Secrets

My pinky fell off at 4:37pm on Monday of last week. My mom told me to throw it away, but the tears in her eyes made me think I shouldn’t. I nodded, but later I wrapped it in aluminum foil and placed it behind the icemaker in the freezer.

Dominic told me I’m a beautiful tragedy. I took it as a compliment. He invited me over to smoke weed, said I deserved it. I didn’t know what that meant but I agreed. Most people are afraid of me; Dominic situated his glass bowl between his lips and he pulled right after I did, without a second thought. Most people make me smoke my own bowl, or carry sanitary wipes to keep them at ease. Dominic didn’t think about that. Dominic saw me as me.

I was sitting on Dominic’s old, beat-up couch, surrounded by the scent of reefer and dirt. I was in the room but I wasn’t. I was in the room in my head. There were closets in my brain that I had gone through that took me to different dimensions, and yet, I knew I was still right there.

He placed his hand on my thigh. Oh, sweet fingertips. I remember that I caressed them between the nine that I had left. He rested his head on my shoulder. I wondered where he had gone. I wondered if he was trapped in one of his brain-closets, like I was, or if he could travel to a better place than that.

I stared at the TV for quite some time before I noticed there was a fish on the screen. It was a big fish and it apparently lived in a lake. I wondered how long I’d been staring at the fish, if I’d been unconsciously learning something. I wondered if that’s why Dominic liked to watch the Discovery Channel when he smoked.

He walked me home, even though I live eleven blocks away. He said he was worried someone might try to hurt me if I’d walked alone so late. He walked with his hands in his pockets, his face toward the ground. When I passed through my gate, I turned to him. He half-smiled.

“See ya around,” he said and turned away, without looking back. I stood there a moment and watched as his shadow disappeared.

 

When I woke up the next morning I saw tendons breaking out of the skin by my thumb on my pinky-less hand. I tried to stay positive. At least this would be easier to hide from mom, seeing as I’d been keeping my hand wrapped anyway. I just had to shift the gauze a bit.

I was surprised by my own calm. My mom cries all the time, feels like it’s her fault. When she isn’t blaming herself, she blames my father, for leaving us and for creating me. (Of course, she never puts it that way.) I’m just an exception to nature’s normal routine. You won’t learn about it on the Discovery Channel, because no one really knows what it is.

In short, the older I get, the more limbs I’ll lose. My body is rejecting my toes and fingers, and it will probably travel to my arms, to the shoulders, by forty-five. It will target what’s left: the rest of my toes (I’m already missing five), my legs… I’ll be a living, breathing stump of a person.

My classmates have called me a leper. Sometimes I wish I were.

To cope, I write stories. Sometimes my name’s Sandra, but usually it’s Jonsie. I like using Jonsie because it sounds nice with so many other words. Jonsie jonsed for a cigarette. Jonsie met Max at the Market. There’s a nice ring to that. There was also a nice ring on Jonsie’s finger, but Max didn’t notice it till she was hastily dressing in his downtown apartment. Me? I know I’ll never really be Jonsie. But why couldn’t I pretend?

 

The rest of my thumb came off around 2:30 the next day, during pep rally. I felt my skin let it go beneath the wraps. The bandage was loose; I was afraid if I pulled it too tightly it would weaken the tendons faster. I should have just pulled it anyway. I knew it was only a matter of time.

At first, my thumb clung to the wrap by freed ligaments and wet bones. Within seconds, it was laying lifeless on the ground, just as I was about to push it back under cover. Jessica was first to notice. She tried to nudge me discreetly, sweet Jessica, but then loud-mouth Johnny was pointing and shouting, “There goes her thumb! Look everyone! There goes her thumb! What’s next!” And I was running out of the gym, mortified.

The buses were already waiting outside. I hoped Dominic would burst out of the door behind me, but I understood why he didn’t. Jonsie would have jumped Johnny with a big gun in a street alley, I thought, if Johnny ever made her feel that way. She would have stolen his rings and worn them alongside the one her fiancé gave her, like dirty little prizes. Then Max would have shown up and she would have fucked him like all the other times. Like me, Jonsie always wanted what she couldn’t have.

I tried to conceal my embarrassment when I arrived home and walked through the door. It didn’t matter. My mom was already crying.

“I found your pinky,” she said, without bitterness. She wasn’t mad that I had kept it, wrapped up with the pork chops and ice. She seemed like she wanted to say more, but the hysterics were kicking in and it was hard for her to form sentences.

“It’s okay, Mom. Really. I just thought—I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have kept it. I’m sorry.” I touched my mom’s arm and she pulled me into her as tightly as she could, and sobbed.

Life had been lot easier when my dad was around. I was normal then. Doctors understood me, my parents understood me. I rode my bike down the street, the wind in my hair, and I held the handlebars without difficulty, while wearing flip-flops. Open-toed shoes. I used to be excited to see what happened next.

Prom was at the end of the week. I tried not to think about it, but I knew it was there. Friday: there was no escaping it. Everyone would have manicures and everyone would have boyfriends and everyone would not shut up about it.

