The Only Thing Required of Me Now Is My Own Indifference
by Elizabeth Ellen
The woman is walking and listening to a podcast of a woman who once worked as a dominatrix. The woman who worked as a dominatrix is listing the materials that were required in her line of work: riding crops, clamps, rope, surgical gloves, tape. The woman says she shopped most frequently at places like Home Depot and a uniform store for nurses and an equestrian supply shop.
The woman walking does not own a riding crop or a nurse’s uniform. The woman does not shop at Home Depot. The woman leaves her house with less frequency now than in the past. The paint on the walls is chipping in spots and there is a square of carpet missing in the basement where the cat recently peed and then defecated. It is the same spot on which the man once slept. There is a small table near the spot and the man slept under the table.
The woman walks on the sidewalk unless another person walks toward her and then she walks on the street until that person has passed. The woman does not make eye contact with the passing person or wave or nod. The woman feels shame for her lack of social skills and anger toward the people passing for forcing her to recognize her limitations.
The man had been likewise limited. The woman had misunderstood the man at first. Almost immediately the woman had taken on a pose of subordination, rearranging her life in accordance with what she believed the man wanted her life to look like. The woman failed to recognize the man’s need for domination. The woman gave herself too readily, freed her life of the complications that had attracted the man to her in the first place.
The woman has not spoken to the man in two years. The woman asked her grandfather once how he quit smoking. The woman’s grandfather had smoked every day for thirty years and then one morning he had coughed up blood into the toilet. “I just stopped,” her grandfather had said. This was akin to how the woman had stopped communicating with the man. She had not coughed up blood but she had made a choice between disease and wellness similarly.
The woman’s understanding of the man is much clearer now that she is distanced from him. In the past the woman respected the man’s wishes regarding when and how they should communicate. She did not prod him but waited for him to show signs he was ready to articulate. The man was ready at odd intervals: very late at night or in mid afternoon, for instance. The woman made her own readiness a preoccupation. The woman did not initially understand the inverse reaction the man had to her readiness. This understanding took the woman many months to cultivate and caused the woman many hardships during the duration.
So little is required of the woman at present. Presently the woman expels no energy with regard to the man. Presently the woman has only to treat the man with complete indifference; to decline invitations to parties at which she knows the man will be present; to remove herself from all social networking sites of which the man is a member.
There are other women, of course, and she watches the other women with a detached interest. The other women work so hard to garner the man’s attention. They work even harder to hold it. They try different tactics: ape the man’s most self-destructive behaviors. They take drugs nick-named after girls, the same drugs middle-aged pop stars reference at music festivals and in songs.
In retaliation, the woman embraces sobriety. The woman criss-crosses each hand with an imaginary X. The woman drinks herbal teas and consumes raw foods. She abstains from sex and alcohol and white sugar.
The woman manifests about herself an air of not giving a shit and the man could not be more devoted. The man has sex with more than one woman at a time and more than one woman in a day. The man has sex at work and with his ex girlfriend and with these women who ape his behaviors. He ejaculates multiple times a day alone in a bathroom stall and with him always is the woman’s indifference.
The woman on the podcast is talking now about domination in terms of feminism. The woman says she once equated being a dominatrix with being a feminist. But after time, she says, she came to view it as another act of male oppression.
The woman listening to the podcast does not think in terms of feminism or misogyny or oppression. The woman thinks in terms of nihilism and irrelevancy and isolation. The woman once viewed her relationship with the man as something that needed great tending. But now she sees it as something to be neglected and abandoned and ignored, an object to be left untended, overgrown.
The woman remembers walking this same route with the man; a single encounter three years earlier. She was unprepared for walking – was wearing heels – and stumbled on the gravel in the dark beside him. She remembers stumbling but does not remember reaching out for him, cannot recall steadying herself with his arm.
Near the park the woman abandons the sidewalk and walks down the middle of the road. The houses here are closer together. Small pets and children seem to be a presence in every yard, adults standing watch over them. The woman walks more quickly, no longer interested in what the woman on the podcast has to say. She has to concentrate fully now on looking in some manner preoccupied or angry or off-putting.
Once on her own street she moves toward the left or right, it doesn’t matter which. The houses here are at a comfortable distance from one another and there are no sidewalks, only the dirt and gravel that makes up the road.
Straight ahead now is the boy. The boy is on his bike. The boy spends the afternoons and early evenings riding his bike from his driveway to the end of the street and back. The woman does not know the boy’s name. The woman knows through neighborhood gossip and lore that the boy can be described as a boy with regard to his mental capacity only, is almost an adult by legal age. The boy spots the woman and circles back to his drive. The boy wears a helmet, despite the short distance of his route and the lack of automobiles in the area. The boy is never in the company of anyone his age. The boy, like the woman, keeps to himself; avoids company.
The woman keeps her hood up and her head down as she passes the boy’s drive. The boy is circling his driveway rather than the street. Every once in a while he looks back to see if the woman is gone. The woman walks faster. The woman is grateful for the boy’s avoidance. The woman wishes everyone she passed would treat her similarly.
The woman can recall standing face to face with the man only a handful of times. Here in the driveway was one. Mostly they communicated via the least-threatening forms. In the driveway the man had stood in front of her, his hands deep in his pockets, directly facing. They had stood this way a long time, until her legs became cramped with cold and they had to go inside. After that the man had slept on the floor under the table. It is hard to remember if the man had reached out for her. It is hard to remember anything except the way her legs had burned in bed that night as they adjusted to room temperature.
Once inside the house the woman’s breathing returns to a normal rate. She turns off the lights and removes all her clothes and puts on a robe. She makes a pot of herbal tea and goes down into the basement. She sits on the floor and sips the tea and does not associate the spot under the table as belonging in any way to the man. She is listening to another podcast now and in this way she enters another life and in this way she is farther still from the man, though there is always still this measurement.
Elizabeth Ellen is the author of Fast Machine (SF/LD books). She lives in Ann Arbor.