you-can-take-it-from-here

You Can Take It From Here

North Carolina writer Marguerite Hogan brings us this odd and witty little yarn about a woman who gets very good relationship advice from a colorful talking condom.

Angel hadn’t seen a condom in years. But the sight of them, colorful and glossy in a clear glass bowl on the counter of the unisex bathroom, made her feel oddly nostalgic. They held her the way sunlight grazing the glass surface of a full gumball machine had held her as a child. Her mouth began to water.

There were so many. Would they ever run out? I want one. Her hand twitched.

Without another thought, she plunged her fist straight into the bowl with such enthusiasm that her knuckles struck the bottom and forced several condoms out onto the counter. She wiggled her fingers until she settled on one. The round, rubber ring of the condom slid around inside its plastic wrapper as she closed her hand around it. Giddy, she tucked the condom into the cavernous pocket of her raincoat and fled.

As she returned to the apartment she shared with Chet, practical questions emerged. Where would she store the condom? What would she do with it? How would she explain it to Chet? They hadn’t used condoms in years. So why did she have it?

For the next week, Angel obsessed about the condom’s whereabouts, especially relative to Chet’s whereabouts. She moved it around several times a day. She tried a shoebox on the top rack of the closet and the back of a drawer full of nails and appliance manuals.

Whenever she imagined Chet finding it, harsh words and spit flying, she imagined herself flustered, face burning, unable to explain. Panicked, she would scramble to find a better hiding place. And as she overturned pillows and reconfigured the contents of the kitchen cupboards, she began to wonder why she was so afraid? It was just an impulse, she told herself. Nothing more.

After a week of hiding the condom around the apartment, she decided it had to go.

* * *

“Keep me,” Angel heard as she approached the trashcan of a nearby park. Her eyes scrambled about for a face to match the voice, but the park was empty. Her heart began to pound so intensely the contents of her ribcage rattled.

She looked down at the condom. “Keep me,” she heard it say.

“You’re talking,” she whispered.

“Keep me,” the condom repeated. “You want to.”

* * *

“My name is Geoffrey,” he told her when they were alone in her car.

“Are you really talking or am I imagining this?” Angel glanced around the dark carport to make sure no one else was there.

“I’m really talking,” the condom explained.

The voice was deep and resonant as it expanded into the stale air of the car. She imagined an Adam’s apple rolling beneath the velvety skin of a man’s neck when he swallowed. She imagined him looking into her eyes intently. And she suppressed a shiver.

“How is that possible?”

“Everything is possible,” he winked. “You know that.”

“Not this,” she laughed and shook her head.

“Have it your way,” he shrugged.

* * *

“Tell me something you’ve never told anyone,” Geoffrey said.

They were in Angel’s parked car again and she was resting her bare feet on the steering wheel while Geoffrey balanced on her left knee cap.

She thought for awhile. “I can’t think of anything.”

“Tell me about your first date then.”

“It was with Chet. In high school.”

“And?” he prodded.

“That’s it,” she said, trying to recall the name of the movie.

“That’s it?” Geoffrey cocked his head to one side and raised an eyebrow.

“I’m sorry if that wasn’t interesting enough for you.” She tossed her hair and imagined him watching her.

“Was it interesting enough for you?”

She felt her stomach lurch and a stinging feeling of an unpleasant memory began to swell within her. Geoffrey sat patiently as if he already knew what she would say.

“About a year earlier,” she began slowly, “a boy asked for my phone number.”

“Can you blame him?” Geoffrey touched her cheek.

And her eyes filled with tears.

“Tell me why you’re crying,”

She imagined Geoffrey reclining, ankles crossed, gazing at her sweetly.

“I was really excited to tell my mother that a guy asked for my number,” she began. “I expected her to be proud. She always wanted to know who I liked and encouraged me to look as attractive as possible around him. She recommended fad diets. I thought the whole point was to get a guy’s attention. When I told her, she was washing dishes at the sink and had her back to me. But when she turned around, her face looked so hard, like it was about to crack. She asked a few questions about him and I told her what I knew, which wasn’t much. Because I wasn’t really interested in him. I was just doing what I thought she wanted me to do.”

Angel could feel the grainy skin of Geoffrey’s fingertips stroking her wrist.

“And then what happened?” he asked.

“Then,” her voice cracked. “She called me a slut. Because I gave a boy my phone number.” Tears cascaded over her jaw, down her neck and into the crevices of her collarbone. She dropped her chin to her chest.

“It’s okay,” Geoffrey said. And she imagined his arms snug around her, the warm air circulating between her open mouth and his bare neck, her runny nose darkening his collar with streaks of snot.

Angel sniffled. “There’s more.”

“I’m still listening,” Geoffrey whispered.

“I was so stunned and embarrassed that I turned to walk away from her. But before I could take a step, something smacked me in the back of my head. I heard a loud bang as it hit the floor.”

