Susan Rukeyser

Square and Callused

Everyone’s in love with Cam, a little.

On her birthday, I arrived too eager. She was herself, legs on the coffee table. Beneath her fresh-shaved calves, bulbs of hair remained. Beheaded roots knifed and bristled to the surface.

Her clothes were boyish and offhand, her red cutoffs low-slung. She wore a choke chain at her neck. The implied leash was ironic.

Cam mocked me a little, for being overdressed, while she ate cheese. She broke off chunks with a paring knife, bit them off the blade. She dared me to ask for a taste, but I was chicken. She ate the whole block just to spite me.

Cam loves women, but not me.

Some years ago, she met the man I tried to love. He spent his days in a gray office, like me. Back then, I believed in delayed gratification. I still believed there was a right way.

One evening, I found them together on her back deck, above the stinking garbage cans. This was the hip part of the city. This view of brick and garbage cost more than you might think.

They fell silent at the sight of me. There was heat between them, something private. “We weren’t talking about you,” he said quickly, and I knew he wasn’t lying.

He went home with me, irritable and aroused. He was too rough, came as a stranger, and for the last time. He left me with a bruise, not a big one, not my first.

The next time I went to Cam’s, she’d forgotten him. She sat on her couch, pressed into a zaftig redhead. The woman’s freckles wrapped her thighs like tattoos. They listened to music I didn’t understand.

“I can’t grab hold of the melody,” I said.

“That’s just it,” Cam sighed.

I’m conventional, she tells me. There’s no nicer way to put it. Just break free, Cam says. But I’m chicken. I’m tired of bruises.

Cam has square nails and calluses and wears rings on her thumbs. She solders steel beams into sculpture, all angles, no curve.

When I introduced Cam to Jackie, I knew instantly my mistake. Jackie is another woman like me, a woman who usually loves men. A woman who usually behaves and hopes things will get better.

But Cam was restless for noise, and by then Jackie was in love with Cam, a little. Everyone is.

I left them alone and went to my favorite tree, the one deep in the park, out of sight of the city. I sat down amongst its roots, breaking the surface as if fed up, as if ready to shove off for someplace new. I considered that maybe the tree needed a hug, but I’m turned off by desperation. Too familiar. In any case, I had work in the morning.

I’m conventional, Cam said, and she’s not wrong. My clothes are too formal, my music’s Top 40, and more often than not, I fuck men. How dreary.

I relented and snuggled in close to the tree, wrapped my arms around it as best I could. I hoped no one saw me. I can’t pull off that sort of thing. The bark was rough on my bruises, so I gave up.

Okay, yes, I admit it. I’m in love with Cam, a little. I’m in love with her scorn. It fits me, snug as a finger.

Susan Rukeyser earned her MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, UK. Her work appears in Atticus Review, Eclectic Flash, Ink Sweat and Tears, Metazen, PANK, Short Fast and Deadly, and SmokeLong Quarterly. She recently won Hippocampus Magazine’s “Remember in November” Contest for Creative Non-Fiction. She does her best to explain herself here: