Fiction, Vol. 7.3, Sept. 2013
1. Onions. This is what I tell you on the phone when I ask you to come over and give me stitches. I was slicing onions and the knife slipped.
1a. In the old days, you would have eyed my waistline and asked if I should be using so much butter. You would have squinted at the camel I was repainting and asked if it was supposed to be so brown. In the slightly older days, you would have cut the onions for me.
2. I don’t tell you to hurry, but I do hint at how much blood there is. I cup some of it in the palm of my hand and let it puddle there, warm as a freshly laid egg.
2a. See, I fell in love with you before I even saw you. You’d left a music stand on the fire escape outside your window. A violinist. It was several more weeks before I finally saw you play. Fast songs, slow songs, concertos, waltzes, fiddle tunes. The sun in your teeth and the bite of your bow in the wind. You were exactly the kind of asshole I always fell in love with.
3. I’m not crying, I say over the phone. It’s just the onions. After I hang up, I hold my hand over a bowl of water and watch the inky shapes drip and swirl and dissolve. One looks just like a pink jellyfish. The next looks like a knot of worms that wriggles and fades as it diffuses.
3a. I read once that the three things pregnant women dream of most during their first trimester are frogs, worms, and water. A wriggling mass of jellied egg-dots. A clump of nightcrawlers. A big wet blank.
4. When you show up at my door, you have a sewing kit in your hand. You’re no doctor, but I’m no millionaire, and stitches seem like a tough thing to fuck up.
4a. Before we met, my job had been to buy up abandoned carousels around the country and restore them for a certain reclusive billionaire. Paint and enamel, bevel gears and offset cranks, brass screws and basswood and yellow poplar, round and round and round. I awoke to a different skyline every month for five years.
5. Are you doing it right? I ask you. It’s only been seven weeks since I moved out and six since I learned the news, but I feel like I’ve been storing up questions for years. Are you getting enough of the, I don’t know, the skin or whatever it is? The stuff under the skin? Is there supposed to be so much blood?
5a. I called myself an artist, but really I was a well-paid middleman. A paint-scraper, a varnish connoisseur. I knew the dimensions of every gilded pony and sea lion from Las Cruces to Kalamazoo. I loved the idea of you, of something certain and fixed.
6. I would do it myself, I tell you, except I’m not left-handed. And you stitched up that torn bedspread that one time, remember?
6a. I wasn’t left-handed, I wasn’t a good cook, I didn’t know how to dance, I didn’t have money, I was afraid of heights and open water. You knew how to change the sparkplug in my car and make homemade pasta. You pinned me in place, taught me how to hold a bow and hold still.
7. Is that regular sewing thread? I ask. Aren’t you supposed to use a different kind? Something, I don’t know, more medical? What if it dissolves or I absorb it into my skin or something? I lean close enough for you to touch the curve of my stomach, or at least notice it. You don’t.
7a. I was new to your city and had no friends there. No friends anywhere else, either. I went out of my way to walk past your apartment every day. The music stand was always there. Listening to you play from a distance, I imagined you would have cruel lips and a beautiful throat. You did.
8. After you patch up my hand (seven stitches, two Band-Aids), I fix us both cups of tea and go sit on the couch with you. Neither of us has much to say. You look like you’d like something stronger to drink. I rack my brain for an interesting story, for something to scrape out a space from the silence.
8a. I never told you how I fell in love with you. Some things were too insignificant, or too ridiculous, to be said aloud.
9. I heard about this girl, I say, actually, you might know her, she was Jeff’s old girlfriend, the one who looked like Sophia Loren? Anyway, this girl, she got knocked up and she decided to go to a symphony so the baby would hear something beautiful before it, you know, before they took it out. Isn’t that bizarre? I say. I hesitate, then put my hand on your leg. What would you do in that situation? I ask. What do you think would be best?
9a. Two years. Plenty of time to become a different person. I quit my restoration work, learned to like Mahler and Sibelius. I developed strong feelings about cellists and libertarians. I lived mainly on vodka and vitamins. I don’t know why I was surprised when you kept playing your violin out on the fire escape.
10. You ask me to please stop. You tell me I’m going to get blood on your pants, even though it’s my other hand that has the stitches.
10a. I forgot how to be in motion. You pinned me in place and ran away but you forgot to take the pin with you. Did you ever feel like a sparrow stuck in a paper bag, I wanted to ask, or was that just me?
11. I can already tell the scar is going to be crooked, but what does it matter? It’s not like I need perfect hands for anything. Not in my line of work.
11a. What I didn’t forget was how to restore carousels, how to haggle with antique dealers. When I moved out, I went back to the same old tools, the same old horses and zebras. White pine, faded velvet, chipped paint, et cetera. Groceries, rent, clinic fees.
12. After you finish your drink, you get up and go. You don’t offer to check in. In your absence I flex my hand, feel the sutures tighten and pull in my skin. Maybe I should see a doctor. Maybe I should move across the country.
12a. I assumed I’d figure out what to do, but I always assumed that and was rarely right. I kept assuming. Six weeks passed. I restored eight horses, two sea monsters, a tiger, and a reindeer. I read the manufacturers’ warnings on the epoxy labels like a fortuneteller reading tea leaves.
13. I go into the kitchen and begin to clean up the blood. Some things are straight lines (knife blades, self-injury, violin strings), but others (carousels, onions, relationships) go around in circles. Still other things (surgical stitches, decisions regarding the future) are wobbly and crooked no matter what I do.
13a. Merry-go-round. Merry went round. Went round and round and round.