Do You Have a Place For Me by Roxane Gay


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Do You Have a Place For Me by Roxane Gay


For her

We will meet even though we shouldn't. You steal away from yours and I will steal away from mine, not forever, not even for long and not for long enough. Halfway between you and me is a long ways away but there is a small town where we will not be seen, where we will hide in plain sight, where we will be strangers until we're not.
     We will find a motel, cheap but clean. In our room, there will be one bed, not very comfortable. We won't care. We will get ice from the ice machine in a bucket lined with a plastic bag. Also in the room, a wooden table, two chairs. We will sit and stare at each other, say nervous silly things, swallow the things that scare us.
     We will walk through the small town, looking for something to do. An old man at a gas station who will still pump your gas for you will say it's the hottest summer on record. We're in t-shirts and shorts and flip flops and we don't care about anyone seeing our thighs and we will shine with sweat. The old man will wipe his hands with a greasy towel he leaves tucked between his belt and his workpants. He will smile at us, suck his teeth, offer us cold sweaty bottles of soda and say dirty old man things. We will thank him for the weather report, decline the kind offer and be on our way. He will whistle high and long while watching us walk away.
     We will find a watering hole with what we call "personality," populated by people we don't know who are well acquainted with just how to hunch their bodies over the bar nursing the same watery drink hour after hour, singing each other the same sad songs. We will sit in a sticky booth at a table covered in strange markings and indentations, hastily written poems about hot motherfuckers and dirty bitches and girls named Shannon who are easy. We will eat French fries so hot little puffs of steam fill our mouths with each bite and greasy hamburgers congealed together with cheese that make our fingers slick and salty. We will complain about our diets and how we're ignoring them and how we're going to have to make amends with ourselves when we return to those from whom we have stolen away.
     A young guy with lean, dark features will buy us drinks, lots of drinks, and sit with us, on my side of the booth and we'll stare at each other as he tries to charm us with lines we didn't fall for fifteen years ago and lines we won't fall for now because we already have men who make us plenty happy and other men we would choose before he ever crossed our minds. I will cross my legs beneath the table and you will tap your toes against my knee and that will feel so good, better than I will ever be able to tell you. I will reach under the table. I will reach for some part of you. You will find my hand with yours. I will nod and chew on gin-soaked ice cubes. We will go to the bathroom and hide in a stall, and I will grab you by the waist and pull you against me and I won't think, I'll just feel your body pressed against mine and we'll kiss sloppy and awkward until we can't breathe and the walls feel like they're pressing in on us and all I can hear is a high-pitched ringing as the whole world tilts. I will leave first, try to straighten my clothes, get it together, but I'll still feel you on my skin. We'll sit back down in our booth and we'll continue to stare at each other and drink, more, faster, and I'll chew on more gin-soaked ice cubes, bite down on the glass rim. Much later, we will tell the young man thank you when he compliments us and no thank you when he asks for our numbers and he will sulk away. When your favorite song comes on, you'll pull me to my feet and we'll dance next to our table with our hands in the air. We will be bright lights and spectacle. I will think these are those better days.
     As we're leaving, dizzy, our teeth numb, we will see the young guy standing outside the bar, smoking. He'll remind us that his name is Keith. He'll offer us cigarettes and we'll take them and when the smoke burns in our chests, we will sigh and fondly remember all the bad things we've ever done. He'll offer us a ride back to our motel and we'll say yes because we are together and we'll think that makes us safe. In the parking lot just outside our room, the three of us will sit in uncomfortable silence, and Keith will turn the radio off and turn to look at us in the back seat our fingertips touching. I'll feel a nervous rush just beneath my breastbone and you'll be the brave one. You'll invite him into our room so it's easier for us to do what we really want to do. He will be a safe distance between us because we're not that way except when we are. We will sit on the edge of the bed and drink booze from little bottles over ice in plastic cups and we will make him dance for us to scratchy music coming from the clock radio. We will laugh at the impossibility of everything.
     We will be drunk but not as drunk as we're pretending to be. We will jump up and go study the air conditioning unit carefully, hoping our scrutiny will bring air that is cold and clean. You will throw yourself on the bed and you will laugh, lie there with your arms flung over your head. Your shirt will ride up and I will look at your stomach, bare, tan and smooth. The tip of my tongue will tingle. I will not want to breathe, to disturb the air in the room, the moment. I will want Keith to leave and you will want Keith to leave. We are not cheaters, not you and I. We will tell him it has been fun and he'll clench his fingers into tight fists and glower at us but he'll leave and then we'll be alone. This time we will both be brave. I will lie next to you and I will touch you everywhere and my hands, they will burn. I will say you are perfect exactly as you are and we will forget all these impossible things. When we kiss I will want to cry and you will say, I want to cry and I will not know where I end and you begin. You will press your open lips against my neck and I will feel the warmth of your breath and my body will be damp and loose. Even though we are not this way we will know what to do and where to touch and my hands will be strong when you need and gentle where you want. I know how to break things and you know how to put me back together. Much later, when we are sore and silent; satisfied and no longer strangers, we will whisper words that look a lot like love. We will pretend our whole world is in this motel room. We will always be like this.
     There will be a moment during this time that is something but not enough, these few stolen days, and it will surprise us both, when we are sitting, talking, trying to make the most of every second and minute before we steal back to our lives. You will lift your shirt over your head and you will be naked underneath. My cheeks will warm and I will look away until you gently take hold of my chin, until you tell me to look, to see, to watch. You will open your chest, and show me your heart and I will see the hollow empty spaces and I will fill them with breath. I will sew the slices with my hair. You will remove one of your ribs, slick with blood but bright white beneath. I will open my chest and show you my heart, how it is swollen and sore, beating slower than it should when we are apart. You'll trace each ventricle and my heart will pulse faster, faster, faster. I'll remove one of my ribs, also slick, curved and we'll trade, holding our breath as we slide into each other's bodies. We will sigh when our ribs fall into place with a satisfying click. Too soon, we will steal back to our lives. We will fall back into our proper places. We will be happy. We will wait until we can steal away again and when we talk, we will always ask, "Do you have a place for me?" and wait, nervously, hopefully, for the answer.

(The story was inspired in part by a poem by the same name written by xTx.)

Roxane Gay's writing appears or is forthcoming in Mid-American Review, McSweeney's (online), Annalemma, Gargoyle, Hobart and others. She is the co-editor of PANK and can be found online at