A breeze rushes up my legs and tousles my sandy hair. My arms fall to my sides and I close my eyes. It’s like electricity. I am nothing and I am everything.
I am falling.
I fall. I fall and I fall and it’s like the ground just keeps getting farther and farther away and I think about nothing but the falling and the way the windows look as I pass them by at over a hundred miles per hour—window, brick, window, brick swished into one great streak of glassy red till suddenly I’m
down on Matt’s ratty couch, in Matt’s ratty basement. We had just smoked out of a 20 oz. soda bottle. Granted, we could have rolled something instead, but Matt prefers to smoke his weed with water.
I prefer to smoke my weed with Matt.
I shuffle with the cups and plates haphazardly arranged on the table before me and pretend I didn’t just zone off.
“You’re doing it again.”
I shift another plate on the table. “Doing what?”
“You’re rearranging everything.”
I look up from the cups I have now strategically arranged in line with the grain of the table, the plates I have moved equally one thumb-length apart on all sides. He has no idea.
“I’m keeping it fresh.”
I see the corner of his lip turn in smile, but then: “No you’re not. You’re keeping it controlled.”
I give him my signature “shove it, Matthew” look and continue arranging the plastic dishes.
My dad isn’t home, but my aunt and grandparents are. My aunt Chrissy is smoking out the back room, as usual; a chain-smoker as long as I’ve known her and never the common sense to crack a window. My grandpa is yelling at the dog in the kitchen; he’s always yelling at something, man can’t hear a thing. Grandma’s knitting.
I get up from the couch in the living room to join my grandma. I don’t say anything; I just walk into the front room and sit beside her. She smiles and runs her fingers through my hair.
She puts her needles to the side and asks me if I know what a period is. I say no. She says my mom will be mad at her for tellin’ me this, but I’m old enough now I should know. I say okay, and I really mean it. My grandma turns and looks at me close. She says when I get older I’m going to bleed from my hoo-ha. It’s going to happen for a week or so every month for a very long time. She says they have hygiene pads, diaper-like things I can wear when it happens, or tampons, something like a plug I put inside myself to stop the flow. She says it’s a good thing when I get it, it means I’m healthy, and when I don’t it means I’m pregnant, but I don’t have to worry about that yet.
I say okay, but don’t really get it.
My dad pulls up; I greet him at the door with a hug. He smells like oil and latex and cigarettes. He asks grandpa what’s for dinner? Grandpa yells I DON’T KNOW WHAT DO YOU WANT? I chime in with Pizza Hut. Grandpa yells WHAT? I say, louder, Pizza Hut! My dad says don’t we have anything we can make here? I scrunch my face and say Pizza Hut.
My dad takes me for Pizza Hut. We get it to go. It is a delicious victory.
Matt is about to see me naked. We’ve just walked to a local diner to discuss our new sex life, as if it’s just casual talk. Like a midterm paper or Craig’s new tattoo.
“Are you sure you really want to?” Matt’s face looks serious and sincere, so much that I have to stifle a laugh.
“Yes,” I line the edge of my placemat with the edge of the table, “as long as you do. I told you this isn’t my first time.”
“I know….” He trails off, visible shame in his eyes. “But it’s mine.”
That’s something I didn’t know about Matt. But to be fair, he still doesn’t know many things about me, either.
After I fix the alignment of my napkin in coordinance with my plate, my fork and spoon perfectly parallel to both each other and the edges of the napkin they sit upon, and my glass dead center of the tile in the table at the upper-right side of my plate, I blurt out, “I’m sure you’ll do fine,” and immediately regret saying anything.
Matt turns tomato red. “Gee, thanks.”
I push the food around on my plate trying to think of something to say to say. Then it comes to me.
“I didn’t mean it that way, I love you, Matt.” And really I sincerely mean it. I’ve known him almost a year and I love everything I know about him and everything I don’t. I don’t want to fuck Matt, I want to make love to him.
“I love you, too, Emma.”
