Oranges

orange

When it came time to come home, I was cold and hungry and tired and I had no idea yet that Drew was dead.

Mom greeted me at the door, smile too put on, hug too tight. Dad even hugged me. Dad never hugged other males. I brought a bag of oranges with me, set them on the table. I knew how much Drew loved oranges. Past tense. “Drew’s coming home” is how they put it. Mom searching my eyes for recognition, her own tearing up. Dad put his hand against the door frame. He punched it once, twice. Mom stopped him before he could split a knuckle.

We did the usual. Mom hauled out the photo album, blew the dust away from old polaroids. I remembered then that you’re not supposed to shake them, that doing so can damage the image. A couple of them attested to this fact: a shot of Drew and I with a blob between the two of us, another with a streak erasing Drew’s face.

Drew and I weren’t ever close. More like we were on the cusp of being close but one of us would always fuck it up at the last second. The last time I talked to him, the last thing I said was fuck you.

Everything in Drew’s room was just as he left it. Sports stars adorned every conceivable bit of wall space. Pennants to schools Drew never went to topped these. Everything still stunk of his cologne.

I went through his drawers, finding socks, the odd memento, condoms. Nothing that could paint a picture except when taken as a whole. I dug under his bed for the three-digit lockbox that was rusting out at the bottom, the one I never decoded. I fiddled with it a while before it gave way: lucky guess.

Inside: the old Nazi pamphlet our grandpa brought back from the war. And there Drew was going off to war a couple generations later, though never coming back from it. More mementos, a couple trophy pictures of girls he’d been with. And there, at the bottom: an old polaroid of us as kids, Drew propping me up by the armpits and me perpetually laughing at something off-camera. I touched the photo, rubbed Drew’s face. I put the photo back and closed the lockbox. Put it away. Punched the ground until my mom downstairs asked if I was okay.

When we would eventually see him there in his box, American flag covering it, they’d refuse to let us see him. It’d be a closed casket. When they said we couldn’t see him, I punched one of the soldiers in the face. I was put in a chokehold and told to calm down as my face turned red and a vein bulged in my head. I said I was calm. When they let me go, I straightened myself up. I cried onto his box, my tears coloring the oak like so much watercolor.

When I finally made it downstairs, Mom was there putting away old trinkets, little gifts Drew had given her over the years. Dad was in the kitchen peeling an orange with his hands, ripping off little tendrils with his thumb. He let the pieces of peel fall to the floor.

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Amari in My Heart

Life Cast Projection Test

I name the little person who screams inside my chest Amari. Maybe chest isn’t specific enough. Maybe heart is better. She stays quiet most of the time, only every speaking up when she knows that something’s wrong. I spend whole days trying to find what I will give her for dinner. She is very particular about the food she eats, especially for dinner. What I do is I open up the door in my chest and feed her little bites. She’s very particular about the bites I feed her. They must be just right.

When we are done with feeding, I close the door in my chest and try to do something that will please her. Lately it is becoming difficult to please her. She is always wanting extra attention, but when I give it to her she acts as though I’m smothering her.

She loves taking walks the most. When we take walks, she sings with the birds, chirping along with their songs till I can feel the reverberations in my ears, up and down my spine. When she sings on our walks I have to be careful to avoid other people for fear they’ll poke around in my chest for the source of the singing. You can never be too careful.

I go on a date with fear in my heart. Amari has been known to act up before, and she’ll probably do it again. I feed her little bits of turkey to calm her down before the date and hope the tryptophan kicks in for an early nap. She’s wired, however, and there’s no way to calm her down. I go on the date regardless. We meet at a lovely sushi restaurant I’ve been dying to check out. My date looks just like she did in her profile picture, and I hope I look the same too.

Amari coos in my chest, soft and quiet. I suppose she likes my date, or is at least comfortable. Luckily it’s not loud enough to hear. I’ve had dates hear Amari before, and it’s always the same. If I don’t trust them, I’ll pass it off as something else. If I do, I’ll show them the door in my chest, open it so they can see Amari. Not one has accepted her, the door, or me.