She pressed her face firmly into the skin of Geoffrey’s neck as the bristles of his stubble imprinted on her balmy forehead. He cupped the back of her head with his large palm. She could hear the crunch of her hair giving way to his fingers.

“It was a bottle of dish soap,” Angel sobbed. “And then she called me a slut again.”

“There’s no such thing as a slut,” Geoffrey said.

“I know that now,” Angel wiped her tears with the back of her hand. Then she added, “But I married the first guy I dated just to show her that I wasn’t.”

They sat in silence for awhile.

“I’ve never told anyone that before,” Angel confessed.

“Not even Chet?”

“Not even Chet.”

* * *

“Who named you Geoffrey?” Angel mused as she traced the letters on the surface of Geoffrey’s wrapper while he reclined against the mound of her thumb. She imagined him moaning softly on his exhale. They were parked in their usual spot.

“I did,” Geoffrey said. “Who named you Angel?” She heard the rustle of his jeans against the taut fabric of the passenger seat as he turned toward her and leaned closer.

“My mother.”

“What would you have named yourself?”

Angel nearly snorted. “What a silly question! Why does it matter?”

“Why does it matter what someone else named you?”

She shrugged. “You have a point. But I like my name. Who doesn’t like angels?”

“I love angels.” Geoffrey’s voice vibrated softly. She felt the jagged callouses of his palm scuff her knuckles as he covered her hand with his and slowly interlaced their fingers. The heat of his touch crawled up her arm like a vine.

“If only I was one,” her voice broke suddenly.

“Aren’t you?” Geoffrey probed. She could feel the humidity of his breath as he looked down at her, lips slightly parted to reveal the bumpy, white bottoms of his two front teeth. She imagined his tongue, hovering just behind them, coarse and damp.

“I’ve gotten so many conflicting messages,” Angel sighed as Geoffrey hummed lightly, stroking her ear, then her jaw, fingertips grazing her neck. “It’s all so confusing,” she sniffled.

“What part?”

“All of it. I’m an angel. I’m a slut. I’m talking to a condom.”

“Yes, no, maybe so. But nobody else can tell you what you are.”

* * *

“Are you cheating on me?” Chet demanded, banging his open palms against the table.

“No,” Angel said firmly.

“Then who the hell is Geoffrey?”

“I already told you. This is Geoffrey,” she motioned toward the condom lying on the table between them.

Chet snorted in annoyance. “And why did you name him that?”

“He named himself.”

“Please be serious.” Chet’s voice was stern, the wrinkles around his eyes looked more entrenched than usual.

“I know it sounds crazy. But I promise I’m not cheating on you.”

“Why are you carrying around a condom then?”

She held her breath.

“Were you thinking about cheating on me?”

“Probably not?”

Chet rolled his eyes. “And then the condom started talking to you?”

Angel nodded enthusiastically.

“Ridiculous,” he groaned wearily. And then a moment later: “But I believe you.”

“You do?” She squeaked and sat upright, feeling a surge of gratitude.

“I believe that you’re not cheating on me,” he pushed his chair back from the table. “But I don’t believe the condom is talking to you. You need help.”

Chet rose and started to turn away.

“Where are you going?” Angel resisted the urge to grab for his arm.

“I don’t have anything more to say.” His back was to her now.

“But I do,” she said as assertively as she could.

* * *

“Does Chet know about me?” Geoffrey had asked one afternoon.

“Of course not,” Angel had snapped back at him. “How would I explain this?”

“Just tell him the truth.”

“I don’t even know what that is.”

“I think you do,” he nudged her shoulder gently.

She leaned closer to him and inhaled the distinct scent of his aftershave. “Geoffrey,” she said a few minutes later. “I love you.”

Geoffrey didn’t answer.

* * *

“Go on.” Chet’s voice was sharp. He was standing beside the table now, arms crossed over his broad chest.

“I just need a minute.”

She scooped up Geoffrey in both palms and turned away from Chet.

“Geoffrey,” she raised her hands to her face and whispered to the condom. “Please. Just talk to me one more time. I can’t do this without you.”

She stared down at the crinkled plastic, scuffed now.

“You can take it from here,” she thought she heard it say.

“Did you hear that?” She turned to Chet abruptly.

“You begged a condom to talk to you.” Chet frowned. “Please get on with this.”

She looked back at Geoffrey. “You can take it from here,” she heard again. But it wasn’t Geoffrey’s voice this time. It was her own. She dropped the condom and turned back to Chet.

“I want a divorce,” she announced.

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Marguerite Hogan

Marguerite Hogan

Marguerite Hogan is a lawyer, writer, yogini, and rookie pole dancer based in Brooklyn and Asheville, North Carolina. She loves wrangling her crew of children and furry creatures. Her writing appears in The Great Smokies Review and Kakalak 2021.

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