floor because I know that the roaches come up from the drains.

If I move the glass, there will be a ring of perspiration on the counter, a mark where the glass had lingered for the duration of my story. Even though the glass is full and sweating, waiting to be emptied, it is time to leave because he—he who is at this bar with these drinks—is shaking. To tell him this story, about not finding words, I used other words, words that were hardly mine, words used by those others and them others to describe something that happened. They are the same words strung together in the same way by so many because no words are right to capture that essential thing you are trying to capture. No words are right to capture our bodies in a tangle of confusion and heat and damaged trust and new friendship on a mat on a floor in a cement block dorm on a sandy campus on a spring night in a country across the ocean.

There is something sad about the full glass, left on the bar. I look forward to him, walking in front of me. He walks firmly, certain of his place, certain of what is right of what is wrong. His body taut, blood pulsing. I can hear it pump pump pump. And it’s magic, in a way, that these failed words could charge a body, could abandon a bar, could tie a tongue. How did they do this, these small words? How did they make his body shake so when they were used to tell a story about mine? I don’t know why I am walking alone.


Anna TomasuloAnna Tomasulo lives with her partner and their dog in New England, where she has spent most of her adult life. This is Anna Tomasulo’s first published piece of flash nonfiction.

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