It wouldn’t do to leave Amari at home. I’ve left her out for extended periods before, but the outside world is much too cold for her. She needs the constant 98.6 degrees of my body to sustain her. She’s a delicate creature, no matter how feisty she can be.

I don’t remember how long I’ve had her, in case you’re wondering. I don’t know if it was at birth that she appeared to me, but I know that I’ve had her for as long as I can remember. My mother tried her best to accept her, but the whole situation gave her the chills. My father wasn’t much better. He thought she was an abomination but always made sure not to say it in front of me. I’d catch snatches of parental arguments, dad insisting we should pluck her from my chest and toss her out, that she was a disgusting parasite. My mom would always argue that maybe there was a purpose for her, that there had to be a purpose.

But anyway. The date. We placed our orders and made small talk over warm sake. Amari cooed warmly, replicating the melody of what was playing in the restaurant. She did it loud enough to be heard but her reproduction was similar enough where you couldn’t pick her apart.

We discussed literary matters, the latest books by Haruki Murakami and Zadie Smith, the brilliance of David Foster Wallace. Junot Díaz and his Oscar Wao, Drown, This Is How You Lose Her. She remained as brilliant as she seemed from her profile, and I think I kept up well enough too. Amari hummed quietly to herself as we ate California rolls and sipped sake.

Somewhere around the second course, Amari got impatient. She started babbling to me in her language that I’d never quite been able to decode. I told her to hush and my date asked me what I’d said. I told her this was lush… luscious. Great. It was all great. She looked at me like I sneezed onto her food and I attempted to steer the conversation back on track. Amari still kept it up all the while. At first, she sounded as if she could be a person at a nearby table. My date was none the wiser. In time, though, she got louder. A temper tantrum was common with Amari whenever I didn’t open my chest door and acknowledge her or at least hum or talk back to her. My date asked what that noise was and I asked what noise. She told me it sounded like a kid having a meltdown, but there were no kids here. I said I had no idea and guided us back on track again.

Amari quieted down from there. We debated the ending of The Broom of the System over dessert, and when it came time to it, I covered the check.

She invited me back to her place. We feverishly undid each other’s clothing practically the moment we walked through the door. I tried to leave my shirt on, which she fought against again and again. When she asked, I said I felt self-conscious. She insisted it was okay, that I could trust her. I unbuttoned my shirt one button at a time. Held the shirt together, then let it slide apart. Dropped it to the floor.

She wanted to touch the door, so I let her. She wanted to open the door, so I let her. Amari blinked at the light and cooed at her. She collected herself, acclimated to the sight of Amari, and cooed back. Closed the door. We laid down and made love on her bed.

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The Light of Your Eyes

Sunset

It was in the way you told me that summer night that we’d find a way back to each other, one way or another.

And how the postcards came in a full stream when you went on your great adventure, then steadied out, then went to a trickle, then stopped altogether.

It was in the way I couldn’t find your address when you were living abroad, and so we went months incommunicado.

It was us meeting in a crowd at a concert when you came back, and the way the glow of the sunset caught your blonde hair in a halo.

It was making love that first night back, in the backseat of your car, parked on one of the Smoky Mountains.

And then, maybe it was you heading off again, chasing a band halfway across the country, and how I said I’d be here when you got back.

Or maybe it was the fight when I saw you kiss the bassist, you telling me I didn’t own you, me saying it’s not like that, it’s just that we were supposed to be together, you saying I was maudlin.

There’s the way we made up after you left the band’s gang of roadies, catching a movie at the drive-in, my hand creeping up your leg.

I think of how I left to go off to grad school, and how I saw no one that first semester though I had the opportunity.

How we skyped to keep the flame alive, trading off horror movies to watch, and the way your smile was hurt at the end of each call.

