The People of My Earth

My boyfriend didn’t ever want to hangout with me, so I joined a writing group. We met three times a week. Everyone brought 1,500 words and we used colored stones to denote the groups. I brought stories about my brother and our fucked up childhood. I wasn’t speaking to him at the time and writing about him seemed like a good way to try and figure things out. But I refused to give any self-reflection, which is what the group said they really wanted more of. I always smoked before even though I didn’t really smoke. I wanted people to think I did so I actually had to buy a pack and light up each time. I stood in front of the coffee shop where we all met and wanted so badly for someone from the group to tell me to quit. That would have made my life. Someone telling me to quit. But no one ever did.

The other writers brought all sorts of stories; fictions about high school kids or vampires or the end of the world. Trevor was the leader. He liked to write about what would happen if the people of Earth had to move to another planet, and he liked to drink chai tea and his breath always smelled like bitter herbs, which made me think of Passover and using my pinky finger to draw salt tears on the tablecloth. I’m pretty sure Trevor was in love with me. He always wanted to read my work, even when we got separated by the stones and asked me to read the extra copy of his piece that he had brought for me. He had a picture of me on his phone. I wasn’t sure how he got it since I didn’t have any social media accounts. He said it was from online but I didn’t know where.

He didn’t like Davie who started showing up a few months after I started coming. He was actually a good writer, better than anyone else in the group, and some of his stuff was actually published. He wrote about boys in insane asylums and there was one story about a farm or something, or a horse on a farm. I thought the horse would die but it didn’t. That’s how it usually goes, the horse needs to be shot, the farmer needs to kill what he’s raised, the children are sad. It was more about the daughter. Maybe the daughter died. It was intense and good.

I sat next to him when he came to workshop and we fixed the stones so that we always ended up in the same group. We didn’t have to actually show our colors, we just had to say what it was. Sometimes the groups ended up uneven and we just shrugged but everyone probably knew. No one was that stupid. I liked to sit next to him and draw on his paper while he read. He took more time than me on the comments we were supposed to give. I ate lollipops and tried to distract him and it worked. It always worked. He never got the feedback he wanted though and said he wanted to quit. I knew this because I contacted him and we exchanged emails every day, sometimes more than once a day. Then we had phone calls. I would lie in my closet on the floor and listen to him tell me why he wanted to move to Singapore. He was forty and I was twenty-three.

The first time we met outside workshop was for drinks. I had posed it as getting to know more about publishing. I wore a really sexy dress and he said I looked nice. I knew that wasn’t the word he wanted to use but that’s what he said. He asked if I knew that Beth from workshop had cancer. I did know but I didn’t know what he wanted me to say. Beth wrote about cats and was the one who convinced me to go to graduate school. Her cats traversed space and time and showed up in various forms speaking to each other as if human. Her work was always printed on the back of other papers from where she worked at the university. I imagined her writing and not paying attention to the blood that she coughed up at her desk.

My boyfriend called during our conversation and I wanted to leave but I didn’t want to be rude. Davie said I could come back to his place. He had more beer, cheaper, but more of it, and said I could stay if I got too drunk. But I went to my boyfriend’s house and didn’t tell him where I had been all night and why I didn’t answer the calls. When I got there I wanted to talk about something serious, something important, but he didn’t want that. He didn’t really like me that much and wanted to play a game on his computer. In the game, he was a little green elf with a sword and he was looking for elixir to make everything better. He yelled at the screen. He couldn’t figure out how to make his avatar do a special trick, a cheat in the game to get more coins or fairy dust or something and I fell asleep to the sound of magical chimes and my boyfriend cursing under his breath.

Davie took me to a museum once and I could smell the alcohol on his breath when I got in his car. The car was a piece of shit white car with Maryland plates. I knew he shouldn’t drive but that’s why I let him. I knew I was too high to drive, so why not give someone else a chance? We walked around and he showed me paintings of women eating lunch done by a ninety-two year old Jewish woman. She was still going strong he said. She was still painting. He held my hand and I felt how clammy it was. Sweat was accumulating under his arms and all over his chest and stomach, seeping through his button-down. The Florida heat made me feel drowsy and energized all at once. I could feel him imagining my body like the bodies of the women in the pictures, full of curves and covered in clay, ready to be looked at, ready for anything at all. An old woman perusing the gallery grabbed my arm and asked if I was engaged to Davie and he said not yet. I panicked because I didn’t know if he was joking or if I was just too high to find something inappropriate funny. When we got in the car Davie replayed the scene for me, acting it out over and over and it wasn’t until then that I found it funny. I doubled over onto my bare knees and had to catch my breath.