We play Rummy 500. I win the first game, he wins the next two, but then I break the 500 mark in one final, glorious game, adding 432 to my current score of 103. My dad just misses, totaling 498. My dad tells me no one can beat him at Rummy but me.
He goes to the bathroom after; takes a good half hour. I joke that maybe he’s fallen in but he yells in a serious voice, “I’m almost done just leave me alone!” When he comes out he looks disheveled, his eyes more bloodshot than before. I act like I don’t notice and flip through the movie channels.
We lie on the couch together and watch Fly Away Home, his arm cradling me from falling off the side. He tells me the girl in that movie reminds him of me—saving the animals and all. I tell him the father reminds me of him because they both like building model airplanes.
What I don’t say is the difference: the father in the movie built airplanes as a hobby; my dad builds them to sniff the glue.
I’m standing at the top of a tall building. This time, aunt Chrissy’s behind me. “Don’t jump!” she’s yelling, but I don’t understand why. It’s as if she’s a million miles away, but I know it’s merely feet between us. I can hardly hear her.
My hands are covered in blood, my own. I’m not injured, I’m just bleeding. From everywhere.
“Don’t jump!” She’s yelling, but I’m not going anywhere, and I don’t understand. I’m just standing here, bleeding. Can’t she see the blood?
I look down and the distance seems so close. I see my dad: “Up here! Up here! Can’t you see me?” my words choked in gore, “Can’t you hear me? Dad!” But just like every other time, he disappears.
So does aunt Chrissy. Now it’s my grandpa behind me, but he’s not yelling. He’s just breathing heavily, not speaking, inching closer to my bloody hands. The blood drips down my legs in pools, pools that turn to yarn that my grandpa begins using to bind me. I don’t stop him.
“Dad!” I yell again, but it’s useless. My grandpa pushes me over the ledge.
When I wake up I feel moist; the blankets blood spotted.
A man has been coming here more and more often for aunt Chrissy. Next to her soft features, her long, curly locks, her petite 5’4” frame, this guy looks like an ogre, like Haggard from the Harry Potter books, only a little less hairy. Just a little.
He smells like aftershave and cheese dip and cigarettes. Neither of them talk; they sit just across the table and smoke their cigarettes and stare. Their teeth match.
To be nice, he told me he would buy me something, anything I wanted. I asked for a cat.
“What should I have?” I’m at my first house party. It’s Eric’s house; his parents are in Aruba and he invited the whole class.
“Tequila shots!!” Someone yells from behind, stumbling with a bottle of Jose Cuervo and a plate full of lime wedges.
“Wanna try a tequila shot?” Sam giggles.
First we lick our hands to hold the salt. Sam gets more on the floor than on us. Then we ready the lime in our other hand.
“It goes salt, shot, lime. Got it?”
Lick, gulp, suck. Then Brian pours us another.
He really did it. Rob really bought me a cat. Aunt Chrissy’s boyfriend. I named him Baxter. The cat I mean, not Rob. It’s funny because he looks like a werewolf. Rob I mean, not the cat.
Baxter is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I love him all to pieces. Even right now he’s purring in my lap like a little motorboat: purr purr purr.
Rob’s alright. I still think aunt Chrissy is too pretty for him, but at least he keeps to his word; he talks to me more than she ever has.
When I asked grandma what she thought she said she just couldn’t wait till he gets her to move out. She said aunt Chrissy and my father have been living with us for far too long and at this point she doesn’t care what they do as long as it gets them out of here. I said what about me? She turned to me and smiled, “you, little girl, are always welcome.”
I smiled back, more out of courtesy than respect.
I’m drunk. All I see is Brian, and I want all of him. I push him to the bed, he has that giggle-grin with one eyebrow crooked, I love it, and I straddle my legs around his hips, ripping off his shirt at the same time. I kiss him shamelessly from his chest down to his navel; he pulls my face to his, caressing every ounce of skin with lip, with tongue.
His hands slide down my spine, catch the hem of my shirt and pull it over my head. He unbuttons his pants and leans up, swiftly kicking them off of his legs, leaving his erection half exposed through the hole in the front of his boxers. He pushes the fabric to the side and there it stands.
I’m not quite sure what to do from here. His hand slides down my waist, between my legs. His fingers search as my legs spread wider over him. They enter me. Delicate, in and out, they glide until the wetness comes. Then the brief hesitation. Then the condom. The sign that means this is it. Part of me isn’t sure this is what I really want; most of me is drunk.
He opens the package and slides the slippery skin over his. He pulls me back over him, one hand pulling my waist down, the other adjusting himself, finding me. He enters. There’s an immediate rush of blood, chills down my spine. I sigh. He sighs too, and catches my bottom lip between his. He pulses into me, like a rhythm, a heartbeat. It hurts but it doesn’t. I like it but I don’t. He gets faster. It hurts more.
His eyes are closed. His face is in my neck. He flips himself on top. He almost looks angry. He somehow pushes himself deeper. I sigh. He grunts. He never slows down. I start to wish it was over already.
“Be gentle,” I say again, louder.
He is deaf to me. He moves in and out like a bicycle spindle, up down up down up down, until his whole body spasms and he grunts again, this time louder and drawn out. He falls flat, exhausted, all of his body weight and sweat upon me. Inside me.
I say I’ve got to go. He doesn’t walk me home.
I wake up and my father is gone. My grandmother is crying in the shadows of the kitchen. I pull up a chair beside her and see her bra lying on the table, one side like an empty cup, the other full with cushion. Fake. She tells me they had to remove it. Her breast. Remove the cancer. She tells me she feels hideous. She cries into her hands. Her hair is thinning. She will soon be in wigs. I don’t really understand, but I sense she doesn’t want me there any longer, so I leave in search of Baxter. When I finally find him I’ve gone full circle; he’s fast asleep in her lap.
I hold my breath. I count the seconds, 23, 24, and I try to break my own record. To my happy surprise, I have found this particular challenge to come with quite a reward, for a jolt of elation spreads through my body each time I challenge it longer. 68, 69, my legs cross into a pretzel and my muscles tense harder and harder, 81, 82, I’m pinching my nose with my thumb and pointer finger and pushing the rest of my fist into my mouth to keep from releasing the breath that my body so badly desires, 90, 91, something inside me spasms at the pressure, my whole body is swimming and I let go, gasping at first, then calming, serene.
I wonder if this is what sex is like.
Baxter has been spending lots of time with grandma. It’s almost like he knows she’s sick, but unlike me, he has the strength to still go near her, to console her.
Grandpa yells at him a lot, but then again he yells at everyone. “Get out of here!” Sometimes he says, or “get off of that! Shoo!”
The thing is, ten minutes later grandpa forgets that he doesn’t want Baxter there anymore and begins petting him; sometimes even gets him all wrapped up in his arms like a baby.
We all have different ways of loving, I guess.
I know what sex is, but it just doesn’t sound pleasant. With my finger, I’ve explored. But all I feel is my nail scraping up against my insides. It scares me to think something even larger could ever go in there, and actually feel good.
It feels better on the outside, the pressure of squeezing my legs together and not breathing. Holding my breath. It feels better to think no one will ever see me do this; I will never have to do this with anyone. This is just my little secret.
Still, I’m scared I must be broken; I’m obviously doing it all wrong.
My grandma died. The only person who really seems affected by it is my dad, surprisingly, but poor Baxter’s little heart is broken. He hasn’t eaten in two days now; he doesn’t understand.
My dad’s actually started going to church, wearing nice sweaters and all. But I know that’s only temporary. Mourning period. It won’t be long before he’s back to the disappearing act and I’m left home alone again, with grandpa and aunt Chrissy.
Aunt Chrissy, who is too engrossed in Rob to care much about her mother’s death at all. She never even left the smoky backroom for the funeral service until Rob came over, and still neither of them said a word, shed a tear.
I wonder, the roles reversed, if grandma would have cried for Aunt Chrissy, or for Rob.
I sit in grandma’s room and try to cry for her myself. I sit right in the middle of the floor, cross my legs, close my eyes and squeeze. Then I stop squeezing and really try to concentrate. I try to think of the good times with grandma.
She cheated at Parcheesi, though she was always willing to play it with me. She was always complimenting me and telling me how beautiful she thinks I am. (At first I think, that’s a good one, I’m gonna miss that, then I think that’s a selfish thought because it’s about getting complimented and not about grandma.) I need to concentrate harder.
So I think about the stories she used to tell me about her and grandpa when they were young, her first kiss, his third. And all that’s nice I guess but I really never understood it, I still don’t; they never seemed happy to me, and she never left the house. I just can’t make it happen. I can’t cry.
I apologize to the sheetrock above, just in case she really is watching. I want her to know I at least tried.
Grandpa never even shed a visible tear; though he did begin cracking open a beer or two more than usual. If I were older, maybe I would do that, too.
It’s not like it’s the first time Matt and I are having sex. Not even the second or the third. It just hits me out of nowhere almost a year into our relationship.
“What’s wrong?” He asks me over and over.
I’m crying. We’re naked and he has his hand between my thighs and we’re breathing heavily and everything was going great until, out of nowhere, I’m crying.
“I don’t know” is all I can manage.
He holds me, naked, until the crying ceases, like two newborn babies. Only I’m the only one crying; he’s left wondering what could possibly have gone wrong.
A girl in my grade got caught sucking off a guy behind the stairwell. What’s the worst part, it’s not a teacher who caught them, but a camera, so the image can be seen over and over again: her hair all dangling in her face, her cheeks packed full with flesh, her eyes closed tight so you can almost make out the wrinkles of skin by her lashes, even in such poor lighting conditions. No one cares what he looks like.
She’s suspended for a week; he just has detention. Granted, it was his lunch period; she was skipping class. Still, I don’t understand why she got in more trouble. Her life is utterly destroyed now as it is, and from the look on her face, it definitely wasn’t worth it; the only person who got any pleasure out of that was him. I don’t know her, but I don’t think you have to know someone to feel for them. Life is unfair.
I pretend to be asleep as he pushes the door open and steps lightly into the dark. I don’t hear any more movement for a long time. I almost doze off again, forgetting he had ever even come in. Then I feel it: the blankets being pulled away from my body. Lightly, so as not to wake me up, but I’m already awake. Pretending. He places his hand on my calf, gently, as if he a butterfly and I his flower. Sliding his fingers across my skin, he reaches the bottom of my nightgown and lifts it up to my shoulders. My eyes flitter but the dark keeps them hidden. I try to keep my breathing steady even though my heart is beating crazy.
A wrinkly finger hooks itself around my panties. I shift in my pretend sleep. It doesn’t stop him. My panties are off in an instant and I roll onto my belly, grasping for blankets. I want to stop him, but I can’t find the words. He has to know I’m awake by now. I don’t understand. Then I hear him: “Ohh yeah, uhh, that’s right,” he’s mumbling, running his finger down my spine and into the crease of my behind. It’s as if someone had taken my voice away.
Suddenly he grabs my wrists in his hands and climbs on top of me. I’m still laying on my belly, facedown. He’s breathing rapidly, crazily, I can hear the saliva moving around in his throat. I squirm beneath him, trying to wriggle free, but he pins me to the bed with his weight.
Then I feel it. Like a knife, foreign, not belonging. Both of us gasp as I find my voice. STOP, I scream. Just once. My whole body tenses. Something breaks inside me. I feel it and he continues to probe the sore. In and out. Tears stream down my face and I begin to sob. Words try to form but they come out merely as wines and groans. Broken pieces of pain. Mouthed emptiness. His fingernails rip into my thin skin as he pulses, grunting like a hog. He pushes his chest up close into my back and I smell him, stale beer and Vaseline. He tries to tongue my ear, but I shift my head to the side to block him. “No!” I make out. “No, no, no…” but my voice cracks in and out. In and out. Like salt on a wound. Worse.
This continues for twenty-three minutes, according to the clock on the nightstand. And every one of them feels like an hour.
