Common Uses of Back Alleys

“It’s like love, isn’t it?” he paused for dramatic effect, “back alleys,” he paused once again, “all the mess that you can’t live without.” We were actually standing in a back alley while he was saying this, not the back alley of our relationship, where our love is supposed to litter the low-lit sidewalks, but just a back alley behind our apartment, where all the used condoms and cigarette butts come to die.

I felt like one of those used condoms when he said what he said about love. I’m out of the sealed package, that’s for sure, the veneer of protection no longer applies to me. He had a lot to say, as usual. We stood in that back alley, and he kept talking about love, but I was too busy staring at the used condoms that were scattered all around us like popery. I was looking at the used condoms with longing at this point, thinking it must be such a relief to be a used condom, to know that you’re done, no more stretching and molding to fit someone else’s shape.

He doesn’t even read fiction. Not just my barren attempts, but fiction in general, he doesn’t get it. He’s a newspaper guy, the kind who plays with his iPhone while sitting on the toilet and doesn’t wash his hands afterwards if he only took a piss. I don’t know why all of this is connected in my mind, maybe because I should’ve washed my hands of this, whatever this is, a long time ago but instead I chose to stay in the dark. That’s the dark side of fiction, the stories we tell ourselves while we turn off parts of ourselves to make it work, and then we call this the work of love.

Love was in the air because he kept annunciating the word, keeping it afloat, puncturing the faint odor of the waste. Despite the sour reputation of back alleys, this one didn’t smell like a garbage can. It was rustic and even romantic in a hippy sort of a way. I was actually trying to catch a sniff of the used condoms, thinking that something must linger, some remains of the haste and lust of back alley sex. It wasn’t a conscious act at first, and when I realized what I was doing it made me feel like a dog scraping for leftovers.

I finally looked at him, I guess he was waiting for my approving gaze in order to propose. He didn’t kneel but he had a ring, it was small but nice. My hands were clenched into fists so we ended up just standing there, and I couldn’t tell who was the used condom anymore. He’s probably still standing there, in the back alley behind his apartment, making a calendar note –Return the ring. Get a refund.

***

Inbar Kaminsky is a PhD candidate in the English and American Studies Department at Tel Aviv University. Her publishing record includes a short story entitled “The Master of Tel Aviv,” published by Two Serious Ladies Magazine as well as several academic articles published in Philip Roth Studies and in essay collections such as Michael Chabon’s America: Magical Words, Secret Worlds, and Sacred Spaces (Rowman & Littlefield) and Critical Reflections on Audience and Narrativity – New Connections, New Perspectives (Ibidem-Verlag)

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