In Polite Rejection (Otis’s Heart) | The New Engagement
In Polite Rejection story art

In Polite Rejection (Otis’s Heart)

By Sam Desmond

Should she blame the Ambien again this time?  Would he buy her story that she had no idea what she was texting to him the night before?  Maybe it was time to finally give up on him?  He made it clear a million, subtle times he wasn’t interested in her, but she just couldn’t let him be polite about it.  She had to go overboard with overtures and proposition him head on.  She looked back at her phone and winced at what she wrote and winced even harder at his hours of non-replies.

“It’s so hard to have a crush on you.”

“Why don’t you want me?  Is it because of my weight?”

“But we have an open marriage!”

Finally he answered with, “What is the matter with you?  You’re married to one of my friends.”

And of course she couldn’t leave it at that.  No.  She had to call him.  At least there was the sweet release of not remembering what he said on the call.

Well, not precisely remembering.  She remembered he did say, “I’m not into that.  I’m not okay with it.”

Translation:  if you were hotter, or just more impressive as a person I’d have said “yes.” I’d have said “yes” a long time ago.  She knew he’d fucked at least one other married woman.  Was it a worse fate than other women in his past who had been fucked before they were forgotten?  No, she couldn’t even get there.  She’d always be the geek who couldn’t get laid, who didn’t quite understand the outrage at Brock Turner because she not-so-secretly dreamed of having someone sexually assault her.  Of course, safely by someone she was attracted to in the first place. 

But her husband never made her feel desired.  Not as a woman.  Not even as a girl.  Their first night together she had to convince him to take her virginity.  “No, come on, put your shirt back on.”  In response, she took off her bra.  He told her she was beautiful.  That he found her to be the most beautiful girl—woman—in the world.  But it all felt hollow.  Every repetition made it seem even more preposterous.  And why  always,“beautiful”?  That was for souls, not bodies. 

But with her husband it was more disappointment than anything else.  He was too good for her.  Too noble.  Too handsome.  Too understanding.  Too steadfast.  It was the reason why she could let him fuck someone else, not that he ever did.  But he could.  And even with copious permission, she couldn’t.  And now it was all in black and white---or pink and green as she had changed her phone background to---to see.  He didn’t want her.  Even if having an affair was okay.  Even if he wasn’t entangled with a wife of his own. 

She wrote him an apology text that morning, “I’m sorry for the tough and awkward position I put you in yesterday” (‘yesterday’ sounded less whore-ish than ‘night’) and “I value your friendship highly.”  She knew he wouldn’t answer her back.  She didn’t even have his tenuous friendship anymore.  Her impatience to hit the sheets had cost her her only grasp of him. 

She told her husband what she had sent to him and he rolled his eyes knowing her childish, and moronic ideas of lust had cock-blocked her yet again.  Why did Lifetime make affairs seem so common?  Why did society make men seem so willing?  Why did she seem so tone-deaf to the mating ritual?  Because she lived in fantasy.  And she didn’t need to. 

She had the best husband in the world.  One who told her she was beautiful after gaining 150 pounds.  One who loved her enough to coach her to lose that weight.  One who understood the medication made it more difficult.  This all led into why she couldn’t be with just him.  She didn’t deserve him.  Not at her best and certainly not at her current.  He loved her in spite of her flaws and sometimes because of them.

She deleted his contact information from her phone and the hundreds of text messages between them.  Part of her was upset that he acted like he didn’t see it coming.  Like she was a guy who just got “friend-zone’d”

Maybe he was saving face.  Maybe he was following what he deemed standard protocol.  Maybe he was honestly a good man who didn’t want to involve himself with a married woman.  He told her last night, “I really like you as a friend.” The death knell to her treasured world of fantasy.  But did it even have anything to do with him?  Or did she just want to feel the rush of pursuit?  Something she had never experienced from someone she was attracted to.  Maybe that’s why she had always wanted married men before.  It meant that they had to defy society to want her.  It meant she couldn’t twist it in her head that they weren’t attracted to her.  It meant the world to her and her husband understood this.  She didn’t deserve him.  He deserved a beautiful, dutiful wife who could earn a good living and actually be his partner.  His one flaw was loving her.  Secretly she hoped he’d get drunk and disappear for hours like he used to because it would at least give her a tangible flaw to bring up as she tried to seduce other men.  But now she was making it worse painting herself to be s harlot as he rolled his eyes at her clumsy attempts. 