I, on the other hand, would be home, pretending I was Jonsie and Max just asked me to dance. I’d save my fiancé for later, when I felt the drama might be necessary to keep me from thinking about the fact that everyone else wouldn’t be sitting at their desks, scribbling dream sequences on paper. I’d save the drama to keep my mind too busy to think about Dominic dancing with Suzy, or Kendra, or Christine, even though I knew he deserved it.

Mom and I went shopping that afternoon. Retail therapy, she called it. She said I needed a dress. I was reluctant at first, but anything that kept the ocean behind my mom’s eyes from spilling over was worth the effort. We went to Macy’s.

The humiliation of the afternoon quickly diminished as I found myself surrounded by silk and chiffon. My mom said she liked the pink one best. It was knee-length and form fitting and glittery and perfect. I tried it on, and I felt beautiful. More than that, I felt like a human being again. I bought it because it made her smile, but really I wanted it, too.

I thought, if I could just hold on to those eight fingers, maybe, just maybe, I’d go. My mom already assumed I’d made up my mind, but I knew I’d probably wind up getting dressed just to sit by myself in my car in the parking lot, alone.

While we were shopping, Dominic called. He left a message on the machine. It was weird to hear his voice inside my house, but he didn’t say much, just to call him back. I was happy he didn’t mention my thumb. My mom still didn’t know about that one.

I was hesitant, at first. Why would he want me to call him? My mom said, “Oh just do it,” and I knew she was right. She smiled as the receiver shook in my hand. I tried to hold my wrist steady, but being bandaged as I was made the task a bit more difficult. I stumbled with the phone when I heard someone answer. I stammered: “H—Hi, is this Dominic?”

“Hey,” I heard him reply, “None other.”

“What’s up?”

“Nothing, I—I’m not going to prom. I just wanted to tell you that.”

“Oh,” I said, “well I’m not either.”

“Yeah? Well because if you were, I might actually maybe go.”

I paused. My heart leapt. Was he really asking me out?

“Well if you go,” I ventured to say, “I think I might actually maybe go.”

“Cool,” he said. “Then I’ll pick you up at seven.”

“Cool,” I said. And that was it.

 

The night before prom, my mom finally noticed the change in my bandaging, and asked to see my hand. I tried my hardest to keep it away from her but she was persistent. I told her it didn’t hurt. I told they were only fingers, and I didn’t even write with that hand. But she cried anyway, sniffling how sorry she was between the tissues. Two fingers, she repeated. Five toes and two fingers already, and one a thumb… I knew she was wishing there was something, anything she could do. I offered her wine, leftover from Christmas. She wasn’t even mad that I kept it. She drank. She drank and I drank, too, and we danced together, me in my prom dress. For a moment, I think she was happy. For a moment, I think I was, too.

 

Friday came and my mom beamed when I asked her to do my hair. She was thrilled that I still planned on going, and even more so knowing that Dominic would be taking me. As if trained to do this her whole life, my mom trimmed, blow-dried, sprayed, and fluffed my flat brown hair into beautiful curling, cascading locks like I’d only seen before on movie stars. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw her standing behind me. My mom, she’s always known how to look beautiful. Somehow I never noticed so much before. I never realized just how much I look like her.

We powdered my fair skin and colored my cheeks. I outlined my eyes in black and silver and accented them with light pink. My mom wrapped a black, lace doily around my bandaged hand, and I applied mascara and lip-gloss. Fingers or no fingers, when we were finished I finally felt like I looked sexy-beautiful, and I was ready for Dominic to notice.

He was one-and-a-half minutes early. I knew because I anxiously watched the clock. My mom said if he came to the door it was a date, and if he waited in the car it was just friends. I doubted he would come to the door.

When I heard his car, I got up to leave, but my mom told me to wait; it looked like he was parking. My heart felt like it would beat out of its chest, and I feared that if it didn’t slow down soon, it just might. Then I heard the car door.

My mom smiled at me as I nervously sat down and got up again. “What do I do?” I whispered to her, but she only giggled a little in response.

The doorbell rang and I looked toward my mom. “You get it,” she said, winking. I felt my whole body blush.

“Wow,” he said, stepping back as I opened the door. Wow. I could have said the same. He wore black slacks, neatly ironed with the crease still fresh down the middle. He wore a light pink, collared dress-shirt and a black jacket. To top it off, he wore black, high-top Converses, and left his skater-boy haircut in that I-just-rolled-out-of-bed look he wore it in every day. I almost swooned.

“Well, um… I’m ready to go,” I said, awkwardly.

“Oh, okay. Well, hi Mrs. Fall,” he leaned in, calling to my mom.

Noticing how uncomfortable I felt, she called back, “It was nice seeing you again, Dominic,” and pretended she was busy fussing with the couch cushions.

Dominic smiled. “You too!”

He opened his arm as if to say shall we? and I shrugged, linking my arm with his, hoping his added leverage might conceal how ungraceful I was in heels. It didn’t, but he laughed when I stumbled, steadying me upright. He opened the door for me.

We didn’t talk much on the ride there. He looked at me a lot. A thousand conversations went on in my head, but not a word passed through my lips.