I think it’s the way I came back for summer break and we entwined on your porch hammock, saying that this night wouldn’t end if we didn’t want it to.

It was you soaking my hand with your tears, holding me to you, not letting go even though I had to leave, had to make my plane, so we made love and I caught the next one.

It was drinking at a dorm room party and being forced by a friend into dancing with a girl who was eyeing me, and kissing her under the glow of Christmas lights.

It was skipping one Skype session, then two, telling you I was busy with schoolwork while I just couldn’t face you, couldn’t look you in the eye.

It was telling you when I couldn’t hold it in any longer and the way your face voided of all emotion, how you looked me in the eye before hanging up.

It was reaching your voicemail again and again, then you telling me to stop calling, so I started texting instead.

Maybe it was when you finally answered me, said this wouldn’t happen again, and I promised it wouldn’t, swore to you.

It might’ve been in the way I sent you flowers at the end of every week, not letting up though you told me to stop, laughing as you did.

I think it was the way the girl from the party hit me up, asked what I was up to, and I hesitated before telling her I wasn’t free.

I’m thinking it was asking you what we were, you asking why we had to be something, why we couldn’t just be.

Or maybe it was asking why we were exclusive then if we were just supposed to be, and you demanding rather than asking that I didn’t want to be exclusive.

It was ending that Skype call and punching the wall till I made a hole, nursing my fist after, icing it with frozen peas.

I’m pretty sure it was coming to see you unannounced, getting there just in time to see the guy you’d been fucking drive away.

How you flushed when I asked what that was, what the fuck that was, and you trying to tell me you get lonely sometimes.

Or maybe it was me screaming you don’t think I get lonely too, you think I don’t know how hard this is, whatever this is.

Or saying I wish I never met you, you crying right after I said it, and wanting to take it back but not being able to.

There was how we ended that night, together in your hammock, both of us crying, your head against my chest.

After that, there was me leaving again, with no guarantee that what happened wouldn’t happen again.

There was getting home and hitting up the girl from the party, coming back to my dorm room and fucking.

There was ditching out on the Skype calls for a week, then two, then a month, barely answering texts from you.

Then of course there was you calling and saying you couldn’t live without me, that you had no idea why I was doing this.

It was me saying I couldn’t do this anymore, this constant back and forth, and that if we were together we were together.

And you saying okay, and me saying no, I mean it, and you insisting that you did too, and the way I admitted to fucking that girl.

And how you said it was okay, it was in the past, granting me clemency just like that, and how I wanted to kiss you so bad in that moment.

There was dropping out of grad school and moving halfway across the country to be with you, and living together.

But more than all of it, than anything at all, it was catching the light of your eyes in the Arizona sunset when I told you that I loved you.

