SmokeLong Quarterly

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Moments of Anticipation

Story by DJ Hills (Read author interview) May 13, 2021

Photograph by Aleks Dorohovich

Bobbi likes to be hit during sex, but only in certain places. They demonstrate by placing Derek’s hands on their body. Here and here and here. Sometimes Derek will hit Bobbi in the wrong place and Bobbi will correct him.

“Here and here and here,” Bobbi reminds him.

Bobbi doesn’t have a good relationship with their dad but that isn’t why they like to be hit. There’s something about the way the flesh warms up. The sharp sting of it. The theatricality. When Derek is afraid that he’s hit Bobbi too hard, he stops. He checks in. The two of them develop a shared language this way.

Bobbi’s dad lives in Illinois—not the cool part. Bobbi lived with him one summer when they were sixteen while their mom was traveling in Japan. It was supposed to be her Eat Pray Love trip, but she wound up getting sick and had to come home early. She wouldn’t let Bobbi come home though. She called them every day from a hospital in Newark to update them on her condition. She didn’t die or anything, but she did have a miniature heart attack and now lives in constant fear of having another one.

Bobbi tells Derek this story one afternoon. They are lying in bed, bruises coloring Bobbi’s thighs. The air conditioning in Bobbi’s building is being repaired and they are both sweaty and uncomfortable.

“What was Illinois like?” Derek asks.

“Green and boring,” Bobbi says.

“What did you do?”

Bobbi peels the top sheet off of their legs. “I worked at an Arby’s. I smoked a lot of weed. I cried about my mom.”

Bobbi’s dad used to be in the army, but he wasn’t a huge asshole about it. He didn’t plaster his truck with stickers or demand a discount at the movie theatre. Mostly he just drank and some nights he woke up shouting. As a kid, before their parents got divorced and Bobbi’s dad still lived with them in New Jersey, Bobbi would lock their bedroom door every night before going to sleep, afraid that their dad would mistake them for the enemy and kill them. Bobbi’s mom had a similar fear, but she couldn’t lock her door. Instead, she stayed awake in the living room, watching T.V. with the sound off, reading the long string of subtitles that were always a little delayed.

“I’m sorry you had to go through that,” Derek says.

This time, they are in the kitchen. Derek is trying to make spaghetti from scratch. He has to roll the pasta dough out with a wine bottle wrapped in plastic since Bobbi doesn’t have a real rolling pin.

Bobbi shrugs.

Outside, some kids are playing with Nerf guns in the grassy space between apartment buildings. Every so often one of the kids will fall to the ground, hand clutching their dirty T-shirt.

On Bobbi’s last day in Illinois, they blew off dinner with their dad to smoke with some co-workers in the parking lot of an old drive-in. Angel, who was only fourteen, but lied on her application because none of the managers bothered to check, coughed a lot and told Bobbi that their weed was shit. Later, she kissed Bobbi under the skeletal frame of the projection screen. Her hair smelled like fry oil, but Bobbi let her kiss them because it made the summer feel worth it.

The next morning, Bobbi’s dad drove them to the airport. It was a long drive and Bobbi tried to play music the whole time so they didn’t have to talk. As Bobbi was getting out of the car, their dad grabbed their wrist.

“It was nice having you here,” he said.

“Okay,” they said.

On the plane ride home, Bobbi kept tracing the faint outline of their dad’s fingers on their skin.

They never let Derek grab them like that. He’d tried once during sex and Bobbi had yanked free, told him no, and then he didn’t do it again. Bobbi doesn’t like to think about their dad grabbing their mom, his hands flailing in the dark for anything solid to hold onto.

Derek never seems to have nightmares. Whenever he stays over, he sleeps soundly. Sometimes he is so quiet, Bobbi will reach over and check to make sure he’s still alive. They’ll stretch out their arm and place a finger just under Derek’s nose, waiting for the warm flash of breath on their skin.

This doesn’t always happen right away.

The moments of anticipation will drag on and Bobbi will start to wonder what they will do if Derek dies. They imagine their dad thrashing around in his shitty, little condo in Illinois, all alone with his fears and terrors. They imagine their mom in her equally shitty apartment, just twenty minutes away, sitting in her armchair, still unused to sleeping through the night, the pallor of her skin in the glow of the TV, a hand over her heart, waiting.

About the Author

DJ Hills is a queer writer and theatre artist from the Appalachian Mountains, currently living in Baltimore. DJ’s writing appears most recently in Free State ReviewOyster River Pages, and Appalachian Review, and their plays have been produced in and around Baltimore City.

About the Artist

Aleks Dorohovich is a photographer from Belarus.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-One

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