This guy’s dick is big. Much bigger than Brandon’s. Emma wants to tell him so. “Your dick is way bigger than Brandon’s,” she starts to say, but then changes her mind at the last second. “Your dick,” is all that comes out before she bites her lip to stop herself. He seems to like that. Later, after he’s gone and she’s showered, she sits on the couch in only her underwear, eating a bowl of uncooked ramen sprinkled over cottage cheese. She texts Brandon. the guy I’m sleeping with has a way bigger dick than you The three little dots of his incoming reply pop up right away. must be MASSIVE. Hope u can still walk in the AM. She keeps doing this, reaching out every time she thinks she’s getting over him. It was humiliating the day that girl showed up to declare her love for Brandon. They were out having brunch. Really, here? Emma wanted to shout. While I’m halfway through a fucking omelet? “How did she even know you were here?” Emma asked later, when they were sitting in Brandon’s car outside the restaurant. “Is this woman stalking you?” For a moment—for the briefest moment—she felt a swell of sympathy for him, a little wave of fear. From the look on his face, though, Emma knew. He had told that girl where he would be. “Oh,” was all Emma said. “Oh.” She grabbed her bag from between her feet and got out of the car. Then she walked home even though it was three miles and the boots she was wearing tended to pinch her toes. “Delete his number,” her friend Roxanne told her. “Delete him from your life.” But Emma can’t. He keeps popping into her head at the oddest moments. Someone will cut her off in traffic and she’ll quickly turn toward the passenger seat, indignant, expecting to see Brandon sitting there. “Can you believe this guy?” she’ll say to the empty car. She sets challenges for herself: go three days without contacting him. Go a week. Ten days. Make it to two weeks. She caves every time. Emma likes the idea that when she texts Brandon that girl might be sitting next to him, able to feel his phone buzz. “Who is it?” Emma imagines her saying. “Oh, no one,” Brandon would reply. Or, “just work stuff,” and the girl would pretend to believe him, but she’d know the truth. Melody, Emma calls her, though that isn’t her name. It’s something stupid like that, though. Harmony or Cadence. Aria. Some bullshit musical term that sounds like the name of one of the modern-day American Girl Dolls from the catalog Emma’s daughter got in the mail. Emma tried to throw the catalog out before she got suckered into buying one of the overpriced dolls, but Maggie swiftly declared it her favorite book, and so Emma spends every bedtime reading the captions for all the stupid little accessories. That’s a cute outfit, she finds herself thinking more often than she’d like. Maggie is staying at Emma’s mother’s house. Twice a month sleepovers with Grandma have grown into a nice routine. That’s where Maggie was on the morning Melody showed up to ruin Emma’s breakfast. They were supposed to leave straight from the restaurant to pick her up. Emma had moved the car seat from her car into Brandon’s. “Maybe we should buy a second car seat,” Brandon said every time she had to make this switch, but it didn’t seem worth the cost to Emma. It wasn’t that hard to install and Maggie would be moving on to a booster seat in about a year anyway, so it made more sense to wait. Or at least it had, until she finally arrived back at her house that morning—feet and anger swelled to bursting—to find her Toyota sitting in the driveway, its backseat empty. “Fuck,” she said and threw her bag on the ground. “Fuck!” She screamed so loud that the neighbor across the street out watering his hostas looked up at her with alarm. She lifted a hand in silent apology right as Brandon’s car pulled up outside her house. “I realized I have the car seat,” he said, getting out of the car but not closing the door behind him. “Come on,” he waved her over. “I’ll drive you to pick up Mags.” “Absolutely not.” She hobbled over to the car and threw open the back door. She struggled to unlatch the safety tether and her frustration got the better of her. Tears started coming and she couldn’t stop them. When she finally yanked the car seat out and dropped it on the ground, her face was red from crying and she was panting from exertion. “You shouldn’t drive when you’re upset.” “No,” Emma said, infuriated. “You don’t get to worry about me. I’m not your problem anymore. My daughter is not your problem anymore.” Brandon wanted to talk about it. “Let me explain,” he’d said when Melody finished her dramatic little speech. He had reached across the table and grabbed Emma’s arm, which was raised, fork aloft, frozen in midair. The touch of his palm, the heat of it, a gentle weight guiding her back to reality. Emma had looked back and forth between him and Melody before excusing herself to go to the bathroom. When she came back out, their table had been cleared and Brandon was waiting for her outside. “It was only one time.” By that point, they were sitting in his car and Emma had felt too hot. She tried to roll down the window, but the car was turned off. She pressed the button again and again, but Brandon didn’t bother to turn the car back on. Melody was an old girlfriend. Brandon had run into her at a work function and enjoyed catching up. She had asked if he wanted to grab a drink after and he’d said yes. “One thing led to another,” he offered by way of conclusion and Emma’s mind flashed on an image of Melody’s knees pressed against the sticky floor of a bar bathroom, Brandon’s fingers tangled in her hair. Emma didn’t ask what one thing meant, nor another. “She came on to you,” she’d said instead and Brandon emphatically shouted yes. But that work function had been weeks earlier, over a month even. Brandon was supposed to come to