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Acc I Dent

accident

To run into traffic on a sunny day, and to stand motionless as the cars come careening close, as they slam on their brakes and collide to avoid you. To break open a bottle of ink and to splash it over everything you own, leaving nothing out. To break into the house across the street and to sleep there. To get a gun and point it at your mirror self. To blow a hole in your wall and to stand in the spray of water coming from the struck pipe. To immolate a papier-mâché version of yourself on the front lawn, and to shoot at the squirrels when they get too close. To close the door on each of your fingers till your nails fall off and the skin underneath is oily and purple. To punch the replaced mirror again and again, till nothing remains. To find an old newspaper clipping of what happened and to eat it, not even tearing it up first, just forcing it down. To crush the shards down into granulated glass and to put this glass into peanut butter for the squirrels. To break the fingers of the first person you meet on the road and to kiss them on the head as they wail and flail. To punch your stomach until it’s black and purple, the skin raised in knuckle prints like welts on the flesh. To tear your calendar on the anniversary of it and to shove it down the garbage disposal, mangling your hand when you reach down and into it. To refuse pain meds when the ambulance arrives and they take you to the hospital, you going in and out of consciousness as the sirens wail and wail and wail. To rip off the dressing that they put on the hand and to wave the appendage in front of the doctor’s face like a treat for a dog. To get on all fours and bark when they ask what’s wrong with you, and to laugh your spittle into the doctor’s face. To leave before they’ve signed you out and to catch a bus back home, bleeding on the seats. To rub the blood on your face and gibber incoherently when you start to catch stares. To relay the memories back to yourself, waving your hand back and forth as you do. To incorporate the memories of the trauma, to dislodge it from the dwelling place it’s hiding in. To look at old pictures of her, before it happened, and to cry quietly to yourself. To put the pictures in a safe place and to be sure not to drip any blood onto them. To wash your hand and to wash your hand and to scrub it as the pain radiates like balls of lightning. To swaddle the wound in a rag and to soak the rag in gasoline. To light up what you’ve made, this human torch, and to wail and flail to get it off. To let it burn, somehow not tearing it off, and to watch as the smoking rag falls off on its own, no blood leaking from the wound anymore. To allow yourself two crushed aspirin and to swallow it dry, the metal taste seeping into you, filling you up. To fish the photos back out and to hold them up to the flame. To singe off your eyebrows for even thinking of it. To grab a fire poker and to wind up on your foot. To stop at the last second, and the stinging smell of fear. To inhale this scent deeply. To wash your feet and anoint them in oils. To shower in hot water until your bones ache and to get out and allow yourself a robe. To put away your knives and other sharp implements. To shove a screwdriver in the garbage disposal. To take the pictures out again, and to really look at them. To see beyond the accident, just her. Just you, before all of this, before all of what you’ve done. To look down at what’s become of your hand, what’s become of you, and to weep.

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Party Hats

Razzle

It felt like life had been tuned to the wrong channel.

Hal unpacked quickly, not doing a thorough job, just getting it all out. He hadn’t thought to get furniture, so that first night would be spent sleeping on the floor. He’d get a cot the next day, and the week after that a proper bed. Everything in its time.

Hal unpacked the trinkets last, left the ones he got from her in the box till he could figure out what he would do with them. His first instinct was toss, the best thing would be to toss, but knowing himself he’d probably keep them in a private shrine.

He inhaled the fact that he knew no one here. That he was a seal on the shore, skin ragged, miles away from its herd. Exhaled loneliness and the smell of cat food. His cat was depressed and so ate more to try to quell the pain. There was no use for Hal to simply feed him less. The cat mewled and clawed the door till Hal popped open another can.

He considered getting cat Prozac, maybe regular Prozac too. Something to put on the list, anyway.

Finding a reason to get out of bed became hard, so he turned it into a game. If he got out of bed before noon, he could put a party hat on the cat. The cat was too depressed to do anything, so the party hats would pile up day after day until the cat was a display cat advertising party hats.

He met her on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe met isn’t the right word. Maybe stare in disbelief and wonderment across the library is the right way to put it. She was reading something by Murakami, had a selection of Díaz stacked next to her. A fat copy of Infinite Jest covered her hands as she read. Hal went over and waited as if in line. When she acknowledged him, he spewed his adoration for the authors she’d chosen. He tacked on an invitation to coffee at the end and she said maybe.

The maybe was a no. He went back to the library the next weekend, prowling where he’d met her. Went back to the coffee place at the time they’d agreed upon the next week in case she’d misunderstood. Nothing.

And so it was back to putting party hats on the cat. Peeling open cans and plopping out food. Hal unpacked the trinkets she left him. He tossed them in a bag and put the bag in his front lawn and set the bag on fire. As the plastic burned and wafted a dying smell, Hal watched intently.

It got so he couldn’t put hats on the cat, because he stopped getting up before noon. Couldn’t find a reason to keep going.

And so back to the library. He goes back to the appointed spot and she’s actually there. She notices him right away but acts like she doesn’t see him. Hal goes up to her. Is she reading anything? And no, she isn’t. Is she busy at the moment? And no, not particularly busy. Would she want to get a bite to eat somewhere nearby? And umm, okay. Really? And yeah, really.

