The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love. by Jennifer Wortman

This selection, chosen by Managing Editor Krista Cox, is an excerpt from This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love. by Jennifer Wortman, released by Split Lip Press in 2019. 

Excerpt from “This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love.”

It was the time of day when the sky starts to lose color and the city hasn’t lit up yet and people leaving work spill into the streets. I walked in a haze of exhaust and cheap food smells past the screamers and winos and prostitutes on East Colfax. I’d lived here for four years, my longest time in one place since leaving my small Ohio hometown. Before moving to Denver, I hopped along the Front Range, trying to follow a map for salvation: a new school here, a new boyfriend or job there. But it always ended in failure and new or increased meds. Denver was different. I kept my life simple and aimed low. Walking along Colfax, my heart still raced. And not just from fear. I felt like a kid at a fair. Maybe the games cost too much and the rides scared me. But still, a fair! I could step onto a side street and buy crystal meth. I could find strangers to pay me for sex. Everywhere, chances to ruin my life. And so everywhere, chances not to. In other words, as my dad perpetually reminded my mom, it could always be worse.

I’d been avoiding men until the mythical era when I would be capable of having a healthy relationship. But Rick raised my hopes. Each week, we watched Animal Psychic from the scuffed Goodwill loveseat I used when I closed my Murphy bed for guests. Pitched forward and cupping his chin, he examined the screen; soon I’d find myself pitched forward and cupping my chin too, as if Evelyn had led us in a peculiar yoga pose. Sometimes he’d turn to me and say something like, “Why doesn’t the tiger ever say, ‘Get me the fuck out of this cage’? They always just want more variety in their diet or someone to sing to them.”

            I’d laugh. “I’d ask for a chunk of my captor’s flesh. Do you think Evelyn censors them?”

            “She’s got to. But,” he’d add in a mock reverent voice, “Evelyn’s censorship is never evil and always wise.”

            Our visits started lasting longer than the show. He told me stories from his using days, which he conveyed with a mixture of wonder and shame. “People think you’ve gone wild. But I didn’t feel wild. I felt more focused than ever. I always knew what I wanted and my whole being worked to get it. It was like serving a God that actually did something: it made you feel really good, and if you forsook it, it whipped your sorry ass. I was the best fucking liar. You should have seen me. My ex got clean before I did, when she got pregnant. I pretended to get clean too. But it wasn’t even pretending. It was a total, sincere effort to do what I had to do to keep using. She made me take this home drug test and I was genuinely appalled by her distrust. When the results came back positive, I was genuinely appalled by that. Look how everything, even science, was against me, trying to take what I cared about most. Would you believe that I actually convinced my ex, a former junkie herself, that the test results were false? I did research, I made arguments, I found expert witnesses, I looked deep into her eyes, the whole bit. All that trouble, and then she catches me in the bathroom midday because I wanted my fix too much to wait.”

            I loved watching him speak at length: he became a flurry of motion, his hands leaping around, his face acrobatic. But sometimes he’d say something like “between you and I,” and my dad’s voice would break in: “You think you sound smart, but you don’t,” words he often lobbed at some local newscaster on TV. And in my head, I’d argue, “Don’t be so superficial. He is smart. And look how he loves his son.”

            Rick often talked about Reggie, who loved Arnold Lobel books and wouldn’t eat broken food. “At least that’s how it was the last time I saw him,” he said. “These things change. You wouldn’t believe how fast.”

            “I would,” I said.

Jennifer Wortman is the author of the story collection This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love. (Split/Lip Press, 2019), named the Westword Best of Denver 2020 pick for best new short-story collection, the 2019 Foreword INDIES bronze winner for short stories, and a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards and the High Plains Book Awards. Her work appears in TriQuarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Electric Literature, Brevity, Best Small FictionsBest Microfictions, and elsewhere, and has been cited as distinguished in Best American Short Stories. A recipient of fellowships from MacDowell and the National Endowment for the Arts, she lives with her family in Colorado, where she teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop and serves as associate fiction editor for Colorado Review.


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