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A thousand small happinesses a day

By Loretta Iwaniw-Horne

PROMPT — What is Love?

It's nearly been a year since we first messed around, I want to remind him. A year since you became impossible to ignore. He's lying on the couch wearing only a blanket-hoodie as a garment, laying with his hands behind his head. In the background a movie is playing, but neither of us are watching it. I'm massaging his legs, his feet; his muscles are tense and knotted, in contrast to his expression. He is watching me watching him.

We're talking about nothing in particular. I tell him that I stuffed up my knee. It needs surgery, but I don't mention that. My mind is full of un-shared fears, and pointy little ‘what-ifs’. I have a blood clotting issue – what if they slice into me and I bleed out? What if this injury means that I'll be stuck on desk jobs forever? What if I can't go walking to clear my head, and I become a crazy shut-in... I don’t share my fears with him; it’s annoying enough that I have to live with them. I don’t want to foist them onto someone else, someone who already has their own share of messy life stuff to deal with.

He asks how I hurt myself. I downplay the injury. ‘I ruined it,’ I tell him simply, ‘And not even in a cool way,’ which is true. I tell him how I did it. I figure if he's calm about it, I will be, too. And as I supposed, I am soothed by his calmness, and I keep focusing on him and on the tension in his muscles so that I don't keep thinking of myself.

He tells me about his new job. He's back working at the place where we first met. ‘What do you do there now?’ I ask him. ‘Paperwork,’ he says. Poor baby, I think, because I know how boring desk jobs can be. That workplace is toxic, I remember. The only thing bitterer than the coffee are the comments that coworkers make behind one another’s backs.

I’m rubbing his thighs now, and his hips. His abs. His eyes are closed; he exhales deeply, stretches, and I feel his muscles tense while he does.

I tell him to take off the blanket thing; he obliges and lays there naked and shameless. He's good like that. Not shy; never shy. But then, he works hard on his body. What does he need to be shy about? I look over his naked body and think, wow. What a treat he is; hallelujah, let the angels sing; the boy is more beautiful without clothes than with them on.

I love his tattoos, the way they snake around his body. They're close to him in a way that I wish I was - he keeps me at a distance. It hurts, but I understand because ours is a weird, complex situationship. I trace his tattoos with my fingertip. I let my hands slide through his chest hair, and over his collarbone. I want to memorise all of him, imprint the memory of his skin into my fingertips and the palms of my hands so that later I can recall exactly how it feels to touch him.

Eventually we make our way to the bedroom, and his fat grey cat follows us and sits like a sentry-guard on the bed head, splitting her attention between us and the fly on the ceiling.

The cat only falls on us once, then she goes away.

After we're done, he's up off the bed immediately, asking if I want a shower. I'm dizzy and my heart is still racing. I feel drunk on him, but I don't say that because it sounds tacky and stupid.

We go back to the living room.

I’m flustered still, love-drunk, and my muscles are tense now. My knee hurts. There’s a distracting mirror in his living room. I look into it. I can’t avoid it, every time I move, the reflected images scream at me for attention. I’m pasty-white and jetlagged and my makeup is a mess. My hair is tangled. Not in a flowing, sexy wilderness-goddess way. In a ‘we just f-ed and I forgot my hairbrush way’. I’ve lost my flat stomach, and my hip bones are buried beneath the swell. I’m like an ocean, I think. I’m swelling all over the place.

Shut up, I think to myself. Don't make the night weird for him by getting hang-ups. Yuck.

He’s looking around for his blanket-hoodie. He finds it, pulls it on, and waits patiently for me to get dressed. ‘I won’t look,’ he says, and he turns around so that I can pull on my dress. I tell him, ‘It’s only awkward to take my dress off, not to put it back on.’ We women are weird like that, full of illogical quirks. He stays turned around anyway, and watches the end of the movie on TV. When I’m dressed, I hug him from behind. He looks cute, I decide. Cute enough to pull off the blanket-hoodie look. I tell him he's beautiful, blanket and all, and I mean it.

He's wants to go outside and have a cigarette. ‘Out the front?’ I ask him, because there's lightning over the lake; I think he might enjoy it, might even get that serious look on his face that he always gets when he's paying close attention to something. ‘Out the back,’ he replies, and I’m disappointed for him. No light show, one less pleasure he'll get to experience. I realize in that moment that I want him to experience a thousand small happinesses a day. I guess that’s what love is - wishing another person more moments of joy in their life than there are beautiful stars in the sky.


Loretta Iwaniw-Horne is a communications trainer and writer. Her first novel is expected in 2025. She travels frequently and splits her time between Germany and Mulwala, New South Wales, Australia.


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