We arrived. I didn’t want to breath until I knew it was safe. I looked around: no one was pointing at me. For a change I heard no whispers about fingers and freaks. Suzy and Christine glanced my way and smiled; Jessica told me I looked like a princess. Johnny passed me by and winked, the closest to a compliment he’d ever given me before. So I exhaled. I finally felt somewhat normal, pretty, even. I finally felt like a regular girl.

Dominic and I sat quietly by the punch bowl for a long time. His hand fell in my lap, and then quickly pulled back again. My eyes met his gaze, and then self-consciously looked toward the floor. Eventually, I laced the fingers of my good hand with his, and he looked up at me in surprise. “Can I have you?” I asked, and this time he didn’t look away.

“If you want me,” he said simply, “let’s go.”

We left and my heart pounded. I told him to drive to the beach. He did. When we got there, we sat quietly on the hood of his car, facing the ocean. Neither one of us spoke for a long time. His head fell in my shoulder as we listened to the waves crack upon the rocky shore. I breathed in the smell of his shampoo, something woody, like pine, and smoke. I thought, Jonsie would be fucking him by now, but then I remembered, Jonsie knew nothing about love.

He took a bowl out of his pocket. I was quiet. He packed it, took a hit, then he passed. I pressed my lips to the glass, welcoming the bliss like a curtain. As the cloud dispersed, I saw Dominic move closer, and our eyes locked on one another.

“I always wondered what it would be like to kiss you,” he said, casually.

I could feel the goose-bumps rise from my skin. I must have been smiling like an idiot, because Dominic laughed, taking my face in his hands, eyes glowing bright like the way I felt inside.

“Then do it,” I finally whispered. Or at least I think I did. I spoke as if from outside myself.

I closed my eyes and tilted my head, hoping our noses would soon lean into one another like I’d seen so often on TV. Hoping our lips would meet.

They did. Tenderly. Eagerly. Finally, I tasted Dominic. First soft lip-to-lip, then open-mouth, tongues skimming one another, sliding over and under. He was warm like honey and hot like smoke and sweet, like sweet, sweet desire. His lips on mine were fire. He kissed me passionately, gently, with one hand under my chin. He kissed me without caution. I loved that about him. Then I realized what was happening, and stopped.

“Why—” I started, voice cracking. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Why haven’t you ever tried that before? What makes tonight so different?” I didn’t want to ruin the moment but I felt like I had to know.

“I—I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry,” he stuttered, facing the ground.

I couldn’t help showing the hurt I felt. “What do you mean?” I sniffed.

“No, no, you’re taking it the wrong way!” He pulled me into him with one arm, kissing my shoulder, “it’s… it’s just that—” he looked at me, really looked at me. Deep, into my eyes. As if asking me, can I trust you? And then assuring himself, yes, yes I can.

He pulled his foot into his lap and began to untie his shoe. Slowly, at first, then with more purpose. He pulled his shoe off carefully, then glanced at me once more before removing his sock.

“You… you have seven toes!” I didn’t mean to shout, but it was hard for me to believe what I saw. I counted them over again and again. There were the regular five, and two more added to the end, just like extra little pinkies. Two toes that I already lost. Funny.

“Yeah,” he said, “and I have eight on my other foot.” He spoke in a kind of whisper. I didn’t know how to respond. He calmly replaced his sock, then his shoe. I remained speechless as he tied his laces. I must have been looking at him funny, because he tilted his head, smiled at me, and said: “So what, am I too much of a freak for you now?”

I laughed, a bit too loudly. I still couldn’t take it all in. “Are you serious? I mean, Dominic! I mean, wow! Why didn’t you tell me? I mean, me! Of all people! You didn’t think I would understand!”

Dominic looked at his hands. “You—” he started, as if at a loss for words. “Do you even know what you look like?” He looked back at me. “Have you ever seen yourself?”

I looked down at my bandaged hand, and sighed. It was exactly what I thought. Not even Dominic could take what I was. Not even freaks could love someone as freaked-up as me.

“No, not your hand,” he said, pulling my face up to his, “your self… have you ever really noticed what you look like? How beautiful you are? I never thought I had a chance with you! Especially if I told you about—” he gestured toward his foot, “that! But then you said you’d go to prom with me, and I don’t know, I gave it a shot…”

I smirked. Inside I felt like I’d been set on fire, but it was the good kind of fire, the kind that makes your whole body warm and tingly. I pushed him a little, playfully, as if to say no way could you be serious. As if to say of course I accept you, you handsome oblivious fool.

He laughed, and it was low, and sweet. I wished I could harness the sound. A thousand butterflies crowded my chest; I never wanted them to leave.

“Is it okay if I kiss you again?” His hair blew across his forehead in strings. I pinched myself to make sure I was awake.

“Don’t you know I’m falling apart?”

“Aren’t we all?” he said.

He placed his hand on my cheek, pushing a hair back behind my ear. This, I thought, is what Jonsie never had. Then he kissed me, again.

…as published in The Pitkin Review, Fall 2014.

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