A Name

Lindsay Merbaum


He always comes but tonight he didn’t, nor yesterday. His name has an awful sound, like hairy backs or hoary frost. You must change it, I told him. You can’t keep it the way it is.

But if I change it, he said, I will be someone else and then how will you love me?

I don’t love you, I said. I told you, I can’t love someone with that name.

At night, I wait for him. The moon seems to follow me. The windows have no curtains. The moon is there, slinking around the kettle, or in a basin of black water. I drink it in my cup. He doesn’t come.

A man is like a stubborn plant. You may pull it up by the roots easily enough, but then next time you look, another one has taken its place.

I have a friend who is beautiful as a blue plum. You can’t see bruises on a plum, only feel the soft spots with your finger. Peel back the skin and the red flesh is brown. She came to my kitchen last week and scratched with one finger at the screen door around the back. She loves too easily. That is her mistake. That is how the man with his name, the same name, got inside, got inside her. She told me and then that was all we said. The name makes me see bruises. I feel a hot slap like a bee sting.

I’ve never said the name out loud. I’ve always called him nothing. Not the lover, not “mine,” nothing. I think of him and his face now. He appeared on the porch one night, waiting for me to ask him in. He had heard about me, heard where I lived. A woman who took in men who needed a place to go. He leaned a little to one side, as if maybe one leg was longer than the other. I liked the white moonbutter shine on his dark skin, melting down his face.

Now I have asked him to call himself something else. That name has been used already and I don’t have another place in my mind for the same one.

But who will you love then? he wanted to know.

He doesn’t understand. I love a bird’s nest in a tree, and fresh milk with the fat at the top. I love the sound eggs make when you break their shells. But men are not for loving. Men are for other things, the way a shovel is for digging and a lamp for light to see yourself by. I tried to tell this to my friend, the plum woman. But she only shook her head. She thinks I’m wrongheaded the way people always do who don’t understand what you’re saying. She told me I had a hammer for a heart, but she is the one with bruises like a hand print and a half-broken tooth.

Tonight, still, I wait for him. I sit on the porch and look at a sky that is a wool blanket with a few tiny holes cut into it. There are so few stars. I fall asleep in my rocking chair, with darkness for cover, one leg slung over the chair’s arm. This is the last night I will wait. Tomorrow I will go to sleep inside, in my bed, and in the morning I will sweep the porch. Then a new man will come, and this one I will not ask his name.