Her name was Julia. Hal and Julia spoke of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and of 1Q84, and of the way the stories were structured in Drown. They traded new authors, old favorites, and ones you might not have heard of. They labored over Wallace’s sentence structure and Zadie Smith’s use of POV and Eggers’ sense of place. They spoke at length.

When it was all over, she gave him her number without him first asking for it. When Hal got home, he gave his cat three party hats, one for each segment of his body.

They went out the next weekend and the weekend after that. Their hangouts were equal parts literary love and adventure. Ducking out to hang at the aquarium and Hal imagining putting party hats on all the sharks. When she inquires, he tells her of the party hat cat. The reason for the hats. He tells her she’s the reason he gets up now and she smiles in a nervous way, like if she makes a single wrong move it’ll all go away.

When they make love, it’s like dawn’s light filling in all the cracks on the sunscape. It’s an ethereal thing that leaves its impression in the sand before getting up and diving into the water. Hal makes those up and tells her, asks her what she thinks. She says it’s worthy of DFW and he says stop but almost laughs from excitement.

Can a love ever really be pure anymore? In our times, can it be? I don’t know about yours, but for Hal and Julia it was. They did things like yawn out of bed in the morning and then come back into the golden light of dawn to kiss through morning breath and make love one last time before getting up and going about their day.

I can’t find a reason to make their story a sad one, so I won’t. I’ll make theirs a story of them gifting new books at every holiday, of staying madly and ferociously in love every day, over and over again, of trading off who gets to put on the party hats.

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Pinching the Moon

Me and the Moon

We’re sitting in Joelle’s car, her rolling a joint, me looking out at the full moon and pinching it between my fingers. She is not mine. Not like in a possession sense, but let’s just say we should not be here and doing this right now. She drops some of the weed down her shirt and fishes half of it out. The rest will be stuck there forever. When she licks the joint she looks at me. I stop pinching the moon. I pinch her head instead, but she’s not far enough away for it to be accurate from a perspective sense.

She lights it and takes a drag, hands it to me and then exhales, like she had to ensure its safe delivery before letting out her air. I’ve known her since the sixth grade. Her guy has been with her for six months. I don’t say that to make everything seem okay. I’m using it as more of like an interesting fact. A did you know.

Joelle has this birthmark under her eye in the shape of a tiny heart and I’m pinching that since the perspective is in the goldilocks zone. She tells me to stop as if I’m pinching it for real, but laughs after she says it.

I drag hard, hold the smoke in for as long as I can before letting go. I try not to, but I cough. She calls me a lightweight and steals it back. We talk about where we are and where we want to be. I make up some life where I’m happy on my own and she doesn’t call bullshit even though I can tell she wants to.

The smoke circumscribes the car till she rolls down the windows. She was never one to hotbox. I was, so I roll mine up. She rolls it back down and locks the window. The joint’s getting to pinching status, so when I take it back our fingers touch for a second, then let go. The moment breathes through both of us.

Joelle laughs and I ask her why, but she doesn’t have an answer. It’s hitting us all at once, stretching seconds into minutes and warping everything like a spaceship starting to blueshift. She can do nothing but smile, nothing but laugh.

It’s become a roach. I motion to give it back to her for the last hit. She doesn’t reach out for it. What she does is she shifts in her seat. What she does is she stretches out to me. What she does is she takes the hit as I hold the joint, her lips kissing my thumb and forefinger.

When she pulls back, I almost drop the roach on my seat. Instead, I toss it out the window and look at her. Her cheeks are burning as she laughs and laughs and laughs. I ask her what she’s laughing about again, but she only looks at me. Her blue eyes reflect the light inside her car, the headlights outside of it. She looks at me as if to say “You know.”

