Nothing Ever Happens and I’m Not Allowed to Tell
All the men in my life have problems that seem easy to fix, but none of them ever seem to fix them. I find it hard to empathize —at times.
“I wish we only had to see each other once a week,” Paul says. He’s complaining about his girlfriend. “Three times a week is doing my head in. What’s there to talk about?”
“Sounds like you don’t like her very much,” I say to Paul. He shakes his head like I’m pulling beliefs from nowhere. Paul’s girlfriend is a yoga instructor. There’s a photo of her on her Instagram doing a backbend that has over 3,000 likes.
“I think I hate editing,” he said to me once. He was working on a manuscript by a young speculative surrealist. “It’s just easy money now.”
“Perhaps you want to be a writer instead,” I said. I was in the habit of suggesting things to men. Aarav scoffed at the idea. He’d had a few things published but nothing for a couple of years. The one time we tried writing together, the blank Word document made him so nauseous he had to stop. He loved telling me his ideas— hated sitting behind the keyboard.
All the men in my life have problems that seem easy to fix, but none of them ever seem to fix them.
We broke up on a Tuesday at a vegan café off Brunswick.
“I need someone with more ambition,” he’d told me. “I want someone who’s going to challenge me, not just hold my hand.” Afterward, we paid separately. He took off on his bike, riding the wrong way down a side street.
“If you can’t talk to her, why are you dating her?” I ask Paul.
He pulls a face like the question is foolish, then tells me that he likes her.
“Sure.” I say. “What do you like about her?”
He pauses for a beat then flops back down on his bed. We always hang out in his room because it’s big and his sharehouse doesn’t have common areas. Even the living room is someone’s bedroom. I spend the night in Paul’s bed sometimes, but nothing ever happens and I’m not allowed to tell anyone about it anyway. The first time I stayed over, I told Aarav. He’d been upset until he and Paul talked about it. I suppose Paul’s girlfriend would feel the same.
“She’s cool,” he says, staring at the ceiling. “She lets me bounce ideas off her. She dabbles in poetry too, you know.”
“Everyone dabbles in poetry, Paul,” I say.
“Besides, her last few relationships were rough. I don’t want to be just another guy who dates her and leaves her.”
I tell Paul that the sentiment is nice, but he can’t date someone just to feel like a good guy. He’s not listening anymore. Men have a thing about ignoring me until they feel my ideas are their own. It’s easy to get them onside when they believe they’ve thought of something first.
I’d only met Paul’s girlfriend once at a party. She’d been nice enough. She was a few years younger than Paul and used to being the prettiest in a room. She’d dated a couple other poets and one musician. The musician was another friend of mine and a real dud. It was easy not to sleep with my male friends, with the stories I’d heard.
She found me in line for the bathroom and said, “You’re mates with Paul, right?”
I shrugged, told her I was, and tried not to make a big deal of it. My head pounded with everything Paul had told me about her. She smiled, said she was glad to meet me, and that she’d heard so much about me. Later, Paul would tell me she found me cold.
On the walk home from that party, Aarav told me that something happened while Paul’s girlfriend and I were talking, and he wasn’t sure what to think. Aarav said Paul had shown him a Polaroid of his girlfriend in only her underwear. I imagined my own body held up like a trading card. It didn’t feel real.
I was in the habit of suggesting things to men. […] He loved telling me his ideas— hated sitting behind the keyboard.
“Maybe it was artistic,” I said. I was always looking for the best in men. “She probably knows about it.”
Aarav shrugged. I could tell he wasn’t convinced. Later, after the breakup, I asked him if he had any photos of me like that. He scrunched up his face like I was foul for even asking. Perhaps I was—I can’t remember him taking a photo like that, can’t remember anyone. It was wrong to wish he had.
“This might sound cooked,” I tell Paul with a serious look, “But your girlfriend is very pretty.”
“Thanks,” says Paul.
“No—I mean,” I pause. I don’t have the words and I’m not sure if I’m right anyway. “I mean. It wouldn’t be often that someone would turn her down. If that makes sense. It’s not like she can really filter out people who aren’t interested in her, because even people who aren’t interested in her are still, well, interested in her.”
Paul scoffs, “A real hardship.”
“I just mean—if you’re not really interested in her you should tell her that. It’s not fair if she keeps dating guys who don’t really like her as a person.”
Paul sits up in bed and turns his body away from me. “Of course I like her,” he says. “I’m not like that. I’m not just sleeping with her because she’s hot.”
I look out the window. The trees are dark and barren. The days are getting shorter and I’m starting to feel cold. The last time I’d fought with Paul about women, it had been autumn. The leaves were starting to fall, and I’d gotten so worked up I’d started to cry. It was a mess how quickly I could undermine myself with tears.
The leaves were starting to fall, and I’d gotten so worked up I’d started to cry. It was a mess how quickly I could undermine myself with tears.
“You’re right,” I say. I’d struck a nerve and wanted nothing more than to roll over and play dead. “I don’t know your relationship. It’s not fair to presume.”
“No, it’s not,” says Paul. He stands and walks to his laptop to put some music on. “Let’s not talk about it,” he says. “C’mon, we’ll order some wine and hang. Red or white?”
“Can’t. I drove.”
Paul shrugs a shoulder like whatever and tells me I can crash there. I know his girlfriend would hate that, but I also know we’ll never tell. I remember the last time—his hand on my belly, his tongue against my thigh. It’s nothing, I remind myself. A fat little bird lands on the tree outside, shivering in the winter cold. I’m done putting up a fight.
“Okay,” I say to Paul, and let him choose the wine.
Publab Fellow 2023
Emma Hardy is an Australian writer. Her work has been featured in Guernica, The Monthly, The Lifted Brow, and Going Down Swinging, among other publications. She’s currently based in Las Vegas. You can find her on social media as @emahrdy.
Originally Sekiguchi Shinsuke, the Edo-period artist adopted the name Torii Kiyonaga upon joining the Torii school of ukiyo-e painting and printing. This print depicts the titular author of the Tale of Genji.