too many words by laura lemay


I broke up with Joey after he torched my car for the third time. He said it was an accident, but its always an accident with him, you know? There’s always so much a girl can take, always scrubbing soot off the windows, always patching holes in your clothes and in the furniture, or covering the car seats with towels and duct tape because of his little “accidents.” And the smells he always leaves around him — those smells that make your sinuses hurt and force your eyes closed. Its just too much to take.

I told him last Saturday, and he argued with me, like you’d expect him to. You knew I was like this when we started dating, he said. You knew this was part of the package. And that’s true. Joey was always kind of scary, but in a fun way, him with all his matches and lighters, always playing with his Zippo, clacking it open and shut against the side of his leg when he was bored. And that habit he had of never lighting my cigarette with a single match. Always a whole book of them, all the matches exploding up in a stink of sulfur. He’d always take my cigarette from me, light it for me, lean into the flame and then look through it and past it and smile, and when he did a little flame would catch inside me, too. Every lit cigarette was a promise. And man, he always made good on those promises.

Joey was fun that way, for a while. But it just gets too much, you know?

Once in the middle of the night he came to my house, pounded my door, come on, come on, he got me out of bed, got me dressed, I was half asleep and didn’t know what was going on. There’s a big fire up by the lumberyard, let’s go watch, he finally explained to me as he bundled me up into my car, as we snuck up the hill over the high school. The lumberyard itself was on fire, I could see as I hunkered down on the grass with a blanket around me and Joey paced excitedly in the light. I knew people who worked at that yard, and I tried to explain this to Joey, but he just said yeah, whatever, and then the roof fell in and the flames blew up into the air and he jumped up and whooped like his team won the Superbowl or something. Like he didn’t even care.

I wondered after the fire burned down a little how it had started, and Joey said that maybe they had been storing gasoline in the warehouse. I said I couldn’t imagine why they would do that. Joey just laughed. Later on the newspapers said that the fire had started because of cans of gasoline in the warehouse.

Joey’s come by the house a couple times since I ditched him. Called a couple times. I figure I’ve said all I need to say, and that’s it, there doesn’t need to be any more arguing. I thought he had gotten the hint a few days ago, but the other night when I got home I thought I saw someone out by the basement door. Went out with a flashlight but there was nothing there. Thought I smelled something, but its fall, you know, and things always smell funny in the fall.

But I’m just here to tell you, just in case, that I’ve never stored any gasoline in my basement.