For a little while before my divorce came through, I dated a guy who washed dishes. Zeb. He was good-looking and he brought me comfort. He was also a big drunk, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want anything more than to lie beside his body on Saturday nights.
When my mother found out I was seeing him, she said, “That’s all right for now, Larue, but you don’t want to end up with someone like that.”
I didn’t tell her that I didn’t care Zeb came to see me after working, stinking of grease, smoke and rotted food. I didn’t say we sometimes screwed as soon as he walked in the door, there in the kitchen with me standing up, my arms on the window sill, the Sapphire gin beside us. Most nights we waited until he had showered in my bathroom and wrapped himself in one of my pink towels, but sometimes I lay in his smoky, stinking embrace and kissed his rotting-cabbage mouth. It wasn’t anything I ever held against him. Soap and water cleans us all.
“He’s good enough to eat my pussy, Ma,” I said instead, and she didn’t bring him up again.
A few months later, I was at Zeb’s place when I told him I was leaving him. He got so upset he shoved his hand through the glass aquarium where he kept his ex-girlfriend’s guinea pig. Of course he was drunk, but I think the emotion was real.
“It just scooted behind the sofa,” I said after the worst of the commotion was over.
“That little pig went behind the sofa.”
But when I went to move the sofa away from the wall, Zeb stopped me.
“You’ll just scare him,” he said.
“Why would I scare him? You’re the one who broke his house.”
“Still. He doesn’t know you.”
I made him go into the bathroom then, and I washed his cut and bloody hand for him. I wrapped it in the cleanest towel I could find in his dump of an apartment, and then I sat with him and held his other hand. I thought maybe the guinea pig would come out in the quiet, but he was a no-show. I waited until Zeb passed out from his drunk, and then I got up and went home. That’s all I did for him.
When I told my sister Cary the story, I called Zeb “The Bleeder.”
“Oh no, Larue,” she said. “Now that guy is forever going to be known by that name.”
“No one knows it but you and me,” I said. “Besides, it’s true.”
“The Bleeder. That’s awful.”
“No one told him to put his hand through glass,” I said.
Still, I felt bad about Zeb. I figured he’d live a few more years and then the alcohol would kill him. I thought that when I washed the splotches of his blood out of my shirt, but there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
Maureen Gibbon is the author of the novels Paris Red, Thief, and Swimming Sweet Arrow, and the prose poem collection Magdalena.