For my birthday, Drew gave me a jar of writing prompts on popsicle sticks. He made them all up. It was really sweet and really creative and I feel bad for thinking at first that he got the idea from pinterest. I should know better. He doesn’t look at pinterest.
Anyway, tonight I pulled out “Non-conforming gender roles” and wrote for 15 minutes and this is what happened. (Unedited.)
Lulu walked out the darkened doorway and into the side alley, a narrow walkway between two brick walls. She tried not to let any of her bags touch the walls as she moved toward the street. The alley smelled like wet garbage and urine, and something sweet. A grate in the sidewalk directly in front of the alley released thick white steam into the air, and Lulu skirted it, not wanting to inhale it, not knowing what it was.
She looked up at the apartment building, searching out the window on the sixth floor. She wanted to see if Jonah had left the light on, or if he had already turned it off and gone to bed. She wasn’t sure whether he was seven or eight windows in from the side—but most of the lights in the windows were off, anyway. It was after midnight, and a school night, after all.
She turned right at the next block and started walking toward the subway. She was carrying more bags than usual—her regular work bag, a small purse, plus a tote that was growing heavier by the minute. The train was only a few blocks away but she didn’t look forward to climbing the steps to the elevated platform. The escalator at Jonah’s stop was always out of order. Her feet were aching from the long day, but at least she knew she’d get a seat on the train.
She and Jonah had known each other for almost a year now. He was a college student, working his way through school at Fordham. She liked him, and thought he had a bright future ahead of him. She didn’t like that she was now old enough to think in terms like “bright future ahead of him.” She found Jonah incredibly attractive, which was useful, given the nature of their relationship, but when she was with him, she just felt herself growing older and older every minute. She wasn’t crazy about that feeling. She was only 32 and it seemed unfair that her lover made her feel geriatric.
Her phone buzzed with a Venmo notification. She glanced at it—a payment request from Jonah. Right on time. He must have sent it from his bed, right before he went to sleep. She felt sort of bad for keeping him up so late…again. She knew he had class early on Wednesday mornings. She clicked through to confirm payment of $250. She liked to pay him right away so they would stay on good terms. And, if she was being totally honest, she didn’t love seeing the Venmo notification icon on her phone any longer than necessary.
Jonah sent her a quick “thx!” text, with a kissy face following. Lulu’s heart thumped a little at that. And a little more at the message that followed: “C U next week I hope!” She knew that their relationship was purely business for him, but she was sure he had to like her at least a little bit. She was nice, she was friendly, she tried to ask him how school was, or whether he was still fighting with his roommates. She was clean and she always brought a change of clothes to his place, so she wasn’t in the same work clothes she’d been wearing all day. She felt like she cared about his pleasure too—she wanted him to enjoy himself, just like she was, even if it was technically a job for him. She figured, I enjoy my job, so there’s no reason why he shouldn’t also.
As she hauled her bags up the final flight of stairs to the platform, she looked back, at the sliver of Jonah’s building she could see. She knew his light was out but she still thought about sending him one more text, a “Sweet dreams” or an “I had fun tonight” or an “I can still feel you.” She knew it was a stupid idea. She was still staring at the cursor on a new text, debating what message would make him smile and maybe even respond, when the train pulled up, and she got on. Then the doors shut behind her and the train swept her away.