Emma’s house after it was over but had texted to say he was feeling too tired. I’m gonna go home and sack out for the night the text had said. Emma had been putting Maggie to bed. Was he already fucking Melody by the time she finally read it? “Obviously it meant way more to her than just a dumb drunken mistake,” Brandon said when Emma asked why this girl would show up now, after all this time, to publicly declare she couldn’t live without him. This girl is crazy, Emma had thought, but then there was that look on Brandon’s face and everything clicked into place, enough pieces of the puzzle coming together that Emma could see how the rest of the picture would fill in. “At least let me help you get this installed,” Brandon said of the car seat. He put his hands up in surrender and came around to where Emma was standing. He reached for the car seat and Emma relented. She dug her keys out of her bag and tossed them to him, then she sat down on the curb and dropped her head onto her lap. After a few minutes, she felt him standing behind her, hovering, trying to decide whether or not it was safe to sit down. She shrugged her shoulders and Brandon eased his body down onto the curb. His arm pressed against hers. “We can get through this,” he said, but Emma shook her head. “What are you going to tell Maggie?” “That you’re an asshole and we’re better off without you?” She lifted her head from her knees and peered up at him, expecting to catch him gently laughing, but instead, there were tears in his eyes. “I’d like a chance to say goodbye to her.” “No way.” Emma sat up. “Don’t make this harder than it already will be.” Brandon nodded, but Emma wasn’t convinced he meant it. “I’m not kidding, Brandon. Don’t show up here expecting to see her. Don’t call to try to talk to her one last time. This is over.” She stood up and brushed the dirt off the back of her pants. “Get whatever you need out of the house while I’m gone. You can leave your key under the mat when you’re done.” Then she got in her car and backed out into the road. Brandon stood and watched her drive away, tears streaking his face. Later that evening when Emma and Maggie returned home, Maggie couldn’t find Cubby anywhere. Cubby was the little brown bear Brandon had given Maggie the first time he met her. Emma had waited months before making the introduction. Whenever she thought, it’s time, she waited two more weeks, wary of bringing another man into Maggie’s life who would stick around just long enough to fuck everything up when he left. She and Brandon were out to dinner one night shortly before their six-month anniversary when Emma had looked across the table at him and knew: this man was the real deal. “I’m ready for you to meet Maggie,” she’d said and Brandon’s face had lit up instantly, then just as quickly darkened with concern. “What do I do?” he’d asked. “What do I say?” Emma had told him to bring a gift and he had arrived the next morning with Cubby in hand. “Are you sure you didn't take Cubby with you to Grandma’s?” Emma asked as she scoured the house in search of the bear while her daughter wailed. Did you steal Maggie’s bear?! she finally texted Brandon after an hour of tearing the house apart. What kind of psycho takes back their gift to a child? But as soon as the message was sent she heard Maggie shout, “found him!” Cubby had been hiding in the bathroom hamper. Emma must have scooped him up by accident when she cleaned up the piles of dirty clothes from Maggie’s floor. is this a serious question? Brandon replied and Emma felt a flush of embarrassment. She didn’t answer. Now she takes her phone and sets it face down on the couch, resisting the urge to respond to his reply. “That girl is living with him,” she told Roxanne two weeks after the Cubby incident. “It’s none of your business,” Roxanne said. “Don’t make him your business anymore. Wait, how do you even know that?” she added. Emma had been driving past his house. On her way to work, on her way home, during her lunch break, anytime she had a moment free she went out of her way to try to catch a glimpse of him. She’d seen Melody coming and going at all different times of day, letting herself into the house like she owned the place. “Two weeks!” Emma said to Roxanne. “It’s been two weeks since we broke up and already he’s living with this girl.” “Not your business,” Roxanne said again, but then she leaned over and kissed Emma on the cheek. “That dumb motherfucker.” Is she living with you? Emma couldn’t stop herself from asking him. What? No. But you’re together. It took a long time before his reply arrived and when it did, it simply read yeah. Until that, yeah, a small part of Emma believed this was all a momentary blip. Brandon would give her some space, let her anger diffuse. Then he’d come back with a grand gesture to boost her ego and allow her to take the high road by magnanimously agreeing to give it one more chance. She even told Maggie Brandon was away on a work trip to buy herself a little time before telling her the truth just in case. She was determined to move on after yeah. To erase Brandon from her life and her memory. But she couldn’t even erase him from her phone. I went on a date tonight, she texted him a few weeks later, hoping to wound him. How’d it go? The immediacy of his reply was like a shot of dopamine. She didn’t respond, but chased the feeling again a week later, and a few after that and so on, until her relationship with Brandon had morphed into something resembling a pair of girlfriends—Emma reaching out with her tales of singledom, Brandon always ready with a quick, pithy reply. Roxanne accused her of being a masochist, but in truth she was sadistic, thriving on the idea of Melody desperately hoping each time Emma reached out would be the last. Melody, slowly allowing herself to relax between contacts