The Bad Boyfriend

The bad boyfriend often writes emails after having done something he thinks the girlfriend dislikes, but for the most part she doesn’t really care one way or the other; in fact, she doesn’t even think of him as a boyfriend at all, but as more of a friend with whom she shares certain privileges. The girlfriend is really still in love with a previous partner she did refer to as a boyfriend, but things were complicated, and she needed to get out of town. Then the ex-boyfriend, with a quickness that hurt her, found another girlfriend with whom he tells his now ex-girlfriend he is in more love than he has ever been with anyone. He says he can share this with her, because they are such good friends now and he feels like he can tell her anything.

The bad-not-really-boyfriend walks out of the apartment where the not-really-girlfriend is vacuuming at 2 a.m. They were trying to watch Chinatown, and early in the movie, when the shepherd barges into the courtyard with his flock of braying sheep, the not-really-girlfriend began to fidget and yell at the old, possibly senile, chihuahua she got from the humane society. The chihuahua is not really hers, that is, she didn’t adopt it, but is just watching it before it finds a permanent loving home. But even though she is just watching the chihuahua that regularly urinates and defecates on her carpet, she has spent over a hundred dollars on food, toys, and even a bed for the at times adorable, at times vexing little bundle of joy she affectionately and sometimes crossly refers to as Pepe.

Before the not-really-girlfriend vacuums the apartment at 2 a.m. she questions the not-really-boyfriend about where he put the vacuum as he was the last one to use it when he dog sat for the not-really-girlfriend when she had a long 12 hour shift at her job at the hair salon. When the not-really-girlfriend came home that day, she was touched by all the cleaning the not-really-boyfriend had done, and the inexpensive, yet charming flowers he’d bought and arranged all around her apartment—for almost an hour the not-really-girlfriend felt a little warm glow emanating from her chest, and for the first time she considered that perhaps, sometime in the future when she was feeling better about her previous breakup and moving to the new city where she knew virtually no one, perhaps then she would consider promoting the not-really-boyfriend to an actual-real-boyfriend. But when she realized that the not-really-boyfriend had rearranged her things, like putting the vacuum in the porch closet, the not-really-girlfriend felt herself fighting a feeling of frustration about the not-really-boyfriend, which led to anxiety and caused her to go in search of the bottle of benzodiazepine she was prescribed by her psychiatrist.

Prior to attempting to watch Chinatown, the not-really-boyfriend had come to the not-really-girlfriend’s house to work on his computer. When he’d walked through the door the not-really-girlfriend gave him such a long and tight hug that he began to worry that something bad had happened and that instead of working, he’d have to spend his time comforting and placating the not-really-girlfriend, and talking to her about whatever awful thing had happened. But it was nothing, she was just feeling emotional that’s all and was glad that the not-really-boyfriend had finally arrived, then she walked back to the couch and resumed watching a romantic drama in which an aspiring young cellist had to decide whether to live or die after a tragic car accident takes the lives of her mother and father.

The not-really-boyfriend feels relieved that the wave of emotion was likely caused by the film, and not by anything “really important.” As soon as this thought passes through his mind, he reprimands himself for forgetting that movies and art and books are what make life really worth living and that it is important that this particular movie has touched the not-really-girlfriend in a way to make her open up and allow herself to share her emotion with the not-really-boyfriend. 

Having sat for five minutes on the couch next to the not-really-girlfriend, and listened to the romantic drama about the aspiring cellist, the not-really-boyfriend must consciously fight the urge to say something snarky and sarcastic about the movie. After ten minutes, he imagines taking the protagonist, that is, the aspiring cellist by her long brown hair and shoving her head into a bucket of ice water. This image disturbs the not-really-boyfriend who does not consider himself to be a violent or even vitriolic person, but the corny flashbacks and the flat maudlin dialogue hurt the not-really-boyfriend in the place he imagines his soul would reside, if he had a soul, that is, if he believed in souls.

The problem in part is that the not-really-boyfriend considers himself to be a writer or an artist of some kind, even though he has never published anything more than a few short stories and reviews of other, much more successful, writers whose novels have large print-runs with big publishing houses. This lack of literary success has made the not-really-boyfriend resentful and vitriolic, even though he does not see himself as such.

But the impulse to physically harm the protagonist of the romantic drama startles him, and so he gets up and goes to the bathroom and just stares at his not-so-young-face in the unlit bathroom’s mirror before returning to the not-really-girlfriend who he feels he loves in an important way and doesn’t want to offend or hurt.

Less than a minute later he says something about the film, and continues making offhand sarcastic remarks until the not-really-girlfriend agrees with him and turns off the movie with still some 15 minutes left.

Peter Golub is a Moscow-born writer and scholar. Having attended the graduate programs of Columbia University and UC Berkeley, he has failed to get his PhD, and is pretty much persona non grata in the Slavic studies world. His only hope is to publish his gargantuan speculative-sci-fi-fantasy tour de force about a sapient goat that travels between possible worlds to solve the present Earth’s major environmental and humanitarian crises. He has published fiction, essays, translations, and poetry online and in print. He edited Jacket Magazine’s New Russian Poetry feature (2008) and helped translate and edit several other anthologies. He is a co-editor of the
St. Petersburg Review and a frequent contributor to Otis Nebula. He has never been nominated for a Pushcart, or even dreamed of such lofty heights as a PEN, though it is an award he received for best literary translation in 2015. He does not live in New York City, but somewhere underground with many cats. His major work, My Imagined Funeral (Argo-Risk Press 2007) was published in Russia and is not available in the US.

© Ira Joel Haber

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