I’ve decided I won’t leave until I can chew off this little flap of skin in the left corner of my thumbnail. She’s been talking about her children for the last ten minutes and all I can do is worry this little filament of skin that I’m sure I’ll miss once it’s gone. I know the risks of being here. I know the risks of tearing too quickly or biting down too deeply. Maybe the blood will give us something else to talk about. I came here to see if she was the same or if the domestication she always wished for had made her as safe as a bran muffin.
Some things are the same: her hair is still strawberry red and curly a product of a liberal dose of mousse—her hands used to glisten and sometimes I’d let her rub the excess in my own hair and we’d take bets on how long it would stand up to the day’s grease and grime—invisible to us back then; her eyes still squint when she laughs, though her glasses are smaller, more stylish and her eyes no longer look like ink splots in the curve of a mirror; She still punctuates her jokes and insights with a squeeze of my elbow or a slap of my thigh, but I’ve learned not to sit close enough for that to happen. Not that I don’t want the contact, it’s just that I know it won’t go anywhere, it’s the way she talks with everyone now, a thing I thought was just for me.
I take the skin out of my mouth and try to fold it back with the nail of my index finger. The skin stubbornly holds on like a piece of tape on a package sent in the mail. You know, the one you’ve been expecting. Sitting here after thirty minutes is an expectation, an act of hope, knowing that her husband is gone, at work, where he wears steel toed boots and slides wood beams through a lathe until they’re the perfect length for the lattice of a truss that will fit the house he’s hoping to build himself. Again I’ve miscalculated her loyalty. The kids too would have to disappear. But even I can’t wish that. It’s not like I haven’t went there before, because I’ve tried. Tried to remind her of what it used to be like.
I’m not so different, she points out, leaning in and slapping my leg near the knee. Please, I say, not adding the don’t. I swear if she touches me again I’ll get up and leave.
I like this talking, I say. Well, we’ve always been able to talk, she says.
It’s come down to this then. Talking. Parked cars and lifted shirts, jean buttons snapping against seat belt buckles as the material gathered at our knees, not caring if we got caught. We should have worried. Now we’re held hostage by the gravity of our lives sliding closer and closer to the saw blade.
I put that skin in my mouth and I bite until I taste the iron and salt of blood. I stand and show her my thumb, as if she’s the cause. You never could leave them alone, she says. I get you a towel, she says. I stand there letting the blood drip down on to the carpet. It takes her awhile to come back. I had to check on the kids, she says, holding out a piece of paper towel. I take it and wipe at the blood. No, silly, she says, taking my hand. She applies the paper towel to my thumb. You’ve got to put pressure on it or it’ll never stop, she says. You’re as bad as the kids, she says. Don’t you know any better?
I never have, I say. Finally we’re close enough to kiss. Where there used to be the smell of perfume, I can smell the dried sweat on her neck. I lean in and she bobs away.
Oh Hush, she says. She takes away the bloody towel and straps on a Band-Aid. She kisses the tip of my thumb and I stand there waiting for her to tell me to go play. I’m nothing more than another child to her now; A jagged puzzle piece of a memory that no longer fits.
About the author:
During the day, Tommy Dean works as a middle school English teacher. A chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV is available from Redbird Chapbooks. A graduate of the Queens University of Charlotte MFA program, he has been previously published in the Watershed Review, Apollo’s Lyre, r.kv.r.y, Boston Literary Magazine, Blue Lake Review, and 5X5. He can be contacted here.