Her husband had 53—at least 53—confirmed women before her.  She knew this because in a jealous tantrum early in their relationship she went through his phone asking about every female entry.  Did you fuck her?  How many times did you fuck her?  Was she good?  What parts of her body do you remember the most?  Maybe if having given him her virginity had been more sacred to him instead of odd she wouldn’t be having this latent rebellion to fuck more people to prove she could.  She wanted someone to wail like Otis did because of her.  Other than her husband.  But it would never be any guy she wanted. 

She kept checking her phone knowing he’d never text her enough for her to stop wanting to hear from him.  Maybe she would’ve been better off having her heart broken a few times before she got married so she could appreciate what she had instead of taking it for granted out of what was really boredom.  But this had been her entire experience with men she was attracted to and unfortunately revealed her feelings to. 

In her past there was the English teacher who spent so much time with her cultivating her talent, reassuring her of her beauty, joking with her like an adult.  She tearfully held her yearbook for him to sign and almost as tearfully told him that she wanted him.  Of course he did the right thing and said, “As much fun as this would be for me, I can’t.  I saw John Mahoney in Moonstruck and vowed I’d never be that teacher.”

Of course, being seventeen she didn’t quite give up and took bolder chances, wore skimpier clothes.  One solitary study hall where she sat next to him she leaned back in her chair, crossed her ankles, lifted her paired legs up, and landed her feet softly on his lap.  There was a glimmer of a smile on his face and she thought she’d won, but instead he backed away and asked—threatened—“Do I need to start avoiding you?”  Just like he did last night.

That’s always when it stopped being fantasy and she would be devastated at the thought of losing the halfway relationship she wished had been more.  But what was the point of the conversations, of all the ‘understanding’, of all the mentorship if not to fuck at the end of it?  Didn’t a passionate kiss after a high-five slapping conversation make sense to anyone else?  Why was society dead set on convincing her that men were always angling for sex when it was her embarrassing experience that they didn’t want it when she was willing? 

It was one of the few points in her marriage that made her feel physically desirable.  She had withheld any intellectual, or deep conversation, with her husband when they first started dating.  She was near dead silent.  Agreeable.  Stupid, even.  He had to have found her physically attractive to have wanted to be with her despite the lack of mental connection.  But now she felt that’s all they were and whatever beauty he thought she possessed was tied into respect and therefore untrue. 

And every woman wanted to be seen as physically attractive.  Only “ugly chicks needed feminism.”  She was sure even Gloria Steinhem stared at her stomach and thighs in the mirror during the first days of “Ms.” wondering how she would look in front of the cameras.  She wanted to feel desirable.  She wanted to feel as desired as she had felt towards all the men who politely said, “no thank you.”  The most recent one was just hurting the most.

She thought back to all the recycled memes and GIFs he sent her to make her feel better about “haters” when she felt excluded.  The two-minute long voice messages he left her after 9 o’clock and a long day of work for him. All the times she spoke to her husband about his actions and he assured her he was a man acting interested and flirting.  But that was all gone now, all over because he would never speak to her again.  And if she tried to speak to him he’d ignore it, or simply say, “Please don’t contact me anymore. Thanks.”

But what if she could finally be hot?  Have a yoga body to-die-for like the friend of hers she tried to set him up with and he went crazy for?  Dye her hair even blonder?  Just be irresistible?  Would he want her?  Or would that just get her into the worse position of being fucked and forgotten?  Was fate doing her a favor by preserving these relationships as platonic? 

No. 

It was killing her to stare in the mirror every day and know only other straight women would ever look at her as if she were beautiful.  In a completely VW Bug type of way.

Was she the most pitiful of sluts to not even be able to fuck?  She had a step-father.  A wonderful, dutiful step-father who took over the payments after her mother had cut out her own biological father.  That was her insecurity always; that she was “loved” out of duty and not truly.  That was the “daddy issue” with her latest rejection.  Was he just being polite and dutiful, not even as a friend, but for his own sake of being a good man and ultimately wished of not having her as a burden?  She had even hated using term “step-father” because she wanted more than anything to be “daddy’s little girl.”  Even as a child she thanked her step-father for working overtime, for being a ‘real dad, not just a father,’ for the gift of taking on a burden that wasn’t his. 

Now, or perhaps always, it was a romantic need for the same.  And she kept receiving the same response of, “I love you, but in a secondary, step-child way.”

