by Cathy Ulrich
As I lie beside you, I think of the difference between our names — hers and mine. Hers, all soft consonants and dragging vowels, and mine, sharp as a hammer strike. You’ve said her name once, by accident or habit, at the café, oh, Sasha and I go here together sometimes. I trace it into your bare shoulder, kiss your bare shoulder, whisper I love you, whisper her name.
She hates me, I say. She must hate me.
You say: She doesn’t know you.
My friends say: You came all this way to be with him. So be with him.
They want me to take you back to my place, move you in, tuck you in the corner like a lamp, a reupholstered chair. They want me to stop sending them photos of you I have taken when you’re not looking, gazing out the café window. Is that snow, you said, it never snows here, so that when I see the sky heavy with snow that does not fall, I think of you.
I held my phone in my hand, just above the table, wanted to capture you like this, wanted to capture you at all. Forwarded it to my friends. You were still looking out the window, waiting for the unfallen snow.
They said: It’s like he doesn’t even see you.
I know, I said. I know.
I have never lived in a place so small before, books in cardboard boxes under my bed, dishes in a pile on the counter. Stand at the sink to eat, bump my elbow on the door when I leave. Cardigans spill out of my drawers, always with wrinkled elbows. Her name is so much smoother than mine, and she wears crisply ironed jackets.
In my apartment, there is barely room for us both. We are so close in my apartment, shoulders brushing. You hold me up against the wall, kiss me the way I asked you to, slow, like that, yes, and I whisper her name into your mouth.
I follow her to her favorite café after she leaves your apartment. It isn’t ours, not the one I think of as ours, where you looked out the window, waited on the snow-thick clouds. She likes fancy coffees with foamy tops.
How do you take it? The barista asks.
Black, I say.
She has known you longer. I barely know you at all, still learning the scars on your hands, the bump of your broken nose, the sound of your breath, the sound of my name, my name, in your mouth.
She doesn’t mind, you say.
I say: Oh.
I say: Oh, that’s good.
I don’t say she’s lying, I know she’s lying. Because I would say it too, I would say I don’t mind, I would say, I don’t love you if I thought I could keep you.
She is pretty in her ironed jackets, not as pretty as me, I think, and hate myself. But she knows how to wear makeup, how to style her hair. She smiles sometimes, at me, sitting at a table at her favorite café, and I nod and smile back, like we are friends, like we are something, at least, something, two women having coffee at the same time every day.
I don’t even like coffee, pretend to sip mine till she has gone, think of cruel things like asking you to meet me here, like asking you to fuck me here in their small bathroom, like asking you to leave her.
My hand shakes when I lift my coffee to my mouth, let it burn the tip of my tongue.
Outside, it is beginning to snow. I look out the window and think of you. Trace your name onto the tabletop, my name, hers. How nicely your names fit together, how mine seems like an afterthought. Loop my fingers through our names over and over, like I do on your skin, write her name, write yours, whisper I love you, know you will never say it back.
When she approaches my table with her full mug, I rise. I have been practicing standing in a way that seems accidental, tripping over the shoulder strap of my purse, so that I knock against her, your girl, your Sasha, knocking her coffee out of her hands. She bends to wipe it up and I bend too, behind her, crumpled napkins in my hand, whisper her name against the back of her neck.
She says: What?
I’m sorry, I say. I’m so sorry.
Cathy Ulrich has never liked her name, but please don’t tell her mother. Her work has appeared in various journals, including Memoir Mixtapes, Wigleaf and Jellyfish Review.
Art by Osmyn Oree
Ever since I started photographing nudes I noticed a troubling pattern within the community of photographers in my hometown. Nudes and especially the nude female is often portrayed in a sexual or objective way. Fetishistic beauty and making women look ‘good-enough’ was something I believe detracted from photographing nude bodies. My photography aims to reclaim the nude body from such fetishizations and show that bodies, especially female bodies are far more important than just objects of beauty or intrigue. Each shoot I set out to make my photographs less about the nude and more about the meaningful portrayal of a person. I want to tell a story about the person through the photographs or give the viewer an insight into who the person is and make the nudity less about the eroticism or shock value and more about the universal sense of rawness and honesty.