I wonder where to take this from here. We’ve been friends since sixth grade. It could work or it could not, and am I prepared to take that kind of loss if it backfires? Am I willing to risk a beating by her pituitary case of a boyfriend? Or is it all in good fun? I don’t know.

Joelle can feel the tension, we both can. So she produces a second joint and lights it up. Its cherry glows with her sporadic inhalations like stop and go traffic. I am to take this joint like nothing has just happened between us. Her leg glows palely in the light like sculpted marble. I ask her what that was. She asks what and I just say that.

I don’t know, she says, but her eyes hold on me as she does. I put out the joint. I lean in to her and go for it. She pulls away and asks what the fuck. What the fuck, Hal? I have nothing to say, so I say nothing. I have nothing to do, so I look anywhere but at her.

Joelle grabs me by the chin and turns me toward her, so I have to look. What the fuck, she asks again. I just say I don’t know. I’m halfway about to ask if we can still be friends when she leans in and kisses me. I don’t have to say the rest. You know. The moon shined on the maiden fair. My eyes became bugeyes. And all that.

When the smoke clears and the high fades enough, she starts up her car and takes me home. Her cheeks burn the whole way. We say things, but not really. Nothing too out of the ordinary. Commenting on the song that’s playing, etc.

She parks and we kiss some more by streetlight. She pauses between each kiss, cheeks still red, like she’s going to pull away but then doesn’t. Chooses not to. Pulls back in. If I don’t get out of the car, I never will. I say all right, then. She says okay. I say so. She doesn’t say anything after that.

I open the car door and get out. Shut it behind me. She rolls down the window. Opens her mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. I turn away before anything else can happen and walk inside. The last thing I hear is her car dopplering away, first a rumble, then nothing at all but a rush of wind.

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In Which We Enumerate What We Will and Won’t Do

Secrets In The Attic

We are far more resilient than you might think. We are like mice, or cockroaches, or other various resilient things. We are savvy inasmuch as our savviness can be measured or quantified in an accurate fashion, using beakers and graduated cylinders and the like.

We are potent, like the first time you tried to make a mixed drink and almost choked, definitely sputtered. We are like that time you stepped in the leavings of a dog but did not know it at the time and so attempted to scrape out the remnants of it with your bare finger. We are most definitely self-aware.

We will humor you when you play games of twenty questions to guess who we are, but we will not give you an ultimate yes or no. We like to dress up like people from the old days and act like we are people from the old days when in fact we are not. We won’t take no for an answer.

We had no discernible childhood, but we will act as though we did if pressed. We will be very convincing from a distance but something will be off about us when you look closely. We have reached a consensus and we will not be attending the party. We will not accept your conciliatory remarks. We are staying. We are leaving.

We have been here long before you and we’ll be here long after you’re gone. We will never be gone, or else we don’t think we will be. We haven’t nailed down the details just yet.

We often catch ourselves in the mirror and think to ourselves that we are quite attractive. We are told by people using the mirror in public bathrooms that we are quite attractive. We open up doors for strangers and keep them open for an uncomfortable length of time.

We address what our flaws are without putting in any effort whatsoever to correct them. We are sometimes lazy creatures. We behave if our full names are stated in a stern sort of voice. We have tattoos and piercings everywhere. We do not care. We care very much. We are a paradox, but not one of the sciencey, mathy ones.

We take all precautions and leave nothing off the table. We turn the tables. We do anything that somehow involves tables. We possess brains that are really very good brains. We insist you give our brains a look-see.

We will not do what you tell us unless you brandish a weapon, and even then we will only think about it. We are dreaming constantly, even when we are awake. We recognize the logistical issues of constantly dreaming while moving about in space in the real world; it’s quite difficult.

We encourage you to read our blog. We give you our card. We can conceptualize the concept of infinity. We are ending world hunger as we speak. We never speak, besides in text form. We recognize the sovereignty of barge micronations that are parked in international waters.