It was true, she deified any man unfortunate enough to be the focus of her affection.  She deified them so she would never be good enough to be their little girl.  Great, she thought, I’m as trite as having daddy issues

Maybe that was why she had started a new obsession on Pinterest with miniature fairy gardens.  Fairies were naïve, romantic prudes, or awkward virgins.  Mermaids were the emblem of tried-and-true sluts and whores.  Dollhouses were safe, sterile, and controllable.  The dolls had no choice but to follow through on her fantasies.  They possessed no life to disappoint her.  They couldn’t reject her like they politely did in real life.  Like he did.  Like the “he” always did. 

His words kept coming back.  She squinted her eyes to keep them blurry as she deleted the texts from the previous night to keep herself from re-reading and remembering in sobriety.  But it was no use.  Why did she have to call him after he sent those texts?  Why did she have to torture herself more?  Why didn’t he ‘politely’ let her believe in what she wanted from him?  “Well, I value you as a friend.” It had to be because she wasn’t hot enough.  That was a much more palatable rejection.  Her whole life her weight had been the missing piece.  Her step-father had tried to warn her, “You seem to only like white guys; they like their women thin.”  Everything. Every vice came down to that.  The bulimia of her adolescence.  The coke of her twenties.  The psychotropic meds of the rest of her life. 

She fantasized about what her life would be like it if it weren’t for her husband’s constant push to health.  She’d be single.  She’d weigh at least 400 pounds and would escape every night into mac-and-cheese and Audrey Hepburn movies where she was thin. 

In her friendship with her latest rejection, he had told her in his younger days, he always “found it hard to find someone really good-looking” and now in his mid-thirties realized, “it seems the better looking girls are, the shallower they seem to be.”  Or maybe it didn’t matter what her weight was.  She was just too unusual looking for his WASPy sensibilities and his blood lust for trophies.  Maybe dyeing her hair blonde made her look even more pathetic.  More garishly odd.  He said, “It’s not because of your weight.” But that was clearly still in a state of politeness. 

Why did Ambien always let her remember a few details?  Now she would never hear from him.  She was always worried he was avoiding her and now he didn’t even have a polite reason to respond to her mewling texts now.  She dreaded all the events she’d have to go to knowing he’d be cold to her.  And nothing stung like the social avoidance of a WASP.  She’d have to endure it, pretend it didn’t happen, only to ruminate about it for weeks.  Months ago he had asked her to “cool it with the hugging” if she visited him at work. 

“You don’t like my hugs?”

“No…I like your hugs.  Just not when you’re supposed to be formal.”

Why didn’t he just read her short stories where he was an enviable character?  Written as everything he wished to see himself as.  As she willed herself to see him, and grander even.  Or did he actually read it and feel embarrassed?  Did an artist ever seduce a muse with their work or did it always turn out as painful as the delivery of “The Little Mermaid”?  Or van Gogh’s ear? 

Maybe that’s how she should have looked at his final rejection; his way of inspiring.

***

MY YOUNG MUCKER

 

Ambition appeals to me

The altruistic guise falls short in my eyes

     but widens my pupils

He makes his speeches to one or a hundred

     never emanating self-interest, but one in me

     or so I hope

 

That’s what it is!  His name.

     So simple, enabled to take the world

     But only by his willing birthright

 

A simple name, an ambitious mind, and

     charm to bring it all together

 

I sit back and hope to see those eyes

For what do I matter under that smile

 

The girl cannot be me.

My name is not simple.

My words are a liability.

Join Us!

Mercy, ingenuity, nuance, complex truths, guts and honor still matter! Join us in proclaiming so by purchasing, or giving the gift of, a print subscription (2 issues per year) to The New Engagement.

Subscribe

Follow Us

"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."
~ James Baldwin

Help us spread the ethos of compassion and understanding by joining our social media networks and sharing generously!

Contests & Prizes

Flash Fiction Contest
On May 1st, we announced the winners of our Flash Fiction Contest: Thomas Garcia (1st), Rick Krizman (2nd), and Rios de la Luz (3rd). Read more.

The James Baldwin Literature Prize
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of The James Baldwin Literature Prize of $1,000 to Hafsa Musa. Read more.

The New Engagement

The New Engagement endeavors a novel approach to discovering, introducing, and showcasing writers, artists, and filmmakers, by providing them digital and print platforms, while encouraging and supporting their social-consciousness.