Yellow Building, November by Christopher Woods

Stripped Clean

by Cassandra Dunn

The bed is the biggest problem. It smells like him. Even after stripping it to wash the sheets, as I lay down on the bare mattress waiting for the dryer to finish working its magic, cleansing me of him, I can smell him. It’s a slightly sweet, powdery smell, laced with a hint of something masculine, maybe just pheromones. It makes me dizzy, the cloud of his scent that engulfs me as I lounge on my sheetless bed, and suddenly I regret washing the sheets. I turn my head left and right, sniffing the mattress, the blank pillow, the blankets, but his scent isn’t there. It’s in the air, inside me, inescapable, cannot be washed clean.

This is what it’s like, letting go of someone, I tell myself. You’re ready then you’re not, you know it’s time and the right thing to do and then you’re full of doubts. Grieving. I’m waffling between stage 1 and 3. Stage 2 will come later, or not at all. I’m not an angry person, even when I am.

Last night’s tarot reading lingers in my mind. I expected it to be all strife and struggle, because that’s how my heart and brain feel, but I drew the Hermit, the Sun, the Wheel of Fortune. I am doing soul-work, I have everything I need, life goes on. They are positive cards, but they made me feel sad. I’m not ready for wisdom, bliss, moving on. But there it is.

I roll off the bed and skulk around it, looking for the source of his scent. No lingering laundry or hair products, no forgotten possessions he’s taken it all. All but the smell of his warm and freshly showered body, which apparently will not leave.

I reran our astrology charts last night. I had his birth time wrong when I ran it the night we met, vetting an entirely different person. Not that I’m a huge believer in astrology, but still, you might as well get it right. Our compatibility chart is rampant with conflict, distrust, passion, and miscommunication. Lots of squares, few trines. My moon squares his Mars, his Venus opposes my Saturn. Of course.

I get dressed, not ready for the day but ready to pretend that I am. I slide on six beaded bracelets, earrings that are a tangle of crystal beads and hooped wires, necklaces to match in turquoise and coral, mustard and amber: homemade jewelry from a friend he never liked. Or maybe it was just the jewelry that he never liked. Either way, they’re mine again now, both the friend and the jewelry. I post a cryptic status update on Facebook about reclaiming myself and marvel at the vast ways my supposed friends misinterpret my meaning. I change my relationship status and the avalanche of sympathy tumbles in.

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Cassandra Dunn received her MFA in creative writing from Mills College. She was a semifinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and was a finalist in Glimmer Train?s Short Story Award for New Writers. Her stories have appeared in All Things Girl, Midwest Literary Magazine’s Bearing North, Read Short Fiction, Literary House Review, The MacGuffin, 322 Review, Fix it Broken, Clapboard House, Rougarou Fiction, and Sand Canyon Review. Her website is cassandradunn.com.

You can follow her and tweet about her story here at https://twitter.com/cassdunn