We are making a list of all the people who have cute laughs. Unfortunately, we do not laugh. We can laugh, we just don’t ever do it. We were at that addiction recovery meeting that one time even though we weren’t addicted to anything. We came for the free coffee and stayed for the story ideas. We don’t write stories, but if we did we’re pretty sure we’d be excellent at it.

We would never say psyched or pumped, even if we did speak. We would say excited and nothing else. We have no opinion on the possible existence or non-existence of God. We have no opinion because we already know the answer. We will never share this fact with anyone, for fear of mass uprising.

We date occasionally, but nothing serious has come of it yet. We aren’t holding out hope, but the prospect of being able to spoon someone does sound pretty nice. We aren’t sure if we can die, but all evidence points to our being immortal. We insist that you don’t quote us on it, but it does seem that way.

We are when you wake up with drool covering your pillow and you flip it over and resume sleeping. We are that bonfire that slows everyone down when walking past to enjoy the smell and the sight. We are the way out when you feel like you’ve fallen down a long and dark well. We are the way back to the surface.

We are doing just fine, thank you very much. We are working toward a change, though we know not what it’ll be in the end. We are power. We are fame. We are willing to fight for what we believe in.

We know what your greatest fears are, but we don’t capitalize on them. We are cool like that. We will grab hold of humor and never let it go. We can compromise when we want to. We can see the future but we choose not to divulge. We will see you, alone, in the dark, wandering, unsure of where to go, and we will take you by the hand and guide you out.

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The Cold of the Night

Female Warrior # 17

There’s something to be said for getting out of bed and going about your day. For understanding the sullen weight of what you’ve got, and for putting the mask on before you leave. For putting your kitchen knives away when you need to, locking yourself in your room and putting on comedy after comedy.

For practicing smiles in the mirror so you can try to make them look real. For going out in the rain, running in it, arriving at an open field and standing in the center as the rain turns to drizzle and it seems like it’s all coming from the multitudinous stars in the sky.

For exercising restraint where you never used to, sitting on the bathroom floor and dislocating your shoulder so you can feel the sweet release of pain, long after your cutting days, and this one seems better because it leaves no marks.

For going back to your hometown and sitting on the old swingset, chains rusty, creaking in the breeze, and there’s a way to dismount so that you’re standing in place when you get off, and you’ve done it now, 20 years after the first time. For remembering old bike tricks: look ma no hands, butt steering, I believe I can fly, etc.

For undoing years of reptilian brain training and cutting your ties with your bio parents, and to dislocate and dislocate and locate the source of the pain but to have no means of stopping it, at least none in sight.

For waiting at the bus stop with no route in mind, sitting on the bench and talking to dozens of people over the hours, imbibing stories, eating anecdotes, consuming the lives of those who came before.

For painting again, flecks of new gamboge on your chin and canvas, becoming something, though what that something is you don’t know. For telling yourself it’s the last time you’ll dislocate and then doing it again, feeling like you’re a stranger to yourself. For collecting the bodies of animals who have died on the road and to feel their blood on your hands, sticky as you try to wipe it away.

For defying childhood orders and staring directly into the sun, watching it fall from the sky until the pain is gone and you can see the giant spots in your eyes, they won’t go away, at least not for a while. For setting your shoulder for the umpteenth time, lying in bed and the sweat running down your forehead, passing the corners of your eyes till you’re not sure if they’re tears.

For calling your bio dad and only listening when he says hello, only breathing, and when he disconnects you listen to the dial tone for two minutes before hanging up. For taking the things from your old life and collecting them into a pile, and to light this pile on fire, catching the way the black smoke spirals and whirls, the way the flames dance and twist and lick the cold of the night.

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Heavy Bucket Heart

Presence

His presence was like an oar displacing water: never quite coming back the same way when he did come back, finally, at three of the clock, stinking of gin and better days that were far behind him.