Matt passes me the soda bottle and I suck. I suck hard. Matt’s speechless. I move things around on the table.
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” He asks.
“Because I hadn’t remembered it.”
He lets this soak in a minute before getting up, walking outside. I remain where I am for another minute or so before I follow him. When I find him he’s sitting on the back porch, chain-smoking.
“I just don’t understand,” he says without looking at me, “how you can be so casual about it. You said you weren’t a virgin. You didn’t say you were raped by your grandfather.”
I don’t say anything for a long time. I light a cigarette and inhale.
“I mean, I’m really sorry that happened to you and all, but why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
I don’t need to answer to him; I still have my own unanswered questions.
“And why does that have to come between our sex life? I mean, I never hurt you—”
“You’re hurting me now.”
He turns to look into my eyes, glassy, filling.
I want to say, Matt, you asshole, that wasn’t what I was referring to when I told you I wasn’t a virgin; I slept with Brian before you. I was referring to Brian. I want to say Matt, you asshole, I didn’t lose my virginity to my grandfather; it was taken from me! How could you even say that? That’s how you’re hurting me, because you don’t understand and you’re not even trying.
But I don’t say anything. Instead, I finish my cigarette and flick it straight past his face.
“You’ll never get it.” I say this more to the floorboards than to Matt. He looks away, takes another drag. I walk back into the house.
Baxter died. I found him, stiff as a board, behind the couch. He starved himself to death.
We all have different ways of coping, I guess.
I’ve begun holding my breath.
…as published in The Brooklyn Art Library, 2013.
I met him at The Water Witch Coffee Shop. He was small, about four-foot, with a hunchback. His nose was long and misshapen. He wore a top hat like Abe Lincoln’s, but two sizes too big. It covered his forehead and ears and hooked on a thick wrinkle where his neck met his back. He said his name was J.D.
He sat next to me at the counter where I was drinking a Mocha Java. I greeted him with a smile and nod.
“You’re from around here,” he said. His voice was deep, and hoarse.
“Yeah,” I answered, “I grew up here.”
He fingered the business cards on the counter. “I know.”
I took a sip from my coffee, raised my eyebrows, and stared at him over the rim. “I’m sorry, but do I know you?”
“No,” he laughed. “I know you.”
I squeezed my cup between two hands, trying to think what that might mean.
“Do you know my parents something?” I asked.
“Oh?” I tilted my head to one side.
“I know your whole family,” he said. Goose bumps grew up my arms.
“Really? I don’t think we’ve ever met.”
“We have, just not that you remember.”
Nancy handed him the London Fog he’d ordered. He slurped against the hot tea.
“I’ve waited a long time for you to see me,” he said, placing his hand on mine. It smelled of rotting flesh.
“What do you mean?”
He didn’t answer me in words. Instead, the clock on the wall stopped ticking. The shop became quiet, still. Hands raised with cups paused, mid-sip. A fly hovered motionless above a pastry.
“How?” I started, but he placed one finger over my lips, silencing me. He lifted his giant hat from his head, slowly, and revealed two great horns, smooth, like a bull’s. He laughed, raspy and menacing. The room filled a dark, dark red.
“Do you remember?”
Slowly, I nodded my head, reaching up to where my horns would be, if I had any. Then I blinked, and he was gone. The fly beat its wings; the sippers took their sips. No one sat beside me but an empty stool.
“How’s your coffee?” Nancy asked. I felt empty, depleted.
“Was someone else just here?” I said.
“Um, yes? Plenty of people have come here today. Are you okay?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Actually, hold on, I think someone left something for you.”
Still in a daze, I watched as Nancy stepped over to the register and reached below the counter. It was a hat, a large hat, fit only for Abe, or J.D.
“I couldn’t imagine why you’d want it, but it had this slip of paper with your name on it.”
I touched the fabric. The goose bumps returned.
“Thanks for holding on to it,” I said.
Then I wore it home.
…as published in The Atlantic Highlands Herald, 2014.
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.”
“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.