Short Fiction, 2022
I do not feel strongly about wearing the pants. Steph says they look good. I get that they’re professional, but that’s not what she means. She means it figuratively as well, she believes that literally wearing pants is a step closer to taking the lead.
It’s not that I don’t know how to take charge. I don’t want to take charge. Or I want to take charge, but it’s not high up on the list and for the first time in my life I feel perfectly okay in the backseat. I used to need to be the driver. Then I had some near misses and got scared of being the driver. I’ve mustered the courage to drive again, but I’ve also developed a taste for the backseat.
I’ve never been with someone like Steph, someone who tries to take charge of putting me in charge. It strikes me as rather traditional, in a good sense. There are online groups dedicated to that way of doing things, of putting the woman in charge of putting the man in charge. I can’t say I’m opposed to it, there’s decent proof that it works.
I wonder if Steph knows this, if her own ideology is legible to her. I don’t wonder what’s going on in Steph’s head very often, at least insofar as what exactly she’s thinking. I do speculate on how things are gonna go, whether her general ontological narrative of the world overlaps enough with mine. Or if it even matters.
It’s not that I don’t wear the pants. I just don’t wear them all the time anymore. The parameters of my pants-wearing are fairly opaque. I will inevitably succumb to Steph’s complimentary suggestion: I will both buy these actual pants and wear them. It’s good to do things, generally speaking. I’ve taken up a policy of doing the thing if I can. I came to the mall to buy pants. I will finish the job, however banal.
This is a great example of me taking charge. I’m not apathetic, just healthily disinterested, and Steph’s behavior of late seems to indicate that she knows this. The detachedness is generally a good thing, a really good thing, but I suppose we both miss the swift, assertive tendencies of my past. When you are hurtling towards a handful of socially imposed, unattainable goals and ideas, it is easy to strike emphatically. I was like that before. That way of being revealed itself to be as nasty and vindictive as it was efficient. When months-worth of personal decisions were simultaneously revealed as categorically ineffective at achieving their intended means, I burnt myself out in a 10-day flurry of steaming rages and diatribes of which Steph was the object.
We took a hiatus when it became clear that the old way wasn’t working anymore. Now I’m different. It took about 18-months and some medication to unravel. When I regained human form, Steph moved back in with a casual grace, as if she were returning from a restful, routine sabbatical. We reflect rarely on that brief period of emergent monstrosity; it stings surprisingly little. There is little nicety to rage and accordingly little to grieve.
As I’ve said, the specific realms in which I remain pant-ed / decisive / authoritative are dim to me. They may have to do with what I’ve coined meta-goals. I don’t like assigning trite little names like these, structure to what I’m up to, but it’s true. I suppose you could call them God, as well. I am quite focused with regard to my meta-goals; I attend to them with single pointed concentration for at least an hour a day. I take that shit seriously. I keep the door closed. I wonder if Steph finds this curious. Maybe she has already attained her meta-goals.
The pants are $68.80. I can afford $68.80 and I no longer feel guilty making purchases like these. I used to feel real icky about this sort of thing, now I don’t. I ask if they’ll remove the tags so I can wear the pants out of the store. Something comes out of me now. I’m owning the pants. The drive is compounding.
Once changed, I stride out of the dressing room, stuffing my shorts into the complimentary, industrial-cardstock bag. The heavily fortified container will conceal from mall-goers my flaccid, thrifted shorts.
To my surprise, Steph does not display any admiration of my spontaneous pants-wearing spirit. I don't need her feedback. “Let’s go home,” I assert. I’m not confident that this is the best decision, I lean towards it out of timidity, but I suppose there is a certain self-obliterating courage in an unhesitating retreat.
“I need to return these first.” Steph holds up a translucent bag of what looks like makeup. She has never worn much makeup. The makeup was probably a gift. I like that she is returning things. I estimate the process will take a half-hour and yield not more than $42. As Steph bills an ungodly hourly, the economics don’t really check out. But the spiritual calculus does. Do Away With Everything. That’s what I started saying when I stopped wearing pants so much.
“Let’s do that first, then,” I say, resolute. I reckon I have great regard for Steph, though the gooey sensations subsided within the first few months, weeks of our initial collision. I know for fact that the christening goo was high arousal, but I do not recall its subtleties.
The store has no real door, just a wide, indecisively-furnished entryway. I linger before this gateless gate and speculate as to whether the ferns are synthetic. The woman at the register is eyeing the ferns, too. I will not eat dinner tonight. Instead, I will wear my pants until it is time to take them off. Steph is staring at me staring at the ferns. I look at her, then glance towards the exit— the invisible seam between us and the mall’s manicured promenade. I wait.
The whole mall feels still, a floating apparition in some greater, weightless awareness. I can hear the subtle silence of the ferns and feel the internal atmosphere of my left pant leg. I could linger at this boundary forever. When Steph finally steps out in front, a thought occurs to me: I am the tallest man I know. It has never felt so true.