He sits up next to me in bed, well into the night, the dawn birds’ song nearing, scrolling through a Tumblr account of topless girls on his, what, first generation iPad? He’s not even touching himself or anything. He’s scrolling like he’s reading the news, like he’s reading some half-baked cultural take by a nepotism-baby journalist, his brow tense, his glasses resting too low on his nose to be of use, so what’s the point? But still he scrolls, his finger flicking up, up, up. The topless girls are faceless, too. But I see them. And I see what he’s doing. Does he see me? He makes no movement to suggest he does. He scrolls, his finger flicking up, up, up. Now the dawn birds’ wretched noise begins. And I’m grateful because I can stop pretending I can sleep in this too-hot room, in this too-hot bed that is definitely bedbug-infested, but he won’t admit to that, either, just like he won’t admit I can see him scrolling up, up, up through these girls that aren’t me. I mean, I don’t need them to be me. But he doesn’t know that. He thinks I love him. It’s a game we play called something I don’t yet have a name for. Just like the topless and faceless girls. If we sit with this stale air between us any longer I’m going to do something terrible.
Rachel Stempel is a queer Ukrainian-Jewish poet based in Binghamton, NY. She is the author of the chapbooks Interiors (Foundlings Press), BEFORE THE DESIRE TO EAT (Finishing Line Press), and Dear Abbey (Bottle Cap Press).