only for Emma to suddenly pop up again. Melody, crushed by the wry smile on Brandon’s face whenever he read Emma’s texts. Crushed by the way he stopped whatever he was doing to reply, as if he had been waiting anxiously to hear from her, as if the rest of his life was a useless interlude between chats with Emma. This woman is obsessed with you, Emma imagined Melody complaining to Brandon, but if Melody had any sense at all she wouldn’t be able to avoid the inevitable follow-up: and you’re obsessed with her. Emma had been on plenty of dates since the breakup. She was snatching them up like trading cards—taking whatever she could get, hoping to overwhelm Brandon with the breadth of her collection. She was desperate to avoid the stifling quiet of her house on nights when Maggie was gone. But she’d held off on bringing anyone home, or following men she barely knew back to their houses. “That’s all I need,” she told Roxanne. “To leave my daughter motherless because I get murdered while trying to prove I’m over Brandon.” It had been four months, which was hardly a dry spell compared to the two years after Maggie was born when Emma could barely stand to be touched, much less conjure the energy to be fucked. But four months was too long when she had been accustomed to getting what she wanted whenever she wanted it—Brandon was always so accommodating, so eager to please. She needed to feel the weight of a man on her body. The press of his hip bones against her ass as he pushed into her from behind. The guy with the bigger-than-Brandon’s dick ordered a Budweiser at dinner and Emma had almost called it quits right then. She isn’t a snob, the guy could drink whatever he wanted, but when he said, “I’ll take a Bud Heavy,” she had to press her lips together to keep the sound of her disappointment from sputtering out of her like a deflating balloon. She spent the meal focusing on his mouth. The defined line of his jaw. The fullness of his lips. She pictured his tongue so intently—warm and wet, buried between her thighs—that when he raised his hand to signal the waiter and said, “another Bud Heavy,” she was able to let it pass without judgment. She was determined to take him home. He got the job done to her satisfaction, but as soon as they were finished Emma started to panic at the sight of his head on the pillow next to hers. Brandon’s pillow. She pictured Brandon in his own bed, staring back at Emma, only in Brandon’s bed Emma would be Melody and she imagined herself slowly morphing into this other woman. Emma peeling away to reveal Melody’s face and body. “I’m gonna hop in the shower,” she told Bud Heavy and looked at him pointedly until the gears clicked in his head and he reached for his clothes. Now she brings her bowl into the kitchen, rinses it under the tap, and puts it in the dishwasher. The tulips in the vase on the table have wilted, their red heads drooping down like sulking teenagers. She read somewhere that putting a penny in the water makes tulips perk up again, so she tried it earlier in the week but nothing happened. She pulls them out of the vase and tosses them in the garbage. Then she dumps the water out into the sink, the penny falling into her open palm. She flips it into the air and catches it. Heads. Emma goes into her bedroom and pulls on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, comes back out, slips on her shoes, and grabs her keys from the hook by the door. There is a light on in Brandon’s bedroom and one in the kitchen. Melody is standing at the sink washing dishes when Brandon comes up behind her, brushes her hair away from her shoulder, and kisses the hollow above her collar bone. Emma can feel it like a phantom pain, the soft press of his lips against her skin, the scratch of his stubble along the side of her neck. Melody turns around and they kiss, then she leaves the room and Brandon takes over at the sink. He is squirting green soap onto a pink sponge when he pauses and looks out the window. Emma thinks maybe he sees her, but then he looks away again, back down at the dishes. She watches him squeeze the excess water from the sponge. Then he reaches to the side and the light above the sink turns off. Then all the lights in the kitchen turn off and Emma can’t see anything anymore. The blinds on the bedroom window are drawn. She waits to see if the slivers of light around the edges of the blinds disappear, but after twenty minutes the lights are still on, so Emma starts her car and slowly pulls away from the curb. Maggie is asleep when Emma arrives at her mother’s house. “What? What happened?” Her mom is worried, but Emma waves her off. “Nothing. Everything’s fine. The house is too quiet.” She borrows a t-shirt from her mother, slides off her jeans, and quietly crawls into bed beside Maggie. Emma wraps her body around her daughter’s small frame. Maggie’s hair smells like bubble bath. She sleeps with her mouth open, soft exhalations that remind Emma of the milky sweetness of Maggie’s infancy. She kisses the back of her daughter’s head and Maggie stirs, flips over suddenly, and whacks Emma in the face with the back of her hand before settling again. Emma blinks and rubs the sore bridge of her nose. In the morning she wakes to Maggie staring right at her, their faces only inches apart. When she checks her phone there’s a text from Brandon waiting for her: So are you able to walk this morning? Emma doesn’t reply. Go the whole day without responding, she challenges herself and tosses her phone back in her bag. “What’s for breakfast?” she asks her mom.
Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram
Claire Taylor is a writer in Baltimore, MD. Her micro-chapbook, A History of Rats, is part of the Ghost City Press 2021 Summer Series. You can find Claire online at clairemtaylor.com and Twitter @ClaireM_Taylor.