He’d mouth his apologies when she would bunch up the blanket to her nose and refuse entry. The couch tonight, as it was the couch so many other nights before. Pleading at the door, but she’s locked it, it’s the same routine repeated ad nauseam. So masturbating on the couch, forgetting the blinds are open, getting up exposed to close them, cursing, losing the erection, and so turning on a video game. Dying over, and over, and over again. All manner of deaths: quiet, bloody, loud. There was always a chance to reload your save. A chance to start again.

He’d go into the cellar and read while the furnace pulsed angrily and the house’s guttyworks churned in the quiet of the night. He’d write a little by the light of the furnace, pausing to rub away the stink on him. He’d write little songs, halfway making sense, and the ones that didn’t work went into the furnace fire.

In the morning he’d cook a feast and she’d toss her plate in the trash. He found a way to float, just a little bit, above the surface of the ground. When he showed her, she looked for wires, magnets, something. There was nothing. He could make himself disappear.

The storm inside came the third day after she shut him out. Mostly cloudy at first, but raining a little after 12, letting up right around when she got home. The clouds were the only remnant of the storm, the wetness on the tiles and carpet. She walked on soggy floor, took her socks off, and went down and into it. The carpet swallowed her up and took her into the cellar, by the furnace, where she could crochet in peace, the needles not moving as nimbly in her hands, it’s useless, and so her going back upstairs, undressing with the windows open, throwing open the blinds and baring herself to the world.

It’s them on a day where she’ll turn a hug into dead weight, he has to hold her up, to carry her, because she can’t do it on her own. And how all hurting people are just falling in place, perpetually.

It’s in her bunching his pants up into a ball and smelling them, scanning his shirts for something out of the ordinary. It’s when she flies with him upstairs but he turns and flies the other way, through space and into her arms three years ago, unboxing and stacking things where they needed to go.

It’s the difference in the fuck now, like it’s lost some integral thing, and until it’s put back again it’ll never be the same. But where they are right now, her heart is a heavy bucket of water pulled up from a well, but the rope breaks and sends it all crashing back down. That’s her heart.

They construct a new dwelling from papier-mâché and sticks and leaves. It works for a time, until holes begin to form, little ones at first, pluggable, but soon they’re plugging every corner of the house, daily, until the house becomes nothing but plugs, nothing but putty. They stick newspapers to the putty and remove them so they can see the comics’ inverted impressions and they tell themselves they’ve done a good and thorough job.

He still comes in at three of the clock, with the stink on him, and he has to sleep outside the putty house now, no masturbation to help him sleep outside and so staying up all night, listening for bears in the city. The citybears have retired for the night, though, so there is no cause for concern.

She collapses sporadically.

Onto the couch, the bed, then the floor, then falling on the sidewalk as others pass her by, and she tries to separate insecurity from reality. And how we’re all made up of isotopes and sciencey things that go about their business on their own, dealing with none of these problems.

She watches for signs that her heart is growing, sloshing, this heavy bucket heart, and she loses herself in the way the night sky flickers in and out of view behind the boughs of the trees.

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You Again

Metamorphosis

“No, I don’t mean it in like a metaphorical sense. I mean you’re literally, actually, a different person.”

You look in the mirror. Open your mouth. Check your gums.

“See?”

There’s no change whatsoever. It’s you there, staring back at you.

“I was halfway about to call the police, but then you got up and started talking. You still talk like you.”

You go back to looking in the mirror. You could use a shave. Other than that: fine. Other than that: you.

“Did you just read The Metamorphosis? Are you trying to Kafka me?”

“See? You used Kafka as a verb. It’s you.”

* * *

She refuses to be seen with you anywhere. People might think she’s cheating. You call off work. Try to make yourself scarce.

It comes in stages. Your nose. Your lips. Not quite right. Not quite you. She sees you.

“Your nose is back! Your mouth, kinda.”

As you change, so does she. She waits in anticipation like a kid on Christmas morning. You “change back” slowly, then all at once.

You stand in front of the mirror, her behind you, you somebody else.

“See? It’s you again.”

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