He took me home and made me gazpacho while I did the Wonder Word. I told him it was my favorite thing to do in the world. I loved to read the clue and try to figure out the end puzzle before unscrambling all the letters. I was so good at it and that’s why I loved it. My mom used to send them to me in college and I would do them during class, during workshops actually. I told him a lot of my senior year was wasted because I couldn’t enjoy it. I was pining for someone, that’s the word I used, pining, and I wasn’t really present, so that’s why I liked going to the workshops now, because it was like getting a second chance at being a writer. You’re always a writer if you’re a writer he said and he served me the soup. It’s cold I said and he laughed. He kissed me and he tasted like shrimp. He took a breast out of my dress and pinched my nipple. He slid his thumb inside me and I thought it was weird but it felt good and I made a sound I’ve never made before, like a sick kitten. I could feel how wet I was and I was embarrassed but I knew he liked it. I probably stained his couch with my wetness.

I could see how turned on he was. I knew if we fucked he would want me to stay over and spend the rest of his life with me. He was so serious and I was too young to be serious. I pulled my dress down in between my legs to cover myself. He asked if we were moving too fast and I said yes but that I wanted to leave. He said it felt right and why would I want to leave but I said no it feels weird and you’re scaring me. He threw the newspaper at me and said to take it and that he never wanted to see me again. He said he knew I would do this and I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I thought I was trying to do nothing but I guess no one can really just do nothing, even if they try as hard as I did. I took the newspaper and cried into it while I drove, then tossed it out the window and wondered where it landed, if maybe it would blow back to his front door and he would be angry all over again.

Davie didn’t show up at workshop the next week and I texted him while I was sitting in my seat. The lady who wrote vampire stories got mad at me for being on my phone and asked me to leave. I left and called Davie and he said he didn’t want me to do what I was doing, that I had to leave my boyfriend, who he knew about, or I had to stop. I got angry and said I wasn’t doing anything wrong, that I wouldn’t stop and he would just have to deal with it, that I wanted to come over right then and blow him because I missed him and he said no. I said fuck you and your car sucks and then I hung up. He called me back seven times or so and I shut my phone off. He didn’t know where I lived so I didn’t care what happened after that. I didn’t talk to him for two years.

I called him last week when I was at the local poetry festival. I was drunk and waiting for the next reading to start. I was looking for something in my purse and found the purple stone in a hidden compartment. I wondered if Stacy ever got an agent for her self-help book about her find-me-a-husband website, if Ed was still writing about preteens girls and their love for adolescent boys, if Diane ever killed off the evil Lord Cloutendoom in her fantasy novel, if Beth had died peacefully and gotten someone else to watch over her cats, if Trevor ever published his sci-fi novel and if he would be mad if I ever told him about what had happened with Davie.

Davie answered and said he was at a hotel in Fort Lauderdale, preparing to leave the next day for Singapore. He said it was good to hear my voice. I could tell he was drunk, I didn’t have to smell it, I didn’t have to be near him to tell. I asked him what I could have done differently and he said it didn’t matter, that he was leaving to go teach English over there. When he said “there” it sounded like he was already in another country because the phone was breaking up but he was only twenty miles or so away. I said I had to go to a reading, which was true, but I didn’t have to leave just yet, I just didn’t know what else to say even though I was the one who called. I could hear people all around him, friends and people who cared that he was leaving and wanted to spend one last night with Davie. I asked who was there. He said to come over, if I wanted. He said he would be waiting.



Brittany Ackerman is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University's MFA program in Creative Writing. She recently completed a residency at the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods, as well as the Mont Blanc Workshop in Chamonix, France. She will be attending the Methow Valley Workshop this May under the leadership of Ross Gay. She is currently living in Los Angeles and working on a novel of fiction. Find out more:

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